by Niall McGilp
Greenock Morton Football Club was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former player Joe Mason, who passed away recently at the age of 79. An Ayrshire man and former miner, Joe spent over six seasons at Cappielow, between 1966 and 1972, and made over 250 appearances for Morton, netting 106 goals – a total that puts him in 9th place in our all-time top scorers’ records.
He started his senior career at Kilmarnock in 1960, having “graduated” through the junior ranks at Lugar Boswell. Joe was a talented inside forward, but his grounding in the Ayrshire Juniors meant that he knew how to look after himself too, and his signing by Killie boss Willie Waddell, coincided with one of the Rugby Park club’s halcyon periods, finishing runners-up in the top flight four times, before finally clinching the League Championship in 1964/65 season. Following Waddell’s departure after that title victory, new manager Malcolm MacDonald and Joe eventually parted company, and he signed for Morton in May 1966. Although never fully establishing himself as a first team regular, his record of 29 goals in 60 appearances showed his value to an exceptionally talented Killie squad.
He arrived at Cappielow with two daunting tasks, replacing the club’s record scorer, Allan McGraw, who had left for Hibernian at the end of the previous season, and leading the promotion charge for the newly relegated Greenock side. He succeeded in both.
Coach Eric Smith immediately switched Joe to the centre forward role, where his hard work and natural ability shone through. He netted 27 times in his first 23 matches, as Morton went on another record-breaking league run, and finished the season as top scorer in Britain with 44 goals, ably assisted by strike partner Joe Harper who hit 29.
With the Championship clinched, Morton remained in the top flight for the rest of Mason’s career. Their first season back in Division One saw Joe net another 24 goals as Morton reached Scottish Cup and League Cup semi-finals and qualify for Europe via the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1968, with Joe scoring the decisive goal which clinched European qualification, a 25 yarder against Hearts.
Drawn against Chelsea, Joe scored one of Morton’s three goals against the Stamford Bridge side in an epic second leg tie at Cappielow. Another Cup semi-final appearance followed that season against Celtic. By this stage, Joe had reverted to a more withdrawn midfield role, where he pulled the strings of an established Division One team. A sublime performance against Rangers in October 1972, led to the Ibrox club signing him, at the age of 32 for a reputed fee of £10,000, Joe re-joining former mentor Willie Waddell. He quickly switched to a coaching role and was to spend the next decade at Rangers.
Joe was one of the most influential players at Cappielow during his time here. He scored many goals, some permanently etched on the memory of those fortunate enough to witness them, and was a hard-working, skilful and creative player throughout his time in Greenock. Our thoughts are with Joe’s family and friends at this very sad time.