Family and friends of former Dons star and coach Chic McLelland have paid tribute after he passed away at the age of 67.
The long-serving defender – who made more than 150 appearances for the Pittodrie side and later returned as a youth coach – had suffered from early onset dementia for around 10 years, and contracted Covid-19 last week.
Born in Glasgow, Chic moved to Aberdeen as a 14-year-old to join the Dons’ youth ranks. Having started out as a forward, he became a favourite in the Granite City as a reliable full-back.
After spells as a player with Motherwell, Dundee and Montrose, he returned to Pittodrie in the 1990s and became a driving force behind Aberdeen’s youth development programme.
Outside football, Chic was a devoted father and grandfather to his daughters Natalie, 44, and Gemma, 40, and his grandchildren Jay, 11, Cole and Emmy, both eight.
“Dad was always a very caring person,” Natalie, of Aberdeen, said.
“He would do anything for anyone – he wouldn’t say no.”
Chic moved into Rubislaw Park Care Home as his dementia progressed, and also received support from the Forget-Me-Not Club, which cares for those with the condition.
Natalie said: “He was very active, even when he was ill. When we were able to take the children to see him they would always remember him doing things – he would always be busy, pushing someone in a wheelchair or helping in the home.”
Natalie added: “Dad lived for football. He was crazy about it.
“He was so motivated. Even when he came up to Aberdeen at 14, away from his family, he went to night school because he was so driven.
“It was so heartbreaking for us all to see the way things were at the end but he did have a good life.
“Aberdeen was lucky to have him.”
After his playing days ended, Chic remained friends with many of his former team-mates, including Drew Jarvie, and the pair continued to attend games at Pittodrie even after his illness began to take hold.
“Chic had a good sense of humour,” Drew said.
“He was good company, but liked to laugh at his own jokes mind you! He was one of these guys who would tell a joke and then kill himself laughing.
“He was quite witty, funny and a really nice bloke.”
“We also worked together as coaches at Aberdeen,” Drew added.
“Chic left for Motherwell, then Dundee, then he came back to Aberdeen and that’s when I got involved with him in coaching the young boys.
“There will be a lot of guys in Aberdeen who will remember Chic – whether they were in for a wee trial or a coaching session. He would also put people through their coaching badges, their A licence, B licence and C.
“I’m sure he’ll be well thought of by everyone because he was good at his job.
“We actually coached the primary school select team every week as well. There will be a lot of people, who were 11 or 12 years old at the time, who will have good memories of him as well for all he did for them.
“He was very popular. He did well for Aberdeen on the playing and coaching side.
“He was a good mate of mine, and I’ll miss him and the times we had.”
Another friend, ex-Dons striker Joe Harper, shared his own memories of his former team-mate.
“He was a nice lad, a quiet laddie with a cheeky sense of humour,” Joe said.
“He went on to coach at Aberdeen and did well coaching with the kids.
“I know Teddy Scott thought a lot of Chic – that was one of the main reasons he got back.
“He was a good player, like John McMaster in many ways. Totally left-footed, good in the air, winning a lot of balls in the air and it wasn’t like he was that tall either.
“Chic did the simple things well, which is all you want in a player.”
Throughout his time as a youth coach with Aberdeen, Chic gave his all to ensure the young players had the best opportunities.
Fellow coach and former midfielder Neil Simpson said: “Chic was always trying hard for the boys at a time when there were not the same finances in youth football.
“He would organise many trips down to England, and the sponsorship to pay for the trips, so Aberdeen could play the likes of Arsenal, West Ham, Chelsea and Leeds United – top, top opposition. It was Chic who started the youth academy tours.
“He was a born winner with a great work ethic – something he tried to instil in all the young players he worked with.
“He was such a hard-working man, and did it all for the benefit of Aberdeen Football Club.”
Chic’s family began to notice signs of dementia while he was still in his 50s, and given his reputation for being a good header of the ball, believe it could be related to his football career.
“We don’t know for sure what caused it but if we had to guess we would say the football had something to do with it,” Natalie said.
“All the consultants and people who treated dad said he didn’t tick a single box for any of the things they know can cause dementia. He didn’t drink or smoke and he was always so fit and active.
“There wasn’t any history of dementia in his family. He’s the second-youngest of seven siblings and he’s the first one who’s passed away. Some of them are now in their 80s, and his parents both lived to a good age.
“We can’t really come to any other conclusion.”
Natalie added: “Some people might be unfortunate in that they are more prone to it if they head a ball or do boxing. My dad was unlucky because he was a very unlikely candidate to get it.
“It’s really sad but I don’t think he would have had it any other way. He was always fearless.
“It’s happened, and it’s a terrible thing to be trapped like he was, but he wouldn’t have swapped his football career for anything else.”