Brian Potter: A Life In Professional Football
Today, October 25th, is the fifteenth anniversary of the second – and most famous – of the three appearances of Brian Potter’s senior football career, and this site has very kindly indulged me by allowing me to write a tribute to the great man. You’ve almost certainly never heard of him, and mention of his name usually makes people think of Peter Kay, but no, it’s not that one. This Brian Potter was a trainee ‘keeper at Raith Rovers back in ’94 and his story is the stuff of “Roy of the Rovers” legend. Or nearly, anyway: if I was scripting it for the comic I would have made his day in the sun first and only appearance, but you take what you get.
Towards the end of the 93/94 season, Raith’s first in the Premier League, the seventeen year old Potter found himself for a time as Raith’s sub ‘keeper in back-up to Scott Thomson, and when Thomson broke his cheekbone after a clash with Duncan Shearer, Potter found himself making his debut in the final game of the season, away at Dundee United. Raith were already relegated so the fans were their just to enjoy their day out in the sun, maybe the last in the Permier League ever, for all we knew at the time. I don’t actually remember an awful lot about Potter’s part in proceedings: I remember him looking a little amused when we sang his name during the warm-up, but he did give us a shy little wave once he realised we weren’t taking the mickey; and I have a vague recollection that he may have punched his first corner worryingly close to his own net. But that aside he did okay, and by half-time Raith had a 3-0 lead thanks to a Jason Dair brace and a thirty yard screamer from David Sinclair. (Two summers later, both of those players were to follow manager Jimmy Nicholl to Millwall, where they were about as successful as he was.) I can’t rightly remember either of United’s two late comeback goals, but I don’t remember thinking either was a goalkeeping error and Raith hung on for the 3-2 win.
The following season – back in the first division – started a little inauspiciously, with only a decent run in the League Cup to make up for stuttering early season form. Potter was still the only reserve ‘keeper, at first, but Nicholl was nervous about having only a trainee to fall back on and by mid-October had signed the experienced Ray Allan to provide more solid back-up. That left Potter out of the picture. Except in the League Cup, for which Raith had reached the semi-finals but for which Allan was cup-tied having been an unused sub for Motherwell in an earlier round.
A Scottish League Cup semi-final against Airdrie might not sound much to you, but it was a huge event for us, and it took place at McDiarmid Park in Perth on 25th October 1994. It went pretty well too, at least to begin with, and with an hour or so gone Raith were looking pretty good for their 1-0 lead. But then Thomson had to coming racing out to the edge of his area to snatch the ball away from an onrushing forward. I’ve watched the replay many times and I’m still not convinced he was over the line, but the ref decided he was, that it was a goalscoring opportunity, and out came the red card.
Step forward then, Brian Potter. Within five minutes he was picking the ball out the net, the equaliser being drilled home by Stevie Cooper (RIP); and thereafter it was backs to the wall for the rest of normal as well as extra time. Nicholl was quite happy to admit afterwards that we played for penalties – he didn’t see the point in coming off beaten and saying “at least we had pop at them”. Big forward Ally Graham came back into defence – there was a 37 year-old David Narey in there too. And Raith held out to a shoot-out. The first nine penalties were scored, Airdrie’s Alan Lawrence took the tenth, Potter dived to his right – you’re ahead of me here I know – and parried it away to send us into only our second final (the other was in 1949). A month later it was Thomson’s turn to be the shoot-out hero, saving from Paul McStay to secure the only major trophy of Raith’s 125 year history. It even produced a European campaign, and the famous photo of the half-time scoreboard in the Olympic Stadium in Munich which is now the desktop picture of pretty much every Raith fan.
But for Potter the story had already ended, he was an unused sub again in the final but never quite made the grade and never played for Raith again after that penalty save. Just a bit too small for a ‘keeper in the modern age, I guess, though he had a reasonable subsequent career in the junior leagues with Oakley United. (Note for English readers: “junior” doesn’t mean youth, it more or less means non-league. Although there is senior non-league as well – I never really understood it myself.) Also, for most of the intervening years in which I’ve recounted this heroic tale to various bored-looking people in pubs, that’s been the end of the story. But it wasn’t, quite, because he’s now goalkeeping coach at Hamilton Accies, and in April 2008 an injury crisis there saw him on the bench when, sometime in the second-half, Tomas Cerny had to go off after a blow to the face, Potter found himself making his third appearance, some thirteen and a half years after his second. He came within a moment or two of his first clean sheet but conceded a last-minute equaliser.
That game might so easily have been a crucial one too, it had been billed for some time beforehand as the critical title decider. As it turned out, results had gone Hamilton’s way and they had secured the league the previous week, but since this was the last game of the season it meant that, technically, Potter could add a promotion to his list of achievements, alongside his earlier relegation and cup semi-final. Add in the winner’s medal for being on the bench at the final and it makes for a curiously incident-packed career for one so sparse in appearances. And perhaps it’s not finished yet – he remains registered as a player at Hamilton, and he is after all only 32 years old yet. So maybe in another ten years, or twenty, he’ll come on for his fourth game. But it would probably have to be a Champions League final, or maybe a World Cup, for it to be worth his trouble.