Making the leap from a lower division to the top is never simple, but it was arguably easier to achieve in the 1960s and 1970s. In days when a star name could exist on the periphery for some years before making the leap to a higher level, teams in Football League Divisions Two, Three and Four could keep a local hero much longer than they could possible hope to today. But then, the gulf is much greater today than it was when the likes of Ted MacDougall and Phil Boyer played for Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic. There are far fewer “big fish, small pond” stories around in the 21st century.
Both MacDougall and Boyer were journeymen footballers who delivered the goods wherever they played. York City, Bournemouth, Norwich and Southampton all benefitted from the duo’s goal output and if Boyer had followed his partner to Manchester United and West Ham, MacDougall’s stints with those two clubs may have been more successful.
MacDougall was never considered to be top-class, mainly because he failed to impress with a blue riband club. His spell with Manchester United, coming at a time when the Old Trafford club was going through a major identity crisis, and saying goodbye to the holy trinity of Best – Charlton – Law, was never seen as successful. In better times, he might have prospered, but the problem was, like with so many signings around that time, MacDougall was no Denis Law.
He started his career over at Liverpool, under Bill Shankly. But with players like Roger Hunt and Ian St.John dominating the Reds’ forward line, MacDougall didn’t stand much of a chance. The 20-year old moved to York City in 1967. York were struggling and in his two seasons at Bootham Crescent, the club finished 21st on both occasions and had to seek re-election to the Fourth Division. But MacDougall netted 40 league goals in that period and in the summer of 1969, moved to Bournemouth for a £ 10,000 fee. Good business for York, who had paid just £5,000 for the centre forward.
York was where Phil Boyer and MacDougall first linked-up, scoring more than 50% of the team’s goals in the games they played together. In his first season at Bournemouth, 1969-70, his new club was relegated and the man who took him to Dean Court, Freddie Cox, was sacked. John Bond, a former West Ham full back, came in as manager. Initially, the signs were not good, for Bond didn’t really rate MacDougall, despite a free-scoring spell up to Christmas that took the Cherries to the top of the table.
In December of 1970, MacDougall persuaded Bond to pay £ 20,000 to bring Boyer to Bournemouth. It worked immediately with the duo scoring over 50 goals between them in 1970-71 and a promotion from the fourth division.
A year later, Bournemouth were in the running for a second successive promotion as they were among the front-runners in Division Three. Along with Aston Villa and Brighton, Bournemouth made the division an interesting place and when Villa played Bond’s side at home in February 1972, a crowd of 48,110 turned up to see what many saw as a title eliminator.
One of the most evocative photographs of the period was MacDougall diving headlong, absolutely spirit-levelled, to meet a Tony Scott cross to score a truly memorable goal. Villa won 2-1, however, and Bournemouth just missed out on promotion. MacDougall scored 35 league goals in 1971-72 and netted nine in one FA Cup game against Margate – suddenly, bigger clubs were looking at the Scot.
One of those was Manchester United, who were in a bad way. Manager Frank O’Farrell was clinging to his job after his team had collapsed mid-season after topping the table in the early months of 1971-72. George Best was having his well-documented problems and the club was desperately in need to new charisma – and goals. United tabled £ 200,000 to take MacDougall north once more. Boyer stayed behind in Bournemouth and could only watch as his old team-mate struggled.
MacDougall’s backer, O’Farrell, was axed by United in December 1972, and by March 1973, he had been sold to West Ham United. His United career yielded five goals in 18 games. His luck was also out at West Ham, and despite a good start, he scored five goals in 24 games in a short spell that lasted barely eight months. He left Upton Park to rejoin John Bond, who by now had moved on to Norwich City, along with his old pal Boyer.
In some ways, MacDougall was seeking refuge from a reputation-damaging year. There were rumours that his confidence was so low that he came to blows with West Ham’s Billy Bonds in the dressing room after the Hammers’ legend spoke out about MacDougall’s work ethic. Cruel cynics suggested that the third division player had sought a pot of gold and failed miserably. Norwich paid West Ham £ 145,000, a drop of more than £ 50,000 on the amount United paid Bournemouth.
It was also the sum paid by Norwich for Phil Boyer when he moved from Bournemouth. While MacDougall had endured a year from hell, Boyer’s stock had been rising. Norwich were relegated in 1973-74, but in 1974-75, Bond’s team won promotion at the first attempt, with MacDougall and Boyer scoring over 60% of Norwich’s goals.
While MacDougall was briefly capped by Scotland in 1975, the following season saw Boyer gain recognition on the international stage. He won a single cap against Wales for England, playing in a 2-1 win. MacDougall moved on again in 1976 to join Lawrie McMenemy’s band of all-star veterans at Southampton. He got a brief taste of European football as the Saints were FA Cup holders. Needless to say, Boyer arrived the following season and in 1977-78, the pair scored 31 of Southampton’s goals as they secured promotion back to the First Division.
As the two players matured, many people came to the conclusion that Boyer was a better footballer than MacDougall, but there could be no denying the latter’s goal-poaching ability. Boyer was unselfish, tireless and a team player, MacDougall was lethal in front of goal.
MacDougall was finished as a professional player in 1980, although he had a second spell at Bournemouth and made the odd cameo appearance at Blackpool. Boyer went on for a few more years, ending his pro career with Manchester City, a short and injury-hit period.
Not many front-line partnerships endured as long as MacDougall and Boyer, and certainly not across four clubs: York, Bournemouth, Norwich and Southampton. One would assume – and hope – they were also good pals. Both are definitely legends in a certain seaside town in Dorset…