When Bobby Houston was transferred from Partick Thistle to Kilmarnock in 1979 it didn’t take long for him to be due to play his former team. The match was tplayed at Kilmarnock’s home ground, Rugby Park, Nov 17th 1979, and Houston would have been anxious to show that his former team were wrong to get rid of him.
The day of the match itself started badly for Houston. He woke up – late, had his breakfast – late. He dressed himself in jeans and a t-shirt and set off to get his hair cut in an attempt to smarten himself up, he planned to return home to dress more smartly after, before heading to the football club. The hairdresser was busy, traffic was bad, Houston was running out of time. He had to travel to the match in what he was wearing – at least his hair looked the part.
The management team at Kilmarnock were not happy with Houston’s appearance when he turned up at the stadium; they were used to their players turning up smartly dressed. It was just a coincidence that Bobby Houston was to start the match on the substitutes bench; had he not been, perhaps his casual clothes may have seen him there anyway. Either way, Houston was not having a good day and it was about to get a lot worse.
When the Partick Thistle team bus arrived at Rugby Park, Houston decided to go out and say hello to his ex team-mates. Unbeknownst to him, the Thistle players had decided to play a practical joke on Houston – they were going to ignore him. As player after player left the bus, every single one of them walked straight past Houston without saying a word to him. Houston must have thought he had lost a lot of friends quickly. It was not a good day for him.
Throughout the first half of the match, Houston sat on the bench – plenty of time to reflect on how his day was going, the anger must have been rising within him, but he was still anxious to get on the field of play. Shortly after the start of the second half, Houston got his wish; he was about to be brought on as a substitute.
As he was making his way onto the pitch, Bertie Auld, the Partick Thistle manager shouted something witty at Houston that caused a rather curt response from the ex-Thistle player. As soon as he was on the pitch, fuelled with the anger that had built up throughout his awful day, Houston attempted a crude tackle on former team-mate Brian Whittaker. It was fortunate that the tackle had not hit its target, if it had it could have resulted in a leg break. The incident caused another Thistle player, Ian Gibson, to get involved he shouted at Houston: “What are you doing?”. What happened next almost beggars belief.
Houston was enraged, he turned round and swung a punch at Gibson but it missed. This caused Gibson to laugh which infuriated Houston even more; he swung another punch (which also missed). Fortunately for everyone, the referee and one of the linesman stepped in to stop the ‘violence’ from escalating. The referee had no option but to show the red-card to Houston and send him off the pitch. His bad day had got worse but it didn’t end there. Kilmarnock fined their player a total of £40 plus a week’s wages; the SFA also banned him for two weeks. In today’s football climate, that may not sound like a lot of money but in those days it was a fair amount.
Bobby Houston may have been a rather average player but what happened to him throughout that fateful day means he will always have a place in the annals of Scottish football. He must go down as one of the only players to have been sent off without actually touching the ball. A bad day indeed.