Tommy McCulloch signed for Bridgeton Waverley in July 1956, and almost exactly a year later he signed for Clyde, to start a fifteen year career with the Bully Wee. Tommy didn’t have too long to wait for his debut, the 28th of September 1957 to be precise, but it came in sensational and unexpected circumstances.
Regular custodian Mike Watson, Dan Currie and Mike Clinton all called off in the days leading up to our League Cup semi-final meeting with Celtic at neutral Ibrox Park – all three being laid low by the flu epidemic gripping the country – so Tommy was thrown right in at the deep end. Despite clawing our way back from a two goal deficit to draw level after 50 minutes, another two goals from Celtic saw them into the final.
Tommy kept his place for the league match with Dundee the following Saturday, then Mike Watson came back in for a few matches. In early November 1957 Tommy was back as the first name on the Clyde teamsheet, and this set him up for a run of 63 consecutive appearances, and that was the way it would be for the fifteen years or so.
In amongst those 63 matches were the matches that took us through to lift the Scottish Cup in late April 1958. It all started with a 5-0 win against Dumbarton, then that was followed by a 4-0 win over Arbroath, both matches at Shawfield.
Our luck with home draws continued for the next round, or did it? We had played Celtic at Shawfield in a league match a few months before this tie, and a section of the perimeter wall between the terracing and the dog track had collapsed, injuring many and leading to the death of a 12-year old boy. As a result, it was decided to change the venue to Celtic Park! Undaunted, two first half goals from Tommy Ring and Dan Currie, without reply, took us through to the next round in front of a crowd of 65000, incidentally providing gate receipts of £6500. Given the circumstances of Tommy’s debut, how enjoyable must this victory at Parkhead been to the young Shawfield goalie?
Falkirk at home in the next round was maybe a bit of a minor disappointment for Tommy, in that he conceded a goal! But that would all be forgotten as a double from Dan Currie would take us through to the semi-final.
We were back at neutral Parkhead for the semi-final, this time the opposition gave us possibly our toughest match yet, but still we emerged with a 3-2 win to enable the team and the fans to look forward to a Hampden final. A crowd of over 41000 saw a Johnny Coyle hattrick take us through to that final, despite Motherwell coming back from three down with those two goals.
And so to the final. A packed Hampden, 95000 in all, saw a tough game settled by a goal credited to that man Coyle. An equalising “goal” midway through the second half by Joe Baker of Hibs was disallowed for handball, and that was all that got past Tommy McCulloch that day. We had won the cup, played 6 games, won 5, scored 17, and only conceded 3. Tommy McCulloch, the newcomer at the start of the season, had established himself a first-choice goalkeeper, and got himself a Scottish Cup winners medal less than ten months after signing.
Tommy’s medal haul didn’t end there though. Three weeks after the Scottish Cup Final we were back at Hampden, this time Rangers didn’t give us much of a hard time and we ran out 4-0 winners in the final of the Glasgow Charity Cup of 1958. Five months after the Cup Final we were back at Hampden for a third time, this time it was the Glasgow Cup final, our opponents again were Rangers, but this time it was a closer match, ending in a goalless draw.
The replay at Ibrox Park went the same way as the Cup Final six months previous, in that a John Coyle goal was the only scored in the ninety minutes.
We can’t forget the successful League Championships either, in 1961/62 and 1963/64. Tommy missed one match in the first campaign, and was an ever-present in the latter success.
He also played in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Kilmarnock in 1960, and both games against Celtic in the semi-final of 1967, as well as being our goalkeeper in both matches against RC Lens in the Anglo-French Friendship Tournament.
On the last day of April 1972 Tommy played his final match for Clyde. It was a must-win match for the Bully Wee, against Airdrie at Shawfield, and somewhat fittingly Tommy kept a clean sheet. Unfortunately, we failed to capitalise at the other end, thus we were relegated. Archie Robertson decided to give youth its fling in the Second Division the following season, and Tommy was just one of the old guard who was released.
Tommy’s time at Shawfield, from signing to release, lasted a fraction under 14 years. In that time, he made at least 506 appearances for the first team, including Glasgow Cup and Charity Cup matches, a figure good enough to see him in the Top 3 of our Post-War (and probably pre-War) Appearance Chart. It also puts him out on his own as our goalkeeper with most post-War appearances. Another way to look at Tommy’s attendance record is to consider that, over this 14 year period, he played in THREE out of every FOUR matches for the Bully Wee, a measure of his consistency and ability.
In Tommy’s 505 matches, Clyde won more far than they lost – 218 victories against 189 defeats, with 98 draws thrown in.
Obviously goalkeepers don’t score goals; their primary purpose is to stop the opposition scoring them. In his 505 matches, Tommy kept a clean sheet on 110 occasions, a figure equating to 22% of all the matches Tommy played. He also saw off challenges of at least six other contenders to be the first name on the Clyde teamsheet: Mike Watson, who was the resident until Tommy signed; Andy Donnelly, who only played a single match; Brian Wallace, whose sending-off at Ibrox in mid-November 1970 essentially gave Tommy the yellow jersey back again; Davie Thomson, who managed 29 appearances; and finally John Wright, who presented Tommy’s biggest challenge, and who played in 117 games for the Bully Wee. All very good goalkeepers in their own right, but Tommy saw them all out the door at Shawfield.
After Tommy was released by Clyde he joined Hamilton Accies, then in the Second Division along with the Bully Wee. He played in our 2-2 draw at Douglas Park in early November 1972, but missed out on a poignant return to Shawfield in March 1973, a match that finished without a goal.