The Dalmahoy Starter between the sticks.

8 Oct

3 December, 2011 at 11:15

Good Morning,

Let’s wander on a journey which briefly takes us away from these shores on an otherwise bleak morning.

Let us start our trip in the proud Etruscan town of Lucca in Tuscany. These days Lucca is renowned for its architecture, its resplendent renaissance city walls and the very fine music festivals that take place there each summer. It was the birth place of Giacomo Puccini and so has resounded to the odd good tune for centuries.

Interestingly, as far back as the 6th century, it was unique amongst “Italian” cities in that it had an Irish Bishop–one Frediano.

However, let us come forward in time to the 1920′s. Mussolini has seized power in Italy and is well on his way to declaring himself Il Duce and “Founder of the Empire”.

In any event, On June 4th 1924 a young couple in Lucca gave birth to a son. Italy was on the up under the fascist dictator – despite the fact that an Irish woman called Violet Gibson had shot Il Duce in the nose in April 1926 – and there is no doubt that the sunshine and climate would be a great improvement on the harsh Scottish rain that we see here.

Notwithstanding the weather difference, in 1927 the young Italian couple gave up their home in Lucca and travelled to Scotland where they eventually settled in the — eh— the equally picturesque setting of——- Armadale!!!!

Armadale?   Yes Armadale!!!!

Father of the family eventually opened a fish and chip shop and it was reputed to be the best fish and chip shop in the area. Of course later, in the war years, things were not too good here for Italians and many were treated disgracefully. In this instance, Dad was interned for a short time on the Isle of Man.

Anyway I digress, because we are really interested in the boy who was born in Lucca in 1924. He of course was schooled in Scotland, loved his football and played a bit for Armadale Thistle. He was even given a trial by Hearts but eventually he was “Chuffed to bits”, to use his own words, when he was signed by the famous Glasgow Celtic.

He spent just over 4 years at Celtic park between 1944 and 1948 and appeared for the first team on a grand total of 5 times during that entire period!

Remember, that the Celtic team at that time were noted for being very poor indeed, with the forward line being dubbed the “5 sorrowful mysteries”. The results ranged from “inconsistent” to” poor” and many of the Celtic faithful would go to the games fully expecting to lose. You would therefore be entitled to presume that if the young Italian could only get 5 games in 4 years he must have been even worse than the poor team on the field?

Eh—Wrong!

In that 4 years he was just plain unlucky. You see the young man was a goalkeeper and his name was Rolando Ugolini. Many of you will say “who”?– Rolando Ugolini!  What is more I will bet that many reading this post will in fact have met Mr Ugolini without ever knowing it.

When Ugolini signed for Celtic, the position of Goalkeeper was the one position where the team had a true star in Willie Miller. Many older fans– including my father and John Cairney the actor and author– have told me that they are in no doubt that Miller was the best Goalkeeper they have ever seen. With no disrespect to Ronnie Simpson, Arthur Boruc and even the Prince of Goalkeepers, Miller is said to have been extraordinary in the goals– agile, brave and with the ability to save shots that defied belief. Probably the best that Celtic ever had.

Therefore it is really no surprise that young Ugolini didn’t really get a chance at Celtic park. Miller played for Celtic consistently between 1942 and 1950 before going on to Clyde and then Hibs. He was hugely popular, with International caps and league appearances to his name.

Unbelievably, Ugolini was also popular because those who had seen him play had seen enough to know that the lad was a good keeper. It is said that there was once a protest against the team after a defeat where Celtic had conceded 4 goals. A Crowd had gathered and were making their feelings known when young Ugolini appeared. Apparently the crowd greeted him with a great cheer as they knew it was clearly not his fault that the ball had gone into the net 4 times– and after a few words they soon dispersed.

However by 1948, the young man decided that he had to move on after 4 years of kicking his heels at Celtic park, and so he moved down to Middlesborough who paid the princely sum of £7,000 for a keeper who had played just a handful of first team games over roughly 4 years. He managed a few more first team appearances at Ayresome Park. To be precise he kept goal for Middlesborough on no less than 320 occasions (335 if you include friendlies) over a 9 year period ( far more appearances than Miller made for Celtic ) and became an absolute hero with the Middlesbrough fans.

He was not big for a keeper, but incredibly fit and very agile. To this day he is referred to in Middlesbrough songs and he played in the same team as the great Wilf Mannion ( who some rated as the greatest footballer ever ) and the young Neily Mochan.

When he left Middlesbrough he played a further 83 times for Wrexham between 1957 and 1960, before moving to Tannadice and serving Dundee United on 48 occasions from 1960-1962. His last game was one solitary appearance for Berwick Rangers.

Ugolini has been described as a flamboyant goalkeeper and someone whose “antics” produced a regular laugh which together with his ability made him a favourite with the crowd. He is still sprightly at 87 and lives in the south of Edinburgh. He protested about Pension cuts along with other pensioners in 2009 handing petitions and letters to then Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, and he still attends the annual golf day for ex-players of Middlesbrough FC where he is fondly remembered.

He apparently still swings the golf club on a regular basis and some readers on here will have surely met him at Dalmahoy where he is to be found several days a week acting as a “starter”.

I have to confess that I had never heard of him until yesterday when my father suddenly referred to this young Celtic goalkeeper who only played a few games but went on to great success elsewhere. In the intervening hours when I looked through articles or references to him at various clubs, one thing becomes abundantly clear. Rolando Ugolini is a thoroughly nice man, a decent man who is well respected everywhere he goes—- and it is about time we were all able to read and learn about people of that ilk in football as opposed to the others who regularly hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Clearly, he could have been a Celtic great, but instead became a hero in the North East.

However, he may now be the oldest living ex Celt — and a man with great stories to tell.

Fairly recently, I was told a story of a family from Glasgow who were on holiday in Tuscany. They ventured into Lucca for the day — mom, dad, three girls and a boy. The boy was wearing a Celtic strip, and as they wandered around town an elderly gentleman shouted from a nearby cafe:

” Hey son! That is MY team!” he said pointing at the strip.

They had never heard of Rolando Ugolini– until they bumped into him one summer’s day beneath a Tuscan sun.

Once a Celt — always a Celt.

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2 Responses to “The Dalmahoy Starter between the sticks.”

  1. Lubo Larsson October 8, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Superb post, thank you. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed John Cairney’s ‘Sevenpenny Gate’ and Rolando Ugolini is fondly referenced as Willie Miller’s more than capable understudy.
    I was lucky to watch the ‘Lions’ as a young boy but my late father regaled me with tales of Stein, Peacock, Tully, Fernie, Fallon, Mochan and Bobby Evans. He even dragged me to see an ageing Evans starring in the Raith Rovers midfield against Queens at Hampden. Even in his mid thirties he looked a player.
    So, like you I like to learn the history of our great club. Sadly for many younger fans ‘History’ relates to “my teams won more trophies than your team” when as you point out, there is much, much more to be cherished.

  2. Jbc April 12, 2014 at 8:57 am #

    RIP died two days ago

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