As Dundee face Aberdeen in the Ladbrokes Premiership this weekend, we take a look at a player who played for both clubs, Billy Pirie. Billy found scoring as natural as breathing and it is no surprise that fans who saw him regularly terrorise defences in a Dark Blue shirt in the latter half of the Seventies voted him into the 2016 DFC Hall of Fame.
Being brought in to replace fans’ favourite Gordon Wallace might seem a daunting task to many but not for Billy Pirie who went on to establish himself as a Dundee legend by scoring over 100 goals in his four seasons at Dens, topping the Dark Blue scoring charts three years on the trot.
There cannot have been a more prolific striker in Dundee’s history than Billy Pirie and his 106 goals in 138 games is a phenomenal ratio which sees him ninth in Dundee’s all time goal scoring list and while some critics may point towards the fact the majority of his goals were in the second tier, at his peak he looked one of the sharpest strikers around.
A stocky figure, likened by many as in the Gerd Muller mould, Billy started his career with South African side Arcadia Shepherds with former Scottish internationalist John Hewie who was player / manager and he could also count among his team mates such legends of the English game as Johnny Byrne and Johnny Hayes.
After a short illness however, Billy returned to Scotland where he signed for Highland League side Huntly and then Arbroath before being lured to his home town team Aberdeen for £30,000 in 1974.
Surprisingly Billy never became a first team regular at Pittodrie and he agreed to join North American Soccer League side New York Apollos after being given a free transfer by Dons boss Ally McLeod.
By then Dundee were on a look out for a new striker after Wallace’s high profile departure and Dundee manager Davie White persuaded Billy that he was the man to spearhead a promotion push and agreed to put pen to paper for the Dark Blues.
Dundee agreed to allow him to play for the American side during the summer and Pirie rewarded their faith in him with an incredible 44 goals in 45 appearances in his debut season. Sponsors J&B Whisky promised scorers of a hat-trick a crate of their finest and a gallon for player of the month and Billy won five crates and two gallons across the season.
Billy netted 38 of Dundee’s 90 goals in the First Division but it wasn’t enough to secure promotion as The Dee could only finish in third place behind St Mirren and surprise packets Clydebank but it did win Billy the Scottish First Division Player of the Year and another gallon of whisky for himself and one for the club.
“Billy kept winning us crates of whisky”, recalled Iain Phillip in Up Wi The Bonnets!, “but although we laced everyone else , we struggled in the important games against St Mirren and Clydebank who admittedly were very good teams.”
Failure to win promotion meant that the tracksuit-clad Davie White resigned in April 1977 and the following season, now under the managerial charge of former team mate Tommy Gemmell, Pirie continued to delight the home support by regularly finding the back of the net.
Early results included a Pirie-inspired 5-3 victory over St Johnstone with the striker converting an injury time penalty and an even later strike to secure his hat-trick and with Pirie and Eric Sinclair now forming a deadly partnership, the side topped the division by New Year.
Pirie kept on scoring, eventually netting a seasonal 38 as Hearts, Morton and Dundee tied at the top of the league and it proved to be a rollercoaster end to the season. Going into the last day of the season Dundee were third, three points behind Morton and one behind Hearts (in a two points for a win system) and faced champions- elect Morton at Cappielow who had a vastly superior goal difference to Hearts.
Pirie scored an excellent goal from an acute angle with six minutes left to make the score 3-2 – a goal he considers to be his best for Dundee – and both players and fans thought Dundee had won promotion as it was believed that Hearts had drawn 0-0 with Arbroath. However it soon transpired that Hearts had scored in the last minute to take second place leaving Dundee facing heart break and another season in the First Division.
By now attacking defenders with his iconic permed hair-do, Pirie was to play a pivotal role as Dundee returned to the Premier Division a the third attempt in 1979. The Dark Blue’s goal machine scored 16 times in the league as the side put the turmoil or the previous seasons behind them and returned to the top tier as First Division champions.
While both Pirie and The Dee found the net less frequently than in previous seasons, a tighter backline was the catalyst for their title win. The attacking role was now shared with Ian Redford and Eric Sinclair and both Pirie and Redford scored 16 goals each with Sinclair ten. Billy’s two cup goals saw him crowned leading goalscorer for the third season in succession becoming the first player to achieve that since Alan Gilzean in 1964.
In the Premier Division Billy missed the start of the season with an ankle injury and scored six goals in just twelve outings before departing for Australia before the season ended to join up with former Dens Park coach Willie Wallace at Sydney club Apia after being told he would only start in home games due to the defensive survival tactics that were to be employed away.
Billy’s record speaks for itself as a prolific goal getter not just in Dundee’s history but also in Scottish Football history and his 44 goal haul in his first season with Dundee has yet to be bettered by any player who has followed. His 1.3 goals per game ratio did much to alleviate the sense of doom and gloom then prevailing at Dens Park following relegation from the inaugural Premier Division and the memory of him scoring for fun in the First Division lives long in the memory of all who saw him. Goals king Billy more than deserved to be inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame with a Legends Award.
Full Name: William James Pirie
Playing Position: Centre Forward
Date of Birth: April 2nd 1949
Club Career: Arcadia Shepherds (South Africa), Huntly, Arbroath, Aberdeen, New York Apollos (USA), Dundee, Apla (Australia), Sydney Olympic (Australia)
Signed: June 1976
Debut: Heart of Midlothian 14/08/1976 (a) League Cup
Left Club: March 1980
Last Game: Aberdeen 02/02/1980 (h) League
Honours at Dundee:
Scottish League First Division winners: 1978/79
Scottish First Division Player of the Year: 1976/77
Dundee FC Hall of Fame: 2016 Legends Award
League: 111 + 1 sub, 93 goals
Scottish Cup: 11, 5 goals
League Cup: 15, 8 goals
Totals: 138, 106 goals