Brian Potter: A Life In Professional Football

By on Oct 25, 2009 in Latest, Scottish Football | 15 comments

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.

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    15 Comments

  1. A brilliantly written story. Thank you.

    Phil of Bath

    October 26, 2009

  2. Really enjoyed that! Cracking story.

    John Beech

    October 26, 2009

  3. Second that. Great story. I find the stories of the players on the fringes far more interesting than the pretty dull stories of the ‘stars’.

    enzee199

    October 26, 2009

  4. That is a fantastic story. Worthy of a hell of a lot more public reading than it will get here.

    You could actually make a film out of that like the unknown hero type of thing.

    robert wright

    October 27, 2009

  5. Forever a Rovers hero. A real story about a real footballer, well done Brian.

    Tam Cunningham

    October 28, 2009

  6. Great story, excellently told.
    Cheers.

    Chubby

    October 29, 2009

  7. That’s fair put the wind under my wheels. Very uplifting story.

    Getty

    October 29, 2009

  8. I really enjoyed that story, thanks a lot :)

    John Beaven

    October 29, 2009

  9. Great article. I have to say I love reading articles like this about obscure professional footballers. More I say!

    Ronan

    October 29, 2009

  10. Great piece. thank you.

    Squack

    October 30, 2009

  11. Magic story .Every amateur footballers dream if only once.

    Bongser

    October 31, 2009

  12. What fantastic memories. None of us at Perth that night could really believe it, until we were on the pitch at the end! My friend Jeff was in the pictures in the papers the following day as Brian Potter was caried off the pitch triumphantly! Great memories too of that game at Tannadice. Well done Brian, forever a Rovers hero and welcome back any time.

    JR

    October 31, 2009

  13. Wonderful story.
    In this day and age of over-paid,Prima Donnas & rank tearaways,punching out innocent girls in nightclubs,laffing all the way to the nick,proclaimng they will be back playing,again sooner rather than later.
    Other tossers refusing to take penalty kicks,because they had to start on the bench –weep,weep.
    Enough said.
    This was a great heartwarmig article and reaffirms my faith in all the good things in football.
    Keep these stories coming.
    Cheers Jimmy Hamilton,Streetsville,Ontario,Canada.

    Jimmy Streetsville

    November 2, 2009

  14. well written story about a guy who just trained and wanted to play like everyone else.he was always calm and just got on with what was asked of him.thanks for this story.

    keith b

    November 3, 2009

  15. I actually worked with big Brian as a Labourer back in in about 1998. We worked 12hr nightshift 5 nights a week and 12hr dayshift sat and sun although the big man didnt work saturdays for footy reasons,he was a grafter,even though he was with Oakley at the time, every break we got, the goaly was off training himself even if it was only for 15mins, such was his dedication to the game, he even got myself and a few of the other lads to hit shots at him on our lunch breaks. Its great to see him still in the game and i hope he can earn a living coaching for the rest of his days. Brian Potter was and im sure still is a true gent and showed my Father and i a great day out when we travelled from Glasgow to watch him play for Oakley, so much so that we still look for their results

    Craig Gow

    November 1, 2010

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