Briefly outline your football career prior to joining Deveronvale.
I didn’t do much at schools level apart from playing for my school team, Cults Academy. In 1979 I stopped having a Sunday afternoon kick about to play for Aberdeenshire Amateur club KPA, followed by Cults and Millburn. Julius Morrison was involved there and decided to form Bieldside Amateurs and had a very successful period, winning promotion and the championship along with the Cup. I was lucky enough to score the last minute winner in the Final and will never forget what it meant to Julius, the team and me. We partied all night before going to Hampden to see the Dons thrash Rangers 4-1 the next day. Julius left to go to the Vale in late 1986 and asked me along. I had an ankle injury and couldn’t go to PRP until April the following year.
Which year(s) did you play for Deveronvale? Who signed you for the club, and what attracted you to join ?
Julius had asked me to come to the Vale as described, but apart from a couple of training sessions, I wasn’t yet fit due to a long-term injury. I joined in April 1987 and played for the remainder of that and the following season. When Julius left, I felt my time was also up, I had too much respect for him and followed him to Inverurie Locos. What attracted me – easy, PRP was well known as being the best surface by far in the League and games against Caley, Elgin, Peterhead and the likes was something I had never experienced, it was an easy decision for me to make, but as my wife had just given birth to our first child, it took some convincing her that it was cool for me to ‘nip out’ to play at Brora, (8am to 10pm!!)
What are your fondest memories of your time with the club?
I will never forget 1 April, 1987, it was Joe McCallan’s 40th birthday and Juilus asked me if I wanted to meet the team in the dressing room prior to playing Caledonian. They had beaten the Vale 12-0 earlier in the season and were on the verge of winning the title, however, Inverness Thistle also had a chance should we stop Caley winning. Julius knew I always kept my boots in my car and when naming the team, I almost fainted when he read out, “Number 9, Steve Middleton”. I didn’t have time to think about it, but played my heart out that night. Joe headed the opened during the second half, both the Vale fans and the Inverness Thistle fans at the game went mad. They were on for the title should we get something from the game. Two minutes from time Joe headed goal wards again. I ran in at the back post but my header was played onto the post by a defender on the line. I staggered forward but could only half hit the rebound. The ball struck the outside of the post and ran along the side netting before sticking at the bottom of the stanchion. The stand side of the ground roared, Julius was on the pitch jumping around as if wasps had invaded his boxer shorts – from that angle it looked like we had gone 2-0 up! Caley went down the other end and poor Joe miss-kicked a clearance behind Colin Clark and the ball trickled into the net! We were gutted by held out for a point. Thistle fans congratulated us as did the Vale support, but that night proved a real turning point I thought, the seed of ‘playing for Julius’ had been sown! I remember my first competitive goal; it was the opener at Lossiemouth and a left footer at that! I loved the banter on the Vale bus to away games, but fell out with the then assistant manager, Ian Esslemount. I prided myself in knowing football facts and trivia. Ian was the quiz master and asked, “Where do West Ham play?” “The Boleyn Ground” I answered, knowing that Upton isn’t the real name of their ground, rather the area the ground is in. Ian wasn’t for that I lost the point. By the time I told him Celtic played at ‘Celtic Park’ (not Parkhead) and St Mirren at ‘St Mirren Park’ (not Love Street) I had decided to concentrate on the passing countryside rather than his attempts at being a quizmaster. Training was held twice a week, once had to be at PRP. This almost cost me my job as one evening, I was held up at work having returned late from a pipe yard in Peterhead. I didn’t have time to get home to Westhill by bus and drive to training, so I lied to my boss that I had left my wallet in the pipe yard and could I drive back up the road to collect it. He said ‘Yes’; not knowing my real plan was to drive to Banff. Someone spotted me driving North through Turiff – hardly a direct route to Peterhead. I received a warning, but such was the team spirit at the club, there was no way I was going to miss training and possibly lose my place in the team.
What is the most memorable game(s) you played in for Vale, and why?
I suppose playing against a strong Rangers team in July 1987, should be the one, but I was the only player gutted that we played the Ibrox club. I have supported Dunfermline Athletic since John Lunn struck me full on with the ball in a game at Pittodrie in 1968. The game was held up until he had leant over the boundary wall, patted my head and checked I was alright – I never forgot that and was very upset at his untimely death in 1973. Julius had told me during the closed season that we were going to be playing the Pars and I was made up. Then I read in the paper that the game was off as Rangers had agreed to play us in their pre-season on that night! Gone was my plan of faking injury near the end of the game, nipping into the Athletic dressing room and nicking a Pars top from the laundry basket! I could mention the games from the 87-88 season, but other players have covered them before on ‘Mac the track’, however, a training friendly one mid-week at Culter is the one that stuck in my mind for the following reason. Julius couldn’t make it and put Sandy McNaughton in charge of the team. Five minutes before kick off, we only had 12 players. Sandy’s plans went up in smoke, but what he said next smacked of the professionalism both he and Joe took to the club. “Remember, they are Juniors, you are a grade above them – get out there and show them”. Sandy scored the only goal that night and despite Culter battering us for most of the match, I believe that his pre-match talk instilled in those Vale players there that night that we had to win. We did.
Who were the characters at the club ?
The team was sprinkled with players had had great character and that was what helped us to have such a brief, but successful spell. One big fan I knew was Betty Duguid. Betty lived in Westhill and hailed from Macduff. Once she realized I played for her beloved Vale, she made sure her mum got the ‘Banffshire Journal’ for me. Unfortunately, this was around the time I was leaving the club, but didn’t have the heart to tell her. Put it this way, It was only around 2000 when she stopped giving me piles of the newspaper so I could read the reports – by that stage, I didn’t even know a single player!! Her Deveronvale scarf hung from the wall of the Westhill Inn for many years. Joe and Sandy were a great help for me; to this day I still appreciate their backing in the dressing room following a 5-2 away win at Fort William. For some reason, Julius asked Ian Esslemount to run the team that day. I had my best game, I remember making four of our five goals and with about half an hour remaining, I just remember thinking that I was going to lay on a couple more and score myself. Ian decided otherwise, substituted me and Fort scored two goals. I was angry to say the least and was going to let rip, but didn’t have to as Sandy and Joe did the talking on my behalf. Julius also learned from that experience, but I could see what he was trying to do was show his number two some reward, but I don’t think he repeated the exercise! The other person I must mention is Stewart McPherson. He was Mr Deveronvale then and having met him again at our re-union earlier this year, I can see nothing has changed. Was going to say that he must have red blood pumping through his veins…..but you know what I mean! I remember that we were getting a new kit in February 1988. It was a nice all red outfit with white ‘V’ neck. Stewart wasn’t happy though, I heard him say that the Vale traditionally played in white shorts. He has had his way since, but if someone has attention to detail about something like that, then Deveronvale have a person in their midst worth their weight in gold.
Who were the best players you played with at the Vale and why?
Everyone at the team in my spell there played to the best of their ability, but Joe McCallan and Sandy Mc Naughton talked us through the games. I saw Joe score at Pittodrie in the Premier League once for Clydebank and Sandy played for the Pars – they didn’t need to earn my respect.
And who were the best players you played against, and why?
To be perfectly honest about this, I never gave my opponents a second thought. I always thought about my own performance coming up and was determined to either score against them or do something positive for my club. One night in mid-winter, we played Forres Mechanics in a rain and windswept PRP. We must have been short in midfield as Julius asked me to play in the center of the pitch, my only instruction was to neutralise their midfield playmaker, Brian Minty. Julius wound me up so much about this before the game, I had to take him out onto the pitch during their warm up to identify Minty! Forres kicked off and the ball went straight to Minty on the edge of the center circle. I sprinted 10 yards and almost kicked him onto the 18th fairway at Duff House Royal. The referee booked me – 5 seconds gone! That was that and I couldn’t go near him for the remainder of the game! We lost 5-0 and my midfield career was over. The only ‘opponent’ I ever did pay attention to however, was a teammate at my amateur club, Bieldside. Julius’s son, Stuart, was a defender at the club and we often came up against each other in training sessions. Stuart always gave the impression on the pitch that he was ‘in the kitchen, but didn’t know what was cooking’. He careered around and I had to have my wits about me when he closed me down. Stuart has the enthusiasm of his Dad and is now a respected Amateur referee.
What have you done in a football sense since you left the Vale ?
I spent a season at Inverurie Locos, then had a chance to return to the Highland League with Elgin City. Steve Patterson asked me to play for them at Borough Briggs in a League game against Forres. I had just joined Grampian Police and despite being tempted, had to turn it down to concentrate on my new career. I then played for the Police team. Around 1989 – 1992, we were quite successful and with extra training, had a team strong enough, I thought, to hold our own at Junior level and possibly in the Highland League. I won a Scottish Police Cup winners medal, beating Northeren 2-0. Their team was sprinkled with several Highland League players from Ross County and the Inverness clubs. I ruptured my Achilles tendon in 1994 and gave up playing outfield as I couldn’t afford being off my work for months on end. I did play for a couple of seasons as a goalkeeper for Aberdeen United, a Sunday Welfare team formed the same way as Bieldside was, a bunch of mates wanting to play together. Joe McCallan also played and by being the keeper, I got an insight to his defending and organising abilities – immense! Following my injury, I took up refereeing and can still cross that white line and take part in the game. I have been lucky enough to be selected to be referee and linesman at a few finals. Being a player definitely helps to make the move from poacher to gamekeeper. I had a great day out at Banff at the reunion, but we all remembered one of the reasons we were there – Iain Paterson. If you read his ‘Mac the track’, he mentions that one of his fondest memories was scoring the winner at Nairn. He added that it might not appear to be a ‘big deal’ to do this, but it meant everything to him. I managed to wriggle out of going to a wedding to play at a dark and damp Station Park that November afternoon and followed Iain’s shot as it headed goalwards. The keeper got a hand to it and it then struck the post. I tried my hardest to reach the ball and stick it in the net before it crossed the line, but it trickled in leaving me with the memory of wondering what it would have been like to score the winner for the Vale. However, with what has happened to Iain, I am glad I didn’t get the final touch after all.
What does a normal Saturday afternoon entail for you these days ?
I currently work at Inverurie Police Office as a response officer. I am also a‘tutor Constable’ and am now onto my 14th recruit in almost 20 years. As everyone there knows I am still mad on football, I usually get un-paid leave to referee local Amateur games. Imagine, a Cop and a referee – even my kids hate me!! The involvement is much the same as playing, but you have to concentrate that bit more. The equivalent of scoring a goal for a referee is allowing an advantage to develop which results in a goal. I turn to the players yelling at me and ask them if they want the goal chalked off and take the foul! I loved my time at the Vale and remember every moment of it. If I had my career again, I wouldn’t have changed a single thing – not many people can be as satisfied as me with their sport and it still continues to this day.