Hastie Weir:  True to the Spirit of the Game

In the Football Obituaries of the Association of Football Statisticians website – http://www.11v11.co.uk -  I recently came across this very nice tribute (in italics and slightly amended from the original) to former Motherwell ‘keeper Hastie Weir, who died on 21 December 1999.

Motherwell backdrop and HW with name.jpg

Hastie Weir, whose career started with Baillieston in the Junior ranks, would go on to become a calm and mature goalkeeper. He signed for Queen’s Park in 1949 and, after a two year wait, took over from Third Lanark-bound Ronnie Simpson in the 1950-51 season. Hastie held his position as QP’s first choice goalie for the following four years, save for a spell when Morton Ramsay took over from the injured Weir.

In those days, Queen’s Park were a good Second Division side, with genuine aspirations for the top division. This was something the Spiders would achieve not long after Weir had left Hampden. His consistent displays, and an outstanding performance in an amateur international match for Scotland v England at Wembley which the Scots won 4-1, brought him to the attention of the Motherwell scouts and he signed professional forms for the Fir Park club in August 1954.       

Within months of joining, he was in the side that reached the final of the Scottish League Cup, only to lose to Hearts, 2-4, at Hampden. In 1955, Motherwell were destined to be relegated but were saved from the drop due to league reconstruction. Although he was to win no more medals for the Steelmen, Hastie became the senior figure in a young ‘Well side with exciting potential. However, the developing players such as St. John, Quinn, Reid and Roberts were sold one-by-one and the team disintegrated.

Weir always kept a job outside football and strangely it was an injury sustained at work rather than a football impairment that brought his playing career to a close. He was increasingly being required to travel in his job and on a trip to the Far East, he sustained horrendous injuries in an industrial accident. He underwent several operations and intensive nursing in Bangkok before returning to the UK. He continued to be interested in football throughout his life, and unlike many other ‘old-timers’ he did not overly criticise the modern game.  

 

After reading the above,  I was keen to learn more about Hastie and searched the web for his name. The fourth item listed by Google had the intriguing title: “The Match I Agreed To Fix”. It was an article which appeared in The Times on 9 October 2005; the contents were attributed to Motherwell legend Ian St. John and presumably taken from a book. The astonishing article, unaltered, is also shown below in italics.

The most difficult and outrageous story I have to tell of my days in football is about the time Motherwell were supposed to throw a game.

The proposal was based on the need to back two outsiders away from home from a list of ten matches issued by William Hill. It was a standard 10-1 bet. We were confidently expected to beat Third Lanark at home. We were told that if we managed to lose, each player involved in the “fix” would be paid £100. It may seem like a piffling amount to receive in exchange for your football soul, but back then it was equivalent to ten weeks’ wages.

At a meeting in Glasgow with the “fixers”, our team representatives and some players from Third Lanark were told we would be informed later about the other match that had been fixed. This was part of the deal: we got the £100 plus the chance to bet at long odds on two “certain” results.

it was obvious to us that the betting guys had done this before. We were not, it seemed to us, their first targets – they had everything worked out.

Deep down, I probably knew it would be wrong, deeply wrong, but because of the state of football then, the absolute refusal to give a player anything more than was considered his due - and that was so very little – the moral dilemma didn’t hit me so hard. This isn’t so much a confession (although maybe you think it should be) as a statement of reality.

The strategy was quite straightforward after the Glasgow meeting. The forwards would have an afternoon of bewildering inefficiency. They would shoot not for the goals but the stars, and the profit – but the burning question was the goalkeeper, Hastie Weir.

Hastie was not one of the great keepers, nor was he one of us. He had a good job as a works manager and when he joined us from the amateur club Queen’s Park, he reputedly signed for £10,000, which was rather more generous than the bonus received by the rest of the dressing room.

The pros joined for a mere £20 and the discrepancy lodged in the craw, most violently when Hastie made one of his more spectacular errors.

However, there was always the possibility that he would have one of his great games, as even the most erratic do. The big question was: how to handle Hastie? At Thursday night training he was given an inkling that something was afoot, but nothing was spelt out. Then in the dressing room before the game, he was cornered, told what was about to happen and asked quite bluntly: do you want in? Hastie went berserk.  He stormed off to the manager’s office and reappeared almost immediately with Bobby Ancell, the manager. Weir was raging and ranting like some fire-and-brimstone preacher. Ancell was cold and hard eyed. Eventually he said: “Right, what’s going on here can’t happen. There will be no such thing.” He said that throwing a football match was an unspeakable crime. A terrible price would be paid by anyone proved to be involved. Everyone knew that the great betting coup was dead in the water.

From the moment Hastie exploded with that great force of moral indignation, losing was simply not an option. No combination of circumstances could have dislodged our fight for redemption. We played quite brilliantly, scored seven goals and my hat-trick was the centrepiece of a performance that earned rave headlines.

Strangely enough in those hard days, when the razor gangs were rampant in Glasgow, there were no repercussions. I suppose the betting fraternity fell back on the old philosophical point that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

This sordid little episode does nothing to enhance the reputation of this particular “Saint”, who displayed an absence of judgement at the time, a lack of genuine contrition since and a previously unknown capacity for snide comments.

The incident doesn’t say much for the honesty of some of his Motherwell team-mates, unnamed by St. John, so all but one are potential cheats. The same applies to every member of my own team, Third Lanark.

The only player who emerges from the sorry episode with any honour is Hastie Weir; the founding fathers of Queen’s Park would most certainly have approved of his stance. Samuel Hastie Weir was a good servant to Motherwell Football Club, but never more so than on that day. It isn’t recognised by St. John in this book extract, but Hastie Weir’s integrity saved the careers of many of his younger and less principled team-mates and the reputation of a very fine football club.

A version of this article was first published in the Winter 2009/Number 109 of the Scottish Football Historian.