Bobby Cox was a local boy who did well – very well indeed. To be born within earshot of the crowd noise from Dens Park, then to grow up to lead your beloved Dundee FC to the club’s greatest glory is the stuff of legends. From the school teams of S.S. Peter and Paul and then St John’s High School, his aim was to become a professional footballer and to achieve that aim he had to overcome great adversity when he had his leg in plaster for four years following a serious injury.
The young Bobby Cox then continued his football education with local Junior side Dundee Osborne where his talents attracted the attention of a scout from Dundee United. Cox’s heart lay at the top rather than bottom of Tannadice Street but he went along for his trial anyway only to be told afterwards that he was, in United’s opinion, ‘too wee’.
Back then to Osborne and off to National Service with the Royal Signals for which he was stationed at Ripon in North Yorkshire. His displays for the regimental team earned him recognition with the Northern Command side but more importantly persuaded Dundee FC to listen to the entreaties of his army buddy, Dundee provisional signing Sandy Evans and have a look at Cox.
This man Evans deserves a plaque inside Dens. There might be no Bobby Cox Stand, possibly no solitary league title without his intervention. Manager Willie Thornton liked what he saw and in 1955 Cox began what was to be a 14 year playing association with the club he had supported all his life. He made the first of what was to be more than 400 appearances for The Dee in a 3-1 Dens Park win over Queen’s Park on October 20th 1956 after only four appearances for the reserve side. For the remainder of his career only injury or illness would prevent him from wearing the number three shirt.
“The English dictionary defines ‘legend’ as a story handed down from generation to generation and all Dundee supporters have been told the story of Bobby Cox from their fathers or grandfathers”
Doug Cowie was one of the mainstays of the team that Cox came into and when Cowie left, Cox succeeded him as captain. Cox would eventually notch up the second highest number of appearances for Dundee and his 433 starts are only bettered by the man whom he succeeded as captain.
The club had waned from the halcyon early Fifties days of Billy Steel & Co. but at the start of the next decade, as manager Bob Shankly introduced youngsters Alex Hamilton, Ian Ure, Andy Penman, Alan Gilzean and Hugh Robertson and brought in the experience of Bobby Seith, Bobby Wishart and Gordon Smith, the Dark Blues became genuine contenders for the major prizes.
In 1962 they surpassed anything accomplished by a previous Dundee side, winning the Scottish League title by three points from Rangers – who they had the audacity to thrash 5-1 at Ibrox en route to the championship.
Saturday 28th April 1962 became a date to remember for Dundee fans as Cox led his troops to the League Flag following a 3-0 win over St Johnstone at Muirton Park. At the end of the match the Dundee support streamed their way onto the pitch to acclaim their triumph and the pictures of the fans lifting their captain onto their shoulders as he held his arms up in the air are synonymous with Dundee’s greatest day. Cox and his side’s place in Tayside legend were assured.
The following season Dundee set off on a memorable European odyssey as Bobby Cox led the club into its first foray into continental competition. As they took their European Champions Cup challenge to a semi-final against AC Milan, they showed that the classic Scottish passing game which they played could work as well in Europe as it did in Scotland.
The campaign began with an 8-1 thumping of second favourites Cologne before a bruising rematch in West Germany where The Dee found themselves 3-0 down at half time. The German champions blamed their defeat at Dens on an early injury to their keeper and so deliberately targeted Dundee’s no. 1 Bert Slater in revenge and he was duly taken off midway through the first half after a boot to head.
Without their keeper and three goals behind, the Dundee dressing room was in disarray at half time and The Dee were in real danger of going out but Bobby Cox came into his own. Along with Ian Ure and the bandaged Bert Slater who was offering to come back on in these pre substitute days on the wing, the inspirational captain helped calm his irate team mates down and composed them enough to get through the tie. Cox was an inspiration on the pitch as well and when Slater returned in goal from the wing after a German fourth to then watch Cologne’s Ernst-Gunther Habig smash a penalty off the bar, the tie was as good as over. Cox and his team mates however still required the help of the off duty British Army on the Rhine to rush onto the pitch to put a cordon round the players to get them back to the relative safety of the dressing room.
After the ‘Battle of Cologne’ Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht were dispatched before significantly, with Cox injured and unable to play, AC Milan ended the dream in the San Siro at the semi-final stage. Dundee lost the first leg 5-1 in Italy and all five Milan goals came from high crosses against which Dundee were usually well prepared. After a promising first half, Dundee had disappointed and the inspirational qualities of Bobby Cox badly missed with three of the five goals coming from his usual left side.
The second leg took place at Dens just seven days later and one player still missing was Bobby Cox after he underwent a cartilage operation on his knee and he would be resting in a Dundee nursing home during the second leg.
Milan stayed at the Royal Hotel in the city centre where a local Italian waiter called Alex was to translate for the Rossoneri and Tommy Gallacher from The Courier went to visit the Milan players at their hotel to interview some of their squad for the paper. When he told them that Bobby Cox was definitely out, there was a huge cheer from the Italian contingent and they didn’t need the Italian waiter to tell them how much of a loss their inspirational skipper was to Dundee.
The Dark Blues won the second leg 1-0 thanks to an Alan Gilzean header but the damage had been done in Italy and Bobby Cox was denied the chance to lead Dundee out in the European Cup Final at Wembley; a match the Dark Blues would surely have won against Benfica to make them the first British side to win the European Cup four years before the Lisbon Lions.
That great team then began to break up in 1964 but Cox, now owner of the aptly named ‘The Sliding Tackle’ pub in Broughty Ferry (he was renowned for his trademark sliding tackle with the outside of his right foot), once again captained the team to another memorable occasion as Dundee played Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. It was Dundee’s first appearance in the Final for 12 years but there was to be no fairytale ending for ‘Coxer’ as two late goals from Rangers to win 3-1, cruelly denied the Dark Blues a replay.
Cox was again involved in another classic cup final three years later when he was on the bench for the 1967 League Cup Final against Celtic but had to again be content with another runners-up medal as the newly crowned Lisbon Lions ran out winners by five goals to three.
That same season Dundee reached a European semi for a second time and Cox was part of the squad which faced Leeds United in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the forerunner of the UEFA Cup and Europa League. Cox didn’t play in either leg against the Elland Road side but he did play in the first two rounds against Dutch side DWS Amsterdam and Royal Leige from Belgium.
To have been an established member and skipper of at one stage the best team in Scotland, it is disappointing to note that Cox did not receive the full recognition of his country. His only representative honour was for a Scottish League XI against the full Scotland national side in a ‘trial’ international at Celtic Park in 1962 but it was a match in which no caps were awarded. He was named as reserve on fewer than 12 occasions but was repeatedly overlooked for that elusive cap.
Many observers of these times will tell you that Cox was of genuine international class as left back. Unfortunately his career spanned he same time period as that of Eric Caldow, arguably Scotland’s finest full back. Caldow’s international career-ending broken leg at Wembley in 1963 ought to have opened the door for Cox; a left back with a proven track record as a team captain but the Scottish selectors and manager Ian McColl turned instead to Hearts’ David Holt to succeed Caldow. There is no doubt that if Bobby Cox had been playing today he would have been one of the first names on the squad list for every single match.
When Cox eventually retired in April 1969 Dundee were still the top team on Tayside but that was by no means the end of his Dark Blue association. He was always a welcome guest at Dens Park to which he returned on a more regular basis after chairman Angus Cook brought him back in 1989 as a match day hospitality host alongside friend and full back partner Alex Hamilton. It was a role he fulfilled with honour, becoming an inspiration to a new generation of fans until he sadly passed away in February 2010.
His place in Dens Park folklore was further cemented when thanks to the SPL’s requirements regarding all-seater stadia, the Provost Road end became a grandstand and the fans voted that it be named ‘The Bobby Cox Stand’. When he passed away on February 20th 2010, the Dundee team later that day paid their own tribute by standing on the edge of the penalty box facing his stand during the minute’s applause and the tribute was complete when the then captain Eric Paton scored the only goal of the game against Partick Thistle at the Bobby Cox end.
There were plenty of tears that day and it is fitting that on the sixth anniversary of his death, ‘Sir’ Bobby Cox was named as the most inspiring Dundonian by the local press.
At 5ft 7in, Cox was small but mighty defender. A rugged Dundonian, born and bred a few hundred yards from Dens Park in Wedderburn Street on January 24th 1934, he was described by Bob Shankly’s right hand man, trainer Sammy Kean as “a real tiger, a born winner who never gave up and whose influence was immense.” Great teams do not necessarily need a great captain but in Bobby Cox Dundee had such a man. He led front the front, set the standard and made sure his team mates maintained it.
‘Sir’ Bobby continued to be an inspiration to the players that followed in his footsteps and he regularly travelled to away matches on the team’s coach. He also accompanied Jim Duffy’s squad on their European trips to Shkoder and Perugia for the UEFA Cup in 2003 and was as proud as any Dee of their return to premier European competition after 29 years, having led Dundee into their first campaign just over forty years previously. The venerable captain of the club’s greatest team played down the honour but secretly he was chuffed to bits.
Bobby Cox was a one club man from birth to death, giving Dundee Football Club over fifty years loyal service and to many he was simply ‘Mr Dundee.’ No football club could count themselves more fortunate. The English dictionary defines ‘legend’ as a story handed down from generation to generation and all Dundee supporters have been told the story of Bobby Cox from their fathers or grandfathers and been an inspiration. There can be no doubt he is a Dundee FC legend.
The fans loved him, that’s for certain, referring to him as ‘Sir’ Bobby and was inducted after a public vote into the inaugural Dundee FC Hall of Fame in 2009 with a Legends Award to arguably the loudest cheer of the night. For many Bobby Cox had simply lived our dream and we loved him for it.
Honours at Dundee:
Scottish League champions: 1961/62
European Champions Cup semi-finalists: 1962/63
Scottish Cup runners-up: 1964
Scottish League Cup runners-up: 1967/68
Scottish League appearance: 1
Dundee FC Hall of Fame: 2009 Legends Award
League: 327 + 1 sub, 2 goals
Scottish Cup: 22, 1 goal
League Cup: 62
Totals: 434, 3 goals
Article by Kenny Ross