Since 2000, football sides from Balintore and Tain have continued the tradition of the playing of the Graham Jardine Memorial Quaich.
In writing this blog entry, my aim was to enlighten some of the area’s younger players and supporters as to who Graham Jardine was, while also writing a fitting tribute to his accomplishments. In doing so, I contacted a few people who knew Graham throughout his life, and through their words and stories, I hope that this piece will offer both a reminder of his contribution as a footballer and an insight into just how highly regarded he was.
I grew up knowing Graham as my neighbour and a family friend. We lived in the same street across the road from each other, his mother Jean and my mother Linda worked together at Tain Royal Academy, while his father Jim and my father, also named Jim, worked together at WH Mackay & Sons Ltd. He was nine years older than I was, and while he was playing football in the North Caledonian league, I was still a young lad at school, oblivious to the ins and outs of local football. But I knew he was a footballer.
I recall coming home one day from school, at about age 8 or 9, to find a collection of “hand-me-down” football tops passed down to me by Graham (and his brother Stuart). I’d never had a proper football top before so it was no surprise that these garments became the subject of much fascination! And so began my interest in football… As it went, they were Aberdeen F.C. jerseys, a mixture of home and away colours, and while I never became a fan of the Dons, I’ll always have Graham to thank for my first ever football top!
Graham began playing football at a very young age. Although their first Highland home was in Invergordon in 1974, Jim & Jean Jardine, originally from Motherwell, moved to Balintore in 1975 before they eventually settled in Tain three years later, where Graham attended Craighill Primary. Childhood friend Neil Skinner recalls playing football alongside him as children.
Before organised football it was all-day football on the pitches where the new health centre is. Graham was always one of the best players, especially at dribbling. He perfected the cross bar challenge before it even existed! I remember him practising hitting the bar from free kick range.
We were part of the Craighill team which won the Cummings Cup in 1984 when we were in Primary 7. Ten games played, with nine wins and one draw that year! Graham was a key member of a very attacking 2-3-5 formation favoured by our headie. Always loads of fun to have in the team. I also remember it being the mums that came to support us as games were always in the afternoon.
While playing for the school teams as a pupil with Tain Royal Academy, Graham also played with Balintore F.C. throughout the Seaboard club’s youth football teams, most notably for the Under 16s. It wasn’t long after that, at the age of just sixteen, that he made his debut for the Balintore first team in the North Caledonian League.
Regular visitors to the North of Scotland during the late 1980s, Jim Leishman’s Dunfermline Athletic travelled to Balintore for a pre-season friendly in 1989, and a young Graham turned out against the Scottish First Division side. His parents remember well the moment when Graham rubbed shoulders with one of his childhood heroes.
It was definitely a highlight for him being that young and meeting Doug Rougvie. The fact that he spoke to him and complimented him on his play, he was chuffed to bits.
Graham left Balintore for Fearn soon after, but returned for a season in 1992-93 during which he collected a winners medal as part of the Chic Allan Memorial Cup winning side of 1992.
It was while he had a job with WH Mackay & Sons Ltd that Graham would go on to sign for Fearn Thistle F.C. Graham had been working alongside a “true Fearn addict” in (the late) Malcolm McGougan, who at the time was the Chairman of the village side. Jean Jardine recalls the season Graham left Balintore for McGougan’s Thistle.
Malcolm was a lovely man. They worked together in the workshop at WH Mackays and I think that was the decider. He told Graham that he would be Fearn’s first million pound player, but to this day we’ve never seen a signing on fee!
Billy Read played with Graham at both Fearn Thistle and Balintore. In his opinion, it spoke volumes that Graham had been involved with both of these clubs, each of a very high standard and filled with good players. He remembers fondly a goal Graham scored while they played together.
Graham was a very talented left sided attacking player. I recall a wonderful goal from some distance that he scored for Fearn against Inverness Caley. It was a left foot dipping curling shot from 25 yards – top corner. There are very few goals I can remember from 20 plus years ago, but that remains as one I do.
One of Graham’s idols as a young player with Balintore was Gordy Lowe. A prolific goalscorer and long serving Balintore player, Gordy was strong and fast on the ball. Graham always wanted to play like him and knew he had a tough job when playing against him. Gordy recalls Graham joining the team on both occasions.
He was on the fringes as a youngster but quickly ended up playing for the first team at Balintore for a couple of years before he went to Fearn. When he returned to the club in 1992, he did very well to break into that Balintore team, as they had won the North Caledonian League championship the previous year in 1991.
While the “Second XI” league was off-season during the summer, Graham also played for Portmahomack and the Railway Hotel, competing in the “Ross-shire Welfare League”. His latter years, though, as a player in the North Caledonian League, were spent with his hometown club, Tain St Duthus F.C.
Graham’s keenness to play football was unquestionable. Such was his commitment to the cause while playing for Tain St Duthus, Graham would travel all the way from Stornoway (where he was working for a time) just to play for the team on a Saturday. Working backshift on a Friday evening, he would get the first ferry home on Saturday morning to Ullapool, followed by a bus to Dingwall, where his father Jim would collect him to return to Tain for the game.
Affectionately known as “Jobbie”, he enjoyed every aspect of the game, socially and as a player on the field and was as much a fan as he was a player, as Neil Skinner describes.
He went to the World Cup with a few of the boys in a people carrier in 1998, and I remember he had his hair dyed blonde like Gazza! He had a love of Manchester United, and Ryan Giggs in particular. In the early days of the Champions League, we used to gather in a house or go down to the Railway to watch the matches. It was a real shame he was gone by the time they won the Cup in 1999.
Graham was just a great guy and with a brilliant sense of humour. He loved his cars as well and he always seemed to be up to something!
Alan Ross was on the St Duthus committee at the time Graham played for Tain, and shares fond memories of him.
He was always smiling and was always such a happy player on the pitch. He really enjoyed his football with Tain.
James Rice, another Tain teammate of Graham’s echoed Alan’s comments.
He was a comedian! Famous for his Walter Smith impressions in the changing room before games. These were the days of being at the ground a good hour and a half prior to kick off!
Like many footballers, Graham had his match-day customs and superstitions, as his mother Jean testifies.
Graham was very superstitious about the towels he used at the football. He had a green towel and a purple towel. If he scored a goal at a match and he had the green towel that day, he had to take the green towel with him the following week. Same story with the purple towel.
Although he never won a league medal with Tain, he did enjoy a number of cup successes. Graham’s season with Tain in 1996/97 turned out to be his personal best. This was the year Graham was recognised for his individual talents, winning the Star Inn Shield as Tain’s Player of the Year in 1997. Jean recalls the year he was presented with the award.
He was so chuffed, as he always felt there were others far better than him. We were so pleased for him.
Graham remained a Tain St Duthus player until the time of his passing in August 1998.
When he died, they (Tain St Duthus) presented us with his shirt. Alan Duff brought it to our house the week following Graham’s death. The club had to ask for special permission to play without the number 11 shirt for the rest of the season as a mark of respect. The permission was given. We still have the shirt.
In the year 2000, a Memorial Quaich was introduced to celebrate the life of Graham and to be played for between two of his former teams, Tain St Duthus and Balintore. The match was played year-in year-out on the date of the Tain fixture between the teams in the North Caledonian League. This continued to be the case until 2005, at which time St Duthus sadly folded.
In 2008, the trophy was resurrected when Tain Thistle, the town’s only remaining football team, joined the North Caledonian League, and with Jim and Jean’s blessing, they represented Tain in the Quaich match. In 2011, Balintore F.C. also folded, leaving the village’s Ross-shire Welfare combination to continue the tradition. Now in 2015, Tain Thistle and Balintore Welfare contest the Quaich under the banner of the Ross-shire Welfare League for what will be the third year in a row.
The game is scheduled to be played to a finish on Saturday, July 18th at 3pm at Tain Thistle’s Links Park.
Thank you to the following people for their information, comments and photographs: Jim & Jean Jardine, Gordy Lowe, Billy Read, Neil Skinner, Alan Ross, James Rice and the microfiche archives of the Ross-shire Journal.
Niall Harkiss is the author of the 2014 book Ross-shire Football’s Forgotten Pioneers. Synopsis – Long before the formation of Ross County, footballers in the Royal Burgh of Tain were rubbing shoulders with Dingwall’s Victoria United – playing on the same parks, sharing post-match stories over a drink and a meal, and more specifically, competing for the same cups, and vying for the same honours. But as one team was catapulted into the senior ranks, the other eventually faded into non existence.