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The Scot who Invented the Dugout

They are almost recognisable in every football stadium. Pretty much every manager in the beautiful game has stood in them. They entail praise and abuse by supporters hurled towards them. They are, at times, the location where the eureka moment arrives for a manager to win a match. They come in all different shapes and sizes, becoming a place to seek photo opportunity during stadium tours.

They are one of the many important footnotes of football and it was a Scot who invented them: the dugout.

Donald Colman was his name, though he was born ‘Donald Cunningham’ in Renton in 1878 but changed his surname to ‘Colman’ so that his father, a deeply religious man who opposed the idea of professional football, would not be aware of his son’s defiance.

Colman began as a footballer for Glasgow Perthshire, playing for a few junior clubs including Maryhill Juniors. However, it was not until the age of 27 that he made the step up to professional football – signing for Motherwell as a full-back.

Shortly after two years at The Steelmen, he was released and later headhunted by Aberdeen; later becoming captain of The Dons in 1909. Colman initially suffered the now old, tired cliche of “being too small” as well as being too old.  Yet Colman defied peoples’ opinions and, at 33 years old, fully overcame such  ludicrous claims by winning his first out of his four full Scotland caps and continued to play for Aberdeen until he reached 42, and then Dumbarton until 47 – during which time he was also coaching and alleged to still be an active player.

As a coach Colman was ahead, possibly even decades, ahead of his time. In the 1930’s he lectured on the benefits of keeping possession, of running off the ball, of finding open space. Donald also designed football boots, gave them to players one boot at a time to encourage them to play using their weaker foot.

Donald Colman is pictured in the lead image above.

Whilst at Dumbarton he spent his summers in Norway coaching the team SK Brann of Bergen, where he saw Scandinavian managers huddling for shelter while trying to get near the pitch to shout instructions to their teams. Colman had an idea. Why wouldn’t a covered area be built so that managers were close enough to be heard by their players without sacrificing the shelter of a stand? Colman set forth to devise this idea – a sheltered area, set below pitch level which allowed him to observe his players’ feet as they played. An ever-lasting piece of football fabric was born. The Dugout had arrived.
When Colman became trainer-coach at Aberdeen under manager Paddy Travers in 1931 it followed that Pittodrie would be the first stadium in the history of football to install dugouts. It was from that innovative position that their next manager, Dave Halliday, improved Aberdeen to the point they won their first ever Scottish Cup in 1947 and their first Scottish title in 1955.

From then on other team’s would follow Colman’s idea. Everton made the journey north of the border to play a friendly against Aberdeen in 1938 and shortly after installed the first dugouts in England. Colman’s simple, excellent idea spread around the world, leaving behind an ever-lasting legacy in football.

Interestingly, Donald’s great-granddaughter, Rachel Corsie, is also a footballer who currently plays for American side: Utah Royals FC and is captain of the Scotland’s  Women National team.

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