Carrying on this series of looking back at St Johnstone’s previous League Cup semi final appearances.
After the disappointment of losing their three previous semi final appearances in the League cup the form displayed by Willie Ormond’s fantastic team of 1969 provided much more optimism that this could be the year that St Johnstone would make it to the Final.
The 1969/70 League Cup sectional draw had placed Saints in a group with Dundee, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle and 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 much the 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 being 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 Park on Monday 6th October 1969 and 19,970 fans turned up hoping that their favourites would triumph.
Saints had lost a league match to Rangers at Muirton two days earlier in a match in which Willie Coburn had taken a knock and failed to recover from in time for the big game. Jim Argue stepping up to the left back position.
( Can you believe it, playing a cup semi final two days after a league match? Wouldn’t happen today! )
Accordingly, Manager Willie Ormond selected the following team: – Jimmy Donaldson, John Lambie, Jim Argue, Alex Gordon, Benny Rooney, Ian McPhee, Kenny Aird, Henry Hall, Bill McCarry, John Connolly, Fred Aitken. Sub: Gordon Whitelaw.
Despite losing to Motherwell at Fir Park a few weeks earlier Saints players showed no signs of apprehension or nerves and immediately from the kick off took the game to their opponents goal. Fred Aitken had seen a shot fly narrowly past the post before Bill McCarry opened the scoring in 12 minutes. The goal came after Aird, McCarry and Hall combined on the right wing and when Henry’s beautiful cross arrived at the back post in came big “Buck” to head past Peter McCloy for 1 – 0.
McCarry almost got his name on the scoresheet again shortly after when Fred Aitken provided the cross, but the big man saw his effort slip just wide of the post.
It really was all Saints at this stage with Aird and Hall ( twice ) coming close. The only risk to the Saints goal had been when Donaldson had to race from his goal to prevent Dixie Deans getting on the end of a big punt upfield by McCloy.
Then it was back to the other end with the “Steelmen” keeper made a fantastic save tipping a fierce Hall drive over the bar after Connolly had skilfully created the opening.
Donaldson then showed his ability in making a fine save from Wilson.
Just before the half time break, firstly, McCarry and then Aitken had chances to make it two, but on both occasions they shot narrowly past the post.
The second period started in similar fashion and it was no surprise when Saints went 2 – 0 ahead in 56 minutes. This time Fred Aitken made no mistake when he drilled a low shot into the bottom corner of the net from a lovely Connolly pass.
Motherwell tried to respond but Saints defence were in fine form and stood firm.
Aitken should have made it three midway through the half when he rounded the keeper and watched in anguish as McCallum desperately cleared his shot from the goal line.
Next it was Rooney who saw McCloy make a finger tip save to turn the skipper’s shot round the post after a one-on-one contest.
Jim Argue then had to make a clearance similar to that of McCallum’s when Jim Donaldson had saved but couldn’t hold a McInally effort.
Two minutes from time McCloy again came to his team’s rescue when he palmed an Aird shot over the bar after Lambie had created the opening.
Saints had undoubtedly been the better team and when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the match both players and fans were elated.
St Johnstone had made it to the final of a major national cup competition for the first time in their history. Brilliant.
Sadly, the final would see this fabulous team lose 1 – 0 to Celtic at Hampden.
Looking back to that time it is incredible to think that, what was regarded as a “small provincial club,” should reach the last four of this prestigious competition on 4 occasions in 9 seasons. Add to that a Scottish Cup semi final in 1968 and it really was a proud time to be a St Johnstone supporter.