May 24th 1997
Kilmarnock 1 Falkirk 0
IT WAS entirely fitting that 25,000 Kilmarnock supporters cavorted for half an hour after the end of the 112th Scottish Cup final to the tune of their adopted anthem, Paper Roses. This was the season when - for the first time since 1929 - the trophy went country and western, borne off to their market town in the heart of rural Ayrshire by a Kilmarnock side who merited an end to their 68 years of exile from success in this tournament.
It was a homespun affair in more senses than one. Apart from the fact that none of the Scottish cities was represented, for the first time in 40 years, there was no exotic contingent of Brazilians or Italians on display as there had been at Wembley a week previously. Aside from Dragoje Lekovic, Kilmarnock's Yugoslav goalkeeper, and Dylan Kerr, born in Valetta, the teams were composed of native talent.
Perhaps the match lacked the
personalities who had been at Wembley a week earlier. Perhaps the quality
of play did not match up to the highest standards, But the game had drama
and controversy and committment and, in the end, Kilmarnock gained revenge
for the defeat they suffered against the Brockville team 40 years ago when
they last met in the final.
After 21 mins the breakthrough arrived which allowed Kilmarnock their goal and their glory.
When James conceded a corner kick rather unnecessarily - he had time to put his clearance into the main stand - Falkirk found themselves exposed again. Mark Reilly took the corner, curling towards McGowne, who glanced it on towards his head. Jim McIntyre drew back his left foot to strike it on the drop but he was beaten to it by Paul Wright, who steered it into the net just inside Nelson's right hand post.
Falkirk had been punished for a rare moment of defensive negligence. That two opposing forwards had been able to attack the ball unchallenged at the same moment was one sign of a lapse in concentration. The other was the absence of a covering player at the post. Andy Seaton had acted as sentry there at previous corner kicks but the teenager was elsewhere on this occasion.
Wright did not seem to connect
cleanly with the ball. But from that range the shot was still good enough
to cross the line and eventually send the Scottish Cup to Rugby Park for
the first time since 1929.
It must have been difficult
for the first division men to accept that they had been beaten. In the
second half they dominated the game and the towering figure of Kevin
James, a cult hero at Brockville, brought menace whenever he moved into
the Kilmarnock penalty box, which, in the second half, was all too often
for the Ayrshire team's comfort.
Yet if the game was not by any means a classic, this was a final of Corinthian demeanour. With a dismal Scottish spring having at last given way to balmy sunshine the crowd was in shirtsleeve order as though arrayed for Centre Court or the Oval. The favours displayed around the ground, in dark blue and light blue, brought the Boat Race to mind.
James said: "I could not
believe that the keeper reached the ball. I was so sure that it was going
over the line. When I saw him hold it down at the post I began to think
that it was not going to be our day. When I flicked the ball on from
another of Andy's throw-ins towards the end and saw the linesman's flag go
up then I knew these feelings were right.
being able to knock Celtic out in the semi-final at the same venue we all
felt t hat we could win again. All we needed was a break on the day, but
it never came."
The Kilmarnock manager was swift to admit that his opponents had controlled that period of the game. By then the Rugby Park players had lost the verve and the invention they had displayed in the first half. The goal they had scored through Paul Wright in the twenty-first minute began to seem more and more precious to them as the game wore on and, instead of the flowing attacks they had used to such good effect up to the goal - and even immediately after it - they dropped back and allowed the initiative to move in the direct ion of their opponents.
At the final whistle, Totten was dignified in defeat, shaking hands with each Kilmarnock player in turn. In response, the Kilmarnock supporters applauded Falkirk as they made a disconsolate tour of the pitch. The sport on offer was unmemorable but the atmosphere was far removed from the rancour and triumphalism associated with the Old Firm's contribution to these occasions.
Then it was on to the celebrations and both sets of supporters acclaimed both sets of players and the Falkirk fans gave us all another moment to remember as thousands of them remained to cheer Kilmarnock as they went on a lap of honour with the trophy. For many cup final veterans like myself, that was a reminder of better, more civilised, times, when supporters mixed together on the terracings and the loutishness of today had not scarred the game. May 24th 1997 will live on for ever with every live Killie fan on the planet.....bar none!
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