Legends - John Dempster

A skilful, goal scoring winger with speed to test that of all all but the nippiest full backs, John Dempster could operate on either side of the pitch. His penchant for penalties helped clock up a creditable goals tally and his decade of service through the 70s place him well in the QoS appearances list.

Not the first Ayrshireman to enhance his reputation in Dumfries, Dempster was born in 1948 in Muirkirk, the same town of birth as Willie Ferguson from QoS of the 30s and Alex Smith who played 8 for seasons in the 50s. Dempster is prominent in both the QoS appearances and goalscoring.

Kind enough to fit us in despite pre-holiday preparations, John Dempster contributed to this article with interviews on 29th June and 1st July, 2009.

“I was born in Muirkirk in 1948. I played with Muirkirk juniors then I went to Queen's. At that time being quite honest there were that many clubs after me, a lot of English clubs, also Kilmarnock, in fact I was actually told not to sign with anybody until Kilmarnock had spoken to me but at the finish up it just got to the stage where they were hanging on too long. I thought, ‘No, I’m just going to go’. And I enjoyed playing at Queen's when I was down for a couple of trials with them. I liked the park at Queen's. As you know it’s a good park, a good surface. That was impressive. Plus the directors at the time, I got on very well with the directors. Willie Harkness and Sammy [Harkness] and Mr Watson and Billy Houliston. These kind of things, you weigh them all up. That was the kind of thing that impressed me most. Mr Watson offered terms and conditions and I signed.”


“I’ll never forget that, it was against Berwick Rangers. That was the first game I ever played, it was at Palmerston. It just kicked on from there. Mike Jackson had the flu actually, aye, he had the flu. At that time there was no subs allowed so I was drafted in, in place of Mike. Lexie Law, he was playing wide right and they moved him to inside left at the time and I was put in at outside right. I scored two goals. So it just kind of all fired from there. They were probably the easiest goals ever that I scored”, laughed Dempster. “The first was just a tap in, they were both tap ins, and I was in the right place at the right time.”
Memorable QoS games:
“The one where we beat Rangers [in the 1975/76 League Cup]. Just the fact that we beat them [over 90 minutes before going out in extra time]. I don’t really remember their winning goal. We’d quite a good side at that time. We could compete.”
Dempster scored in that game.
“Aye, a penalty. I remember the penalty, Peter McCloy was in. I remember it quite clearly because he went one way and the ball went the other way, simple as that. I’d actually got hammered by John Greig, he flattened me, I remember that to. It must have been a blatant penalty if the ref gave a penalty against Rangers, I can tell you. Tommy Bryce scored our second if my memory serves me well, I can’t remember what it was like but I think it was him that scored it.” It was indeed Tommy Bryce (mark I), with a last minute header from Tommy O’Hara’s corner kick.
The first leg.
“Very vague to be honest, it all sort of passed me by very quickly. I don’t recall too much but we had a certain penalty turned down. They missed a penalty. We got beat 1-0”. QoS kept Rangers out until the 78th minute before Derek Johnstone’s goal.
The next game Dempster brought up was against Dundee in the League Cup in 1977/78.
“Tommy Gemmell was Dundee manager then and Dundee were quite high flying at the time. We drew the first leg [0-0 at Dens Park] and I think they were favourites to go through and we absolutely hammered them, it was 6-0. I scored one. I remember it too, it was about the third or fourth goal I think it was [the third]. I came in from the right and it was a left foot shot and I think it was Thomson Allan in goal got his hands to it but he couldn’t keep it out. Just one of these nights, everything went right for us. It was a good performance actually."
"Rangers and Dundee are the two that really stick out in my mind. Another that sticks out to me, a game that really sickened me at the time was Forfar in the quarter final of the League Cup [after the thumping of Dundee]. We actually hammered them at Palmerston but finished up drawing 3-3. We were up 3-1 and George Dickson said to me I’d scored a goal but it was chalked off. We hit the cross bar, that would have made it 5-1, and they hit us with 2 late goals. And then they beat us 1-0 up at Forfar. They then played Rangers in the semi final to extra time. We should actually have hammered them that time, we did, but the result just wasn’t right.”
The 5-4 Scottish Cup tie against Ayr United:
“My late father in law was an Ayr United supporter. Me coming from Ayrshire obviously, it was a local game for me. I remember Ayr had a good team then. Muirkirk boy Danny Masterton played in that game as well so there was a bit of rivalry between the two of us. The ball just seemed to get centred all the time, it was just goal after goal” laughed Dempster. “I can’t really remember much about the game but goal after goal.”
"Aye, I took them on quite a number of occasions.”
Philosophy taking them?
“Aye, hit the back of the net,” chuckled Dempster. “I’m confident taking penalties, I’d taken them when I was at school, I took them at Queen's. I varied it, I didn’t always go for power, I placed a lot of them, but when I was going for power I decided to go for it, hammered them. When I say I hammered them, I went for the corner. If I just went for power I usually went to the goalkeeper’s right. If I was placing them I could go to either corner but if I went for power I more or less always went to the goalkeeper’s right.”
Of course life isn’t perfect and the same applies to Dempster.
"I had pneumonia when Willie McLean was manager that put me back quite a bit. 1975 it was, just before I met my wife actually. Ballochmile hospital was open at the time, that was in Mauchline, its houses now.”
Dempster of coursed bounced back. Favourite goals:
“Every goal’s just as good as the next. There was one game at Palmerston, we won 5-1, it was Ian Reid, he was kidding me on about it. Ian scored 4 goals in that game, it was in the papers I was man of the match, Ian had scored four goals and wasn’t even man of the match. I scored one goal and Ian scored four, he said, ‘Man of the match, you?’ he said.”
Reid would seem to have a point, Did Dempster provide the assists?
“Aye, I did, aye, he was only joking about it obviously, but normally when you score 4 goals you’re man of the match.”
1974/75 produced the best Queen of the South league finish of the 70s – second place in the second tier. However there was no reward of a return to the days of top tier football.
“I remember that very well, we should have actually won the league that year. It was Falkirk that won it. It was the time they changed over to the new [Premier League] system and we finished second which would have taken us into the top flight. But because of reconstruction we were [subsequently placed] into the middle league. But they won it by a point that year, I remember it. At our last game they had still a game to play, and I think they won it and that’s what took then to the title. I remember that, aye. We weren’t involved as obviously they had a game still to play.”
The best players played alongside at QoS?
“There was quite a few of them, I actually thought about that, starting with Allan Ball you can go right through them. I sometimes sit and think, what was the strongest team we ever had?”
“There’s always just the one that I would pick personally, but you’ve got to go Allan Ball, big Allan was a good goalkeeper. I would always say Jimmy Miller, Billy McLaren, Crawford Boyd and Tommy O’Hara. Then I would go for midfield Jimmy Donald, [best man at Kenny Dalglish’s wedding no less], George Dickson, then the left hand side was always a problem. Up front was always myself, Peter Dickson and Ian Reid. The left side, the late Chris Balderstone, he was a smashing fellow and a smashing player, but unfortunately he was by his best when he arrived there [the likes of George Cloy similarly said Balderstone was a genuinely outstanding passer of the ball and was at his most effective when paired beside someone like Benny Ferrie who could cover ground for Balderstone]. Harry Hood was similar, it was always the left I would say was difficult to fill in somebody. The other 10 I would always say without hesitation that’s the 10 that I would always pick.”
(Jimmy Miller, Billy McLaren and Peter Dickson)
“Its a nice touch that Crawford Boyd was interviewed just before you and he said something similar about you.”
“Aye, Crawford’s a nice fellow.”
Who had the best game against Dempster of QoS?
“Obviously one of the old firm games. I think probably Davie Hay of Celtic. I can’t remember if I was directly in opposition to him. We actually played against Lisbon Lions, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, these sort of players, it was 5-1 going on 20 (1970/71). I scored a goal that day but we got absolutely annihilated, they had their full team out, there was no reserves playing. It was the Scottish Cup. Twice we played them in the Scottish Cup at Parkhead and we got beat 5-1 twice. The second time flattered them (the 1976-77 quarter finals) but the first time flattered us at 5-1."
In 1979 Dempster joined a St Mirren side who impressively finished the season as Scotland’s third best team (above Jim McLean’s Dundee United as well as Rangers). On a personal level, things didn’t work out how Dempster had hoped.
“At that time I was 30 and competing with full time players. When I went to St Mirren I didn’t get the pre season training. I wanted to play every week so I left. I was at Clyde for maybe 4 or 5 months with Craig Brown. Craig’s a very nice fellow, I’ve nothing but praise for him; Knows the game inside out, very thorough in everything he does, very disciplined. As I said I’ve nothing but credit for Craig, aye.”
QoS of today.
“I always look for the result, that’s the one thing I always do. You always look for these things, it doesn’t get away from you. I saw them on the telly against Aberdeen. I was obviously willing them to win that game, I think Aberdeen played badly on the day but again all credit to Queen's to take four goals off a premier league side, it was good. Rangers [in the Scottish Cup Final], my daughter got a sticker for her door, ‘A Rangers supporter lives here’. She got one for our room, ‘A Queen of the South fan lives here’. I thought Queen's played very well. I was very surprised, to go 2-0 down and come back to 2-2, in fact there was a point I thought they were actually going to win it. Big Thomson at centre half was inspirational to them that day. They played well there’s no shadow of a doubt, it brought back memories of how Queen's were when I was playing, we weren’t over awed by the big clubs but unfortunately it’s hard to take it on against the big clubs regularly.”
“I was watching them but again you never think of Queen's in the likes of European games. It’s good for clubs like that to get into a one off situation for it to happen. It doesn’t happen often enough. The big clubs try and restrict them from going into European games. In such a way that there’s no way that they can get qualification into the European games. But aye, it’s good when it happens."
While it’s a different level of exertion from testing the acceleration of a full back, Dempster still keeps himself active today.
“Walking, my wife and I walked the West Highland way there at Easter. Absolutely fantastic. It was brilliant, we had sunshine for eight days, we done it in seven but for eight days it was brilliant sunshine. 95 miles, it was absolutely fantastic, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough for anyone, absolutely brilliant.”
John Dempster scored 98 times during 355 first team games for QoS. As at August 2020 he is sixth in the club’s all time goal scoring charts and 13th in the club’s appearances chart.