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Hall of Fame - Brian Ahern

Brian Ahern

It wasn’t long after Brian Ahern’s 17th birthday that he became a Clyde player, thus moving on from the very successful St Luke’s Boys Guild - where he won 5 League Championships and 12 Cup medals - to Shawfield. Before making his Clyde debut Brian was loaned out to Eadie Star, a small team in the Paisley area, then to Rutherglen Glencairn, a bit closer to home, but after receiving an injury in a game for the Glens, Clyde manager Archie Robertson decided Brian would stay in the Clyde reserves until his debut.

The date was Thursday 6th May 1971 and we were entertaining Celtic in a Glasgow Cup Semi-Final. Celtic, whose next game was the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers, fielded a “weakened” team (including the likes of Tommy Gemmell, John Clark, Bobby Murdoch, Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish...) so Archie Robertson took the opportunity to similarly field an inexperienced Clyde team that night. Of the eleven Clyde players, Jim Burns and John Wright had just over 250 first team appearances between them, but the total for the remaining nine players was under half that figure; Alan Swan was making only his 7th appearance, Sam Miller his 6th, Colin Thomson his 5th, whilst Brian was joined by the late Danny McGrain in making his Clyde debut.

Regardless, Willie McVie scored in both goals just before half-time, before Colin Thomson scored a late winner for The Bully Wee to take Clyde through to the Glasgow Cup Final against Rangers, which wouldn’t be played until the following season. Not a bad debut, although for the first and only time as a senior player Brian was listed at centre-forward!

Although Brian started the following season (71/72) in the first team, and played in the Glasgow Cup Final at Ibrox which Clyde lost by two goals to nil, he generally found himself in and out of the first team and by the end of the season had made 18 appearances. At the close of the season Clyde were relegated, with the consequence that Archie Robertson cleared out most of the “old guard” - he only retained Jim Burns, John McHugh and Billy Hulston of the “experienced players” - and almost entirely put his faith in the youngsters, including Brian.

Brian Ahern

Archie Robertson’s young squad of season 1972/73 could boast the youngest average age of any senior squad in Scotland and also the youngest captain in Danny McGrain. Archie had also moved Brian back to the left midfield and it was there that Brian generally played for the remainder of that successful season. He started 41 out of 44 games as Clyde won the Second Division Championship and two other notable events came about that season; Brian scored his first senior goal, on the 20th of September in a 3-2 league win over Forfar at Shawfield; then, on the 2nd December 1972, he scored his first penalty, this time in a 2-1 home league win over Cowdenbeath. With his scoring duck well and truly broken, Brian ended that season with a Second Division Championship medal, and a fine total of 10 goals, half of them from the spot, from his 41 (plus 1 sub) appearance. There was a third ‘notable’ event, albeit off the field, when Brian was part of the Clyde squad that sang with Fraser Bruce on the club’s first single ‘The Song of the Clyde’.

Although Clyde generally struggled through the mid-seventies there was at least one constant - Brian Ahern - and Brian’s reward for his consistency and ability was for him to be appointed club captain. Towards the end of 76/77 Billy McNeill came in to be our fourth manager of a poor season, and whilst Billy steadied the ship somewhat, he only stayed for the months of March and April before heading north to take over from Ally MacLeod at Aberdeen. Billy came back to Shawfield to sign one player and on his return to Aberdeen proudly announced he had signed “the best player in the Second Division”. The consensus of the Aberdeen players was that he had signed Brian Ahern, a measure of the respect Brian had amongst his fellow professionals. Unfortunately for Brian - but maybe fortunately for all Clyde supporters - the player in question was Steve Archibald!

The Queen’s Silver Jubilee was also taking place in 1977 and part of the celebrations to mark this event was a match at Hampden between a Glasgow FA Select and an English League select team. Brian was selected as Clyde’s only representative, but unfortunately only got as far as the subs bench.
The man who followed Billy McNeill into the Shawfield hot seat would bring about a significant upsurge in the club’s fortunes. Craig Brown, in his first season as manager, took Clyde to the Second Division Championship and for captain Brian Ahern the season could hardly have been bettered. He played in every match of the season, all 43 of them, scoring 6 goals along the way (with 5 penalties in there) and of course he had another Second Division Championship medal. To cap a tremendous season, Brian won the club’s Player of the Year award.

Brian Ahern

The optimism generated by this promotion wasn’t maintained and two seasons later we found ourselves back where we started under Craig; the Second Division. An unsuccessful season (80/81), where we failed to win promotion, brought about a complete change for Brian. With the increasing financial pressures on the club as a direct result of facing Second Division football, Brian, along with Jim Kean, was transferred to Ayr United for a reported fee of £40,000, with Robert Reilly and Billy McColl moving in the other direction.

A few days after signing for Ayr United Brian found himself in Italy, playing for Scotland’s semi-professional team in the annual four-team tournament. He played in all three matches (against England, Italy and Holland), which were all drawn, thus Scotland finished gallant runners-up. Since Brian hadn’t made a single appearance for The Honest Men when this honour came around, it can only be perceived as a reward for his performances for The Bully Wee, despite the history books recording him as “Brian Ahern (Ayr United)”!

Two seasons later (83/84), after a successful season back in the First Division, Craig Brown brought Brian back to Shawfield. Just as his first debut, Brian’s ‘second debut’ was also in a Glasgow Cup semi-final, this time against Rangers. It wasn’t such a successful debut, though, with Rangers edging it by the only goal of the game.

Brian continued to display his class on the park - by this time his reading of the game and positional awareness meant he was an ideal in the sweeper role - and he once again became a mainstay of the Clyde team during a period of stability, where we retained our First Division status. It was also a period that marked the end of our 88-year stay at Shawfield, as we moved to a ground-sharing agreement with city rivals Partick Thistle. Thus it was at Firhill on the 9th May 1987, 16 years and 3 days after his debut, that Brian’s Clyde career came to an end. The opposition were Brechin City, and the result was the same as in Brian’s debut - a 2-1 win for Clyde.

Brian Ahern is a name that is inexorably linked with Clyde FC throughout the seventies and much of the eighties. He is a club record holder for league appearances and if you ever conceded a penalty against Clyde when Brian was around, it was a pretty good bet that he would score. The most reticent Scottish football fan, when wanting to praise a footballer, would very probably use the phrase “he could play a bit” - a phrase that would certainly fit Brian.

The Statistics

Brian’s statistics make for impressive reading and also club records. The three main contenders for the title of Most Appearances for The Bully Wee are Brian, Tommy McCulloch and Harry Haddock. If we try to level the playing field and remove all ‘smaller’ tournaments, solely concentrating on matches played in the League, Scottish Cup and League Cup, then we reveal the following figures:

  League Scottish Cup League Cup Total
Brian Ahern 424 21 52 497
Harry Haddock 364 42 75 481
Tom McCulloch 378 31 70 479

Thus we can pretty safely acknowledge Brian as being the player with most League appearances for Clyde and if there is a category for League, Scottish Cup and League Cup matches only then Brian also holds that record.

Brian and penalties were inexorably linked, from that very first one on the 2nd December 1972 until his last penalty (successfully converted of course) on the 15th of April 1986 Brian took 41 in all for The Bully Wee and scored all bar 3 of them. The only other penalty taker we can really compare Brian’s phenomenal record against is the manager who signed him for Clyde, Archie Robertson, and the comparison shows a remarkable similarity between these two spot-kick experts:

  Penalties Taken Penalties Scored Penalties Missed
Archie Robertson 55 52 3
Brian Ahern 41 38 3

Incidentally, one record Brian does hold is the record for the fastest penalty scored for the club. On the 22nd March 1978 Brian slotted home after 45 seconds in a league match against Berwick Rangers at Shawfield.

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