The current situation reference Rangers is nothing new to those of us passing three score years. The almost five year period between April'66 and October'70 felt like unrelenting darkness. It was impenetrable, the Scottish Cup final replay victory over Celtic was a dazzling brightness; however, by Autumn'70 it had faded. Of course, we knew where we had come from, locating the way ahead was the real problem. Rangers had made a ECWC final and a Scottish Cup final too, in the intervening years, and failed to secure both cups. Further, we had endured a couple of Championship campaigns where we managed to secure defeat from the jaws of victory on the last days of the seasons. Flicking the switch appeared useless too, three differing Managers and a repeating temporary Boss did not raise a glimmer.
Season '69/70 had seen Wullie Waddell pontificating on Scottish football from the lofty designation as the Scottish Daily Express's Chief Football Writer. He could talk with considerable authority, done it all as a Rangers player and managed Killie to a Championship victory five years previous. The immediate aftermath of our defeat to Polish wizards, Gornik had seen Waddell condemn the then gaffer, Davie Whyte with a piece entitled, 'the Boy David'. The Board sacked Whyte and appointed Waddell in his place. He cleared out the dead wood and introduced a host of youngsters into the team. The likes of Alfie Conn, Alex Miller, Colin Jackson, Graham Fyfe, and Derek Parlane were elevated, and he decided a most effective, free scoring inside forward, William Jardin was a better right back. Pre-season '70/'71, Waddell's final piece of the jigsaw arrived. The former player/Boss of Berwick Rangers and then Hearts Trainer, Jock Wallace took over at the Albion.
The beginning of the campaign was at best described as inconsistent. We lost two out three pre-season friendlies, the other a draw. We qualified in top position from our League Cup group, involving Motherwell, Dunfermline, and Morton. The quarter-final was two legged against Hibs, winning both games 3-1 for a 6-2 aggregate. Meanwhile, our League form was poor, losing 0-2 at home to Celtic and by mid-Autumn, we languished fifth in the table behind Celtic, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, and Motherwell. The perceived wisdom cited Jock Wallace taking Rangers to Gullane sands. We had left all our energy on the East Lothian coast.
We defeated Cowdenbeath in the semi-final, both goals notched by Johnston and Stein in the second half. The final was due, ten days later; we had a league fixture in between, at Ibrox against Aberdeen. A hopeful 40,000 watched a well drilled Dons outfit manage the game from minute one until the ninetieth. A Colin Jackson own goal follow followed by classy finish from the biggest blue-nose on the field, Joey Harper settled a deserved 0-2 triumph. The murmurs leaving the Stadium focused on the inconsistency of so many youngsters, and the pre-match news of returning to Gullane sands for three days before the final.
The build up to Hampden was dispiriting for Bears,the Daily Record ran a two day series of interviews with the remaining 16 clubs Skippers in the then, Division One. All but three predicted a comfortable green'n'grey victory. Gullane sands became the subject of relentless jokes ie we endured the twice daily sessions on the sands, then played a team of dustbins. The game finished a 0-0 draw, noting the bins had been denied a clear penalty. A final casualty of the coast was Captain, John Greig going down with the flu. I suspect the conclusion to the Gullane sessions(revealed after the final by Sandy Jardine) might have been the cause?
The 24th of October arrived and 108,000 squeezed into the old ground. Our supporters bus had been alive with the news that Greig had failed a fitness test the previous day. Speculation on his replacement split the ranks, we needed the craft of veteran campaigner, Andy Penman as opposed the legs of youngster, Graham Fyfe? A further shock was the team news, neither two was in the starting line up, a callow 16 year old who had debuted a month before against Cowdenbeath in a league match, scoring twice, was the Skipper's replacement. Derek Johnstone's name was overwhelmingly met with, "WHO"?
The team that wet and windy day was : McCloy, Jardine, Miller, Conn, McKinnon, Jackson, Henderson, MacDonald, Johnstone, Stein, and Wullie Johnston. Fyfe was our sub'. Our back four was Jardine and Miller as full backs, Jackson joined McKinnon as the centre two. They were never realy troubled. Our midfield star was Alfie Conn, Doddy and Henderson provided the heavy lifting. Bud and Stein continually took the Sellik back line into wide areas. Jim Craig was terrified of Bud's pace, resulting in Bud sitting on the ball late into the game. He teased and enticed Craig to come out and tackle, before dancing around him to deliver another cross. The winning goal was scored in the 40th minute, Conn slipped a ball wide to Henderson. He galloped 40 yards and slung the ball inside to a supporting MacDonald, who in turn pinged it wide to Bud. He checked and delivered a high looping cross, DJ got up between McNeill and Craig, heading the ball firmly past Williams. We scored another in the second half, Colin Stein squeezed the ball at least a foot over the line, but Tiny Wharton was fifty yards off the play and Evan Williams quickly retrieved the ball.
As Ronnie McKinnon stepped up to receive the trophy, the clouds momentarily parted and a streak of silver blue became apparent. It was nearly five years and the darkness was bleakest before the game began. Our youngsters outran and outsmarted the acknowledged masters of trophy retention, Celtic were participating in their sixth consecutive final. The youngest player participating in his second game and first final was the light at the end of our tunnel. It was the beginning of sustained success, we won the Scottish Cup, the ECWC, and the league Championship in subsequent seasons. Big DJ - the bringer of the light.
NB - Sandy Jardine revealed a few seasons later, that the end of the Gullane sands sessions included either a dip in the sea, or a hosing down by Jock Wallace. Apparently, before the League Cup final in the dressing room, Wallace separated the players into groups of four, and turned a freezing fire hose on them. Thoroughly soaked, they were required to lie of the Masseuse tables and the Trainers rubbed in raw alcohol into all muscle groupings as an embrocation. No wonder Greigy was down with the flu!
The events of half a century past feel similar today. We have been through several years of darkness, we have endured a number of Gaffers, and it's the separated brethren tormenting us again. Like 1970, we lost 0-2 at Ibrox to them a few weeks before the final. We attempted to nullify their game, forgetting about our own. Similarly, we did this back in August. We played far too narrow and allowed ra Sellik to dictate the tempo. Hampden is a huge playing area, we have to be expansive, I suspect whoever owns the tempo will own the match? Out of possession, our tempo must remain high, pressing them high up the pitch. It's this manner that laid the foundations for our respective 1-0 and 2-0 victories at Ibrox
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