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Goalkeeper Dave Cumming didn’t make the best of starts when he joined Middlesborough from Arbroath in October 1938, conceding ten goals in his first three games. The popular Scot was not dismayed, however, and went on to carve out an impressive career with the Tees-side club with whom he won his one and only Scotland cap. Today he is listed alongside such luminary figures as Brian Clough, Brian Robson, Graeme Souness and the Brazilians Emerson and Juninho in the English club’s official list of all-time greats. He was also an extremely influential figure in the classy Arbroath side of the mid 1930’s.
Cumming’s professional career started when he signed for Aberdeen as a 20 year-old in 1930. He was unable to dislodge Steve Smith as first choice keeper with the Dons, however, and only played 13 league games in his four seasons at Pittodrie.
He signed for Arbroath in time to play a starring role in the Lichties side that won promotion for the first time in the club’s history when finishing runners-up behind Third Lanark in the 1934-35 Division Two campaign. Cumming’s defence conceded 42 goals in 34 games and he achieved 15 shut-outs – it was the best record in the whole Scottish league.
Perhaps his most impressive performance that season came in the second last game when Arbroath travelled to face Alloa Athletic at Recreation Park requiring one point to make sure of promotion. The Clackmannanshire side dominated the game and put the nervous Arbroath defenders under severe pressure. When all seemed lost Cumming sprang to the rescue with a series of great saves and the game ended 0-0. Even the home supporters stood to applaud the visiting goalkeeper at the end.
Cumming’s status was enhanced when the Lichties moved into the higher division and he continued to turn in some superb performances that helped the Maroons finish 11th in the 20-team league. It seemed only a matter of time before a bigger club took an interest and in October 1936, after much transfer speculation, Middlesborough paid £3000 for his services. It was a record fee for a Scottish goalkeeper at the time.
Cumming was selected to play for Scotland against England in 1938 and played well enough to help his side win 1-0 with a goal from Tommy Walker. The former Arbroath man still holds the distinction of being one of the few Scottish keepers ever to keep a clean sheet at Wembley.
Also included in the Scotland team that day was another former Arbroath player, George Mutch, who was then playing for Preston North End. Mutch and Cumming never, however, played in the same Arbroath team.
Cumming would undoubtedly have won more international honours but for the outbreak of World War Two. He missed what would have been the peak years of his career because of the conflict, but returned to league duty with Middlesborough at the end of hostilities.
His final game for the English side, against Arsenal, ended in drama when he tangled with the Gunners’ English international Les Compton during a goalmouth melee. Compton kicked the Scot who retaliated by punching his 6ft 4ins rival. Before the referee could take any action Cumming calmly removed his jersey, handed it to a team-mate, and left the field.
Cumming’s career was finally ended in 1947 when he sustained a dislocated kneecap. He died in 1993.