While Ian Ure is rightly an inductee of the Dundee F.C. Hall of Fame, it could have been so different for the bedrock of Dundee title winning defence had he followed his first love of rugby and gave in to the early doubts he harboured about his footballing ability.
John Francombe Ian Ure was born in Ayr on December 7th 1939 and at school, he had excelled at most sports representing them at rugby, cricket and boxing. Ian attended the staunch rugby playing school of Ayr Academy who tried to rear him as a stand-off and he played for the First XV aged just sixteen. Most of his opponents were bigger than him, which helped Ian build his mighty frame but he didn’t ignore football, playing for Ayr Albion on a Saturday afternoon after playing with the oval ball in the morning.
It was at Albion that Ure was spotted by Dundee’s Ayrshire scout Jimmy Ross who invited Ian to go to Dens Park for a week’s trial in 1958 after he had represented Scotland Schoolboys against England and Wales. After failing to impress boss Willie Thornton, the youngster was told to return home to Ayr but Dundee coach Sammy Kean persuaded Thornton to give the blond 6ft 1in defender another two weeks trial. Still Thornton was unimpressed but Kean persisted in his judgement and persuaded his manager to sign the youngster and with a £100 signing on fee in his pocket, Ure went on to become one of the greatest players to play for the Dark Blues.
After just four months in the reserves, Ian made his debut in the first team in a 3-2 home win over Falkirk. Having signed for The Dee as a left-half, Ian found himself at centre-half almost by accident when he came in to replace regular pivot Billy Smith and soon his performances made the Dundee support forget about the departure of Jimmy Gabriel to Everton.
After spending a few years as understudy to Doug Cowie, Ure had to wait until Bob Shankly took over the Dens Park hot seat before he became a regular in the side and in season 1960/61 made forty-one appearances, establishing the formidable half-back line alongside Bobby Seith and Bobby Wishart.
Season 1961/62 saw Dundee become Scottish League Champions and Ian was an ever present making the number five jersey his own for both club and country. He made the first of eleven international appearances for Scotland, eight of which he won at Dens, in November 1961 against Wales and just three days later was part of the Dundee side which recorded the Club’s greatest ever league result, with a 5-1 victory at Ibrox over Rangers.
The next season saw Dundee explode onto the European scene with an 8-1 hammering of West German champions Cologne. The shockwaves that Ure and his team mates were sending throughout the continent continued as Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht were put to the sword before Dundee crashed out to Italian giants A.C. Milan 5-2 on aggregate at the semi final stage.
Ure’s performances in the Champion Clubs’ Cup were immense, particularly in the away leg in Cologne when Dundee were under pressure both on and off the park and were put under the most intense intimidation. Down to ten men with keeper Bert Slater stretchered off and 3-0 down at half-time, Dundee were in severe danger of going out in what would have been one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in two legged football, but Ure was one of the few to keep his head and put in a heroic performance to see Dundee through.
In December 1962, his performances at both home and abroad saw Ure presented with the Scottish Footballer of the Year Award which was chosen by Rex Kingsley of the Sunday Mail and became the first and to date only Dundee player to win a national player of the year accolade. Pre-dating, the Players’ Player or Football Writers’ Awards, the Kingsley award was presented at the end of a calendar year and Ure became the twelfth man to win the title with team mate Gordon Smith being the first with Hibernian in 1951.
A presentation ceremony was held in the Dundee’s Caird Hall on February 24th 1963 and in the souvenir programme, Ure’s manager Bob Shankly said. ‘Ian is not only a highly skilled player- he is a morale builder in any side. His virtues as a team mate are never more noticeable when the battle is at its toughest. His very presence, as he races to cover ever possible leak or nails it forward to stab it to a mate, means much to his colleagues on the field.’
Six weeks later, Ian was part of the Scotland side which defeated England at Wembley for the first time since 1949 with a 2-1 win and B.B.C. commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme described Ure as ‘the greatest centre half in the world today’ in his coverage of the game.
With early sixties seeing a steady flow of Scottish talent heading south where the big bucks was, it was always going to be difficult to keep a hold of Ure after he had performed so well in such high profile games. Ian wanted to test himself at a higher level and put in a transfer request in the summer of 1963 and after threatening to ‘sign on the dole’ if he didn’t get a move, he eventually moved to Arsenal having impressed against them in two friendlies in 1962.
Ure moved to Highbury for £62, 500, a world record fee for a centre half and after six years in London moved for another world record fee for a centre-half when Matt Busby paid £80, 000 to take him to Old Trafford.
After a short spell with St. Mirren, Ure succeeded Alex Ferguson as manager of East Strilingshire but his time at Dens remained the highlight of his career. Ure made 146 appearances for The Dee but curiously never scored, considering his height might have posed a threat at set pieces. He was however the heartbeat of Dundee’s title winning defence and was a fearsome battler who dominated aerial duels and passed the ball better than most centre halves of his day.
Honours With Dundee:
Scottish League Champions: 1961/62
European Cup semi-final: 1962/63
Scotland Player of the Year: 1962
Scotland full caps: 8
Scottish League caps: 4
DFC Hall of Fame: Legends Award 2011
Scottish Cup: 6
League Cup: 20