Sunday, May 25 1997
They had patronisingly called it the Friendly Final, the People's Final and even the Family Final because, in truth, they were worried it would not be much of a football final. The anxiety proved well founded. When the Man of the Match comes from the losing team and goes by the name of Andy Gray - that one-cap nomad who has left burned-out campfires all over England and the continent - then you know you are in trouble. When I heard that Andy Gray had won the award, I honestly thought it must have been the guy from Sky. I had agonised and agonised and, having ascertained that I could not vote for the groundsman, finally spoiled my ballot paper on the basis that no one was worthy of election.
The pitch was brilliant, though, flat, green and perfectly paced. It really deserved to be graced by players more appropriate to the occasion. If Chelsea v Middlesbrough had been the Forei gners' Final, Kilmarnock v Falkirk was the foreigner's final. Only Kilmarnock goalkeeper Dragoje Lekovic of the starting 22 at Ibrox could not produce a British passport on demand as against the 13 imports at Wembley the previous weekend. If the FA Cup Final boasted a galaxy of stars such as Zola, Juninho, Ravanelli, Vialli and Di Matteo, to mention merely some of those whose names ended with a vowel, the Scottish Cup Final offered only a black hole of anonymity.
For all that two clubs with average home gates of considerably less than 10,000 managed somehow to fill the stadium, you could tell this had been a hard sell. The fact that one national broadsheet in Scotland on Saturday morning offered its readers interviews with famous supporters and a comme ntator but nothing on any player said more about the absence of even low-profile personalities on the pitch rather then the presence of a player pool. Another broadsheet produced the traditional pen pictures, though bizarrely of Rangers and Celtic players from 25 years and 30 years ago respectively. The Old Firm filled an entire page, commanding almost as many column inches as the finalists.
It would have been a delight to report that without either Rangers or Celtic, without Hearts or Hibs, without Dundee United or Aberdeen, without a single city club, two unfashionable teams, including one from outside the Premier League, produced a memorable match. It would have been deliciously ironical to report that a bunch of modestly-paid comparative nonenties served up much better entertainment than the millionaires managed the previous Saturday. It would have been a lie. As hard as the players of Kilmarnock and Falkirk toiled - and as mediocre as the Wembley contest had been - there was no concealing the lack of quality on view. Kilmarnock displayed marginally the more technical skill but the only goal of the game, scored by Paul Wright in the 21st minute, seemed to limit their desire to attack. Falkirk tried desperately hard, especially in a second half which they dominated territorially, but their sole form of assault was the long throw to the high head of Kevin James. At 6ft 7in, he was probably the tallest player to appear in either Cup Final.
He looked like Gordon McQueen on stilts as, like a basket ball player, he trotted backwards and forwards between the penalty areas. We waited in vain for the first slam dunk in a football final. This was just one of the curiosities of a contest which was at least free from any of the nasty bigotry associated with the Old Firm and others. How could it be other than a friendly final when one manager insisted on calling the other 'boss' - which is what Alex Totten, now of Falkirk, had been to Bobby Williamson when he was in charge of Kilmarnock a few months ago.
Totten may also have been the first manager on such an occasion to wear a skirt - well, all right, a full dress kilt. There were two similarities between Ibrox and Wembley. The crowd in Glasgow gave SFA official Jim Farry the same noisy bird that the FA's Graham Kelly had received from Middlesbrough supporters in London. Farry, demonstrating that Stalinism was still alive, issued a code of conduct which basically said the winners could smile, a little, but that they must contain their celebrations to within SFA guidelines. And, of course, Blue was also the colour. It was always going to be with blue the official colour of both clubs.
Monday, May 26 1997
Totten's hopes of victory are dashed by the team he built. PITY poor Alex Totten all decked out in his Saturday best kilt yesterday. Losing a Cup final must be hard enough to take at the best of times without being beaten by a side one has fashioned. And if that wasn't galling enough for the Falkirk manager sacked by Kilmarnock shortly before Christmas, he was undone by a player he had signed not once but twice.
An injury to Killie's leading goalscorer, Paul Wright, had at one stage left him in some doubt for this game. In the build-up to a match that has been all about omens, strange coincidences harking back to the 1957 final between these two clubs, Wright's declaration of fitness was the one bit of luck Totten could have done without.
At least the club's record goalscorer could have been a bit more clinical with the finish which was to extinguish Totten's dreams and give Killie the Cup, but it was an untidy mis-hit which was in keeping with so much of this match.
The welcome absence for once of an Old Firm club at a Scottish showpiece was not rewarded with a particularly enthralling game, unlike in in 1991, the last occasion on which this happened. Then Motherwell beat Dundee United 4-3 after extra time in a blinding match. This was a final more reminiscent of that eminently forgettable 1975 English FA Cup final when West Ham beat Fulham 2-0 in a London derby.
What the game did manage to emphasise was the importance of coming into such a prestigious event with a clear conscience and a balanced state of mind. Like this season's English FA Cup finalists, Middlesbrough, Kilmarnock had had Premier Division survival playing on their minds in recent weeks, but unlike Bryan Robson's sad lot, they had been able to secure their future in the top flight two weeks before the final.
Thus they came into this game suitably buoyed, not least by a run of one defeat in 11 games. They owed their first-half superiority to the incisive running of their wingers, David Bagan and Alex Burke, which so unhinged Falkirk's three-man central defence. That featured an unlikely stopper in the former Tottenham and one-time England international Andy Gray who, true to form, didn't allow this game to pass by without a booking.
It would have been a whole lot more satisfying and certainly less stressful for the Kilmarnock fans if their team, from that first-half platform, had gone on to impose themselves on their First Division rivals. But they chose instead, a trifle cynically and much like Chelsea the previous week at Wembley, to sit upon their slender advantage.
But they never, for one moment, looked as comfortably in command as Ruud Gullit's side had done. Falkirk accepted the opportunity to lay siege to Dragoje Lekovic's goal almost throughout the second half. The Bairns did their 21,000 supporters - one half of the town's population - proud and for a split second raised their hopes to the Ibrox rooftop before Neil Oliver's 85th minute 'goal' was disallowed by referee Hugh Dallas for an offside infringement.
The problem was that Falkirk lacked a finisher of Paul Wright's calibre - or more like pure instinct - this day. A little unsound he may have been, but he fully warranted the applause from the Kilmarnock fans when he was eventually substituted with 13 minutes to go.
Too much too often depended upon the 6ft 7in frame of centre-half Kevin James at set-pieces but he did come desperately close on more than one occasion to delivering.
At the final whistle Kilmarnock manager Bobby Williamson's first thoughts were with the man he had replaced at Rugby Park, where he stepped up from reserve team coach, rushing to commiserate with his one-time mentor.
Totten was sporting in his praise of Williamson: "I said when I left, it is going to be a lucky man taking over because there are a lot of very good players there and I am delighted for Bobby because it is a tremendous start in his managerial career. He's a good lad and he'll learn from that and has done very well."
This was not a match to send any sort of shudder through the rest of Europe and Kilmarnock's appearance in next season's European Cup-Winners' Cup may be all too brief. That, however, will not matter one bit to their supporters, who last saw Kilmarnock compete in a European competition 27 years ago - if they can remember as far back as that, or even further to 1929 when Killie had last won the cup!