Maurice Malpas was the novice of the Dundee United side which captured
the League title in 1983 as left back of the best-ever United back four
- Gough, Hegarty, Narey and Malpas. As a nineteen year old his status
as a part-time player was no impediment to his inclusion in the Championship-winning
team and he simply got better and better. Within five years he was an
automatic selection for Scotland and most observers' choice as the best
left back in Britain. Uncanny anticipation and intuition meant, like
Dave Narey, he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
For nineteen seasons his ability to maintain a thoughtful, unflappable
style even in the most difficult of circumstances made him a formidable
opponent and a United player of the highest quality. He is the only
Dundee United player in the Scottish Football Association's Hall of
Fame, was captain of the 1994 Cup-winning team and his 617 league game
total is a United record.
Maurice joined United from Leven Royals on 14 August 1979. He had been
recommended to United by the Club's scout in Fife, Jock Speed. His subsequent
progression to the top in football came as no surprise to Jock Speed.
"I first saw Maurice when he was about 13 or 14. Even then he stood
out. He had everything. He was cool, comfortable on the ball and he
knew his way about the park. The surprise to me would have been if he
had not made it."
Jock Speed wasn't the only scout to notice the talented young Malpas, in his latter days at school he trained with Aberdeen, Leeds United, Manchester City and Manchester United, but the Dundee United man knew him best. "In the early days he wouldn't speak unless spoken to, but that was shyness, not through lack of confidence in his ability to make the grade. He still isn't a shouter, but his ability speaks for him. Thinking it over, I would say he is the best player I have ever found."
The quiet young Fifer took just two years to make the breakthrough to first team football when he played against Airdrieonians in a Premier Division game on 21 November 1981. It hadn't all been plain sailing. During the 1980/81 season, in a reserve match against Falkirk, he had what he later described as 'the proverbial nightmare' in midfield. An appearance at right full-back a few days later for United's youth eleven was much more successful and he was regarded from that day onwards as primarily a defender. "The move back probably salvaged my United career, " he later recalled.
On 22 November 1981 Maurice Malpas made his first-team debut, exactly eight years to the day since Dave Narey played his first game for United. Within a month of breaking into the first team Maurice was playing in a European tie when he was part of the United team which demolished Winterslag of Belgium 5-0 on 9 December 1981. Maurice made fifteen starts during the remainder of that season and four substitute appearances. Only nineteen, he was now a first team regular and when he ran out against Morton at Cappielow on 18 December 1982 he recorded his fiftieth first team appearance, the first of many appearance milestones.
"Coming into the side, with guys like Paul Hegarty and Dave Narey to break me in and Hamish McAlpine his usual quiet self behind, it was almost like cruising for me," recalled Maurice later. Less than 18 months after his debut, whilst still studying for an electrical engineering degree course, he won a League Championship medal, the youngest member of the triumphant 1983 team, and the only part-timer to do so.
'Dundee United - Champions of Scotland' was still a phrase which took some getting used to for most United fans but, like everything else, Maurice took title-winning in his stride. "At the time I expected this was something which would happen every year!"
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