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It's 40 years since Keith FC assembled one of the Highland League's best-ever teams on their way to three titles in a row

By Ali Morrison

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Time marches on at a helluva speed the older you get, but I can’t believe that it is 40 years since Keith romped away with the 1979-80 Highland League championship, the middle of a magnificent three titles in a row, writes Charlie Simpson.

Forty years have passed since Keith formed one of the Highland League’s best-ever teams, the formidable title winners from season 1979-80.
Forty years have passed since Keith formed one of the Highland League’s best-ever teams, the formidable title winners from season 1979-80.

I make no apology for waxing lyrical about what I deem to be the greatest-ever Maroons side, and the most unforgettable season in the club’s long and illustrious history.

Romped is no exaggeration, as Keith left Brora Rangers a distant second, 12 points behind, in the days of only two points for a win.

Highland League final table 1979-80
Highland League final table 1979-80

They left their rivals strung out like yesterday’s washing, bulldozing all before them, winning the Aberdeenshire Cup and thrashing Hamilton Accies in their own backyard to set up a fourth round Scottish Cup tie against Berwick Rangers in front of a crowd of more than 5600.

The defending champs strengthened in the summer of 1979, by bringing in Andy Fettes, ‘Foggie Fury’ Kevin Bremner, Paul Wisely, Ian Sellars and Gordon Beagrie.

What a mouthwatering array of players manager Bobby Wilson had at his disposal, no wonder they unnerved the opposition, and that was in the days of strong Brora, Caley, Inverness Thistle, Ross County, Peterhead, Buckie and Elgin City sides.

The masterly Bobby Gray was his goalie, he flew through the air like a trapeze artist. The best goalie I have ever seen in the Highland League. In defence, were Ian ‘Cuptie’ McKay, Bruce ‘Skipper’ Martin, Mike ‘Dally’ Dalgarno, Eric ‘Big Eck’ Wilson, the elegant Wisely and gritty Ordiquhill loon Neil Rodger.

Fettes dominated midfield, and possessed one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen. His team-mates in the engine room were the wily Louis Duncan, and the accomplished Colin Keir.

Upfront, the Maroons had the opposition terrified with turbo-charged Bremner, an unstoppable centre forward, and the deadliest of goal-snatchers, wee Raymond ‘Ace’ O’Hara. Mike Winton and John Curran provided the ammo, and experienced Dennis Bruce was a great stand-in.

However, a nervy opening to the campaign saw the Maroons lose at home to Ross County – one of only two league defeats.

Three days earlier, O’Hara had started the season with a bang, blasting a hat trick as Lossiemouth were thumped 7-1 in the League Cup.

It was like poking a hornets’ nest though, as Wilson’s warriors went on the rampage after that, sweeping all before them.

Bremner and O’Hara were unstoppable nabbing 69 goals between them, the latter setting a club record 45 goals, at one point scoring in a record seven successive matches.

A the other end, Keith’s rearguard afforded the opposition a miserly 20 league goals – another record. The crown was clinched with a 2-0 home win against Brora on April 5, 1980, thanks to O’Hara’s double.

During the season the Scottish Cup campaign was almost a diversion, with that marvellous 3-2 win at Hamilton – then top of the First Division – the finest Keith display I have ever seen.

Goals from Keir, Bremner and O’Hara had the mighty Maroons 3-0 up at one point.

Then came Berwick, the visitors eventually breathing a sigh of relief at the end, after O’Hara had put Keith ahead.

You hear managers and players complaining these days about too many games, well, a meagre 18 players appeared in 41 games, nabbing 112 goals and conceding only 30. All mind-boggling statistics.

I forget what was happening last week, but that season is fresh in my mind, recalling the agile saves, the tough tackling, the midfield superiority and the sharpshooting. Were they really that good? You bet, and it was a privilege to see them in their pomp.

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