Remembering Kilmarnock’s only title culminating in a last day of the season decider against Hearts on the 25th of April 1965.
Neither Old Firm side finished in the top four in Season 1964-65 as Willie Waddell’s side took the title in the most dramatic of circumstances
1964-65 Kilmarnock FC, Scottish League Champions
Kilmarnock became champions of Scotland for the first and so far only time, beating Hearts 2-0 at Tynecastle to take the title by the smallest of margins.
In the preceding years, the Ayrshire side had developed something of a reputation for being the bridesmaid of Scottish football.
From the 1959-60 season to 1963-64, Killie finished as runner-up on four occasions, also reaching two League Cup finals and the 1960 Scottish Cup final but losing them all.
With manager Willie Waddell (above) to leave the club at the end of the season, pursuing a career in journalism before returning to manage Rangers, the 1964-65 season was viewed as very much their last chance.
The season started with a 3-1 win over Third Lanark, on what would turn out to be their last visit to Rugby Park before a meeting with Eintracht Frankfurt in the Fairs Cup, which would later become the UEFA Cup and subsequently Europa League.
Killie were absolutely battered 3-0 in the first leg in Germany, but on domestic duty they racked up four straight wins without conceding a single goal.
In the return leg against Frankfurt the Germans took an early lead, seemingly killing off the tie, but Kilmarnock came storming back to win 5-1 in what has been described as one of the greatest results in Scotland’s European football history. As one newspaper had it the next day “here was a game that will be remembered as long as football is played in Ayrshire”.
A promising start in the league was undone at the turn of the year though, with Kilmarnock losing games to Partick Thistle, Airdrie and Dunfermline, as well as being thrashed 4-1 at home by Dundee.
That was their only home defeat the season, but a 2-0 loss at Celtic Park made it four away defeats on the spin across January and February.
By the end of February the Ayrshiremen were fourth, and it seemed their dream of finally winning the title had slipped away.
Killie’s form improved though, and by April they were back in the title race, three points behind leaders Hearts.
Narrow wins over Clyde and Falkirk formed part of a six game unbeaten run, with Morton despatched 3-0 at Rugby Park in the penultimate game of the season.
That meant the final game of the season was a straight shoot-out for the title, with Hearts two points ahead and with a superior goal average of 1.91.
Goal average was calculated by dividing the goals scored by those conceded, meaning Kilmarnock had to win by two goals away from home to secure the title.
Ahead of the match, Waddell called on the spirit of that Eintracht Frankfurt game to inspire his players.
“I warn Hearts now, Kilmarnock will be doing plenty today,” Waddell said ahead of the match.
“What was done against Eintracht can be done again. Certainly you can take it from me that Kilmarnock will be going all-out from the start.”
Sneddon Opens the Scoring!
Waddell was true to his word, and David Sneddon (above) opened the scoring after 27 minutes with a back post header on Tommy McLean’s cross.
The visitors continued to go for broke, and just two minutes later Hearts gave the ball away in midfield, allowing Davie Sneddon to send it wide for Bertie Black.
McIlroy Scores the Title Winning Goal
Black spun and knocked it forward for Brian McIlroy, who fired a low shot under Jim Cruickshank to send Kilmarnock top.
Killie had the two goal lead they needed, but there was still an hour to play, and it was a nervy affair for the Killie fans inside the stadium.
Ferguson Makes Title Winning Save
With time ticking away, Hearts opted for the route one approach and deep into stoppage time Bobby Ferguson had to save the result and the title with save at his far post.
Manager Waddell Celebrates at Full Time
Finally the whistle blew, and the normally reserved Willie Waddell ran onto the pitch to celebrate with his players - Davie Sneddon later said it was the only time he’d seen his manager excited.
In the end Killie won the league level with the Jambos on 50 points with a goal average of 1.879, just 0.042 of a goal ahead of Hearts.
Dunfermline ended the season only a point behind the top two, with Hibs rounding off the top four - the first and so far only time that neither Old Firm side has finished in the top four of the top flight.
Lap of Honour For Ayrshire's Finest!
“I have a team without an individual star - they’re all stars,” Waddell told reporters after his side’s lap of honour.
Believe me, they deserve this title because no team has had to fight so hard.”
It remains the only time in their 150 year history that Kilmarnock have been crowned champions of Scotland, an achievement which is commemorated by a plaque on the stadium wall.
Captain Frank Beattie (left) , who spent his whole career with the club and made over 600 appearances, died in 2009 and at the start of the following season the West Stand at Rugby Park was renamed the Frank Beattie Stand.
Kilmarnock’s triumph remains the last time a team from outside one of Scotland’s cities won the league title, with only Aberdeen and Dundee United managing to break the Old Firm stranglehold.