Dumfries born left back Bobby Ancell was a fine defender for Saints in the 1930’s after signing as a 19-year-old from Mid Annandale, a Lockerbie based club relatively local to his hometown, where he was already known as a fine all-round sportsman after representing his town at cricket and rugby as a teenager.
Golf however seemed to be the sport that Ancell excelled at initially, and he actually turned professional in the year before Saints took him to Paisley in 1930, however this change of sporting heart allowed him to turn his focus entirely to the beautiful game, and it would prove an inspired decision.
Ancell played at a typically inconsistent time for the club, with the massive success of the John Cochrane era ending in 1928 and the club still adjusting to his departure. It was however John Morrison who brought Ancell to Paisley towards the end of the 1929/30 campaign in which Saints finished a very respectable 5th, however positions of 15th, 5th, 7th and 17th in the next few seasons indicated real inconsistency partly due to ageing goal machine Davie McCrae suffering injury and form loss as he reached his mid-thirties, but Ancell had established himself firmly as a first team regular and stood out due to his technical ability, very rare in a pre-WWII full back, and his intelligence.
Ancell was part of the team that made the 1934 Scottish Cup final, however the side had struggled in the league throughout the season and in these days between world wars, the league campaign finished after the Scottish Cup, therefore the players still had the threat of relegation and three more scheduled First Division matches to play after the showcase event, which incidentally attracted a crowd of 113,430; the third highest crowd ever recorded for a club football match at the time.
It was a day that ended badly however as Saints were thrashed 5-0 at Hampden, but a few weeks later stayed up in the league to avoid a first ever relegation by just one point, despite a 6-0 defeat on the final day at Central Park as bottom placed and already relegated Cowdenbeath embarrassed the Paisley side.
The following season Saints finally did succumb to relegation but bounced straight back in 1935/36, scoring a club record 114 goals, but Ancell would finish his time at Saints a few months later after 210 appearances for the club and no goals to show for his efforts; top division Newcastle United taking him south for a fee of £2,750 in August 1936.
As seems to happen with Saints players throughout history, Ancell was capped for Scotland at the first time of asking a few months later when just through the door at the Geordies, and would later play for Dundee and Aberdeen after WWII (when he was employed as a trainer for the army like many footballers) before retiring from the playing side in 1950 aged 39, after 334 official appearances (his wartime record of several hundred matches is unofficial) scoring just one goal in his long career, during his time at Newcastle.
Ancell then became a hugely successful manager at Berwick Rangers and Dunfermline, before joining Motherwell where eight of his great young players dubbed the “Ancell Babes” were capped by Scotland, including Ian St John. Indeed it was Ancell who sanctioned the transfer of Gerry Baker to Saints in 1958 from ‘Well, with the prolific scorer unable to break into the Fir Park starting XI.
A return to Dundee would be Ancell’s final job in football, taking over in 1965 and leading the Dens Park side to the Semi Final of the Inter Fairs Cup (renamed UEFA Cup and then Europa League) in 1968, where they narrowly lost 2-1 on aggregate to eventual winners Leeds United.
The former Saints man would retire in 1970 at the age of 59 where he resumed his golf playing until his death in July 1987, a few months after Saints had lifted the Scottish Cup again, but a hero to many thousand football fans at multiple different clubs.