Danny McLennan - The Explorer
International football has returned this weekend which see players receive the greatest honour of being selected to play for their respected country.
As told from the galleries within the museum, many fortunate players and managers have been involved in the Scotland National team.
Besides the Scotland side, in relation to football, there has been cases where few Scots decided to be bold and work overseas: Archie McLean, John Madden, John Harley to name a few. One Scot, in particular, named Danny McLennan would have an incredible career in football management; for Mr McLennan would go on to manage a total of ten International countries.
The extraordinary tale of this football coach spans four decades, taking him all across the globe, often to places where those with fainter hearts might have feared to tread. A man who’s love for football, travel and adventure led him to skip country to country. The countries he would take the national team hot-seat were: the Philippines, Mauritius (twice), Rhodesia, Iran, Bahrain, Iraq, Malawi, Jordan, Fiji and Lybia. Not only that Danny would take on challenges at club level vacating posts in Africa, Scandinavia and the Middle East, to then finish up in India, with a club called the Churchill Brothers.
If the man from Stirling was to walk down any street in Scotland, not one person would know who he was. To thousands of others in different corners of the earth, he was ‘Mr Danny’ and a respected leader.
Born in Stirling in 1925, McLennan started out as a 17-year-old apprentice left-half with Rangers under manager, Bill Struth. When it became apparent that Danny would struggle to break through into the famous ‘Iron Curtain’ defence he dropped down the leagues to play for the likes of Falkirk, East Fife, Dundee and Berwick Rangers. It was at East Fife after the Second World War that he enjoyed his most successful spell as a player, helping them to a famous Scottish League Cup victory over Partick Thistle in 1953. When his career at the Fifers came to an end, in 1957, a move to Berwick Rangers would see him appointed as the player-manager; before hanging up his playing boots in 1959.
A respected career as a footballer but it was not until he fully retired from the field of play to focus on pursuing a managerial career that his life took an very unusual path.
In 1961, McLennan applied for the Dunfermline managerial position – to then lose out to the emerging Jock Stein. McLennan started to feel that a change from the Scottish football scene was required. Fresh challenges were ones that Danny excelled at conquering. A new, exciting quest across the globe was soon to be calling.
Danny decided to take on the coaching role at Stirling Albion, the Albion were bottom of the Second Division and on the verge of bankruptcy, but he quickly helped them to promotion and even, in 1962, for the first time in their history, to the semi-finals of the League Cup. Yet, soon after, boardroom machinations saw him inexplicably sacked.
The sacking from the Albion, as well as a tame spell at Worcester City, would be the final straw for him. The adventure was about to begin.
In 1963, through the British consul in Manila, he got the job as national coach of the Philippines. A year long contract where he never once returned home to see his wife, Ruth. Excruciatingly high levels of crime made it difficult for McLennan to settle or have his wife to come over to settle. A country where he noticed that the linesman happened to be the local chief of police, running the line with a gun on his hip. Another occasion the pitch was entirely washed away due to a typhoon.
What would follow his year stint at the Philippines was twelve months at the helm of national side, Mauritius. Once Danny decided that another change was needed, his wife Ruth and daughter Rosemary moved with him to Africa, in 1968, where Sir Stanley Rous, the FIFA President, helped McLennan land the Rhodesia post – a position he held for five years during which his second daughter, Louise, was born there in 1972. With Rhodesia, in 1970, he almost achieved World Cup qualification, but lost each time in the play-offs.
His popularity reached top heights that his name was used in an advertising campaign slogan in Africa which instructed, ‘Drink Pepsi, Danny Does…’
Whilst in Africa Danny would write newspaper columns to spread the word wherever he went. In Africa he would have film reels of Match of the Day sent by a contact at the BBC and would show them on outdoor screens. Large crowds would gather to watch.
Interestingly Danny’s wife, Ruth McLennan, did not content herself with playing the ex-pat wife indoors. A trained opera singer, in Zimbabwe she made several recordings with the state orchestra. Also, in Zimbabwe and Jordan, she also revived early ambitions to be a tennis pro and became the national champion in each country.
Another job prospect came calling and the McLennans were on the move – this time to take the hot seat of Iran national team boss in 1973. Again, surroundings restricted activity to daily life. Spies and informers followed his every move as westerners were deemed as strangers to the country. Despite Danny and his family experiencing tough conditions in the one year stay in the country, he played a major role in shaping and developing footballers. In fact, McLennan knew all the players that would go on to play against Scotland at the Argentina World Cup in 1978, even writing to Ally MacLeod and gave him information on all of the players though it is not known if McLeod acknowledged this advice.
Danny McLennan is pictured in the lead image above.
A year later Danny was managing the country of Bahrain before setting sights on the Iraq national team job. This would be his ‘golden years’ according to his wife, forming a close friendship with Ammo Baba: Iraq’s finest ever footballer. In the Gulf Cup semi-finals of 1976, his side thrashed the regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia 7-1. Saddam Hussein, although not then installed as Iraqi president, was already making his presence felt. McLennan recalled in an interview, “Before we played Bahrain in the final play-off (of the 1976 Gulf Cup), word reached the players that Saddam was going to give each player a new house if they won. It clearly unsettled them.” They would lose the final 4-2 in extra-time.
After leaving Baghdad McLennan spent 1978 coaching the Norwegian side, Kongsvinger, and then the family would move to Jordan when Danny took charge of the country’s national side. They spent two years there before moving to Saudi Arabia, in 1980, when Danny accepted the job with a leading club side. Even though he enjoyed new experiences in different countries while managing club teams, to Danny they were simply just a stop gap until a job in international football became vacant.
He then moved to Malawi for a year in 1984 where Danny would have one of his proudest managerial moments. Though they had no significant pedigree, McLennan took them into the African Nations Cup finals for the first time, and had it not been for a blatantly rigged drawn game between Nigeria and Algeria, to ensure that both teams qualified, Malawi might have progressed further. Such techniques in Africa were telling that McLennan was far away from home but, in a way, ahead of its time to what would be introduced in football years later. He shared in one interview that, “Many of the teams I worked with had witch-doctors, you just learnt to accept they were important. It’s not so different from football in these parts really, is it? All the teams use psychologists these days – and they are just witch-doctors under a different name!”
The family moved back to Jordan and then Malta for Danny to manage club sides, the Mauritius job (for a second spell) between 1986-1988, two years with the Kenya Breweries club in Kenya and then the same spell in charge of National side of Fiji.
Despite his short stays, in particular countries, such was the man of McLennan that, as shared by his wife Ruth, he would make sure each side under his guidance had in place the tools and mechanisms.
At the age of 67, McLennan agreed to manage Lybia in 1992. A pivotal time for the nation’s football as matches were cancelled because of the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. Two UN Security Council Resolutions were passed to impose sanctions against Lybia. McLennan’s team were not allowed to play anyone.
Danny looked upon a new challenge, at 70 years old, and took over at the Churchill Brothers Club in Goa, India. Four enjoyable years for the family before deciding to take up a managerial post in Tanzania. The move back to Africa would be badly judged, however, as the climate was unsafe. Robberies, gang crime was rife, the McLennans spent a year in the country before returning for a second crack at the whip at Churchill Brothers in India. Although, after a while the globetrotter and co returned to Scotland in Crail, Fife – a permanent base for Danny and the family between jobs – in 2004. Unfortunately, in the midst of planning a trip to Mauritius, Danny suffered a massive stroke and died a week later at the age of 79 on 11th May 2004.
What’s left of his football collection (few club records are non-existent in the McLennan household) can be found with his daughters who are proud of their father’s adventures.
Danny McLennan: a forward-thinking, free spirit aware before almost anyone else of the new global nature of the game. A man who gained huge respect in every country he set up as a temporary home. A visionary that, undoubtedly, was a loss to Scottish football.