Photo: © Antony McAulay
“Roy of the Rovers stuff” is perhaps an overused cliché in football, but it is difficult not be drawn into using the phrase when it comes to the 1970 Scottish League Cup Final.
Since capturing the treble in 1963-64, Rangers had suffered a steady decline into the new decade, causing two managerial casualties in Scot Symon and Davie White. In December of 1969, the Ibrox board turned to a familiar face. A man very much brought up with the high standards and expectations of Bill Struth’s Rangers, and indeed who had been White’s most prominent critic in the press: Willie Waddell.
It was Deedle’s first full season in-charge at Ibrox, and the season had been somewhat of a mixed bag. The Light Blues had won 5 out of 6 matches in a fairly favourable League Cup Group that contained Motherwell, Dunfermline and Morton. That set-up a clash with Hibs who were soundly beaten 6-2 on aggregate before Cowdenbeath were accounted for (2-0) in the Hampden Semi-Final.
On the League front, things had been a little less prosperous. Only 5 of the opening 8 League matches had been won and left the Ibrox side sitting in 4th place. In-fact, the Saturday prior to the Cup Final, they had been beaten 2-0 at home by Aberdeen.
Their opponents would be holders of the trophy for the previous 5 years – Celtic. Jock Stein’s men had come through a Group that consisted of Hearts, Clyde and Dundee Utd with 10 points. Dundee were despatched by an aggregate score of 7-3 before a replay was required to finally topple Dumbarton at Hampden 4-3.
An opening day defeat to Hibs were the only dropped points in the first 8 League matches for Celtic, who would go into the Final off the back of a 7-0 trouncing of Waterford Utd in a European Cup tie as favourites with the bookmakers.
There were two changes in the Rangers line-up as Graham Fyfe dropped out and John Greig was absent with flu. In came the teenage duo of Alfie Conn and Derek Johnstone. 16-year-old Johnstone was making his 4th Rangers appearances which had included netting a brace on debut in a league match with Cowdenbeath and also featuring in a 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich at Ibrox in an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie. Remarkably, the average of the Rangers side that took to Hampden that day had an average age of just 23 years and 15 days.
For Celtic, Jimmy Johnstone returned to the starting XI in-place of Bobby Lennox.
The line-ups in full were as follows:
Rangers – Peter McCloy; Sandy Jardine and Alex Miller; Alfie Conn, Ronnie McKinnon and Colin Jackson; Willie Henderson and Alex MacDonald; Derek Johnstone; Colin Stein and Willie Johnston.
Substitute – Graham Fyfe
Celtic – Evan Williams; Jim Craig and Jimmy Quinn; Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeil and David Hay; Jimmy Johnstone and George Connelly; Willie Wallace; Harry Hood and Lou Macari.
Substitute – Bobby Lennox
The match was officiated by the legendary Tom “Tiny” Wharton and attracted a crowd of 106,263 to Hampden Park. The weather conditions were not ideal with rain in the air and an erratic wind at play.
The week’s press had in the build-up to the Final found much amusement in Rangers’ unusual and now famous training methods at the sand dunes of Gullane, but if there was any concern that those strenuous activities may have prematurely depleted the energy reserves of the Ibrox men then those thoughts were quickly dispelled at Hampden. The Light Blues started with an intensity that had been conspicuous by its absence in the meek display the previous week against Aberdeen.
Celtic weren’t allowed to settle. In particular, the harrying by Colin Stein and Alfie Conn meant that Connelly, the midfield general, was unable to get a foot on the ball.
It was, however, the men from the east end that had the first opportunity of the game when Wallace played Johnstone down the wing. He managed to get by Miller and to the by-line but his cross was gratefully intercepted by Peter McCloy.
Rangers’ first sight at goal came as a result of a passing move between MacDonald and Johnston. Alfie Conn found himself in the box with the ball at his feet but his goalward attempt was smothered by Williams.
The next chance fell to Derek Johnstone. This time it was the product of neat work by Henderson down the wing and was able to cut-back for the no. 9, but critically he delayed his effort to the point the opportunity had vanished. Shortly afterwards he was to get another opportunity. MacDonald cut open the Celtic rearguard with a through ball, but Johnstone could only shoot wide.
For a brief moment with around 10 minutes of the first period remaining, Celtic did seize the initiative, primarily through the attacking endeavours of Johnstone and Murdoch, but were unable to capitalise.
There was five minutes left of the first half when Henderson instigated a Rangers attack by feeding the ball to MacDonald. He slung the ball out wide for Johnston who progressed down his wing. The cross was delivered high into the air and with pinpoint accuracy. Derek Johnstone rose in between Jim Craig and Billy McNeil and powerfully headed the hanging ball towards the far post. Williams dived in vein, unable to prevent the 16-year-old from putting Rangers 1-0 ahead.
There was still time in the half for Johnstone to force a spectacular save from Williams to suppress the deficit to a single goal.
The second period saw the Rangers backline called into action more often than they had been in the first. Celtic’s predominant threat came in the form of free-kicks, with the Rangers defence, led splendidly by captain for the day Ronnie McKinnon, having to repel no fewer than four Murdoch deliveries.
There was also a claim for a penalty. McCloy and Macari challenged aerially for the ball with the Rangers Goalkeeper spilling as he crashed to ground. The Celtic players alleged McCloy had held back Macari when attempting to take possession of the loose ball.
Bobby Lennox was introduced to replace Harry Hood in an effort by Jock Stein to finally breach the Rangers rearguard. Their best chance of the day was still to come. An inspired dribble by Murdoch presented Willie Wallace with an opportunity from all of 8 yards. He could only shoot high over the crossbar.
McCloy was called upon to make one final stop from Wallace in spectacular fashion, and then there was also time in the final 10 minutes of the game for Colin Stein to almost grab what would’ve been a very well-deserved goal. The no.10 had covered just about every blade of grass of the Hampden turf, and rattled the inside of Williams’ post from long-range. He very nearly followed up on the loose ball but Williams was able to jump upon it and halt the danger.
It was to be Rangers’ day. It was a thoroughly deserved 1-0 victory in the end, and already ensured a place in the history books for the match-winner, 16-year-old Derek Johnstone.
This proved to be Willie Waddell’s only domestic honour as Rangers Manager. Importantly, the 1970 League Cup success was seen only as the beginning. Waddell said after the game “it is what the Rangers have been needing…and these boys have worked hard for this result. We must look upon this as the breakthrough, the start of something. We have a lot more to do.”