Born: Dunfermline: 22-11-1935
Debut: v Newcastle United (h): 16-03-1957
5’6” 10st 11lb (1958)
O’Brien began with Blairhall Colliery before joining Dunfermline Athletic in 1952,
winning promotion with them to the Scottish League First Division in 1954-55. He scored
twenty-five goals in ninety-three games for the Pars. In March 1957 Raich Carter signed him
for Leeds towards the end of United’s First Division campaign following their promotion.
United had lost Albert Nightingale, who was forced to retire due to injury and ageing Harold
Brook, at thirty-seven, was ready to retire. O’Brien and Chris Crowe were looked upon as their
young replacements with Bob Forrest also in contention. United sold the irreplaceable John
Charles at the end of that season and although Hugh Baird scored regularly they went into
decline and O’Brien struggled accordingly and his scoring record was poor. He was not alone,
as most of United’s forwards were similarly afflicted as United fought two seasons of
avoiding relegation. The arrival of Wilbur Cush and Noel Peyton gave United more options,
but the signing of Don Revie in November 1958 made the competition for places even harder.
O’Brien was sold to Southampton for £10,000 in July 1959 and there he showed his true value.
He forged a highly effective partnership with England International Terry Paine at the Dell.
He spent seven years with the Saints as they rose from Division Three to Division One and
his powerful shooting brought him one hundred and fifty-four goals in two hundred and
forty-three League games. In all games he scored one hundred and eighty-eight goals and that
made him Southampton’s fifth all-time highest goalscorer. He was Southampton’s leading
goalscorer in four of the seasons that he was there, with twenty-two in 1960-61, twenty-six
in 1961-62, twenty-two in 1962-63 and thirty-two in 1964-65. He would probably have topped
the scorers in his other seasons but injury saw him score sixteen in only twenty-four
matches in 1963-64. His twenty-three goals in forty-two games led Southampton to the Third
Division championship in his first season with them in 1962-63 and he scored eleven goals in
just sixteen games as the Saints were promoted, as runners-up, to the First Division in his
final season with them in 1965-66. In March 1966 he went to Leyton Orient in exchange for
David Webb, later to score Chelsea’s 1970 FA Cup Final winner against Leeds, but nine months
later, after just three goals in seventeen League games, he became an Aldershot player.
After turning down a one year contract he left the Shots in 1968 having scored eight goals
in forty-one appearances, including three as a substitute. After leaving football he ran a
pub, the Waterloo Arms, in Southampton and then moved to Edinburgh, where he was a
sub-postmaster before returning to Southampton to run another pub, the Star and Garter in
Freemantle. His son played for Dunfermline between 1979 and 1991 and also East Fife, Berwick
Rangers and Montrose.