Everyone at Dundee Football Club was saddened to learn of the death of former player Gordon Frew who passed away peacefully in his sleep aged 93 at home with his family in Hermanus, South Africa.
Gordon was a polished and popular full-back who played for Dundee at both right-back and left-back for four years from 1950 to 1954, winning the Scottish League Cup with The Dark Blues in 1952.
Born in South Africa in 1927, Frew started his football career just after the Second World War with amateur side Wanderers in the Transvaal League before moving to the Marist Brothers A.F.C. in Johannesburg in 1947. That same year, Gordon was chosen to play for the South African national team against a touring Clyde side and in June 1950 he won his first full cap when he lined up against Australia in Durban.
The Socceroos were on a two-month tour of South Africa in June and July and played a further three ‘test’ internationals against their hosts and Frew played in all four Australian games at left-half in which the Springboks won two and lost two.
Just after those games, Frew was approached by a Dundee FC representative with a view to moving to Scotland and joining The Dee and he was delighted to jump at the chance of his first professional contract. Frew had qualified as a chartered accountant while playing with the Marists and agreed to sign a part-time contract while also finding an accountancy job in Dundee, which the club were willing to help with.
He was registered therefore with the Scottish League on August 12th 1950 but had to wait six months for his debut when he came in to replace the injured Gerry Follon at right-back for the visit of Celtic at Dens. It was a debut of mixed emotions for Frew as he put through his own net but it didn’t stop the Dark Blues recording a fine 3-1 win over The Bhoys.
Gerry Follon returned the following week for a Scottish Cup first round tie with Dundee United but after the 2-2 draw at Dens, Frew came back in for the replay at Tannadice which the Dark Blues won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Billy Steel.
At the start of his second season, Frew played in the opening game in Paisley against St Mirren in the League Cup and played at left-back instead of the injured Jack Cowan. Over the next four years, Gordon would be an important squad player with The Dee, making 63 appearances, and despite joining Dundee as a left-half, he played in all those games at full-back.
Frew played in five of the six sectional ties of the 1951/52 League Cup and in both legs of the quarter-final against Falkirk but was unlucky to be dropped for the semi-final against Motherwell when Jack Cowan reclaimed the number three jersey. Frew had played in all but one of that season’s games to date, including seven appearances in the League Cup, but after The Dee defeated Motherwell 5-1 at Ibrox in the semi, it was Cowan who lined up against Rangers in the final.
The following season however it was the reverse when Jack Cowan had played in every match en route to Dundee’s second final but got injured the week before against Hearts at Dens. Frew therefore got a call at work the day before the big match to tell him he was playing and was told to report at Dundee West train station at 2.30pm with his boots being brought down for him from Dens Park.
Frew had played in three of the sectional ties at the start of the season but now lined up in the final against Kilmarnock at left-back. He played well, crucially kicking one off the line on the hour when it was still 0-0 and, after Bobby Flavell claimed a brace in the last eight minutes, Gordon won the first winner’s medal of his career.
At the end of the season Frew travelled with the Dundee squad for their two-month, seventeen-match tour of his homeland South Africa and played in all three tests against their national side.
In October, the South Africans visited Dundee as part of their tour of the British Isles and played in a friendly at Dens and Frew was made captain for the night. It was the first time Gordon had skippered the Dark Blues and two goals from Albert Henderson and one from Gerry Burrell made it a proud night for the South African with a 3-1 win against his country.
That season the 5ft 8in Frew made 28 appearances for Dundee and finally established himself as a first team regular, but in February he told manager George Anderson that he wanted to return to South Africa alongside fellow countryman Ken Ziesing.
Frew therefore returned to South Africa in the summer and signed once again for the amateur Marist Brothers. Dundee retained his registration for another five years until April 1959, meaning that he was unable to sign for another professional side but was able to turn out for the Marists in the amateur Transvaal League where he joined his League Cup winning captain Alfie Boyd who was coach.
It didn’t stop Frew turning out for his country however and after a five year international hiatus while playing in Scotland, he was called up for the Springboks’ tour of Australia in September 1955. Gordon was chosen to be captain for the trip and played in all four tests against the Socceroos and returned to his pre-Dundee position of left-half.
The following year he captained his country again in two matches against England in June 1956 as the F.A. toured South Africa and played this time at right-back as England won the games 4-3 and 4-2.
In 1959, the first professional league in South Africa, the National Football League, was formed and Frew was invited to become player/manager of the newly formed Highlands Park F.C. Dundee released Frew’s registration to allow him to sign for Highlands Park and it was his job to put together a side to compete in the second N.F.L. season, having missed out on starting in its first.
It turned out to be a successful debut season for the new club as Frew led Highlands Park to the N.F.L. league championship and in their second year they won the Castle Cup, the national South African cup.
In their third year they won the league championship for the second time and at the end of the season Gordon decide to hang up his boots at the age of thirty-five. He decided to retire from the game altogether and resigned as manager to instead concentrate on his accountancy career. He had left a fine legacy at Balfour Park as Highlands Park would go on to win the championship six times in the next fifteen years including the title in 1975 with a certain Alan Gilzean in their ranks.
Gordon Frew always spoke highly of his time in Scotland and enjoyed his time at Dens and loved to tell stories of his time playing alongside Billy Steel & Co. as one of Dundee’s Hampden Heroes of the early Fifties.
The thoughts of everyone at the Kilmac Stadium are with Gordon’s family and friends at this sad time.
Honours at Dundee:
Scottish League Cup winners: 1952/53
Scottish Cup: 5
League Cup: 13