Bobby Ancell

Robert Francis Dudgeon Ancell (16 June 1911 – 5 July 1987) was a Scottish football player and manager. He played as a left back for St Mirren, Newcastle United, Dundee and Aberdeen. He won two full caps with the Scotland national football team who he also represented in an unofficial war time match. He managed Berwick Rangers, Dunfermline Athletic, Motherwell and Dundee during the 1950s and 1960s.

Bobby Ancell
Bobby Ancell
Personal information
Full name Robert Francis Dudgeon Ancell
Date of birth (1911-06-16)16 June 1911
Place of birth Dumfries, Scotland
Date of death 5 July 1987(1987-07-05) (aged 76)
Height 5 ft 9 in (175 cm)[1]
Position(s) Left back
Youth career
Mid Annandale
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1930–1937 St Mirren[2] 158 (0)
1936–1939 Newcastle United[2] 97 (1)
1946–1948 Dundee[2] 58 (0)
1948–1949 Aberdeen[2] 15 (0)
1949–1950 Dundee[2] 6 (0)
Total 334 (1)
National team
1936 Scotland 2 (0)
1939 Scotland (wartime) 1 (0)
Teams managed
1950–1952 Berwick Rangers
1952–1955 Dunfermline Athletic
1955–1965 Motherwell
1965–1968 Dundee
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only


Born in Dumfries, Ancell grew up with a marked aptitude for sport, thanks in no small part to his father, a physical training instructor at Dumfries Academy. As a teenager, he represented his home town at both cricket and rugby and one of his first jobs was as an assistant golf professional, a sport in which he retained a keen interest, eventually playing off a handicap of three.[3]

Ancell's playing career began with local side Mid Annandale, from where he moved to St Mirren in 1930. He was a stylish, intelligent full back. Ancell stayed with the Paisley club for six years, where the best league finishes were fifth in 1932 and seventh in 1933. In 1934 he played for St Mirren in a Scottish Cup final defeat against Rangers in front of a crowd of 113,430.[4] However the team was in decline and was relegated in 1935 - this was the only relegation of Ancell's career as either player or manager. The drop of a division was short lived though, and promotion straight back up followed the season after.[3]

Ancell was signed by Newcastle United for a fee of £2,750 for the start of season 1936–37. Within months of joining Newcastle, Ancell received international recognition.[5] He made his Scotland debut in a 3–1 victory over Northern Ireland. He second and last cap was shortly after in the season against Wales. Ancell received a third, unofficial cap, against England in December 1939 played at Newcastle's St. James' Park.[3][6]

Having returned north upon the outbreak of World War II, Ancell served the war as a PT instructor as many players did. Guesting for numerous teams[1] before joining Dundee in 1944, he had a spell as coach to the Norwegian army. Ancell[3] helped Dundee lift the Second Division championship in 1946–47 and their first season back in the top flight ended in fourth spot.

In season 1948–49 he left the Dark Blues to join a side managed by a fellow native of Dumfries, Dave Halliday's Aberdeen.[7][1] Ancell returned to Dundee play a small number of games in the season after.[3]


Ancell then turned his hand to management in 1950 with Berwick Rangers, then of the East of Scotland League, turning down an offer from Dunfermline Athletic who at that point were making headlines from board room disputes. Ancell was then approached by Dunfermline again in 1952 and with a completely new set of directors running the club, and accepted the offer. The Pars had been without a manager during the previous season and, having released no fewer than eighteen players at the end of it, Ancell had to rebuild the squad with very little money. The upheaval led to a mediocre season but Ancell was happy to develop young talent and shape them into the kind of players he wanted. One of his first signings was 17-year-old Jimmy Millar. The Dunfermline improved in all three seasons under Ancell and achieved promotion to the First Division in 1955 after an absence of eighteen years; however Ancell moved on.[3]

Commemorative mural in Motherwell featuring Bobby Ancell

Motherwell was Ancell's next port of call in 1955 where he appointed ex-Dundee teammate Reuben Bennett to his training staff.[5] At Fir Park, he was able to put his purist principles into practice and developed a dynamic young side known as the 'Ancell Babes'.[8] Under his guidance, no fewer than eight players gained international recognition featuring players like Ian St John,[5] Charlie Aitken and Willie Hunter. The club's best finish in Ancell's tenure was third place in 1959 followed by finishes in fifth spot in the two subsequent seasons.[3]

Ancell next rejoined former club Dundee where his best finish was sixth in 1967. He took Dundee to an autumn 1967 Scottish League Cup Final against the previous season's European Cup winners, Celtic. Ancell's team scored three times at Hampden Park in Glasgow but still lost out 5–3.[9] In the 1967–68 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, Dundee eliminated opposition from Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland to meet Leeds United in the semi final; after a 1–1 draw at Dens, a 1–0 second leg win took Leeds through on their way to lifting the trophy.[3] From his first to last season in management, not once did his side finish a season having been fighting for divisional survival.[3]

After a year working as reserve team coach at Dens Park, he acted for Nottingham Forest in a scouting role before finally retiring from the game to spend more time on the golf course prior to his death on 5 July 1987.[3]



St Mirren



Dunfermline Athletic



  1. Bobby Ancell, AFC Heritage Trust
  2. Bobby Ancell at Post War English & Scottish Football League A–Z Player's Database
  3. Bobby Ancell, Queen of the South FC, 10 December 2011
  4. Few Thrills at One-sided Cup Final | Rangers Outplay St Mirren at Hampden, The Glasgow Herald, 23 April 1934
  5. "Bobby Ancell info in the career profile of Reuben Bennett". Archived from the original on 7 April 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  6. "[Scotland player, including unofficial matches] Robert Francis Dudgeon Ancell". London Hearts Supporters' Club. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  7. Dave Halliday career profile in "Queens Legends" on
  8. Ancell's Babes: Steelmen, Sinners and the Saint, The Football Pink, 12 February 2019
  9. "'League Cup Doonhamers' on". Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2011.