Peter Bonetti swapped the peace and tranquility of his Isle of Mull guest house for the noise and mayhem of a derby when he signed for Dundee United.
The England and Chelsea goalkeeping hero, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 78, may not have stayed long at Tannadice but he still played his own small part in the 1979-80 season that saw the Tangerines go on to lift their first major trophy.
By the time they beat Aberdeen 3-0 in the League Cup final replay on December 12 at Dens Park, Bonetti’s work had been done and regular first-choice keeper Hamish McAlpine had long been back in favour.
The Londoner, who was the grand age of 37 when he signed for the Tangerines, had come out of retirement to answer a call from manager Jim McLean, who was looking for help to dig himself out of a hole of his own making.
McLean, you see, had fallen out with McAlpine during United’s summer tour of Japan. So much so, that he ordered the club’s greatest goalie home from the Land of the Rising Sun ahead of the rest of the squad.
He then decided to punish his number one by leaving him out of the team for the start of the new season.
McAlpine said: “I was so sorry to hear the news about Peter.
“He was a quiet, unassuming guy and, of course, a terrific keeper. You don’t play for England and the clubs he played for without being top class.
“Funnily enough, our paths didn’t cross too much because of the situation I found myself in.
“Wee Jim and I had a well-documented fall-out (in Japan) so I was out of the picture for a while at the start of that season.”
Indeed, a young Andy Graham played the two Dryburgh Cup matches against Dunfermline and Celtic, before Derek Neilsen was selected for a mainly reserve side in the Forfarshire Cup win over Arbroath.
Graham was handed the gloves back for the two glamour Tannadice pre-season friendly victories over Aston Villa and Tottenham.
However, by then McLean had decided he needed another, more experienced option between the posts.
To almost everyone’s surprise, it was someone who had been a member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad who turned up…all the way from Mull.
Nicknamed “The Cat,” Bonetti would be thrown into the lion’s den of a Dundee derby in front of an 18,000 crowd inside Tannadice for his debut on Saturday, August 11.
United lined up: Bonetti, Ray Stewart, Frank Kopel, Iain Phillip, Derek Stark, Dave Narey, Derek Addison, Paul Sturrock, George Fleming (Billy Kirkwood 46), Willie Pettigrew, Graeme Payne.
It was Bonetti and his new teammates who got the cream as goals from Sturrock (21), Kirkwood (68) and Stark (81) gave them a comfortable 3-0 win over Tommy Gemmell’s Dark Blues.
That was as good as it got for him, though.
With Bonetti in goal, United lost to Kilmarnock and Aberdeen in the league.
McAlpine popped up for an away game against Airdrie in a League Cup second round first leg, which United lost 2-1.
Bonetti was back for the return against the Diamonds at Tannadice, where they turned things around with a couple of goals from Payne and Sturrock – a salvage job that would turn out to be a key moment in the club’s history.
McAlpine was preferred by McLean for the league trip to Celtic Park, where they earned a 2-2 draw, and stayed in the side for an away loss to St Mirren and the goalless Uefa Cup first leg home tie with Anderlecht.
The Englishman was back in favour again when United played Partick Thistle in the league (2-1 win), Queen’s Park in the League Cup (3-0 victory) but then came his seventh and final match for the club.
It was a trip to Cappielow to face a Morton side that contained one of Scottish football’s most skilful players of that era – Andy Ritchie.
He would score a hat-trick against Bonetti as the Greenock club ran out 4-1 winners.
United lined up: Bonetti, Phillip, Narey, Hegarty, Stark, Kirkwood, Jim Kerr (Addison 83), Fleming, Payne (Dodds 70), Pettigrew, Sturrock.
Mcean’s mind was obviously made up. He would have to make peace with his first-choice keeper.
McAlpine recalled: “I was actually on the golf course at Kirriemuir that day and it was a disappointing result for the club.
“I think I got the call from the manager the next day asking me if I wanted to come back into things.
“I think I played a reserve game against Dundee to get a game under my belt before we had the return match against Anderlecht.
“I remember the conversation with Wee Jim as we prepared to fly to Belgium. I was aksed if I fancied it and answered: ‘Of course, I want to play!”
United would go on to qualify for the next round on a dramatic night.
Indeed, it was the occasion of one of the greatest goals ever scored by a United player, with the now dearly-departed Kopel’s wonder strike securing the required 1-1 draw in Brussels to take them through on the away goals rule. Bonetti sat on the bench.
McAlpine and his teammates, of course, would go on just a few months later to create club history by lifting United’s first piece of silverware.
However small his role and however short his time at Tannadice, Bonetti played his part too.