Nickname: The King of Rugby Park
Date of Birth: December 31st 1953
Birth Place: Glasgow, Scotland
Previous Clubs: Dumbarton, Dundee Utd, Kilmarnock ('78-'82), Dumbarton, Brechin City, Kilmarnock ('87-'88)
Killie Appearances: 140 (42 goals) first spell, 11 (2) second spell.
Career: Secondary School Teacher
John Bourke played as a striker for a number of Scottish clubs, including Dumbarton (twice), Dundee United and Kilmarnock (twice). Bourke made more than 400 league appearances during his playing career.
Bourke went on to become a secondary school teacher. He taught Physical Education at Holyrood Secondary School in Glasgow for many years. KillieFC TV's Iain Sherry caught up with John at Rugby Park in November 2015.
The heat seeking missile passed within an inch of his face, he pulled the safety off, and pumped five bullets into the on-rushing heavy who fell clutching his chest, it was all over. The contessa was safe, the evil baron was overthrown and the planet Earth had been pulled back from the brink of armageddon. The citizens of every nation on earth owed this man big style, the contessa owed him more. She flicked back her hair, then, gazing deep into his eyes she pulled him closer until his body touched hers. "Your name, what is your name?" she whispered. He smiled wryly, brushing the dust off his Saville Row suit. "They call me Bourke, John Bourke." and with that he disappeared into the shadows. She was lost forever.
Powerful imagery (or the script from a B movie) that attempts to conjure up the character of John Bourke as Killie fans see him. OK, it may seem a tad over the top, but it is felt by those in the know that the mere inclusion of big John in any Kilmarnock line-up had the ability to increase the chance of victory tenfold. John Bourke is a man who you would be hard pushed to hear anyone be negative about, he is admired and respected by fans across the broad spectrum of Scottish football. That alone is no mean feat, and to top it off, as Stevie and myself found out during our interview, he makes a very fine cup of tea - don't it make you sick? I love doing this feature. I get to meet some top ex-Killie blokes, who have played an important part in my life and that of the club, and of all the past masters still to be featured, I wonder if I'll ever meet anyone bigger than John Bourke. I very much doubt it. How was it that terracing chant went? 'John Bourke is the king of Rugby Park'. You'd better believe it...
How and when did you get involved in organised football?
My father introduced me to a ball at a very early age, but had me handling it rather that kicking it. He'd been a goalie with the British army. I made my primary school team as a goalkeeper and managed to be selected for Glasgow West in 1965. I also played Boys Guild before signing for Dumbarton Castle Rovers. For the next four years I played either in goal or as a defender and managed to win a place in the Glasgow under 15 team. At the start of my 5th year in St Pius Secondary the under 18 team were short of a striker, so I thought I'd give it a try. Due to my height, I was fairly successful and made the Glasgow under 18's team playing against Manchester schools at Hampden and then Bradford schools in Bradford.
Who were your influences, and what were your early aspirations?
Obviously my dad played a huge part, encouraging me constantly, plus the P.E. staff at school and my manager with the amateur side in Dumbarton. I canít say I thought much about being a professional player, only that I wanted to play as often as possible (and did…every day!).
Tell us about your breakthrough into senior football.
My breakthrough to senior football came more through luck than anything else. Drumchapel Amateurs wanted me to sign for them but Dumbarton Castle Rovers promised me a trial with the senior side in the town if I stayed. Ironically my first match was against Kilmarnock reserves, where I recognised Ross Mathie. Another two reserve matches followed after which, Alex Wright asked me to sign. I must say, I owe a debt of gratitude to Alex for giving me my breakthrough and many years of help and support. He had great belief in me and I was given a run out no matter how my form was.
What of life at Dundee United?
It was probably the worst year of my life! Basically, we all play football because we enjoy it (slight understatement) but at Tannadice, enjoyment didnít enter into the equation. The pressure was constant and unrelenting even during training and on match days it became unbelievable. No prizes for guessing the source of this pressure, with verbal abuse being the order of the day. I was often subject to such choice phrases as "you think you Feckin' know it all because you are a Feckin' school teacher" or "you're £70,000 worth of shite". The basic coaching was of a high standard but the psychology of the man management was obviously gleaned from Mein Kampf! Life at Tannadice certainly was different.
How did the move to Killie come about?
From the unhappiest part of my career to the happiest. Actually I hadn't thought of leaving Tannadice after my first season there, six goals wasn't particularly setting the heather on fire, but the manager thought I had potential. To cut a long story short, I was ordered to report back for training a week early and following a misunderstanding I decided enough was enough. From July to October I was basically out of football and when I received word of my teaching post, Dundee United decided to release me (the manager threatened I would never play professional football again). Almost immediately Davie Sneddon phoned, asking me to sign.
Did you consider it to be a good move?
Quite simply I regarded Kilmarnock as being one of the top teams in Scotland and Europe. I could recall the Championship winning year and the European encounters. Killie were without a doubt a bigger club than Dundee United in more ways than one. Unfortunately, they had gone part time - in hindsight, a major mistake. The move however, was wonderful, I was signing for a famous club with a fabulous support.
Scoring on your debut, and 21 goals in only 27 starts in the league, what are your memories of this period?
That first season was the happiest and most enjoyable of my career, I should underline happiest. We had a great footballing squad, an attack minded manager, a fine stadium with the best playing surface in Scotland, and a support I will never, ever forget.
28th April 1979 against Dumbarton and promotion to the Premier League…your thoughts?
It was ironic to think that less than a year before I was out of football. Going back to Dumbarton, playing my old mates, it was unbelievable! It rates with the Queen of the South final league game in '82 as one of the highlights of my football career, but the Dumbarton game just edges it.
Winning the Tennents Caledonian Cup must have been a thrill?
Being invited to play in such a prestigious tournament was thrilling enough. To win it in such a manner against Rangers at Ibrox was a dream come true, though personally I had a bit of a nightmare and was substituted not long into the second half. Other highlights were having my photograph taken with the Tennents Lager girls and having lunch with Derek Johnstone and Trevor Brooking.
Your second season saw the goals dry up…why?
Perhaps I just wasn't good enough! I think there were several reasons, not necessarily in order of importance. Pressure, lack of confidence, playing against full time outfits, basically defending most of the time. As far as goals were concerned, I was never successful in the premier league, although I did score a few goals in the three seasons of the old eighteen team first division.
Killie's second premier season produced some shocking results.
Yes, if I remember correctly, we started the season quite well but lost Alan McCulloch through injury. He had been instrumental in our success the previous year and I have never known a team being so devastated by the loss of one player. It just shows you how important a keeper is to any team. In hindsight perhaps we should have bought an experienced goalie, or acquired one on loan. Jim Brown and Alistair Wilson were fine keepers, but it seemed circumstances and bad luck were against them.
In this period you played with some Killie stalwarts, Clarke, McDicken, Robertson, McCulloch etc. How good a side had Davie Sneddon built?
I think I have already mentioned how strong and talented a side we had. I remember just days after signing watching the boys play two matches at Rugby Park against Arbroath and Morton and being particularly impressed with the standard and speed of their play. It was comparable to anything I saw at Tannadice.
You left Killie in '83, what were the circumstances surrounding this?
I think the board saw the dollar sign when Dumbarton offered the club £15,000 for a player who was thirty. I left because the manager said I would not be in his future plans. I have since realised managers often say this to satisfy the board. It happened again with Alex Totten when Brechin bought me in 1986 from Dumbarton. The fee on that occasion was £10,000.
Did you enjoy your time at Dumbarton and Brechin?
As with Killie, I had two spells with Dumbarton, both being extremely enjoyable. It was local for me and I had close friendships with some of the players. Playing in the eighteen team league was wonderful with some outstanding games, including 3-3 draws with St. Johnstone, Hibs and Celtic. After my move in '83, Dumbarton won promotion and had a fairly successful season in the Premier League. Again I was the top scorer in gaining promotion, and I followed this up with five goals in the top division…say no more. Brechin was instantly forgettable. Glebe Park is literally just not in the same league as Rugby Park, and the travelling…! The only reason that I signed for Brechin was Ian Fleming, for whom I have always had a high regard, both as a player and manager also Alex Totten had told me that I wasn't in his plans.
You came back to haunt us in '85 scoring twice for Dumbarton, in a 4-1 win, why and how could you?
I have always given my best for any team I have played for. Also, I think I had a point to prove to the Kilmarnock board. The only down side was upsetting the Killie fans and for that I sincerely apologise.
How did you feel when you returned in 1988?
I couldn't believe it! The move came right out of the blue. At that point I wasn't getting a game under John Ritchie at Brechin and had decided to retire at the end of the season. A cynic might say I was dropped because I was approaching the forty games marker whereupon I was due the second part of my signing on fee, £1,000.
Did you feel you had joined a team on a slippery slope?
The squad had really changed since my previous tour of duty, and with no disrespect, were not as strong as before. However, I knew a club as big as Kilmarnock would never slip into oblivion, due to the backing of the supporters and the town as a whole - look where they are now.
It's fair to say that you returning, helped save us from relegation.
I would like to think that I helped a little. I was always good nuisance value - big and gangly, you know.
What do you remember about your final Killie appearance?
What can I say, we were playing Hibernian and their supporters couldn't believe the farewell you gave me… and neither could I! That's not entirely true, to me the Killie supporters are the best in the world. I do remember that my performance that day wasn't exactly up to scratch.
Highlights and lows of your time at Rugby Park?
The highlight was the support from the terracing and there were no real lows worth mentioning.
Do you think that your retirement was premature?
Looking back now it certainly was. Unfortunately, I had made my decision whilst at Brechin. Psychologically I could not handle the pressure. I had lost confidence and didn't want the Killie fans to see a has-been.
The biggest regret in your football career?
Signing for Dundee United.
What did you do after giving up the beautiful game?
I played a fair bit of district league volleyball. A bit of cricket, but mainly golf (every Saturday).
What are you doing with yourself now?
Trying to stave off middle age spread, and playing as much golf as possible.
How do you feel you'd do if playing now?
Going on my past record in the Premier League, I wouldn't get a game in this talented Killie team, however with a little more confidence, in a full time squad, I would like to think I would have something to offer.
Do you still follow the Killie's fortunes?
Of course I do, but I should try to get to more games.
The cup final … were you there?
Fortunately, my girlfriend Lisa and I were at the Travel Club player of the year dance the night before the final and thanks to Anne Clark, managed to acquire two tickets. The atmosphere was wonderful, if only all matches were like this, both sets of fans were a credit to their respective towns. The icing on the cake was the victory, although I do believe that Killie had an extra player in Jean Milloy, one of the loveliest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
How does it feel to be looked upon as a Killie legend and an all round great guy?
Being considered a hero to the Kilmarnock support is something very, very special to me. I consider that to be more important than winning any medal. As far as a great guy, you don't have to live with me!
Any closing comments for Killie fans?
If any one asks me to sum up my feelings for the Killie fans I tell them about the time I was playing for Dumbarton against Hamilton Accies at Boghead. To my amazement a group of Killie fans came into the ground after their match had been postponed. I have never been as proud as I was that day when those fans sang my name for the entire match. The Kilmarnock supporters are Kilmarnock Football Club, subsequent boards should take notice! I'd like to specially thank the Kilmarnock Travel Club for my honourary membership and their lifelong friendship. Also best wishes to Alan Muir, Ian Burnett, Rhona Hunter and Liz Armstrong, not forgetting Jimmy and Anne Clark plus Alan and Mary Robertson.
Interviewed by Donald Muir
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