From 1955 to 1969, he made 434 appearances for the Dee, scored 3 goals, captained the club to their only Scottish League title and took Dundee on a European Cup adventure that still lives on today. He had a stand named after him and a place in the 2009 Hall of Fame was a homage to the player, the man, the icon who we all know and call Mr. Dundee.
With around a 55-year association with the club, we are talking about none other than Sir Bobby Cox.
Born on Wedderburn Street, not far from Dens Park, the life long Dundee fan’s journey into football might have been all so different. He was educated at SS Peter and Paul then St. John’s High School.
While playing for junior side Dundee Osborne, he was invited for a trial with Dundee United but United deemed him ‘too wee’ and to come back to them when he had grown a little taller. United’s loss would be our gain but in the mean time Bobby would go back to Dundee Osborne and then onto National Service with the Royal Signals down in Ripon in North Yorkshire.
The youngster would start turning out for the regimental team and then after impressing for them, would move up to the Northern Command side which would ultimately lead to Dundee taking notice of him.
Fellow army colleague Sandy Evans talked the club into having a look at the young left back. In Jim Wilkie's book Bonetti's Blues, Bobby told how, "Sandy Evans, who was a soldier with me and a provisional signing for Dundee, contacted the club and suggested they go for me before someone in England did."
Dundee manager at that time in 1955 was Willie Thornton and he had seen enough to sign Cox on a part-time professional contract who would then turn full-time a year later on the 5th May when his service was finished. Bobby would go onto make his debut on the Dens Park turf in a 3-1 victory of Queen’s Park on the 20th October 1956. The rest, as they say, is history.
During his time with Dundee, Bobby would only find the back of the net on three occasions. His first goal came just under five years since his debut when he slotted home a penalty in a 4-1 win at Dens against Dunfermline on the 4th March 1961. He would again have to wait a few years before adding to his tally but it did come in a 4-0 victory against Airdrie on the 9th November 1963, again at Dens. His last goal would unsurprisingly also come at Dens, in a 9-1 drubbing of East Fife in the Scottish Cup 1st Round on the 9th February 1966.
After breaking into the side in 1956-57, Bobby would go onto to cement his place in the team, playing thirty straight game as the Dee finished tenth and reached the League Cup Semi Final.
The following three seasons seen Bobby play every game, accumulating 124 appearances without a break with the Dark Blues. Then in 1960-61 season, Cox would be handed the captain’s armband when Doug Cowie’s injury problems seen him miss several games. It would however be the following season when not only ‘The Captain’ but the whole team would etch their names in Dundee’s history forever.
The 1961-62 season saw Dundee clinch their one-and-only Championship on the last day of the season after defeating St Johnstone 3-0 at Muirton Park. The late Bob Crampsey described this Dundee team as the “most classical” outfit he had witnessed and few could argue otherwise.
Bobby missed only three games that year as he guided the club he had supported and grown up beside to the highest accolade in Scottish football. At the final whistle as the vast majority of the 26,500 crowd ran onto the field to celebrate with their heroes, Bobby Cox was lofted high in the air by the exuberant supporters as a sea of dark blue swayed back and forth around him. No matter what team you support growing up, winning the league title with them is every kid’s dream. Well, Bobby got to live that dream and describes this match as his most memorable one of his Dundee career.
The next season would see him lead Dundee into Europe for the first time in the European Cup. Back then it was only the league winners from each country that took part, the best of the best. That’s what makes the club’s run to the semi-finals that more memorable as they jostled with some giants of the game, even dismantling them on their way.
FC Koln were seen as favourites but were knocked out by Dundee over two legs. Then came Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht but they too were disposed of.
Bobby recalls the Anderlecht game over in Belgium.
“At half-time, we were in the lead and simply playing them off the park- all the boys were bubbly in the dressing room,” said Cox.
“Manager Bob Shankly came in and said to everyone to calm down.
“Alan Gilzean stood up and said, ‘Boss we have them on the rack. Get the ball to Smithy (Gordon Smith), he’ll beat the full-back and cross to me. I’ll be at the back post to nod them in’. Shankly took a long breath and looked up at him saying, ‘Just keep it simple Gillie’.”
Cox also recalls the aftermath of the game at the after-match banquet.
“We’d beaten them 4-1 and the Belgians weren’t too happy with their goalkeeper and they let him know it. We were going into a hotel for an after-match banquet, which was normal in those days for both teams to attend.
“We spotted the goalie outside sitting on the fence outside the hotel, very despondent. Hammy and I went over to talk to him and he told us that he had been blamed for the defeat. We told him it was not his fault and invited him back in with us.
“So, we had the situation of the Anderlecht goalkeeper in among us at the banquet with his team-mates looking across the room.”
Agonisingly for the skipper, just four days before the team were due to play AC Milan in the 1st leg of the European Cup Semi Final, Bobby strained his cartilage in a defeat away to Motherwell. This would be his last game of the season and a chance to lead Dundee to the European Cup Final was cruelly snatched away.
Dundee had drawn one-a-piece with the Italian giants at half time but, in the next forty-five minutes, conceded four goals with Ian Ure recalling that three of them came from the position that was normally manned by Cox. It’s almost deflating to think of what might have been if our captain had played. A single goal victory for Dundee back at Dens followed in the second leg but the damage had been done across In Milan and the European adventure had come to an end.
Despite how remarkable it was to see a wee Scottish team go as far as they did in that competition, Cox listed not making the final as his biggest disappointment. It has often been said that the wide pitch at Wembley where the final was to be played, would have suited the free-flowing football that Dundee were playing.
The following season saw Cox captain the club to its first Scottish Cup Final in 39 years but it would end in defeat for the Dark blues, going down 3-1 to Rangers despite the heroics of Bert Slater in goal that day.
Further adventures awaited the player and club and he played in both games against Real Zaragoza in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1964 and played his part in the club’s run to another European competition semi-final, this time in the 1976-68 Fairs Cup. He played in both legs of the DWS Amsterdam and Royal Liege but missed out playing in the Quarter Final against FC Zurich and Leeds United in the last four.
Bobby’s last match took place against Airdrie in the League Cup on 17th August 1968 with the tie ending in a draw. But the veteran did not realise at the time it would be his last game as he wasn’t released until April following year. Then manager John Prentice decided to release eleven players and Cox decided to call it a day on the 30th April 1969.
Cox had a few nicknames during his time at Dens Park. The Captain, Coxy and Sliding Tackle were the most popular ones but in an interview with Dundee’s matchday programme, he mentioned he was called ‘Chesty’ because of his fondness of controlling the ball with his chest.
On of his nicknames, The Sliding Tackle, went on to become the name of a public house in Broughty Ferry which was run by the man himself.
There is a criminal lack of international honours for Cox. He was named as a reserve on twelve occasions but was overlooked each team. He did represent the Scottish League XI against the Scottish national side at Parkhead in 1961 but that would be all the recognition he would receive.
The club would bring back Bobby along with Alex Hamilton in 1989 in an ambassadorial role to help out on matchdays when chairman Angus Cook built new hospitality suites in the main stand. They both loved the roles and would always be found going around the lounges, chatting to fellow Dundee fans. Bobby even said that he travelled to away games in the team bus which he considered a great privilege.
When Dens Park was redeveloped behind each goal, the fans voted to call the newly erected stand at the old Provost Road end ‘The Bobby Cox’ stand. When you consider his last ever match was in 1968 for the club, that itself highlights just how much our support past and present felt about the League winning captain.
Unfortunately, Bobby passed away in the early morning of the 20th February 2010 but his legend will forever remain with Dundee.
That day Dundee were due to face Partick Thistle at Dens and the players from both sides lined up to face the Bobby Cox stand instead of the traditional practice of standing round the centre circle. At the families request, a minutes tribute was held and everyone in the ground gave ‘Chesty’ a fantastic send off which went well past the designated minute.
Fittingly, Dundee won that match with the only goal coming in front of the Bobby Cox stand from our then captain Eric Paton.
The story of how a Dundee fan, brought up beside Dens Park and who spent four years with his leg in a plaster from the age of eleven, would go on to lead his team to the top of Scottish football by winning the league and then coming within a whisker of seeing Dundee reach the European Cup Final will forever be remembered by fans old and new.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Sir Bobby Cox, we salute you.