On this day in 1969 St Johnstone met Celtic at Hampden Park in the Final of the Scottish League Cup.
In setting the scene for this historic occasion I think it is fair to say that these were the two best footballing teams in the country at that time.
Celtic had won the European Cup only two years earlier and were in the middle of a 9 in a row run as Scottish League Champions. Their team was brim full of Scottish Internationalists.
For the Saints, Manager Willie Ormond had brilliantly blended together exceptionally talented young players with very good experienced professionals, turning this exciting Saints team into, without doubt, the best ever.
Saints had finished sixth in the League the previous Season missing out on a European place due to some obscure UEFA rule.
The League Cup Sectional draw had placed Saints in a group with Dundee, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle and when the 1969/70 Season opened Saints started with the proverbial bang.
Dundee were literally swept aside at Muirton by a fast moving Saints team. Goals from Henry Hall, Kenny Aird and John Connolly saw Saints comfortably win 3 – 1.
Next, it was on to Rugby Park Kilmarnock, which in the past had proved a difficult venue for Saints. However, two first half goals from Connolly and a 76 minute strike from Hall gave Saints a 3 – 2 victory. Reports at the time indicate that Saints were the much better team and that the narrow margin of victory was not a true reflection of their superiority.
Saturday 16 August 1969 is the date of one of the finest days in the history of St Johnstone Football Club. Firhill Park was the venue for the match with Partick Thistle where Saints recorded an 8 – 1 win. It could have been more. Ian McPhee opened the scoring in the first minute and, although Arthur Duncan equalised for the Jags, goals from Hall, Connolly and Aitken had Saints 4 – 1 ahead at the break. In the second half “Henry” would score twice, to complete his hat trick with Aird and Connolly completing the demolition job. Gordon Whitelaw had come on as a sub for Hall and had two fierce shots saved by the home keeper otherwise it might have been ten. This remains the record score for an away win.
The following Wednesday it was Killie again, this time at home, and again Saints would win by a single goal. This time by 2 – 1 thanks to goals from Aird and Hall. Again Saints were totally dominant and like the Thistle game could have scored more.
A 2 – 1 win at Dens Park would complete the double over Dundee. Aird and a Stewart own goal were the scorers. However, Jimmy Donaldson in goal had an excellent game to ensure that the 100% record remained intact.
The final sectional game saw Saints again defeat Partick Thistle. This time, Hall ( 2 ), Bill McCarry and Aitken were the scorers as Saints cruised to a 4 – 0 victory.
The section completed with 6 straight wins. 22 Goals scored and only 6 conceded.
In recognition of his team’s achievement Willie Ormond was honoured with the first ever Scottish Manager of the Month Award for August 1969.
The Quarter final draw was kind and paired Saints with Second Division Falkirk. Willie Ormond had, of course, been trainer at Brockville prior to his appointment as Saints Manager and John Lambie and Bill McCarry had also played for the Bairns. This always adds an extra edge to such games.
The first leg match was at Muirton Park and after a good start when Hall and McPhee put Saints two ahead before the half hour mark, a goal just before the interval gave the visitors new hope. Three goals in the final 15 minutes from Hall, Aird and Benny Rooney finally gave Saints a 5 – 1 win to effectively seal their passage into the semi finals.
The second leg two weeks later at Brockville saw Saints turn in another fantastic performance winning 6 – 2. Hall, Connolly and Aitken each scored two goals to give an aggregate score of 11 – 3 over the two matches.
The semi final was at Hampden on a Monday night with Motherwell as the opposition. The steelmen had beaten Saints 4 – 1 at Fir Park a few weeks earlier but on the night had no answer to a fabulous Saints side which completely outclassed them. McCarry in the first half and Aitken early in the second period were the scorers as the team made history by reaching the Clubs’ first ever National final.
As stated earlier, both Celtic and St Johnstone were regarded as the two best footballing sides in the country at the time and at the end of August the teams had met each other at Parkhead in a League fixture. This proved to be a classic encounter in front of 60,000 spectators which ended in a 2 – 2 draw. Saints had twice led the match, firstly through a McCarry header and then again in the second half with an Aitken goal.
And so to the final itself, with both teams having a healthy respect for each other.
Saints team lined up: – Jimmy Donaldson, John Lambie, Willie Coburn, Alex Gordon, Benny Rooney, Ian McPhee, Kenny Aird, Henry Hall, Bill McCarry, John Connolly, Fred Aitken. Sub: Gordon Whitelaw.
Jock Stein the Celtic Manager was clearly concerned about Saints attacking abilities and dropped Tommy Gemmell from left back, preferring Davie Hay to mark Saints winger Aird.
For the record the Celtic team was: – Fallon, Craig, Hay, Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan, Callaghan, Hood, Hughes, Chalmers, Auld. Sub: Johnstone.
A crowd of 73,067 turned up at Hampden and saw Celtic kick off. However, the first chance of the game came to Henry Hall who latched on to a superb Aitken pass and ran through shooting from around 10 yards out. Celtic keeper Fallon dived to save Henry’s shot. This would be the first of many fine saves that the goalie would make to defy Saints that day.
Then, in the second minute, Celtic went ahead through Auld. Jimmy Donaldson had brilliantly turned a Chalmers header onto the face of the crossbar but before the Saints defenders could react Auld slid the ball home from a few yards out.
Clearly, this rocked Saints and Celtic went all out to get a second. Hughes probably should have done so but thankfully, with Donaldson stranded, the centre forward managed to hit the side netting when the goal was gaping in front of him. A real let off.
After the early nerves had settled Saints were gradually regaining their composure and around the half hour mark a quick free kick taken by Aitken found Hall. Henry’s first time effort was again well saved by Fallon.
Celtic were becoming rattled now and John Connolly in particular was coming in for some rough treatment from Billy McNeill who commited 3 fouls on the Saints star in quick succession.
Inspirational captain Benny Rooney then got on the end of an Aitken corner only to see his header slip just past the post. So close.
There was tragedy for Bill McCarry on 34 minutes when he went down in a tackle with Craig and had to be carried off with a bad gash to his leg. Gordon Whitelaw replaced the unfortunate “Buck”.
Saints were now beginning to play the way we knew they could and Aird and Hall were causing problems for the Celtic defence. But half time arrived without Saints finding an equaliser.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first with a great McPhee pass to Hall. Henry darted into the box, twisting and turning before unleashing a fierce drive only for it to hit Brogan and go out for an unproductive corner.
Chalmers and Lambie clashed in a 50/50 tackle which resulted in the Celtic man having to be carried off with what appeared to be a bad injury. He was replaced by Jimmy Johnstone.
It was all Saints now and Whitelaw saw a fine shot from 20 yards saved by Fallon at his post. The keeper then saved from both Hall and Aird.
Hall had yet another opportunity, this time from a Rooney pass. But once again Fallon produced a save and managed to hold onto the ball at the second attempt as Connolly closed in.
McNeill finally received a lecture from the ref ( but no card! ) for yet another crude foul on Connolly.
The next chance came when Connolly flicked the ball to Aird but to the winger’s despair his driven shot was saved by the Celtic keeper.
In a Celtic breakaway, Johnstone went on a mazy run but after beating three players, Lambie stepped in to relieve any threat.
Connolly, had clearly been marked down as a dangerman, and this time it was Craig who was lectured by the referee for a foul on the Saints forward.
Benny Rooney decided to move forward and give McNeill a taste of his own medicine. Strangely, the Scotland centre half didn’t seem to like it!
There is real scare for Saints as Hughes dispossessed Jimmy Donaldson in the penalty area and “scores”. To the keeper’s ( and every Saints fan’s ) relief the ref chalked it off and awarded a free kick for an earlier foul by the Celtic forward. Phew!
However, big Jim then sent the free kick straight to Hood who was less than 10 yards away. The sinning keeper received a “booking” for his over enthusiastic endeavour to retrieve the ball.
Saints mounted a late onslaught on the Celtic goal in an attempt to get the equaliser. Firstly, Aird sees his shot at the end of a brilliant solo run turned round the post by Fallon for a corner.
Then the ‘keeper ( who surely must earn the Man of the Match award ) pulled out another top drawer save. This time an Aird cross is headed down to Rooney by Connolly. Benny hits a scorcher that looks like finding the net only to see the keeper make another fantastic save, turning the ball out for a corner.
At full time Saints players had given there all and were bitterly disappointed that they did not get at least a draw to take the match into extra time. The Celtic keeper Fallon was in brilliant form and although Saints were equally as good as Celtic, on the day, they just didn’t get the slice of luck that is needed on such occasions.
However, this was a truly great team and it was a privilige for me to have seen them play. They have quite rightly earned the title of “St Johnstone Legends”.