Life was tough for most folk in the 1950s. The suffering of the Second World War was still fresh in the mind and the decline and closure of several foundries signalled hardship to come. But for one glorious night 11 heroes in navy blue helped to lift the spirit of a whole community.
For the Bairns season 1956-57 had not started well. Relegation looked likely 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 great potential. The team scraped through the first round at Berwick in front of new manager Reggie Smith who thought: “I’ll have to be a miracle worker to keep this lot up.’’ But judicious signings of old pros before Reggie’s arrival and his skill in blending them with the young ones, changed everything. Prentice and Grierson from Rangers, Irvine and Merchant from Dundee and ex Hibbie Doug Moran, brought skill and experience and a fine win against a good Aberdeen team followed by a narrow win against Clyde landed the team in the semi-final. It took two games to see off Raith Rovers and win a trip to Hampden for the final against Kilmarnock. Over 80,000 fans packed the old ground and Falkirk town went ‘fitba mad’ with tens of thousands arriving in Glasgow bedecked in rosettes and carrying replicas of the cup.
It was a frustrating day with a penalty from captain Prentice matched by an equaliser from Davie Curlett. The game was replayed the following Wednesday evening, the 24th, and, once again, the town emptied as men, women and children set off on the road to glory. It was tight 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 did go to extra time. Ten minutes in came the great moment! Inside left Dougie Moran chased a long pass through the middle and poked the ball past goalie Jimmy Brown. The Falkirk fans in the 79,000 crowd went mad followed by the most agonising 20 minutes of our footballing lives. It would be hard to describe the feeling when referee Jack Mowat blew the final whistle. Relief, joy, euphoria!
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.
On Monday of this week, the anniversary day, the senior Bairns gathered to remember and to acclaim the men who made it all possible. Sadly only two of the players are still with us but all of them live on in the minds and hearts of those of us who are lucky enough to say “I was there in ’57”.