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John McNamee (1963/64 to 1972/73)

John McNamee

"You just can't stop him when he gets the bit between his teeth".

John McNamee
Birth 11/06/1941 Coatbridge
P/H/W Centre-Half 6ft 1in 12st 10lb - 13st
Jnd 30/12/66 Hibernians £26,000
Left 12/11/71 Blackburn £12,500
App/Gls 129 (3) 8

United have had some tough, uncompromising centre-halves over the years and Big John McNamee could mix it with the best of them. Tall, robust and powerful his sheer physical presence was often an effective weapon on its own.

For most of his time on Tyneside he was involved in a two-way tussle with John McGrath initially and then Ollie Burton to partner Bobby Moncur with Harvey often making the choice depending upon the nature of the opposition.

John was one of three players signed by Joe Harvey in December 1966 in a successful attempt to protect United’s First Division status. He had wanted to get out of Scottish soccer because he thought he was being victimised by referees up there.

Softly spoken but granite-hard, John played well from the off and Harvey temporarily made him captain when Jim Iley was dropped.

He took a little longer to win over some of the Gallowgate crowd, partly because he had replaced crowd-favourite John McGrath, but they could not fail to admire the tenacity of his striker-stopping.

Known as the “Iron Man” John was a very powerfully built centre-half who, though lacking in some of the finer arts of the game, made up for this with his strength in the tackle and his ability to use his height and weight in the air.

He always played with determination and aggression and was at his most effective when up against big centre-forwards. Harvey once said: "You just can't stop him when he gets the bit between his teeth". He was a tireless worker, though occasionally diverted by side issues with other players.

He was the biggest and strongest player on the books and he didn’t just strike fear into attackers as Harvey would occasionally send him up front when United were struggling. Such sortees against Leeds lived long in the memory.

John was unlucky not to feature in more of the 1968/69 Fairs Cup matches, making only three starts and coming on once as substitute, but he more than played his part. He was the man of the match when the Magpies had to withstand an onslaught in the away leg of the First Round tie against Feyenoord and produced another brilliant performance at Ibrox against Rangers in the Semi-Final.

Season by Season

Pre Toon

Represented Scotland at schoolboy and youth level and joined Celtic from Belshill Athletic in August 1959. He moved to Hibernians at the end of the 1963/64 season.

1966/67 (21-1)

Harvey was desperate to shore up his leaky defence and he splashed out a sizeable £26,000 to bring John from Hibernian. He settled quickly and played in every game until the end of the season, captaining the side for a short spell when Iley was dropped.

1967/68 (32 - 2)

With McGrath having settled his contract issues with the club McNamee was told he was out the team for the first match against Southampton. Unhappy with the situation he held showdown talks with Harvey and immediately put in a written transfer request. He was recalled for the match at Bramall Lane at the end of September. His form soon returned and he famously scored an 88th minute equaliser at Roker Park after which he was hanging on the net rigging. The sale of McGrath to Southampton on 15th February further secured his place in the side.

1968/69 (27/2 - 3)

Picked up a niggling knee ligament injury against Feyenoord in Rotterdam which kept on recurring and lost his place in the side to Burton. And he made a verbal transfer request when he wasn’t included in the side to play in Zaragoza. However when the going got tough they knew who they could depend on and he played a major part in United’s success with some barnstorming defensive displays. He was star of another classic photo as he became embroiled in a wrestling match with Jackie Charlton in the home match with Leeds.

1969/70 (17/1 - 1)

Had to play second-fiddle to Burton who had established himself as Moncur's preferred partner. Had a decent run in the side at the start of 1970 after Ollie picked up an injury.

1970/71 (30/0 - 1)

Despite no longer being a first choice Ollie's regular injury problems meant he got plenty of opportunities. Dunfermline wanted to sign him and there was interest from Sheffield Wednesday too. Suffered a back injury and his knee was troublesome. It was thought he may have a cartilage issue which could go any time.

1971/72 (2)

Although John signed an improved contract in the summer he struggled with a number of minor niggles and only made two appearances before being sold to Blackburn in November at the age of thirty.


Painting by Piotr