ONE of Scottish football’s first shots at the American dream was put to rest yesterday alongside former Celtic, Queen of the South, Motherwell, Falkirk and Partick Thistle midfielder Tommy O’Hara.

Long before David Beckham turned out for LA Galaxy, O’Hara, who passed away last week at the age of 63, was one of the first British footballers to have a crack at professional football in the USA when he joined NASL club the Washington Diplomats in 1978.

The “Dips” were quite a side. Lining up alongside O’Hara were the likes of former Celtic manager Wim Jansen, fellow Scot and former Dundee and Hearts man Jim Steele, ex-Southampton star Bobby Stokes - famous for scoring the winner against Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup Final - and one of the games' greatest ever players, Dutch master Johan Cruyff.

It was a mark of O’Hara’s modest character that when he returned to these shores after a spell with the wonderfully-named Jacksonville Tea Men, he rarely discussed his time alongside such exalted names in world football, and it was a mark of his ability that he was never out of place playing in such illustrious company.

Gordon Dalziel, who was close to O’Hara when they played together at Firhill in the mid-Eighties, was distraught to hear of his passing, and his sadness was heightened by a sense that O’Hara’s ability was not widely appreciated outside of those in the game.

“Tommy and I were very friendly and ran about together for a long while,” Dalziel said.

“He was a terrific player. I used to like a wind-up with Tommy and I used to try to boast to him about when I played for Rangers in cup finals against Celtic, and he would say ‘well, when I was playing with Johan Cruyff and talking to Johan about it…’ It was great.

“He would only talk about America when I was starting to do my usual showing off, and he used it to put me back in my place. I used to love listening to him, and I remember he had a scrapbook and would bring out these great photos.

“It shows you the type of guy he was that when I met him it wasn’t until months down the line that I found out Tommy had played in America with Johan Cruyff.

“To play in that sort of standard and be respected by these guys shows the player he was. Christ, I grew up worshipping Johan Cruyff.

“I thought he was very underestimated, although not by the players. He was a top, top player with a great attitude. I couldn’t say a bad word about him.

“It’s a shame that he was never really recognised for the player that he was. He was one of the fittest boys in the league and a terrific player. I loved playing with him, he was a wonderful passer of the ball.

“Tommy and I used to play pool together all the time, and all the greats like Jimmy Johnstone would come in just to spend some time with him.

“He was very well thought of in football circles, a really lovely lad.”

As Dalziel reminisced about his time with his great friend, the respect he had for him not only as a player, but as a man, is clearly evident. What is also immediately apparent, is that the life of a top-level footballer in Scotland in the 1980’s was somewhat different to the modern-day.

O’Hara used to combine his life as a footballer with managing a pub in Motherwell, and Dalziel recalled that the combination of roles wasn’t always conducive to the best preparation for matches.

“I remember we had a huge game at Firhill, and Tommy had a private function on in the pub and had been working until three in the morning,” he recalled.

“He picked me up at 12 to report to the ground. I got in the car and he was looking a bit tired, so I mentioned it to him and he said ‘Och, I was working late, I’m knackered and I’m starving, I’ve had nothing to eat.’

“I said ‘Why did you not have something?’, but he said he didn’t have the time. He had been running about daft dealing with the pub.

“I’ll never forget it. We came up off the motorway and as we approached Firhill there was a row of shops, and one of them was a chip shop.

“I said ‘Tommy, you’re kidding on?’ But he said ‘Naw, sit there and I’ll just be a minute. You wanting chips?’ I said no, I’d had my pre-match meal.

“He comes out and he’s got a sausage supper and two pickles. We had a massive game, and he’s sitting outside the ground eating two big battered sausages, chips and a couple of pickles.

“I was thinking to myself that this guy has hardly slept, he’s just had a sausage supper for his pre-match meal, and you know what? He was man-of-the-match.

“He went out and played as if he had prepared like the best athlete in the world. I remember walking off the park thinking ‘Next week I’m going to have a sausage supper.’

“He was a terrific boy, a great personality."