Dunfermline Athletic

Bobby Ancell 1951-55

Born in Dumfries on 16th June 1911, Bobby Ancell grew up with a marked aptitude for sport, thanks in no small part to his father, a physical training instructor at the local Academy. As a teenager, he represented his home town at both cricket and rugby and one of his first jobs was as an assistant golf professional, a sport in which he retained a keen interest, eventually playing off a handicap of three.

It was football that made Ancell's name, however, and in a playing career that lasted 23 years his first senior club was St. Mirren, who signed him from Mid-Annandale in1930.  He played in the 1934 Scottish Cup Final defeat by Rangers before moving to Newcastle United for the not insignificant sum of £2,750 in August 1936.

A stylish, intelligent full-back who believed that an opponent could always be beaten by skill rather than force, Ancell gained two caps for Scotland during his first season with Newcastle and a third, unofficial one, against England in December 1939 on his home ground of St. James' Park.

Like many players, he became a P.T. instructor during the war, giving him the opportunity to 'guest' for several clubs, and after being transferred to Dundee in 1944 he enjoyed a spell as football coach to the Norwegian Army.Ancell helped Dundee lift the Second Division championship in 1946/47 (during which they inflicted Dunfermline's record league defeat, 10-0) and after spending 1948/49 with Aberdeen he was approached by Dunfermline with regard to their vacant managerial position. With boardroom disputes making the headlines, he turned the offer down and chose instead to return to Dens Park for one last season before taking over as player/manager of Berwick Rangers in 1950.

Berwick were then in the East of Scotland League but at the end of Ancell's first season gained admission to 'C' Division of the Scottish League. His qualities as a coach were becoming well recognised and when Dunfermline turned to him again, this time in 1952, he accepted the job, perhaps happier that the club now had a completely different board of directors.

The Pars had been without a manager during the previous season and, having released no fewer than eighteen players at the end of it, Ancell had to rebuild the squad with very little money. The upheaval led to a mediocre season but Ancell was happy to develop young talent and shape them into the kind of players he wanted. One of his first signings was 17 year-old Jimmy Millar and he was followed by the likes of George O'Brien, Felix Reilly, John Sweeney and one of the greatest of them all, Charlie Dickson, signed during 1954/55 to replace Millar, who went on to have a great career with Rangers.

That season saw the Pars, who had improved in all three seasons under Ancell, finally achieve promotion to the First Division after an absence of eighteen years. The manager was offered a new contract worth £15 per week but the supporters were stunned to learn that he had applied for and been offered the vacant position at Motherwell.

At Fir Park, he was able to put his purist principles into practice and developed a dynamic young side known as the 'Ancell Babes'. Under his guidance, no fewer than eight players gained international recognition although it was perhaps disappointing that no honours came the club's way.

Under constant pressure to sell his best players, Ancell quit Motherwell in 1965 to take over at Dundee. In 1967/68, his final season in management, he led the club to the semi-final of the Fairs Cup where they were defeated by eventual winners Leeds United. After a year working as reserve team coach at Dens Park, he acted for Nottingham Forest in a scouting role before finally retiring from the game to spend more time on the golf course prior to his death on 5th July 1987.

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