Sunday, May 21, 1995 was written into Camelon Juniors’ history book in capital letters, writes Ian White.
The Mariners sailed to OVD Scottish Junior Cup glory for the first time ever before a tidal wave of emotional fans at Fir Park in Motherwell.
When the final whistle went, it sparked off amazing scenes of celebration never witnessed by the club before, and by the time the victorious team bus arrived back in Carmuirs Park thousands were in attendance to welcome them home.
This was the stuff of dreams, none more so than for captain courageous George Fairley who climaxed a superb junior career spanning two decades by winning his first Scottish Junior Cup winners medal.
But how ironic that it should be against Whitburn, the team he suffered two semi-final defeats with in 16 glorious seasons at Central Park. And there was nostalgia too, for the beaten 1952 final side travelled with the team bus and were there to savour every unforgettable moment.
Well done the Mariners! And it was indeed well done as Brian Fairley’s crew swept aside the challenge of their East Region opponents to emerge more than comfortable winners with a goal in either half from Grahame Wood and Christie McKenzie.
But long before the match itself you had the feeling it was going to be a special day for Camelon.
Past and present sides got acquainted inside Carmuirs Park before the arrival of a convoy of supporters’ buses more than added to the occasion. And what a send-off they gave their favourites! Cheer upon cheer rang out and you just knew that this side weren’t going to let them down. And they didn’t!
From the moment they took the lead and the two stands packed with the 5000-plus Camelon fans rose as one with a tremendous roar amid a sea of red and white to salute their favourites, the Mariners name was on the cup for the first time ever.
The opening goal came in unlikely fashion. In the 19th minute Whitburn keeper Robert Burns fluffed a throw-out which caught GRAHAME WOOD on the back as he ran out of the box. But the Camelon centre-half’s reaction was poetry in motion as he wheeled to send a glorious lob high into the net over the stunned Whitburn rearguard to send the Camelon fans jammed into the North Stand behind the goal into raptures.
Discounting an own-goal against Armadale this was Wood’s first goal of the season and what a time he picked to score it! And it was all the more special for the big defender who has missed most of the season due to injury and at one point feared his playing days might be over.
There wasn’t one failure in this inspired Camelon team. Alan Banner in goal was superb in everything he did and only had one moment of real concern. That came shortly after the break when an inswinging Paul Taylor corner came off the far post.
The defence, superbly marshaled by skipper George Fairley, never allowed the Whitburn forwards the upper-hand at any time. Right-back Gary Smith was a powerful figure and he restricted Whitburn junior international Paul Taylor’s threat to dead ball situations while the combined efforts of Fairley and Wood effectively snubbed out the danger of Scotland striker David Scott.
Dodger Haston was also in total control but he was replaced shortly after the break after injuring himself as he stretched for a ball. It was ironic that it should be left-back Haston who was replaced, for way back in the 1952 final an injury to Camelon’s left-back led to their downfall against Kilbirnie. Then there were no substitutes but this time round there were and his replacement Dougie Smith slotted in well to give a good account of himself.
On his left Brian Kemp worked like a Trojan in a sporting game where there were only 23 fouls and no bookings while on the right big Jim Ellis was resilient in defence and was always a threat going forward.
And what can you say about a forward line that has shared some 70 goals between them this season? Allan McGonigal as always was a tireless worker, at times back in his own penalty area helping out while up front he was unlucky on two occasions not to get his name on the score sheet. One in particular had goal written all over it when he held off the challenge of Belcher and Prior only to see his strong drive superbly saved.
But it was his two front running colleagues who combined to manufacture the goal that killed off Whitburn. The tournament’s top scorer Davy Flynn wasn’t to get his name on the goalscoring credits but he did the next best thing.
He outjumped both Belcher and Prior to head on a long punt upfield from Alan Banner into the path of CHRISTIE MCKENZIE who let the ball bounce in front of him before cleverly nodding it down on to his left foot to beat Burns from close range.
That came around the 70th minute and how the Camelon fans loved it! They knew then that the cup was heading for Camelon and the great roar that went up and the singing that followed was in stark contrast to the ghostly silence from the Whitburn contingent.
But it was no more than wee Kinzie deserved. All day his pace and tenacity had caused problems to the Whitburn defence, and the goal was simply the icing on the cake for the livewire winger.
And that was that. When referee Kevin Toner, who had a superb game, at last blew the final whistle the celebrations began in earnest. The great Camelon support gave a standing ovation to the Whitburn side as they stepped up to receive the glittering prize that is every junior player’s dream.
And both sets of supporters are to be congratulated for adding to the occasion which restored respectability to the OVD Scottish Junior Cup final after last season’s debacle between Ayrshire rivals Glenafton and Largs at Ibrox.
Before the game there was friendly banter between the two camps and it was all summed up in one poignant moment when a gaily clad Whitburn fan came over to hug and congratulate his former hero George Fairley after the presentation of the Cup.
And so it was back to Carmuirs where chairman John Wardrope was the first man off the bus and he hoisted the cup high to great cheers from the crowds that had gathered to give the team a great welcome home.
Further celebrations followed inside the ground where the players paraded the trophy before the 2000 fans who had filed in to pay homage. Then it was on to a night of unbridled celebration in the Social Club that was so jam-packed when you got a drink you had to check you were putting the change in your own pocket!
Once again well done Camelon, the whole day was one to remember and I doubt if anyone will ever forget it.
It’s back to work for the Mariners tomorrow as they go for more glory in the Whyte and Mackay East Cup when they take on Fife giants Hill o’ Beath in the semi-final at Carmuirs Park.
Next to the Scottish Cup this is the major cup tournament for East Region and Fife teams so the brothers Fairley will be anxious to win through to the final.
But it won’t be easy. Hill o’ Beath were unlikely losers to Lochee United in the quarter final of the OVD Cup so they’ll be looking to put one over on the Mariners. A great match (which will be played to a finish) is in prospect and as it will be Camelon’s last game at Carmuirs this season it is hoped for a great turnout from the fans. Kick-off 7pm.