Away From The Numbers

FOLKLORE LEGENDS:

JIMMY BONTHRONE

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Jimmy Bonthrone in his early East Fife days
Friday June 6th 2008 will go down as a sad day in the history of East Fife Football Club, as a true legend and great servant to the Club sadly passed away.

Jimmy Bonthrone is fondly remembered by those who knew him and came into contact with him. He was a true gentleman whose service to East Fife as player, scout, manager, club secretary and commercial manager spanned decades.

Born in Kinglassie in 1929, Jimmy first joined East Fife as an 18 year old in 1947 and went on to make 282 appearances for the Club over the next 11 years, scoring 112 goals in the process.

During wartime he had played for Bowhill West End and the talents he displayed there saw Jimmy join Partick Thistle as an amateur when just 16 years old. When the war ended, Jimmy's talents were no longer required by Thistle due to an excess of players returning from armed service. They offered to farm him out to a local junior side but Jimmy chose instead to return to Fife and played for his hometown's inaugural Kinglassie Juniors team. He was only there for a matter of months however, before being snapped up by East Fife.

Unfortunately national service beckoned and he was also snapped up by the army at the same time and his first team debut, and what was soon to be a glorious footballing career, was delayed further, this time by two years.

On November 19th 1949 though Jimmy finally made his first team debut in a black and gold shirt, in the 4-1 defeat away to Hibernian. The rest of the 49/50 season saw Jimmy flit in and out of the starting line up. He netted his first East Fife goal on April 8th 1950, in the 2-2 draw at Ibrox against Rangers, and he ended the season with 8 appearances and 3 goals to his credit - a sign of things to come.

The following season saw Jimmy's big breakthrough into the first team. He finished that season with 27 appearances and 11 goals and he netted his first hat trick for the Club in the 4-1 League Cup demolition of Raith Rovers at Starks Park on August 30th 1950.

Jimmy Bonthrone as a comic cut out card
This threesome was the first of another kind of hat trick for Jimmy, with him netting a Scottish Cup hat trick against Vale of Leithen at Bayview on January 24th 1953 (in a 7-1 win) and a League hat trick at home to Airdrie on December 3rd 1955 (in an 8-1 win!)

These games didn't produce Jimmy's best display in a black and gold shirt however. That was reserved for the last game of the 1956/57 season against St Mirren on April 27th 1957. In what hadn't been the best of seasons for the Fife, they could have been relegated if they had lost but up stepped Jimmy to score all goals in a 5-2 win and secure East Fife's First Division status for another season.

Jimmy's full playing appearance and goals record for East Fife was as follows:

1949/50 -  8 appearances (all League apps)   /  3 goals
1950/51 - 27 appearances (19 L, 6 LC, 2 SC) / 11 goals ( 5 L, 5 LC, 1 SC)
1951/52 - 31 appearances (25 L, 4 LC, 2 SC) / 11 goals (10 L, 0 LC, 1 SC)
1952/53 - 30 appearances (25 L, 3 LC, 2 SC) / 12 goals ( 8 L, 1 LC, 3 SC)
1953/54 - 40 appearances (30 L, 9 LC, 1 SC) / 12 goals ( 7 L, 5 LC, 0 SC)
1954/55 - 36 appearances (26 L, 9 LC, 1 SC) /  7 goals ( 3 L, 4 LC, 0 SC)
1955/56 - 41 appearances (34 L, 6 LC, 1 SC) / 16 goals (16 L, 0 LC, 0 SC)
1956/57 - 38 appearances (31 L, 4 LC, 3 SC) / 27 goals (22 L, 3 LC, 2 SC)
1957/58 - 31 appearances (24 L, 6 LC, 1 SC) / 13 goals (11 L, 2 LC, 0 SC)

When Jimmy finished his time as an East Fife player, he had notched up a total of 282 appearances. 222 in the League, 47 in the League Cup and 13 in the Scottish Cup. These impressive stats saw him notch up a grand total of 112 goals, 75 League, 20 League Cup and 7 Scottish Cup.

His goal tally of 112 makes him the fifth highest goalscorer in East Fife history.

He also wore seven different numbered jerseys in his time at Bayview and was never booked or sent off, not only as an East Fife player but also throughout his entire career. A fact he put down to the "banter" he enjoyed with referees.

Jimmy Bonthrone as part of the historic 1953 East Fife League Cup winning team
Of course the highlight of Jimmy's time as an East Fife player came on October 24th 1953 when he was one of the historic side that lifted the League Cup for a record third time. Although he felt that he himself didn't play that well in the 3-2 win against Partick Thistle, it was a game that still lived vividly in his mind like it was just yesterday.

Sadly, like all the other players, Jimmy had nothing to show of his triumph, as the players all chose to receive a 10 bonus instead of a winners medal.

1953 was a pretty good year for Jimmy all round as he was selected to play for Scotland against the Army at Hampden and for Scotland B against England B at Easter Road. He would also have played for the Scottish League against the English League as well, but unfortunately his wedding plans scuppered that appearance and this signalled the end of his international career as well.

During his time at Bayview Jimmy was linked with transfers to a number of English clubs, with a deal to take him to Sunderland falling through at the last minute.

In early 1958 Birmingham City were expected to table an offer for Jimmy, but although that came to nothing, his East Fife playing career came to an end that year when he was part of a player exchange that saw Felix Reilly come to Bayview and Jimmy move to play for what was to become a very exciting young Dundee side.

Jimmy enjoyed a season and a half at Dens Park before joining Stirling Albion for 1500 in January of 1960.

Although Stirling were relegated in his first season there, they bounced back immediately and the 1960/61 season saw Jimmy receive a Second Division Championship medal with the Annfield side, in a season which saw him continue to find the net regularly, including a hat trick against East Stirling on April 29th 1961.

Jimmy left Stirling and joined Queen of the South, making his debut on September 16th 1961 in the 3-1 win against Stranraer. The travelling was to really get to Jimmy though and he only made 6 sporadic first team appearances for Queens before asking for his contract to be terminated with the Palmerston side.

Manager Jimmy Bonthrone and Jimmy Philp in the late 60's
This signalled an end to Jimmy's playing career, but a few months after retiring from the game, the then East Fife manager, Charlie McCaig, asked Jimmy to be a scout for the Club, a role which he was very keen to take on.

After acting as a scout for around a year, Jimmy was asked to take on the manager's role at Bayview to replace the outgoing McCaig, an offer which he duly accepted.

With East Fife's best days and players fast becoming a memory following their relegation in the 1957/58 season, Jimmy had his work cut out and although he didn't return the glory days to the Club, he did reinstall some pride and an attacking flair prevalent in his heyday in the black and gold.

His spell as East Fife manager lasted just over six seasons from 1962/63 to 1968/69, recording a 1-0 home win in his first game in charge, against Stranraer on April 17th 1963. His total number of games as East Fife manager was 282 - spookily the exact same number of games he turned out for the Club as a player. In those games, he recorded 142 wins, 88 defeats and 52 draws, a winning percentage of 50%, only bettered by Scott Symon's 57% (Dave Baikie's reign is not included in these figures yet).

Despite coming so close several times, Jimmy was unable to return East Fife's First Division status and decided to bow out as East Fife manager, following the 3-2 defeat at Forfar on April 26th 1969, to take up the role of coach at Aberdeen and number 2 to boss Eddie Turnbull.

"I was sad to be leaving the club at that stage because I felt we were on the threshold of something big" Jimmy said later. "I told the chairman of the time, John Fleming, that we had a good team that could win promotion. Sure enough, two seasons later East Fife were promoted to Division One".

In his first season at Pittodrie, Jimmy helped coach the side to a 3-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph against Celtic. By the start of the 1971/72 season though, Dons manager Eddie Turnbull decided to move to Hibernian and Jimmy was the obvious choice to replace him as manager.

Jimmy Bonthrone as Aberdeen manager with players Bobby Clark and Martin Buchan
Jimmy had trials with Aberdeen in 1946 but was not picked up by them, now, 25 years later, he became only the seventh manager in their history and he couldn't have asked for a finer start, lifting the inaugural Dryburgh Cup with a 2-1 win against Celtic on August 7th 1971.

He went on to manage such Aberdeen greats as Martin Buchan, Drew Jarvie, Joe Harper and Willie Miller amongst others.

Many Dons fans would not class Jimmy's time at the helm as a huge success though, as they started to steadily slip down the League, missing out on Europe a couple of times in the process, but always finishing in the top five. So after just over four seasons in the Pittodrie hotseat, Jimmy resigned in October 1975.

During his time at Aberdeen, Jimmy was also involved with both the Scotland national team under first Bobby Brown and then Willie Ormond, under whom he ran the under 23 side.

When his time at Pittodrie came to an end though he was offered the chance to become General Manager at East Fife, but Jimmy decided to take a break from football and became a car salesman for five years, but in 1980, East Fife Chairman Jim Baxter again made the offer to become General and Commercial Manager down at Bayview and this time the lure of East Fife was too much for the black and gold legend and he agreed.

During this time he saw the up and downs of modern day East Fife. The highs of the Davie Clarke era and the lows of Gavin Murray's, but he continued to support the Club through it all and eventually retired from his duties in 1994.

To reward him for all his sterling efforts with the Club over the years, Jimmy deservedly had a testimonial year in 1995, the highlight of which being the visit of Manchester United to Bayview Park on Sunday 13th August 1995.

The visit of one of the greatest club sides in the world to honour one of the best ever East Fife players and most loyal servant was very fitting and Jimmy's old friend from his Aberdeen days, Alex Ferguson, did him proud and brought a strong team of youth and experience that featured some unknown names to us at the time in David Beckham and Paul Scholes. How soon we were to learn when Beckham hit two belters as Man United ran out 4-0 winners.

The packed house at Bayview was a great tribute to a great man.

Jimmy Bonthrone opening the East Fife Heritage Exhibition in 1995
The following day, Jimmy cut the ribbon and officially opened the Lower Methil Heritage Centre's excellent East Fife exhibition. It was only right that a man who contributed to so much of East Fife's success and history both on and off the field should be the one to open it to the general public.

Although he didn't always keep in the best of health in his retirement, he was always a keen follower of East Fife's fortunes and I am just so glad that he could see East Fife have one last glorifying season before his passing.

He would have been proud of what the players achieved this year. Who knows what these players may go on to achieve for the Club, but whatever it is, it will never come even close to what Jimmy Bonthrone gave to East Fife over the years.

Jimmy you were a true gentleman, a true East Fife legend, a huge part of Bayview folklore and a big loss to Scottish football and to everyone who knew and loved you.