Monday, May 12 1997
Kilmarnock will ask for extra Scottish Cup final tickets after selling their 23,000 allocation for the match at Ibrox on May 24. They would take seats with restricted views just to satisfy the demand in Ayrshire.
Sunday, May 18 1997
Falkirk may win or lose this week's Scottish Cup Final - but they already know when the real trouble will start. They have to get their team past the Roman Bar in Camelon to face the entire 38, 000 population of the town next Saturday night. Manager Alex Totten wisely took his team for a break to the Spanish resort of Magaluf as Cup fever overtook Falkirk last week. Fans started queuing at 5am on Sunday morning for the 20,000 Ibrox tickets. The club's average gate barely nudges 2,000. And general manager Jim Hendry's phone has not stopped ringing as the club prepared for its first final since 1957. 'I had a couple of calls from Australia, people who hadn't seen Falkirk since that last final but who are flying back home just to be there again. 'Add those to supporters from Canada and the Middle East and you can understand the interest. The whole town has gone ever so slightly crazy,' he says. Falkirk may enter the final as outsiders but wins over Raith Rovers, Dunfermline and Celtic, after a replay, should give them all the confidence they need. 'It's true we haven't been doing much in the League but the Cup seems to inspire us. We even had a call from South Africa. Eddie O'Hara, one of our wingers in 1957, emigrated there - but he's coming back as well so he won't miss the occasion.' A jazz band in open-topped bus will tour the town centre on Saturday morning as fans gather to board over a 100 buses which will take them to Glasgow. There will be face-painting competitions as well.
After the match, the team will board its own open top bus on the outskirts of the town and go down the same route as 1957 - whatever the result. They will end up in a local park, hopefully parading the Cup in front of fans who will already be dreaming of playing Barcelona in the first round of next season's European Cup Winners Cup. The only problem is the Roman Bar, the first licensed premises the team will pass on its return. 'After we beat Celtic in the semi-final, that's where the party was. I just hope I can round them up to complete the tour of the town. 'I was just seven when they last won it but can remember them coming back late at night after the replay. We want to do exactly the same again. After all, it's been a fairy tale so far this season.' Two Falkirk players have already acquired the status of legends. Giant centre half Kevin James, who headed the equaliser in the first Celtic match and Englishman Andy Grey, who played 45 minutes for his country, can almost expect to gain the freedom of the Burgh if the Cup is brought to its most unlikely destination in years.
Tuesday, May 20 1997
Falkirk's goalkeeping hero of 1957 Bert Slater believes his old side's present No1 could be the man to bring the Cup back to Brockville. Slater, who was only 20 when he picked up his winner's medal in the 2-1 triumph over Kilmarnock, is a fan of Craig Nelson.
And Slater sees great similarities between his own career and that of Nelson's, who is now back in the limelight after spending 18 months in the Hearts reserves. He revealed: 'I broke into the Falkirk side when I was only 17 years old, but I soon lost my place to the great Bobby Brown. However, I fought back and won a Cup medal just a few years later, even when it looked as though I wouldn't get back in the team. 'And I'm really pleased Nelson has managed to do the same after having such a terrible time. He seemed to have it all going for him when he was at Partick Thistle, then it went very wrong for him at Hearts. 'Craig is a very capable 'keeper and is a tremendous shot- stopper, as is Kilmarnock's Dragoje Lekovic. 'Nelson's only real weakness is one which most Scottish 'keepers have and that is an inability to command his area. Only players such as Peter Schemichel and, to a lesser extent, Sieb Dykstra, can do that. I hope Craig has a good game and ends the day with a winner's medal.' Slater will be Ibrox on Saturday along with the players from both sides who played in that 1957 Final. And he is extremely confident it will be the men from Falkirk who will have smiles on their faces come the final whistle. He said: 'I thought they would lift the Cup even before the semi-final with Celtic. There are too many similarities to our win 40 years ago and I believe Falkirk's name is on the Cup.'
Wednesday, May 21 1997
Bobby Williamson let the ink dry on a deal to be Kilmarnock's manager until next century then admitted he feared he wouldn't last a fortnight as a top boss. Williamson is just 90 minutes away from carving his name in the Ayrshire club's history books by leading them to a first Scottish Cup triumph since 1929 against Falkirk on Saturday. And yesterday he sealed the perfect eve-of-Ibrox boost by putting pen to paper on a three-year deal as manager. Bobby also tells the press that "Bunion" is going to be availabe for Saturday's Final.
Thursday, May 22 1997
Paul McGrillen has one ambition beyond lifting the Scottish Cup for Falkirk on Saturday - staying conscious long enough to join in the post-match celebrations. He missed out on the fun after his goal gave the Bairns victory over Celtic in the semi-final replay last month, as an accidental clash with giant team-mate Kevin James left the diminutive striker shaken and stirred. While his mates were celebrating on the pitch at Ibrox, running to their supporters and taking a well-deserved bow, McGrillen was lying in a hospital bed having his aching jaw probed for any signs of a break. He considered himself lucky not to suffer a fracture after a collision he described as akin to headbutting a rhino, and even took it in good humour when his dad strung him along by pretending Celtic had scored two late goals to win. But he's in no mood to pass up another party, particularly if he's fortunate enough to score the winner again. 'That definitely was a strange evening at Ibrox,' said McGrillen. 'For a start, I don't score many with my head. To score a goal of that class in a semi-final was something I'll never forget. 'When the ball came across I could have gone for power, but it was a split-second decision, and I decided to put the ball over the keeper. Luckily it dropped in under the bar, and the boys held out for the result. 'Unfortunately I missed out on the aftermath, and all the celebrations. I watched it on television later on, and I really wished I was there. 'If things go our way, I might get another chance on Saturday.' McGrillen has experienced the build-up to a Cup final before, without actually making it to the first-team squad, when he was an 18-year-old on the fringes of Motherwell's famous 1991 victory. He bears no grudges over Tommy McLean's decision not to include him, saying: 'He was a superstitious person, and had the squad already organised.
You can't argue with his thinking because he went on to produce one of the best final performances ever.' Since leaving Fir Park in search of regular football in February 1995, McGrillen has seen three managers come and go - and now he's just hoping Alex Totten will be given long enough to establish some consistency at Brockville. 'We've had more managers than I've had golf clubs,' he said. 'First there was John Lambie, then Gerry Collins briefly, Eamonn Bannon and now Alex. 'Every time a new man comes in it's a new start for everyone, and we all have to prove ourselves. 'After Christmas, once Alex arrived, it settled down. But when a new manager comes it takes a month or two. 'That's probably why we were shakey at the start of our Cup campaign. But by the time we beat Raith Rovers we though we had a chance. 'The gaffer is a fan as well as manager, and before the game he'll be going around giving the players a pat on the back, firing them up. 'Some boys show their nerves by shouting, but I'm a quiet one, and I'll just sit there with my thoughts.' Saving the shouting for after the final whistle, he hopes.
Thursday, May 22 1997
Alex Totten finally discovered yesterday that he was not the only one who skipped school 40 years ago to watch Falkirk beat Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Tynecastle. So, too, did the lady in whose English class he was to sit a few years later at Denny High. Ann Joyce, or Fyfe as she was then, owned up to her illicit absence that midweek afternoon in 1957 when she and the Brockville manager met in the Troon hotel at which he is preparing his squad for Saturday's Final with Kilmarnock. Totten's old teacher revealed that she heard him confess in a recent interview that he had played truant in order to see Falkirk set up the clubs' last meeting at this stage of the competition. 'I turned to my husband and admitted that I did as well,' Ann laughed. 'The headmaster took a lot of persuading that I was unwell, but after putting white stuff on my face, he let me away.' Mrs Joyce also recalled during their school re-union that a Falkirk scarf was part of the young Totten's uniform - even though she had banned football colours, predominantly Rangers', from her classroom. 'Alex knew I was a fan, as well,' she quipped. 'Other boys used to ask me how he could get away with it and they couldn't. I would remind them that all scarves, except Falkirk ones, were disallowed.' She and Totten, it transpired, have bumped into one another on a couple of occasions since he returned to Brockville as manager around the turn of the year.
The first time was at Paisley after Falkirk had played badly and lost to St Mirren, Ann recounting:'I saw Alex walking away from the ground looking very upset at the way things had gone. 'So I went over to him and said that he shouldn't allow football to affect him so much, that he should think of his health. I also said to him that the big lad, Kevin James, would help save him.' Was it a case of teacher still knowing best? The towering James proceeded to score Falkirk's first goal in their Cup quarter-final win over Raith Rovers and, more momentously, the one which earned them a semi-final replay with Celtic. 'The next time I met Alex was after a game at Brockville,' she said. 'The Press all were waiting to speak to him but he came over to me first and thanked me for my advice.' Mrs Joyce, needless to say, will be cheering her former pupil and his team at Ibrox as they seek to record an historic repeat of their 1957 victory over Killie. The school-aged Totten followed them all the way to Hampden last time around, remembering: 'Kilmarnock were the favourites then, as now. But the reason we're going to Ibrox on Saturday is to win. 'It's 40 years since Falkirk were in the Cup Final and it could be another 40 years before we get to another. So we've got to make the most of our opportunity.' It could so easily have been an opportunity lost by Totten who, in the wake of his sacking by Kilmarnock in December, was lined up for the Hong Kong job subsequently filled by Billy Kirkwood. He had signed a draught contract and agreed to fly out on January 2 before Falkirk chairman, George Fulston, forced him to unpack his bags by offering him the chance to take over from the recently departed Eamonn Bannonn. 'I've got a bit of the home bird in me,' admitted Totten. 'George knew that I'd been a Falkirk fan all my days and that I lived only 10 minutes from the ground. 'I actually turned down more money to come back to Brockville where I'd managed before but, with us getting to the Cup Final, it's been well worth it. Whatever Saturday's result, the occasion is going to be the pinnacle of my career so far.' Totten was a Dunfermline player when they beat Hearts in the Final of 1968 although, with the far more experienced full-backs, Willie Callaghan and John Lunn available, he was obliged to watch from the stand. 'That's the nearest I've got to a Scottish Cup medal,' he conceded. 'The only two medals I do have were given me by Jock Wallace when I was his assistant with Rangers in the early 1980s and they won the League Cup a couple of times. My wife still wears one of them round her neck.' Yet Totten knows that, even if Falkirk do emulate their 40 year old feat of beating Kilmarnock, he will be left with nothing tangible to show for their accomplishment.'I phoned the SFA to check on the number of medals which they present and was told that it's only 14 to the players on duty,' he revealed. 'It's impossible even to buy any of top of that. 'But the chance of seeing Falkirk lift the trophy is enough for me. It will be fantastic if we can do that although we've got to show all the effort we did against Celtic over two games if we are to have a chance of succeeding.' Totten, having faxed his congratulations to Kilmarnock's Bobby Williamson on being awarded a three-year contract, admitted that he hopes to be able to surprise the opposition.
The reverse may not be the case since the Brockville manager knows Killie intimately although he pointed out: 'Bobby will have his own ideas on how they should play against us. What we have achieved so far has been down to sheer determination as well as ability. 'I'll be kicking every ball with the players. I just love winning and I think they are the same. There's a single- mindedness about them which can stand them in good stead. I'm very proud of what they have done in even getting us to the Final.' Totten's players, win or lose, are scheduled to meet up with an open-topped bus at Bonnybridge on Saturday evening and drive on into Falkirk for a parade through the town. A civic reception is planned for Sunday. His old English teacher almost certainly will join the clamour, her former pupil reasoning: 'It's 40 years since we were in the Scottish Cup Final so we're not going to let the occasion pass us by.'
Thursday, May 22 1997
Kevin McAllister admitted last night that he didn't know who was more nervous about the outcome of Saturday's Scottish Cup Final: him or his mates who'll be following Falkirk to Ibrox. 'One of them phoned me the other day and said he was going to work all the hours he could through this week because he just couldn't get the Final out of his mind,' the Brockville winger revealed. 'It seems that some of the fans are in a worse state than the players. We've got to try and control our emotions at this stage but this particular pal is absolutely flying at the moment.' McAllister recalled the contrast in morale when, with Alex Totten having been appointed as manager in late December, he returned to his home-town team after three and a half seasons with Hibs. 'A lot of the players' confidence was as low as it could get,' he said. 'I wouldn't have thought it even a possibility at that point that we could go on to reach the Cup Final. 'But the gaffer changed attitudes; got people to start believing in themselves again. One of the reasons we've got to where we are is the hard work which has been done in training and the players' application in matches.' McAllister, whose CV attests to his time with Chelsea, acknowledged that one of the incentives which would drive him on against Kilmarnock was the possibility of meeting the London side in the Cup-winners' Cup next season. Chelsea, of course, claimed their place in it by beating Middlesbrough at Wembley on Saturday,
McAllister quipping: 'If we were to play them in Europe, I think I could happilly hang up my boots afterwards.' He, like his team-mates, has considered all the omens suggesting that Falkirk will repeat their feat of 1957 when they beat Kilmarnock to win the Cup for only the second time in their history. These include the sameness of the opposition on their way to the Final this time and the fact that, 40 years on, a comet has been sighted in our skies once more. 'Funny things happen in football, maybe even spooky things,' McAllister noted with a smile,' although I won't believe in any spooks unless we beat Kilmarnock 2-1 like we did the last time.' The perky winger expressed his amazement then at the speed with which Falkirk fans, counted at only a few thousand throughout the season, had snapped up their allocation of more than 20,000 for Ibrox. 'I knew they would go quickly but not as quickly as they did,' he said. 'It just shows you the passion and commitment there is in Falkirk after 40 years without being in the Final. 'The occasion will be one for the families with a lot of kids coming along with their mums and dads. Hopefully, it will help them turn them into Falkirk fans before they can be brainwashed into supporting, er, "other teams".
Friday, May 23 1997
Unlike most of his team-mates at Rugby Park, Gary Holt didn't spend large chunks of his childhood dreaming of lifting the Scottish Cup. In fact, while pals in his Kilmarnock Boys' Club squad imagined climbing the steps at Hampden, the only silverware which interested the 11-year-old Holt could be found in a kitchen - and the honour on top of h is wish list was a Michelin Rose for excellence in cordon bleu cookery. Everyone knows he was bought out of the Army by Celtic, and most fans are aware that regulations prevented Holt from playing for the club, forcing a short-term move to Stoke before a return to his home town. Few realise, however, that the 24-year-old only ended up a professional footballer with his boyhood heroes by mistake - and that the reluctant hero has already experienced playing against top continental opposition. Holt, who has been kept busy arranging tickets for around 100 friends and family for tomorrow's final at Ibrox, revealed: 'I played football locally, for the boys' club, and I took a normal interest in the game. 'I had an injury to my knee when I was 12 or 13, which put a dampener on things, but it didn't bother me that much anyway. 'I had always wanted to be a chef, from the age of about 11. I loved the idea of cooking. 'My grandpa told me the best training was in the Army, so I joined up as soon as I left school. 'I never wanted to be a soldier, just a chef, but did both - and now I've ended up being a footballer.' Holt added: 'I was in the Army for five-and-a-half years, after joining at 16, and did two years training to become a fully qualified chef - so I achieved my aim.
'I also played a lot of football for the Army representative side, and we played against Borussia Moenchengladbach as well as British teams like Sheffield United. 'That's when Celtic moved in for Justin and myself, although as you k now there were hassles which prevented us playing, and after five months Lou Macari showed a bit of faith by coming back to take me down to Stoke - I thank him to this day for giving me a chance. 'I ended up asking to get released because I wasn't enjoying my time there, though, and it was just through a family friend that I was able to come training pre-season last year. 'Alex Totten offered me a contract, I was happy to accept, but then I had a sort of hernia injury towards the tail end of last season. 'I had to have another groin operation because of a bone problem in the same area at the start of December as well, and I was out of action for five months. 'I came back against Hibs just after the semi-final, which was a surprise. To be honest I didn't think I would be playing for the first team this season - I'm way ahead of schedule. 'Alex Burke was in the team and doing great, and when I got in I was asked to play wide right - I am not a wide man, although I did the job the best I could. 'Bobby has moved me more into the middle in the last two or three games, and that has really helped.' Holt has the ever-cheerful demeanour of a player who has come to the game late, happy to have the chance to kick a ball for a living, but it is clear he has always reaped the benefits of a chirpy personality - a trait which accounts for the massive ticket demand from all quarters. A large squad of squaddies are following their own pied piper from their base, and Holt's former HQ, in Hamlyn, Germany, to swell the army of homegrown supporters - and more friends are travelling north from England. The only fan who won't be at Ibrox is Holt's mother, Sandra, who lives in Canada - but she is going to some trouble to see her baby boy in action. 'I called my mum on the Saturday night after the Aberdeen game, when I scored the goal which effectively kept us in the Premier League,' he said. 'My gran had already called and left a message, so there were a few tears when I got hold of her. 'She can't make it over for the final, but it's getting beamed over to the place where she stays, Barrie, Ontario. 'Unfortunately she's going to have to go to the local Rangers supporters' club, because nowhere else in the town will have it, and she's not too happy about that.' Another goal from her laddie would undoubtedly cheer the exiled mother up. Failing that, he could always bake her a cake and send it air mail.