Obituary: Roland Ugolini, 89

Real Lives. Rolando Ugolini
Real Lives. Rolando Ugolini
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A POPULAR Italian-born footballer who started his career with Celtic and finished it at Dundee United has died in Edinburgh, aged 89.

Tributes have been paid to Roland Ugolini, nicknamed “The Cat” for his acrobatic displays between the posts, who arrived in Bathgate when he was six months old from his native Lucca, in Tuscany.

He went to school at St Anthony’s in Armadale, leaving at 14 to work in his father Giacondo’s fish and chip shop.

“I had already been gutting and filleting fish since I was 13,” Mr Ugolini recalled.

When the Second World War broke out he was 15, and despite his brother Romeo serving in the British Army, initially with the Black Watch, Mr Ugolini and his mother Rosa were sent to a camp in Cambuslang while Giacondo was interned as an “enemy alien” on the Isle of Man.

Mr Ugolini was ordered to carry out war service at home, delivering coal and helping to build flats in Pilton, but never bore a grudge, instead remembering how welcoming the local community were to his family.

He attracted the attention of scouts while playing for Armadale Thistle and was courted by Rangers, Airdrie, Motherwell and Falkirk. He had a good trial at Tynecastle for Hearts, but when the Gorgie club failed to get back to him quickly enough, Celtic signed him up.

“Now, son, don’t get excited,” Mr Ugolini remembered his father telling him when he came home from a junior match to find a stranger at his door. It was Celtic manager Jimmy McStay. Mr Ugolini recalled: “I signed for the club of my dreams. I was chuffed to bits.”

But the first-choice keeper at Celtic was Scotland international Willie Miller, who kept Mr Ugolini out of the first team for all but five games in his four years at the club. After requesting a transfer, Mr Ugolini signed for Middlesbrough for the sum of £7000 in 1948. He turned down Chelsea in part because he wanted to be nearer to his family in Scotland. It was at Middlesbrough that he had his greatest success, playing 335 games over the course of a decade at the club, behind legends such as George Hardwick and a young Brian Clough.

He then spent three years at Wrexham before seeing out his career with Dundee United. His last game was against Berwick Rangers in 1963 at the age of 40. Mr Ugolini later had a successful second career as a bookmaker, owning three shops. He spent much of his retirement playing golf at his home club Dalmahoy, where he played well into his 80s and was the official starter on the first tee.

Rolando Ugolini, who died on April 10, is survived by his wife of 25 years, Irene, and sons Rolando and Paul from his first marriage to Esther (née Gofton), whom he married in 1957 and who died in 2010. A third son, Dino, from the same marriage, predeceased him.