Jim Corstorphine looks back at the career of East Fife’s most capped player in an article which featured in issue no. 5 of The Bayview.
Born in the Fife mining village of Lochgelly in May 1925, George Aitken pulled on the dark blue of Scotland an impressive five times (not counting “unofficial” appearances!) during his time at Bayview, making him East Fife’s most capped player. Signed from Lochgelly St. Andrew’s in 1944, left-half George made no fewer than 141 competitive appearances for the club, scoring five goals in the process. George was also a member of the League Cup winning sides in both 1947 and 1949, and appeared in the Scottish Cup Final defeat to Rangers in 1950. He also picked up a ‘B’ Division winners’ medal in season 1947/48.
It was during East Fife’s first season back in the top flight, 1948/49, that George came to the attention of the international selection committee, which resulted in the player’s inclusion in the Scotland team to face England at Wembley on 9th April 1949. The left-half did his country proud on his debut, and helped the Scots defeat the ‘Auld Enemy’ by three-goals-to-one on their own turf in front of 98,188 spectators. On the mark for Scotland that afternoon were Third Lanark’s Jimmy Mason, Derby County’s Billy Steel and Hibs’ Lawrie Reilly, who had the dark blues three-nil ahead before Jackie Milburn netted a late consolation. Described by the Sunday Post’s Jack Harkness as “probably biggest success of all”, George played no small part in overcoming an England side that contained such household names as Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney to name but two. It was inevitable that George Aitken would retain his place in the team dubbed by the press as “The Wizards of 1949” and, later that month, he made his home international debut on Wednesday 27th April against France in front of an incredible 125,683 at Hampden Park, where a Billy Steel goal in each half sealed a two-nil victory.
In late May 1949, the Scotland squad embarked on a month-long tour of the United States and Canada and, unsurprisingly, George was included in the touring party. George took up his usual place at left-half for the opening match, against St. Louis All-Stars in Missouri, USA, on Wednesday 25th May 1949, where the Scots hammered the home side by six goals without reply. Dropped for the next two games in New York, George returned to the side for the 3-1 victory over Kearny in New Jersey on Sunday 5th June, then kept his place in the team for the 2-0 win against Ontario Major League in Toronto, Canada, on 8th June. After missing the following match, played the following day against Eastern Canada in Montreal, George played in all three of Scotland’s remaining tour games in the USA; the 8-1 hammering of Philadelphia on 12th June, the 3-1 win against New-England All-Stars at Fall River on 15th June, and victory over the USA national team by four goals without replay in New York on Sunday 19th June. Interestingly, all nine tour matches were officially classed as ‘Unofficial Internationals’ by the SFA, but the United States Soccer Football Association recorded their four-nil defeat by the Scots in New York on 19th June as a full international match!
George was now considered to be an established member of the Scotland team and, as expected, travelled to Belfast for the Home International against Ireland on Saturday 1st October 1949, where he took up his usual position of left-half in front of a Windsor Park crowd of 55,000 alongside East Fife team mate Henry Morris, who was making his Scotland debut at centre-forward. This was the first time that two East Fife players had played in the same Scotland side, but it was not to be the last! In a match which doubled as a World Cup qualifier for the Brazil tournament in 1950, Scotland swept the Irish aside with an emphatic 8-2 victory, with East Fife’s Morris scoring a hat-trick along with a brace from Rangers’ Willie Waddell and further goals from Hibs’ Lawrie Reilly, Derby County’s Billy Steel and Third Lanark’s Jimmy Mason.
Just over a month later, on Wednesday 9th November 1949, George made his fourth appearance for Scotland against Wales at Hampden in front of 73,781, where their 100% record in the Home International Championship and World Cup qualifying campaign was maintained with a 2-0 win thanks to a first-half goal from Celtic’s John McPhail and a second-half strike from Clyde’s Alex. Linwood. A surprising omission from the Scotland team that evening was hat-trick hero Henry Morris; the reason for which will be scrutinised in an article on Morris which will appear in a future edition of “The Bayview”.
Scotland’s next match, the Home International Championship and World Cup qualifying decider against England on Saturday 15th April 1950, was billed as “Hampden’s Game of the Century”, but missing from the team that Saturday afternoon was George Aitken, who was suffering with a sore throat and had missed East Fife’s league match with Rangers the previous week; his place at Hampden being filled by Arsenal’s Alex. Forbes. Unfortunately, Scotland’s dream of travelling to Rio disappeared in front of 133,300 fans that afternoon as England won by a single goal, landing them the Home International Championship and securing a place in the 1950 World Cup Finals.
George Aitken returned to the Scotland team for the friendly against Switzerland at Hampden on Wednesday 26th April 1950, just four days after turning out for East Fife in the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers at the same venue. It was to be George’s final appearance for Scotland as an East Fife player, and 123,751 looked on as he lined up alongside team mate Allan Brown, who was making his International debut. This was the second time that two East Fife players had played in the same Scotland team, and the Bayview boys did their country proud. With Scotland leading 2-1 thanks to a header from Hearts’ Willie Bauld and a low drive from Chelsea’s Bobby Campbell either side of a counter from Switzerland’s Antenen, the impressive Allan Brown nipped in to net number three on the stroke of half-time to win the match 3-1 for the Scots.
Sadly, all was not well regarding George’s relationship with East Fife at the time. An on-going dispute with the club regarding his availability for transfer escalated, and George was dropped from the first team, for whom he made his final appearance against Cowdenbeath in a Fife Cup tie on 10th May 1950.
A legal battle between East Fife and George Aitken ensued for most of the following season, and ended with the player being transferred to Third Lanark in February 1952. George eventually moved south to Sunderland, where he resumed his international career with three further appearances; against Wales and Northern Ireland in 1952 and against England in 1954.
We have had a successful two weeks since Walking Football returned to Bayview with around 12-14 players attending but we would be delighted to see new or returning players. Walking Football takes place on the new 3G pitch at Bayview on Wednesday nights from 7 pm.
Please note studded footwear must be worn. NO trainers, blades or astros will be permitted.
The 2017/2018 Fife Cup kicks off on Saturday 7th October here at Bayview when Cowdenbeath FC are our visitors, kick off at 1.00pm.
Ladbrokes League 1
Saturday 16th September
East Fife 1 (Docherty 45’ (P))
Airdrieonians XI: Ferguson, Stewart, MacDonald, Brownlie, McGregor, Conroy (McIntosh 80’), Hastie, Watt, Fry (Allan 67’), Furtado, Tierney (Thomson 68’)
Subs: Cairns, Edwards, Russell, Kerr
Booked: Hastie, Watt
East Fife XI: M Hurst, Dunsmore, Page, Watson, Linton, Docherty, Wilkie (Reilly 70’), G Hurst, Millar, Flanagan (Slattery 45’), Duggan (Kane 82’)
Subs: Goodfellow, Lamont, Wilson, Willis
Booked: Dunsmore, Linton, Wilkie
Referee: Greg Aitken
East Fife travelled to the Excelsior Stadium to face Airdrieonians looking to get their season back on track after back-to-back home defeats and succeeded by claimed all three points thanks to a Mark Docherty penalty on the stroke of half-time. Manager Darren Young made two changes to the side that lost to Queen’s Park last time out with Ben Gordon and Paul Willis making way for Kieran Millar and Jonathan Page, who made his first start in 6 months following a long injury lay-off.
The visitors had a let-off inside the first minute when Jake Hastie broke down the right but his shot flashed across the face of the goal. Minutes later a long-throw saw the ball eventually fall for Kyle Wilkie who, after worked some space for himself inside the area, forced Diamond’s ‘keeper Rohan Ferguson to turn his strike behind for a corner. East Fife had the ball in the back of the net from the resulting corner however, the whistle had rightly gone for a push on Airdrieonians defender Jordan McGregor.
Ryan Tierney tried his luck with a free kick from 25-yards for the home side but the ball was comfortably collected by Mark Hurst in the East Fife goal. A nice bit of play by Wilkie and Nathan Flanagan down the right teed up Greg Hurst but his strike from 15-yards was just off-target. Hurst had another opportunity a couple of minutes later when Ferguson failed to deal with a corner from Wilkie but the ball just wouldn’t sit up for him at the back post.
Former Stenhousemuir striker Willis Furtado wasted a good opportunity for the home side on 27 minutes when he fired high and wide from a promising position. At the other end, Ferguson did well to turn Hurst drive, from a tight angle, behind for a corner. Aidrieonians were looking dangerous on the break but lacked composure in front of goal; Hastie unable to find the target from the edge of the area on this occasion.
The visitors were awarded a penalty shortly before the break when Aaron Dunsmore was taken out inside the area by former Fifer Luke Watt. Referee Greg Aitken was perfectly positioned and showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Mark Docherty stepped up and gave the visitors a deserved lead with a Penenka style spot-kick.
David Brownlie should have levelled the match shortly after the re-start when Ryan Conroy’s corner was knocked down into his path but Brownlie just failed to connect at the front post. Tom Fry went close again for the home side on 54 minutes when he curled a volley narrowly wide of Hurst’s left-hand post. Chris Duggan was unlucky not to double the visitor’s lead on 58 minutes when he got the better of his man down the left and cut inside only to see Diamond’s keeper Ferguson stop his goal-bound shot with his legs.
Jake Hastie ruined any chance of a come-back from the home side when he was foolishly sent for an early shower by referee Greg Aitken after picking up two bookings within the space of a minute; the first for a blatant dive on the edge of the area, the second for his continued protests at the decision. The visitors tried to take advantage of the extra man with Hurst unfortunate not to find the net with a left-footed volley from 8-yards.
Conroy went close to finding an equaliser for the home side when he got on the end of a cross from Watt but was denied by a fine stop from Hurst. A mix-up in the home defence gave Duggan the chance to extends the visitors lead but he couldn’t find the target from 12-yards. Goalkeeper Hurst was called into action again with a minute left on the clock producing a fine save under pressure to clear Watt’s free kick.
A great three-points for East Fife with some terrific performance across the park.
Goalkeeper Thomas Cordery is with Cumbernauld Colts on a short term loan, we hope you do well Thomas.
Ben Gordon has left the Club at his own request as per an agreement between the club and player. We would like to thank Ben and wish him every success for his future.
East Fife head west to Lanarkshire tomorrow, where they face Airdrieonians at the Excelsior Stadium. The Diamonds are a point better off than the men from Methil, having hit a fine patch of form recently, despite the loss of striker Andy Ryan to Dunfermline Athletic, winning two games on the bounce before losing out to Stranraer at Stair Park last Saturday.
The Airdrie squad has been bolstered by several new signings, notably striker Willis Furtado, who caught the eye with Stenhousemuir last season, and former Fifer Luke Watt on loan from Motherwell.
Darren Young’s men can consider themselves unfortunate not to have taken any points from last week’s encounter against Queen’s Park at Bayview, but the gaffer will know that his side need to be more clinical in front of goal after passing up a number of opportunities before going down 1-0 against well-organised opponents. One of the positives from the game was the appearance from the bench of defender Jonathan Page after several months sidelined by injury. With Chris Kane also making a return to the squad there are now options available in every department, a far cry from the situation earlier in the campaign.
It would be fair to say that Airdrieonians have had the better of recent meetings with the Fifers, ending last season undefeated after two wins and two draws. The last time East Fife returned with all three points was December 2013 when goals from Lewis Barr, Ross Brown and Stephen Hughes earned a 3-1 win.