Recently I met a Falkirk exile of the same vintage as me and before long he asked the familiar question – “Were you there in ’57?”.
When I told him I had indeed been ‘there’ it created an immediate bond between us, a bond shared by many including Falkirk FC’s new chairman Doug Henderson and Bairns legend Alex Totten. In last week’s Herald both said the events of 58 years ago had inspired them to a lifelong attachment to the boys from Brockville and, following the result at Dumfries, may yet inspire today’s Bairns to bring home the Scottish Cup once again.
Season 1956-57 had not started well. Relegation from the top division was threatening and manager Bob Shankly had gone. But he left a group of young players like Bert Slater, Alex Parker, Ian Rae, Tommy Murray, Jimmy McIntosh and Eddie O’Hara with the potential to achieve great things. The team scraped through the first round of the cup down at Berwick in front of new manager Reggie Smith who thought, “I’ll have to be a miracle worker to keep this lot up”.
However, Reggie blended the younger players with the old pros to perfection. Those old pros included John Prentice and Derek Grierson from Rangers and Andy Irvine and George Merchant from Dundee who brought skill and experience. A fine win over Aberdeen then a narrow victory over Clyde saw the Bairns in the semi-final.
It took two games at Tynecastle to see off Raith Rovers and on Saturday, April 20, they were at Hampden in front of over 80,000 fans to face Kilmarnock. The town went ‘fitba mad’. Tens of thousands left in high spirits with rosettes carrying replicas of the cup.
On the day a penalty from captain Prentice was cancelled out by Davie Curlett. The game was replayed the following Wednesday (the 24th) and once again the town emptied as men, women and children set off on the road to glory.
It was a tight game again. Tommy Murray on the right wing, a magical dribbling genius, tortured the Killie defence and created the opener for George Merchant but it was again cancelled out by Curlett. Both sides had chances to finish it but it went to extra time. Ten minutes in came the great moment! Inside left Dougie Moran chased a long pass through the middle and rammed the ball past goalie Jimmy Brown.
The most agonising 20 minutes followed before relief, joy and euphoria when referee Jack Mowat blew the final whistle.
Even more remarkable than the exodus from the town was the triumphant return. The huge cavalcade of buses and cars made slow progress from Glasgow. The players transferred to an open top bus in Dennyloanhead and it was after 11 o’clock when they were greeted by thousands of fans in Newmarket Street. There they were, our heroes with the silver cup glinting under the street lights decked in ribbons of blue and white. Unforgettable!
Sadly, many of the players are gone but all of them live on in our memories: Slater, Parker, Rae, Wright, Irvine, Prentice, Murray, Grierson, Merchant, Moran and O’Hara, not forgetting Jimmy McIntosh and the great Reggie Smith. You are immortals every man.