Ian Ure; a player unjustly condemned?

Ian Ure was born 7 December 1939 and according to Wiki played for Ayr Albion – a club about which I can find out nothing.

But after that the story is clearer, as he did indeed play for Dundee and as a member of their championship side is inducted into their hall of fame.  He also played in the European Cup with Dundee reaching the semi-finals.  And he won a series of caps for Scotland, starting on 8 November 1961 and including being in the team that beat Spain 6-2 at the Bernebeu.

He came to Arsenal in 1963, a Billy Wright purchase, for £62,000, and continued as a centre half for Scotland winning his final cap on 21 October 1967.

All that is what the history books record – but what is added to it is a feeling, greatly heightened by Nick Hornby in his book, that as a player Ian Ure was no good.  I’ve never been sure this was true, for when I watched him I was young, and I’m not at all sure with the validity of my responses at the time.

But if we are going to assess him in this way it does mean taking into account his injuries – two broken jaws and a knee operation included.  And it does suggest we ought to know a little more about the ins and outs of his career.

He played for Arsenal during the Wright reign, his first game being on 24 August 1963 in a 1-3 home defeat to Wolverhampton.  It was the start of Wright’s second season, Arsenal having finished7th in the previous campaign, going out of the FA Cup in the fifth round (they came 8th in Ure’s first season at Arsenal, then 13th then 14th), which meant he was playing for a team that was going nowhere at all, and with which the fans had lost faith.  But Bertie Mee saw some potential in him for Ian Ure played in both the League Cup finals of 1967/68 and 1968/69.

Of course it is true that we lost both finals, and that Ian Ure made a mistake that led to a Swindon goal, but no centre back goes through his career without errors that turn into goals.

Also this was at the time when Mee was putting together his trophy winning side, and although Mee did move Ure on, Mee kept him in the defence for those opening years (Ure played 37 games in Mee’s first season in charge). 

But by 1967/8 (Mee’s second year) McLintock and Neill were playing as the centre back pairing and both played 38 games each, leaving Ian Ure fitting in around them mostly at number 6.  However he did take over from Terry Neill in the latter half of 1968/9, but played his last Arsenal game on August 19 1969 in a 1-1 draw with Leeds.

In all he played  202 times for Arsenal before he was sold to Manchester United in 1969.  Two years later he went on to St. Mirren before managing East Stirling in 1974.  He then left football and worked as a social worker in Kilmarnock and Glasgow.

And there I might have left the story, pondering various questions about why Wright had bought him, why Mee had kept him for a while, why he had success with the Scottish national team, and yet why everyone seems to think he was not up to much. 

But then I saw  an article on the Arsenal collective website.

The site raises many questions – such as why the fee for Ure was so high when Arsenal bought him.  He was famous for his exploits for Dundee and Scotland, but even so it seemed a very high fee for a centre back – a position that traditionally did not command high fees.

The argument put by the site was that Ian Ure, like most defenders, had areas he was not brilliant and covering, but that Dundee had worked around them.  Also they make the point that Arsenal played a totally different style of play from that which Ian Ure was used and could deal with in Scotland. 

And thus they say, “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Wright had been both profligate and negligent. Playing in a 4-3 Scottish defeat in Bergen prior to his signing Ure had struggled in the air against part time Norwegian attackers. And AC Milan had scored all five goals against Dundee in the San Siro direct from headers, hardly testimony to Ure’s aerial   dominance. What was evident in both these games, and was to become glaringly obvious during his time in England, was Ure’s relative weakness in the air.”

And so they argue English football was different, and changing, and Ian Ure was caught out in the wrong place at the wrong time, brought in by a manager without significant ability to perceive how football was developing, or where the strengths of individual players were.

“Overlapping full-backs scuttled down the flanks and, from around 30 yards out, shovelled high dropping crosses onto the penalty spot where a new breed of striker lurked. He would leap not just high but early, and flick the ball goal-wards a fraction before the goalkeeper or defender could make contact. That defender was often Ian Ure.”

But a question remains.  If he was so hopeless – and the site is merciless in its attack on him over the issue of the Swindon final, why did Manchester United take him?   Were they deceived just as Billy Wright had been.   Arsenal Collective’s answer is perhaps contained in this phrase: “Ian Ure was a bad centre half for Arsenal. But he wasn’t actually a bad centre half.”  They suggest that the English game was changing rapidly at this time, and Wright didn’t see it.  The Scottish game, they seem to suggest in passing, was less mobile.

It seems a much better analysis to me than simply to say Ian Ure was not very good.

Here are his Arsenal stats…

























And here are is career figures, leaving aside that unknown opening club…

Years               Team                             Games    Goals
1958/63            Dundee                   107         0
1963/69            Arsenal                         168           2
1969/71            Manchester United     47         1
1971/73            St. Mirren                  3          0
1961–1967        Scotland                   11          0

Overall, having watched him, I would agree.  Not a bad player – just not the right player for Arsenal at this time.

Arsenal books for Christmas at discount prices

26 Replies to “Ian Ure; a player unjustly condemned?”

  1. At the time I would have agreed with Nick Hornby after watching him play he was a goal waiting for a mistake as he did against Swindon. If you think about it no football player who reaches this level is no good but since when have fans ever thought you saw his name and groaned.

  2. I have a negative comment. Not that kind of negative comment.

    I happened across a Scottish historical football site. Among other things, they have an Excel spreadsheet of all their findings that you can download for free.

    I looked up, down and sideways all over that site, and the spread sheet, and I can’t see an Ayr Albion. Listed as a proper team name, or in some commentary that is also in the data there. There are lots of other team names associated with Ayr.

    I also ran across a surprsingly large number of Wanderers. Might have the Eastern Wanderers originally been from Scotland? I didn’t look quite as hard for Wanderers as Ayr Albion, but I could have missed something there.

  3. I can remember him not being the most reliable centre half, he often went flying into tackles which seemed all too easy for the forward to side-step, but I’m grateful for the key part he played in the Arsenal team winning Question of Sport.
    We may not have won much on the pitch at that time but he gave us much needed bragging rights with his (unusually for a footballer) general knowledge skills.

  4. Ian Ure was my hero. He was brave and strong.
    He became a Social worker.Uncannily I did too.
    G-d bless Ian It’s.

  5. I can’t remember the date, but I had taken my 2 sons to watch Ipswich Town play Man United, (we are long time Ipswich Town supporters). Just before kick-off the players were on the field rubbing their hands, jumping up and down and chatting etc. Two of United’s players were quite close to us when to my surprise a Man U supporter just behind us said quite loudly and to no one in particular, “These two are the best and the worst on the pitch”. Who were they? George Best and Ian Ure! This has stuck in my memory all these years.

  6. People don’t realise that Nick Hornby was only six when Ian Ure signed for Arsenal
    How can anyone consider his opinion!
    Great Centre Half. Dundee and Scotland hero

  7. Well, Ian Ure never played in a losing side against England. After he left Dundee, to be followed by Alan Gilzean- Dundee never recovered from that double blow.

  8. I have always thought of Ian Ure as a solid centre-half and yes, he made a mistake against Swindon (I was there), but what footballer never makes mistakes. That was retorical because I can give you the answer: see how many footballers lambast the referee whenever he boobs (in their opinion) and you will see the perfect footballer who NEVER makes mistakes. I welcome the day that referees will run up to players and tell them how badly they’re playing.

    @Russell Hickman: I do believe it was Quiz Ball of which you were thinking and at which Ian Ure excelled. A highly intelligent person.

  9. Ian Ure was educated at Ayr Academy,an outstanding school for examination results
    and sport

    Ian excelled at rugby and cricket ,playing alongside Ian McLauchlan who captained Scotland at rugby union and played for British Lions,and Michael Denness who captained England at cricket.
    Ian Ure became a professional soccer player, but excelled at other sports as a youngster and was popular at Ayr Academy.

  10. Yes, Graham Watson, good post. I remember him on that quiz, whatever the name. He was awesome! An ex Ayr Academical myself, I think he was a great example – smart, athletic and then serving the people as a social worker.

  11. First went to highbury 1963, remember ian well, best slide tackler i can remember, was at swindon final, he was ill, the whole team was ill, prehaps not a highbury legend, but a better player than remembered. Just spent the summer near dundee, he was in the local paper, hes a god up there. Played for scotland, arsenal and man u, surely he must of been a good player.

  12. Ian was a very good player who just gets remembered for one game Swindon Town and that is unfair. Ian played more than a hundred games for Arsenal and how many of those games can anyone recall well I can and he was a collosas centre back who happened to have one bad game.

  13. Even as a Dundee United fan Ian Ure was a boyhood hero of mine along with Alan Gilzean. Great haircut too!

  14. My Grandfather James (Jim Ure) taught Ian how to play football & when my Grandfather passed away my father had returned from the Royal Navy to sort out the arrangements he was angry as he found out that Ian had paid for everything & took care of it & he told my Dad that if it wasn’t for my Grandfather getting him into football when he was young then he would never have had the career he had & was thankfull to my Grandfather for that! I never got to meet my Grandfather as he passed away before I was ever born in 1986 but Ian is an absolute gentleman for doing that for my family. From what my Dad told me, Ian was a strong player but often headed the ball backwards. Never the less though I am proud of my connection to Ian & the fact he helped my family in the way he did also.

  15. When I was a sickly child in hospital in Dundee, Ian Ure with other Dundee players were frequent visitors to the wards, He even kept in touch with people when they had left hospital..Ian Ure did play football from the back, the way it should be played, “entertaining” however the gunners type of punt and run football did not suit him.

  16. Saw him talk at a DFC dinner absolute gent said his only regret in football was not being born 2o years later and earning the money guys were making now.
    Touched on Dundee’s run to the semi of the European Cup and how if they’d got to the final at Wembley that season they would have won the trophy and become household names (at that point the room full of DFC fans fell silent as we mulled that point over)

  17. Ian Ure! I was at Wembley for the Swindon, (Don Rogers) final. I was also in the Fiddlers pub in Dagenham when Ian and Jon Sammels walked in – to the delight of the local females. I seem to remember the Ian was tried at least once as a centre forward – anybody remember that? I’m guessing that that was a Billy Wright idea. I don’t think that Billy had much idea as a manager – got the job based on him playing career. Thinking about poor Scottish signings an ex next door neighbour of mine in Lichfield, and current contact, Tommy Coakley was signed, presumably by Wright

  18. When Ian Ure signed for Arsenal, I was convinced we would win the league. That first game v Wolves at Highbury, crowd over 60,000. Chris Crowe of Wolves demolished Ian Ure and our defence. We lost 1-3 and I never had any faith in Ure again. Totally out of his depth in the English First Division. So pleased when we flogged him to ManU.

  19. Witnessed him get away with fisting a ball away from Gilzean at WHL in the league cup semi final blind side of the referee in the penalty area Gilzean had a nervous breakdown ,was not as bad as he was painted,however Bertie Mee knew his knee was suspect and farmed him out with the lame and lazy for cash,Mee was not such a mug as George and co think he was.

  20. I remember watching Ian Ure for Manchester United as young lad and I thought he was brilliant one of my heroes.

  21. I remember our team of Terry Neill and Ian Ure on quizball – a great pairing. I was at Wembley for the league cup finals against Leeds United and against Swindon when Ian Ure made those dreadful mistakes that probably ended his Arsenal career. But any suggestion that he was not a player suited for his time is inappropriate. One of the things that Bertie Mee did – by copying what Don Revie did at Leeds – was made Arsenal more difficult to beat. Ian Ure was central to that. He would not be put off by strikers having more skill than him, but would stick to the task of staying close to them. Sometimes too close, so I can remember two sendings off; one with Denis Law at Old Trafford and one with Allan Clarke at Craven Cottage. The north bank used to sing to the tune of “she’ll be coming round the mountains”, “singing I I Ian Ian Ure”. He was a cult hero because he contributed a lot to a side that was slowly coming together. The Swindon game might have been overlooked in the story of Ian Ure at Arsenal had he not been approaching his thirties when Peter Simpson emerged as a central defender and the skipper Frank McLintock was converted into a central defender which provided the pairing for the successful years that followed and would have limited Ian Ure’s game time. The move to Manchester United was a sensible move for all concerned at that time.

  22. Does anybody know if Ian Ure played in the 27/12/1966 2-1 away defeat to Southampton. Having done some research I have established that Ian was playing at Arsenal at that time but cant find out if h was in the team that day.

  23. Here is the team for that day Chris
    Jim Furnell
    Peter Storey
    Peter Simpson
    Bob McNab
    Ian Ure
    George Armstrong
    Jimmy McGill
    Jon Sammels
    George Graham
    John Radford
    Colin Addison

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