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Highbury Hero Supreme, the Swaggering Supermac Malcolm Macdonald


The latest trip down memory lane in the time machine takes us back to the the long hot summer of 1976 when new Arsenal manager Terry Neill smashed the British transfer record paying a third of a million pounds for his marquee signing goal machine Malcolm Macdonald.

Supermac a larger than life extrovert was such an exciting player to watch. He walked onto the pitch with a swagger and played football in a swashbuckling style. Standing at 5 foot 10 and a half inches, with bandy legs that couldn’t stop a pig in a passage his game was all about pace and power. Excellent in the air as well, he had total belief in his own ability to put the ball in the back of the net.

Supermac posing for the camera

Supermac posing for the camera

Powerfully build he could hold off defenders and there was no finer sight in football than Liam Brady or Alan Ball playing a through ball into space for Supermac to sprint after, the Highbury crowd would be roaring him on and he’d be off after the ball leaving defenders trailing in his wake, like a lion chasing down its prey on the Serengeti Plain.

Malcolm warming up before a match

Malcolm warming up before a match

Malcolm was so fast that when he appeared on the TV series “Superstars” he once ran the 100 metres in 10.4 seconds. The athletics commentator Ron Pickering told him that only one man in Europe had run faster that year and his time would qualify him to get him into any Olympic squad in Europe!

Supermac also had a left foot shot like the hammer of Thor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player kick a ball harder than him. He would shoot on sight, his motto was “if you don’t buy a ticket you don’t win the raffle”. Malcolm was also brave and would go where others would fear to tread if he thought he could get a goal out of it. He wasn’t much of a team player and didn’t bother tracking back. Malcolm lived purely to score goals and that was all he was interested in.

Malcolm McDonald was born on 7th January 1950 in Fulham. He lived a stones throw from Craven Cottage in Finlay Street, with his mother father and three younger brothers. Malcolm’s father had his own painter and decorator business and one day when Malcolm was about four years old his father came home from work on a Saturday lunchtime and said to him “Come on son put your winter Woolies on, I’m going to take you to your first football match”.

They were in the Putney End at Craven Cottage and Fulham were entertaining Blackburn Rovers. Young Malcolm was on his father’s shoulders like a lot of the other kids. About twenty minutes before the kickoff, a man at pitchside motioned for the kids to be passed over the adults heads down to the front behind the goal, where Malcolm and the other kids had a close up view of the action and that’s when Malcolm fell in love with the game.

When Malcolm was eight years old he used to walk to the bus stop near Craven Cottage to get the players autographs. Johnny Haynes was the only player to own a car! One day Bobby Robson got off the bus and Malcolm asked “Can I have your autograph please Mr Robson”. Bobby handed his bag to Malcolm as he took the pen and autograph book from Malcolm and as they walked towards Craven Cottage Bobby started to ask Malcolm lots of questions. “Do you play football” he asked “Yes Mr Robson I play for my school” “Are you right or left footed?” “Left” Malcolm replied. “Oh your a rare one” he said. “Left footers have always got a chance of making it in the game because they’re so rare”. He kept asking questions like what sort of player he was and what position did he play, with Malcolm answering all the questions enthusiastically. Eventually they reached Craven Cottage and Bobby signed his autograph book and Malcolm handed him back his bag and Bobby went into the stadium.

When Malcolm was just 16 his father passed away and the family sold their house in Fulham and moved down to Sussex where Malcolm helped his mother run the confectioners shop they’d bought. But Malcolm wanted to make a career playing football and he signed for Harry Haslem at Tonbridge Angels. In those days Malcolm was a full back.

Harry Haslem left Tonbridge Angels and became the Chief Scout at Fulham. He recommended Malcolm to Bobby Robson and despite keen interest from Crystal Palace Malcolm choose his boyhood team Fulham and signed for a fee of £1,000 in 1968.

Harry took him to meet Fulham manager Bobby Robson and Malcolm knocked on his office door, entered and then stood before Bobby Robson who was sitting behind his desk looking down at some papers. He looked up at Malcolm, then looked at him again, only this time he narrowed his eyes and really scrutinised him. “I know you. You’re that eight-year-old that used to meet me at the bus stop to carry my bag down to Craven Cottage and you never kept quiet the whole time!”.

Malcolm was in the reserves and Harry Haslem had suggested to Bobby that he played Malcolm at centre forward. Bobby gave Malcolm his opportunity, bravely putting him in the first team at centre-forward and he scored 5 goals in eight games. Then Robson was sacked by Chairman Tommy Trinder and Johnny Haynes who’d taken over as caretaker manager and was Malcolm’s boyhood hero put Malcolm back in the reserves.

When Bill Dodgin became manager he gave Malcolm a few more games here and there but it wasn’t what Malcolm wanted. He went to see Bill Dodgin and demanded to see the Chairman who agreed to let him go.

Luton Town paid £17,500 to take Malcolm to Kenilworth Road in July 1969 and it was there that he really began to build his reputation as a lethal goalscorer under manager Alec Stock. Luton won promotion from Division three in Malcolm’s first season at the club and he scored 58 goals in 101 games in his two seasons at Luton and he was becoming hot property.

Newcastle United paid £185,000 to sign Malcolm in the summer of 1971. Alec Stock said to Malcolm “We’re going to send you up there in a bit of style old son” and he turned up to sign for them at St James Park in a Rolls-Royce which was owned by somebody connected to Luton who had a dealership. But when his chauffeur, who was one of Luton Town’s directors opened the back door to let Malcolm out, one of the battalion of pressmen shouted “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone turn up in his signing-on fee!”.

Joe Harvey Newcastle’s manager greeted Malcolm with “You’re the little bastard who’s just cost me an extra £35,000” as Malcolm had inflated the transfer fee by scoring a hat-trick in his last appearance for Luton. At the press conference Malcolm vowed to score 30 goals for Newcastle that season and he duly obliged.

Malcolm made his home debut against Liverpool at St James Park and Newcastle went one down to an Emlyn Hughes goal. Newcastle were awarded a penalty, given away by Kevin Keegan and Malcolm confidently stepped forward to take the spot kick smashing it into the top corner in front of the Gallowgate End. Liverpool then missed a penalty and seconds later the ball was at Malcolm’s feet, he left Larry Lloyd for dead and hit an unstoppable drive into the top corner. The whole stadium broke into “Supermac superstar how many goals have you scored so far” Supermac had arrived on Tyneside. He went on to score a hat-trick and ended up being helped off the pitch concussed and missing his four front teeth after being done by Ray Clemence, when trying to score a fourth goal. It was a real Roy of the Rovers home debut.

Supermac’s home debut for Newcastle

The Newcastle fans adored him. They’d finally found somebody to live up to 1950’s hero “Wor” Jackie Milburn. He wasn’t a Geordie like Jackie but they loved the flamboyant brash Londoner.

Supermac unleashes a ferocious shot

Supermac unleashes a ferocious shot

He scored both Newcastle’s goals against Burnley in the FA Cup Semi-Final, to take them to the Final in 1974 against Liverpool. But Newcastle didn’t turn up on the day and they were well beaten 3-0. Supermac was named in the PFA team of the year in 1974 and in 1975 he won the Golden Boot.

Supermac walks off the Wembley pitch shattered by the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool

Supermac walks off the Wembley pitch shattered by the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool

Malcolm got his first England cap in 1972 and had won seven caps under Alf Ramsey and In April 1975 Malcolm was selected for England against World Champions West Germany. But when he reported for duty at the team hotel Manager Don Revie who’d picked Supermac for the first time said to Malcolm “you’re only here because the press demanded it and if you don’t score I’ll never pick you again”. Shades of when Revie picked Charlie George. Supermac scored England’s second goal in a 2-0 win and when Malcolm turned up for the European Championship Qualifier against Cyprus four days later Revie repeated what he’d said before “If you don’t score tonight I’ll never pick you again”

Malcolm thought to himself you bastard, what a thing to say to me and he told captain Alan Ball about it. Bally said “Just leave it with me” and after the team meeting before the game Bally gathered together Supermac, Alan Hudson and Mick Channon. He told the other two what Revie had said to Supermac then said “Do you know what the England goalscoring record is?” They all said no and Bally went on “Willie Hall got five against Northern Ireland in 1938 and tonight this man (pointing to Supermac) is going to score six and we are to make it happen”. Supermac got five goals, had one disallowed for offside and hit the post with another shot. At the end of the game the scoreboard at Wembley read Supermac 5 Cyprus 0. As Don Revie was walking away Supermac pointed at the scoreboard and shouted across the pitch “Read that and weep you bastard, read that and weep”. That was Malcolm’s last goal for England and he ended up scoring 6 goals in 14 appearances for England. All of them coming when he played for Newcastle United.

Supermac wearing the three lions

Supermac wearing the three lions

1975-76 was Supermac’s last season at Newcastle. They’d appointed a dour new manager named Gordon Lee and right from the word go it was obvious there was a clash of personalities with Malcolm. Gordon Lee didn’t like managing big names and they didn’t come much bigger than Supermac. But Newcastle did reach Wembley again losing the 1976 League Cup Final 2-1 to Manchester City, when Dennis Tueart, ironically a Geordie scored the winner with a spectacular overhead kick. Supermac finished as Newcastle’s top scorer in all five seasons he played there, notching 138 goals in 257 games.

Supermac with manager Terry Neill

Supermac with manager Terry Neill

On a hot summer’s day in 1976 Supermac was sitting with Terry Neill and Arsenal Chairman Dennis Hill-Wood in the Chairman’s beautiful garden. Arsenal had bid £275,000 for Malcolm, which Newcastle had accepted then changed their minds. Arsenal had gone back in with an increased bid of £300,000, which again Newcastle had accepted then changed their minds again. Was it going to third time lucky?

The Chairman’s butler emerged from the house with a telephone on a silver platter with a very long lead and walked across the immaculate lawn down to where they were sitting and placed it down on the table. The Chairman rung his counterpart at Newcastle United Lord Westwood and the phone call went something like this. “Good afternoon it’s the Arsenal Chairman here. I’m offering you a third of a million pounds for Malcolm Macdonald. Do you accept our offer? You do and you’re not going to renege for a third time are you? Alright then the deal is done Lord Westwood”. Dennis Hill-Wood then put the phone down turned to Supermac and said “Welcome to Arsenal Football Club”.

The fee was £333,333.34p, a British record transfer fee. Ken Friar told Malcolm the original cheque was for £333,333 but Lord Westwood insisted on the 34p saying “They’d agreed a third of a million and they wanted the full amount!”

I can remember Supermac’s debut as if it was yesterday. I’d just purchased my first season ticket in the East Stand Upper for £50 I think. It was a bittersweet moment as I’d finally left the Clock End and North Bank terraces behind me. I had a fantastic view of the Highbury pitch looking splendid on a beautiful August day as it always did for the start of a new season, before deteriorating and by the winter the grass was invariably replaced by mud in the goal mouths and centre circle, as were all the pitches up and down the country.

The excitement and anticipation was incredible as the team came out and there was Supermac looking every inch the superstar that he was. But what a disappointing day as we went down 1-0 to newly promoted Bristol City on the opening day of the season.

But it wasn’t long before Supermac started banging in the goals. It has to be said he had some wonderful players in his two full seasons at The Arsenal to provide the goal service. The craft and creativity of Alan Ball, Liam Brady and later Alan Hudson, as well as the crossing ability of Geordie Armstrong and then Graham Rix and he couldn’t have had a better partner upfront than the industrious and unselfish Frank Stapleton.

Supermac with his strike partner Frank Stapleton

Supermac with his strike partner Frank Stapleton

I remember playing Newcastle United on 4th December 1976 at Highbury. It was one of the few games on due to the weather and the conditions were difficult even with Arsenal’s under soil heating. The players found it difficult but both sides contributed to a brilliant match with Arsenal winning 5-3. The Geordie’s had come down in their droves and before the kick off a Newcastle fan ran on and presented Supermac with a black and white scarf. Typically Malcolm chose his first game against the Magpies to register his first hat-trick for the Gunners. At the end both sets of fans applauded Supermac as he waved to the Arsenal fans in the North Bank and the Geordie’s in the Clock End. It was also Alan Ball’s last game for the Gunners.

Supermac hits a hat-trick against Newcastle

A couple of weeks later we were playing Spurs at White Hart Lane on 27th December 1976 and Supermac got a brace in a thrilling festive 2-2 draw. One of the goals was an unstoppable shot. I stood with two Spurs mates of mine opposite the Shelf and it was a great atmosphere that day. The only time I can remember Arsenal and Spurs fans mixed together. There was plenty of banter between the fans but it was good natured and sensible as it should be.

As he had done at Newcastle he promised the Gunners he’d score 30 goals in his first season and very nearly managed it scoring 29 from 50 games and he only missed one game that season. The 29 goals were enough to win him the Golden Boot as the top scorer in the First Division.

The following season 1977-78 didn’t get off to the best of starts with Malcolm and Alan Hudson both being infamously sent home early from Arsenal’s pre-season tour of Australia due to a drinking incident, which is putting it mildly! But the goals from Supermac kept coming. I recall a game at Highbury against Manchester United which we won 3-1. Supermac got a brace and Liam Brady scored as well.

Supermac shoots down Man Utd

I was also at Stamford Bridge when we played Orient in the FA Cup Semi-Final and we ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, with Supermac again getting a brace and Graham Rix scored the other one.
The FA Cup Final against Ipswich Town was Supermac’s third Wembley Final and as it would turn out his last opportunity to win a major trophy. Unfortunately our key man Liam Brady wasn’t fit and should never have played. We were awful on the day lost 1-0 and it could have been a lot more. Only Pat Jennings, David O’Leary and Alan Hudson avoided a tongue lashing from Don Howe that day. Malcolm ended the season scoring another 25 goals in 52 games. But there were dark days ahead for Supermac.

Malcolm walks off the Wembley pitch after losing a third major Cup Final

Malcolm walks off the Wembley pitch after losing a third major Cup Final

The following season Malcolm played the first four games scoring the winner against Manchester City. But in the fourth game against Rotherham United in the League Cup he injured his knee and that was the beginning of the end for Supermac. It was December 1979 before he played his next game, coming on as a substitute against Red Star Belgrade at Highbury but the knee wasn’t right.

He didn’t return for the rest of the season until he made his final appearance for The Arsenal on 14th May 1979 against Chelsea in the last game of the season at Stamford Bridge, two days after we’d defeated Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. I was there for his last match and you could tell he was struggling but there was one last little bit of magic to come from Supermac as he scored our equaliser in a 1-1 draw. As we went down the steps to leave the ground we had to endure the Chelsea fans throwing bottles at us.

He played nine games out in Sweden for Djurgardens IF and scored two goals. But the game was up for Supermac and he announced his retirement in August 1979 at just 29 years old. As he left Highbury for the last time walking down the steps from the marble halls Malcolm had tears rolling down his cheeks.

Malcolm returned to his first love Fulham as manager, with his old teammate Geordie Armstrong as his coach. Fulham won promotion from Division three in 1981-82 and almost got into the top flight the following season, eventually finishing fourth. He left Fulham in 1984 and had a season at Huddersfield Town in 1987-88. But it didn’t go well as they got relegated, losing one game 10-1 to Manchester City.

After a failed business venture and a divorce from his second wife Malcolm was in terrible pain from his long standing knee injury and he started to drink whisky as a painkiller, becoming so reliant on it he became addicted and ended up drinking a bottle a day. He was done for drink driving and was sacked by the radio station he worked for. He was at his lowest ebb when he received a call from his old Newcastle teammate Micky Burns, who put him in touch with the PFA. They paid £12,000 for the operation and rehabilitation on his knee and Malcolm turned his life around. He stopped drinking in 1997 and is now happily married to Carol, ex-wife of AC/DC singer Brian Johnson. Malcolm is also back working on local radio in the North-East and living a contented life up in Northumbria.

A more recent photo of Supermac

A more recent photo of Supermac

Malcolm scored 57 goals in his 108 appearances for The Arsenal. Supermac was a sensational player to watch in his all too brief time at Highbury. He was an throwback to the archetypical centre-forwards of old. Playing in the style of a sort of latter day Ted Drake. I can’t pay him a higher compliment than that.

A great compilation of Supermac’s goals

As always thanks for reading and they’ll be another Highbury Hero along shortly.

 

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2 Responses to Highbury Hero Supreme, the Swaggering Supermac Malcolm Macdonald

  1. 1971Thistle October 3, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    Enjoyed that – thanks

  2. Victor Thompson October 3, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    Hi Gary, another gem. These reminiscences you provide remind us of what it meant to be an Arsenal Supporter.

    Our generation was lucky to have seen Supermac. He was unique and I can`t think of any other player who stirred the blood as he did. It was like Dirty Harry pulling his Magnum when he shaped for a shot, and you knew there was going to be damage inflicted.

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