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Willie Polland, footballer

Published on Sunday 14 February 2010 21:19

Born: 28 July, 1934, in Armadale. Died: 10 February, 2010, in Edinburgh, aged 75.

HEARTS have lost another former defender with the sudden death, following a heart attack, of 1960s' defensive stalwart Willie Polland. His passing comes hard on the heels of the deaths of former team-mate Bobby Kirk and former international centre-half Bobby Dougan.

Polland was born and raised in Armadale, leaving school to serve his time as a joiner with the family building firm he was later to run. He did his National Service in the Royal Scots and, on returning to civvie street, he played football for local side Wallhouse Rose.

While with Rose he was spotted by long-serving Raith Rovers manager Bert Herdman, who signed him in June 1955. The young right-back did not have long to wait for his chance, making his first-team debut in a Division A match against Airdrie, on 22 October, 1955, in a match that finished 3-3.

This was a good time to join Rovers, who had established themselves as a hard-to-beat mid-table side. That first season Polland got to savour a cup run which saw the club lose out to eventual winners Hearts in an Easter Road Scottish Cup semi-final.

The team carried that form into the next season, finishing fourth; that 1956 cup run and the following season's high league finish represented Raith's best seasons since the halcyon days of Alec James at the start of the 1920s and to this day the mere thought of the play of Polland, Andy Leigh, Andy Young and skipper Willie McNaught can cause "dancing in the streets of Raith".

A force of nature named Jim Baxter came from nearby Hill o' Beath, and quickly passed on to Rangers and immortality. A young striker named Willie Wallace arrived from Stenhousemuir and in April 1960 Hearts paid a combined fee of 15,000 to take Polland and Wallace across the Forth, the pair making their debuts in a 2-1 Tynecastle win over Dundee on 29 April, 1960.

For the next seven years, Polland was a near-permanent fixture in the Hearts side, a dream for a man who had been a "Jambo" since boyhood. The ultimate glory days of the 1956 Scottish Cup win and the League Championships of 1958 and 1960 had passed, but Polland was to enjoy some big days and nights in maroon as he made a total of 254 appearances for the club, placing him in the top 50 Hearts' players in terms of appearances.

He was centre-half in the team that lost to Rangers after a replay in the 1961 League Cup final and right-back in the side which won that trophy, beating Kilmarnock 1-0 in the final the next year. However, he was to suffer at the hands of Kilmarnock when the Ayrshiremen went to Tynecastle to win a dramatic League Championship "decider" on 24 April, 1965.

Hearts' consistent league form meant Polland enjoyed European nights against the likes of Inter Milan in the Fairs Cities Cup and a trip to the US to compete in the New York tournament in the early 1960s.

In season 1966-67, by which time he was used more as an experienced back-up than first-choice player, Polland returned to Raith Rovers, signing-off from Hearts in a 1-1 draw with Carlisle United in a friendly in Carlisle, before dropping into Division 2 to form a highly-experienced central defensive partnership with former Scotland captain Bobby Evans, as Raith edged out Arbroath by a single point to clinch promotion back to the big time alongside Morton's Scandinavian All-Stars.

Polland played more than 400 league games in Scotland and, of those, the nine he played for Raith that season were the only ones outwith the top flight.

Evans retired and Polland became the backbone of the Raith team which, quite frankly, struggled in Division 1. They just avoided relegation in season 1967-68, where their plans were undone by a pre-season broken leg sustained by Polland against Nottingham Forest. This injury kept him out until March and his return is credited with stemming the flow of defeats and keeping the club in the top flight. Times were hard again the following season, however, Raith finishing third-bottom, before, in 1969-70, they slipped back to Division 2.

By now Polland was 35, he had taken his tally of Raith appearances to 372 and with injuries increasingly taking their toll, he hung up his boots. Raith struggled to adapt to the lower league and pleaded with Polland to come out of retirement. But he stood by his decision, even rejecting the job of manager at Stark's Park, after former Ranger Jimmy Millar departed.

He returned to Armadale to run the family building firm, while for many years he was also mine host at the Corrie public house in the town. There were occasional forays on to the golf course, but he was happiest spending time with his wife Dorothy and daughter Lorna.

Polland continued to enjoy games at Tynecastle and Stark's Park, where he was a leading light in the Raith Rovers Former Players' Association.

In retirement, he enjoyed his family holidays in the sun, while his easy manner made him popular with corporate guests and dyed-in-the-wool fans of both his clubs. His death was sudden, but he leaves a lasting legacy as a popular and committed 90-minute man for his two clubs.

Willie Polland played with some genuine icons of Scottish football – McNaught, Alfie Conn senior, double Wembley winner Baxter and Evans at Raith; John Cumming, Gordon Smith, Willie Bauld and Jim Cruickshank at Hearts and Willie Wallace – a 1967 Wembley hero and a Lisbon Lion. He would not have ranked himself alongside these legends, but, as they would surely have acknowledged, they needed players such as Willie Polland beside them while they worked their magic.

Willie Polland is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter Lorna and son-in-law Ian.

Taken from the Scotsman

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