Club historian David Bull remembers Dave Maclaren who has died, aged 82.
Ted Bates’s signing of Dave Maclaren in September 1966 was always going to raise eyebrows and take some living down.
The Saints had a goalkeeping problem. In their eighth game ever in the top flight, their Scotland international ’keeper, Campbell Forsyth, had broken his leg. If 19 year-old Gerry Gurr were to be spared, Bates needed to buy a ready-made replacement. Reporters ran their rumours – three ’keepers from Manchester United alone were mooted – until Bates’s capture of Maclaren was revealed.
The 32 year-old Scot had the pedigree: 260 League games for Leicester, Plymouth and latterly Wolverhampton. But when Wolves had come to The Dell a year earlier, the Saints had put nine past him. Never mind, said the Echo, reminding readers of the “many fine saves” the “magnificent” Maclaren had made in that 9-3 romp. In reminiscences reported on the Wolves Heroes website in 2011, Dave protested that his defence had “gone missing” so often that he felt as though he “was playing in midfield.” He remembered looking at the Dell clock showing 4.15: Terry Paine had just scored the Saints’ ninth and Dave was dreading the final score. But, with some help from the woodwork, he kept the score to single figures.
Yet regardless of the accolades, whether in the 1965 match-report or when he signed a year later, nothing was going to stop this transfer becoming a lasting joke – not even Dave’s clean-sheet in his sixth game, when he was “the hero” of a remarkable 1-0 win at Leeds. So said his Echo fan-club of a performance fondly remembered by team-mates, not least David Thompson and Ken Jones, both returning to their native parts. “No matter what Maclaren did,”Jones reckoned that “he did right. It hit his arms, leg, crossbar, post… It was unbelievable.” Thompson concurred: “we should have been about 10-0 down.”
Dave himself described it as “like being at the Alamo.” Apart from all of his shot-stopping, he relished the memory of withstanding Jack Charlton’s robust challenges at corners. But the side began to slide down the table in December and, as the battle against relegation intensified, Bates introduced his third Scottish ’keeper of the season in Eric Martin.
His 26 appearances for Southampton would be the end of the Football League road for the much-travelled Maclaren. Before he came into the English game, National Service had taken him to the Far East, serving in the RAF as a radar-fitter. Having kept goal for both Hong Kong and Malaya, and won the Malaya Cup with Penang, he returned to Scotland with Dundee, resisting Ted Drake’s interest in signing him for Chelsea. After he joined Second Division Plymouth in 1960, Ted Bates had a few seasons to weigh him up, not least when he saved a penalty from Paine on Boxing Day 1963.
Paine would become an admirer of a team-mate who “kept the dressing- room entertained” with his tricks: “he could flick a coin into his top pocket with his big toe and… balance a cardboard box on his nose,” Terry claims. Such skills don’t pay the mortgage, however, and after a couple more football jobs in England, Dave returned to the Far East to oversee Malaysia’s progress to the finals of the Munich Olympics. When politics intervened, he headed for Australia in 1972, where he continued to coach, first in Sydney and then Melbourne.
In the 1980s, he worked for a Melbourne-based financial company, administering private annuity funds. He moved, in retirement, “away from the city bustle,” as he put it, to live “a low-profile life in a small town, deep in the central Victorian countryside.”