21 December 1963 – Rangers 2 St Johnstone 3 – Alex Ferguson Hat Trick Sinks ‘Gers

This day 50 years ago is one of the most memorable in the history of St Johnstone and supporters of that vintage will recollect with both pride and satisfaction the day that Alex Ferguson ( now Sir Alex Ferguson ) scored a hat trick at Ibrox.

In setting the scene of the time Rangers were without question the dominant force in Scottish football. In the previous season (1962/63) they had won the First Division at a canter finishing nine points ahead of second placed Kilmarnock. They had also lifted the Scottish Cup defeating Celtic 3 – 0 in a replay after the first match had ended all square at one goal each. Although defeated by the great Real Madrid team in the European Cup, they were by no means disgraced, and were still packed full of Scottish International players.

On the other hand Saints had been promoted as Second Division Champions and after a reasonably good start in the higher division, results during November and December were not good. Prior to this match Saints had lost seven of their previous eight games scoring only 9 goals in the process. A 2 – 1 win over St Mirren being the only success. As a consequence Saints were sitting  sixth from the bottom of the league table on just 12 points from 16 games played.

Manager Bobby Brown was looking to bring in a goalscoring forward and had been trying different permutations in his team selections in an attempt to find a winning formula. In one of football’s strange twists Alex Ferguson might have joined Raith Rovers in October but had suffered a broken nose and a fractured bone above his eye in a reserve team match at Airdrie. Whilst John Bell did go to Kirkcaldy the Manager had a change of mind when Ferguson recovered fitness keeping him at Muirton as he felt that, without further additions, he might need forward cover in the winter months.

Against this backdrop, a crowd of 14,000 turned up to watch the following teams.

Rangers: – Ritchie, Shearer, Provan, Greig, McKinnon, Wood, Henderson, McMillan, Millar, McLean, Brand.

Saints: – Harry Fallon, Charlie McFadyen, Jim Richmond, Jim Townsend, Ron McKinven, Bill McCarry, John Flanagan, Bobby Craig, Alastair McIntyre, Alex Ferguson, Bobby Kemp.

Although very much the underdogs Saints started well and Ritchie had to dive bravely at McIntyre’s feet to prevent him causing an early sensation.

Thereafter the first half was very much a backs to the wall affair with Fallon, McKinven and McCarry proving a difficult barrier to break through. Despite their valiant efforts Rangers made the breakthrough in 38 minutes when Brand opened the scoring latching on to a McLean through ball before lobbing over Fallon’s head. 0 – 1 .

The home fans must have thought they were in for a goal feast but just before half time Saints gave them a reminder of what they were capable of. Bobby Kemp raced down the left wing and crossed into the goalmouth where “Fergie” just failed to get on the end of it. The ball did run through to Flanagan who fired in a terrific shot which Ritchie just managed to fist over the bar.

With the second half less than 10 minutes old Ferguson scored his first goal. Craig had tried to barge his way onto a McIntyre pass but the ball broke to the Saints striker and he did not hesitate in firing the ball into the roof of the net. 1 – 1.

Minutes later he very nearly added number two but shot over the bar following a nice one-two with Kemp.

The second goal came just before the hour mark and the ace poacher was on hand to knock the ball home after Ritchie had failed to hold a fierce Kemp 25-yarder. 2 – 1 and could an upset be on the cards?

Rangers were now becoming rattled but got a big slice of luck when the referee awarded a penalty when McCarry was harshly adjudged to have handled in the box. Despite Saints players protests that “Buck” had chested the ball, and the referee consulting his linesman, he did not change his mind. Provan made no mistake with the spot kick. 2 – 2.

Many teams would have crumbled in such circumstances but not this Saints team. They showed tremendous character and continued to take the game to their more illustrious opponents. Their reward came in the 78th minute when Ferguson got his hat trick shooting home to make it 3 – 2 and game over.

In the proverbial game of two halves this was a fantastic team performance with Saints clearly being the better team in the second period. The icing on the cake, of course, was Alex Ferguson’s 3 goals in a never to be forgotten achievement.

This was only the second time Saints had defeated Rangers at Ibrox. The previous occasion was in 1926 when a Jimmy Munro goal had given Saints a 1 – 0 win.

Sir Alex later achievements both as a player and a manager have been very fully documented elsewhere. Suffice to say that he joined St Johnstone in 1960 from Queen’s Park and went on to score 22 goals in 45 appearances. In the summer of 1964 he was transferred to Dunfermline Athletic ( where he scored a barrowload of goals )  with Dan McLindon coming to Perth. Not one of Manager Brown’s better transfer deals.

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