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7 April 2020

In a feature first published in PUSB, writer Rob Mason investigates international players who represented their country while on Coventry’s books - this time, it's Colin Stein!

Just over 50 years ago, Colin Stein scored for Scotland in a 1-1 draw against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin. It was his 10th international goal as he won just his seventh cap, but it was also his last goal for Scotland although he made a further 14 appearances, the final four whilst a Coventry player.

Stein did score at Wembley while with the Sky Blues. In January 1973 he scored the second in a 2-0 win as a team made up of players from Britain, Ireland and Denmark defeated a side representing West Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Italy and Luxembourg. The game was to commemorate the Brits, Irish and Danes joining the E.U. or Common Market as it was called then. Given all the debate about Brexit it’s a footballing footnote that a Coventry player scored in that match.

Stein remains the last man to score four goals in a game for Scotland. He did so in an 8-0 win over Cyprus at Hampden in a World Cup qualifier in May 1969. Until Steven Fletcher did so against Gibraltar in 2015 no one had subsequently scored a hat-trick for the Scots.

"I remember the game well…I had one disallowed and if I'd got five I would have equalled Hughie Gallacher's Scotland record. Right at the end we were awarded a penalty – at the Rangers end. The crowd were chanting my name, wanting me to take it but big Tam Gemmell nicked the ball off me” Colin said in an interview with the Scotsman a few years ago.

Already capped at Under 23 level and having been selected for the Scottish League, Stein was awarded his first full cap by Bobby Brown in a 1-0 win over Denmark in October 1968. Colin’s first international goals came on his second appearance, two in a 5-0 win over Cyprus in Nicosia. A third goal followed as he won his third cap in a 4-3 win over Wales at Wrexham.

Finding the back of the net against Northern Ireland at Hampden Colin then netted against England at Wembley. World Cup final goal-scorers Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters got a brace each as England won 4-1 but in Scotland’s next match Stein scored four in that hammering of Cyprus. Scoring in that 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland half a century ago this month established a record of scoring for Scotland in six successive appearances.

It was almost three years later that Stein signed for Coventry in October 1972. In the intervening period he had established himself as a Rangers legend but he was still only 25 when he arrived at Highfield Road for a fee of £140,000 of which Quintin ‘Cutty’ Young who went in the opposite direction was valued at £50,000.

Stein debuted at Crystal Palace and marked his home debut with a goal that helped beat Manchester City. He ended up with a dozen from 35 league and cup games as he helped keep City up. Two of those goals came in an FA Cup fifth round win over Hull that took City into the FA Cup quarter-final for only the second time.

The following season there were just six first division goals in 28 games although his work rate and aggression still endeared him to the fans and four cup goals included a hat-trick against Darlington.

That 1973-74 campaign would be Colin’s only full season in England as the following March he went back to Ibrox for just £10,000 less than the amount of cash that had previously changed hands between the clubs. He had scored six goals, including two penalties in 24 league games and added another in the cups. In total Stein had scored 28 times in 98 games for Coventry.

Colin wouldn’t be as prolific at Ibrox as he had been in his first spell but his first goal on his fourth game back was a headed equaliser at his first (senior) club Hibs. It earned a point that secured Rangers’ first title in over a decade. It was one of just six goals Stein scored in his second spell in Glasgow, the last was 44 years ago yesterday in a league victory over St. Johnstone. Rangers did the treble in Colin’s first full season back with the club but he found himself just a fringe player, only picking up a medal in the League Cup in which he played in the final against Celtic, along with Quintin Young.

Having played just twice in 1976-77 he was playing reserve football the following season when tragedy provided him with an opportunity. He went on loan to Kilmarnock to replace their young forward Iain Fallis who had been killed in a car accident. Killie were in the second division and Colin contributed eight goals in 24 league games but it was in the cup that he enjoyed a renaissance, helping Killie to sensationally knock Celtic out of the Scottish Cup and with it bring a return to Rangers in the quarter-final.

Although he played in a handful of later games that match at Ibrox was appropriately the last game of Colin’s career in which he played the full 90 minutes. His very final appearance came on 1 April 1978 – a 1-0 league defeat for Kilmarnock at Arbroath where a crowd of fewer than a thousand saw the last appearance of a legend before he was freed by Rangers at the end of the season and retired just before his 31st birthday. The same Gayfield Park ground had witnessed Colin score a hat-trick on his Rangers debut a decade earlier.

Stein had signed for Rangers within a fortnight of his international debut in 1968. The £100,000 paid to Hibs was the first six-figure fee between Scottish clubs. It had been a meteoric rise for a player who had only debuted for the Easter Road club the year before, scoring his first goal against Clyde in the group stages of the Scottish League Cup. It was the first of 55 goals for Hibs in exactly 100 games in all competitions. He also scored another four in nine appearances in the North American Soccer League in the summer of 1967 when the entire Hibs team represented Toronto.

Stein, who was earning three pounds a week as a joiner, was brought into professional football by Bob Shankly, brother of Liverpool legend Bill. Bob had recently become manager of Hibs when he saw Stein score a hat-trick at Easter Road in the 1965 St. Michael’s Cup final for Armadale Thistle who beat Penicuik Athletic 6-2. Shankly wasted no time, signing Stein the following day for £10 and a match ball. Colin was 18. He had lost his mother the previous year following the death of his miner dad when he was six.

Stein had been born at Philipstoun, 15 miles from Edinburgh on 10 May 1947 and began his footballing days as a left back and then centre-half for Flora Stevenson Primary School – until he scored a goal and was then desperate to play centre-forward. Colin’s elder brothers Eric and Bobby played for Broxburn Athletic, a junior team in West Lothian. Eric went on to play for the Scottish Junior side while Bobby turned out for Raith Rovers, Montrose and East Stirlingshire. After he had joined Hibs Colin played against Bobby twice.

As a young player at Hibs Colin played alongside Peter Cormack who later played for Liverpool, Peter Marinello who went to Arsenal, John Blackley who went to Newcastle and goalkeeper Thompson Allan who went on to play for Scotland and became Best Man at Colin’s wedding to his wife Linda. There were great times with Hibs. In November 1967 they travelled to Napoli and lost 4-1 in the Fairs Cup (A forerunner of the Europa League) but turned them over in Edinburgh, Stein scoring the final goal in a 5-0 win – against the legendary goalkeeper Dino Zoff.

Inevitably Stein’s goals attracted interest. At one point Hibs chairman William Harrower took Colin to a big Edinburgh hotel to meet the manager of a club who he had agreed to sell him to. The chairman had informed Colin he would not sell him to another Scottish club and when the young forward entered he found Everton manager Harry Catterick who; meeting resistance from Stein, sent a car to bring Colin’s wife to the negotiations but he still wouldn’t sign.

Stein knew that Rangers manager Davie White was an admirer – because he had told him. Rebuffing Everton, within 24 hours, and regardless of his chairman’s vow, Colin more than tripled his wages by signing for Rangers. Stein scored hat-tricks in his first two games, the second in a 6-1 thrashing of his old club Hibs, before scoring twice in a European away win over Irish outfit Dundalk. Eight goals in his first three games made Colin an instant Ibrox hero.

Rangers fans already knew what Stein brought in terms of aggression, an essential ingredient for a forward intending to look after himself during that era. He was taking over the number nine shirt from a certain Alex Ferguson. Fergie had punched Colin in a previous meeting with Hibs to which Stein had responded with an elbow!

Renowned as much for his sending offs as his goals Colin had been sent off twice during his Hibs days, once for swearing at his teammate Cormack. By his own count Colin had an early bath ten times in his career. He managed not to be sent off at Coventry but at one point in Scotland he was suspended for five weeks (Including the Cup Final) after a particular altercation with Clyde’s Eddie Mulheron – and this in a game where Rangers were 6-0 up, he had scored a hat-trick and there were only two minutes left. The sending off came just four games after he had returned from a four-week suspension for striking Kilmarnock winger Tommy McLean. This led to a fight with McLean’s teammate Billy Dickson and subsequent fighting on the terraces.

Despite the trouble Colin got into the fans idolized him. This was because of his whole-hearted commitment and of course his goals. He was top scorer with 27 in 1969-70, 20 the year after and 25 twelve months later.  One of those goals was an equaliser in the last minute of an Old Firm derby at Ibrox two days into 1971. Many fans were already leaving the ground when the goal went in and in trying to return barriers gave way on the stairway resulting in the deaths of 66 people.

Margaret Ferguson was the only woman to die in the disaster. She had been in Colin’s house two weeks earlier, delivering a teddy bear as a gift to Colin’s new born daughter Nicola. A subsequent inquiry decided that Stein’s goal had not been the cause of the disaster, a mercy that spared Stein a lifetime of unwarranted guilt.

A much happier occasion and goal came in May of the following year. In the most famous day in Rangers’ long history Colin netted the opening goal in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final as Moscow Dynamo were beaten 3-2 at the Nou Camp – a game that made every man in blue a legend.

At that time it seemed impossible that Stein would not stay at Rangers long term but before the end of the year Highfield Road rather than Ibrox was his home ground.  Jock Wallace had taken over from Willie Waddell at Rangers and with up and coming young centre-forward Derek Johnstone to replace Stein, Wallace felt able to move on both Colin and winger Willie Johnston (The scorer of the other two Rangers goals in the final) in an effort to instil more discipline into the squad. That decision allowed Sky Blues fans to enjoy the talismanic talents of a truly great centre-forward, and one who still holds that Scottish record of being the last man to score four in an international.    


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