Few in Scotland remember who Danny McLennan is. But people around the world, especially in countries like Iran, Iraq, Malawi, and Zimbabwe remember who he is. A man who’s love for football led him to discover and manage in and around 10 countries. He is Scottish football’s forgotten man.
Born in Stirling in 1925, Danny McLennan joined Rangers FC as a 17-year-old left-half under Bill Struth. But due to lack of first-team minutes, he decided to leave and play for clubs in lower divisions like Falkirk, East Fife, Dundee, and Berwick Rangers. It was at Falkirk that he saw major success, winning the Scottish League Cup in 1953. As a wing-half, who could also play as an inside forward, he scored 20 goals in over 200 appearances in his playing career. He became player-manager at Berwick Rangers in 1957, before retiring two years later in 1959.
In 1961, McLennan applied for the Dunfermline managerial position but lost out to an emerging Jock Stein. He later became the manager of Stirling Albion and quickly helped them to promotion in his first season there. Subsequently, he helped them to the semi-finals of the Scottish League Cup, losing 2-1 to Hearts. He was, however, sacked, probably due to boardroom machinations. A lame spell at Worcester City led him to the decision of leaving Scotland in pursuit of opportunities abroad.
His first job since leaving Scotland was with the Philippines National team on a year-long contract. High levels of crime made it difficult for him to settle there or bring his family over. He later moved to Mauritius and managed the national team for a year. However, his time at Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) is most widely and fondly remembered. In his four years there, he nearly helped Rhodesia qualify for the World Cup. A job he landed with the help of then FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous, he became famous there when his name was used in a Pepsi advert which said:
“Drink Pepsi, Danny does…”.
After a four-year hiatus, he joined the Iran national team in 1973. Like the Philippines, he was unsettled in Iran, with spies monitoring his daily movements. McLennan even knew all the players that would go on to play against Scotland at the World Cup in 1978, even writing to then Scotland manager Ally McLeod and gave him information on all of the players, though it is not known if McLeod acknowledged this advice. He later moved across the Gulf to coach the Bahrain national team for a year before moving to Iraq.
His time in Iraq is widely remembered for his close relationship with Ammo Baba, Iraq’s finest ever footballer. Danny McLennan later recalled in an interview:
“Before we played Bahrain in the final play-off (of the 1976 Gulf Cup), word reached the players that Saddam was going to give each player a new house if they won. It clearly unsettled them.”
They would lose the final 4-2 to Kuwait in extra-time. This was the time when Saddam Hussein was rising through the ranks in Iraqi politics. He left Iraq for a brief spell in Norway to manage Kongsvinger IL Toppfotball before returning to the Middle East to manage the Jordanian national team.
Danny McLennan later moved across the border to manage a club in Saudi Arabia. His move to Malawi would be another highlight in his managerial career. He took them to the African Nations Cup finals for the first time in their history and had it not been for a rigged game between Nigeria and Algeria to ensure that both teams qualified, Malawi might have progressed further.
He later moved to countries like Palestine, Fiji, Mauritius (again), and Libya before reaching India to manage Churchill Brothers in Goa. He retired in the year 2000 and with his wife, Ruth, settled in the village of Crail in Fife, before passing away at the age of 79 in the year 2004. I think it is fair to say that Scotland’s loss was the world’s gain. Known as “Mr. Danny”, he will be remembered as the explorer who was not satisfied with one job.