Mon 9 March 2009

If You Know Your History - 1965 (and all that)

In this week's look at Scottish football down the years, we turn the clock back to 1965 as Kilmarnock take on Hearts at Tynecastle in a game that would decide the league championship, as well as mark an end to a period when Scottish football was (if only for a short time) a truly competitive league.
Scottish league football has been dominated by the Old Firm. Between the first competition in 1890 and the outbreak of World War 2, only five teams (Dumbarton in 1890 and 1892, Hearts in 1895 and 1897, Hibernian in 1903, Third Lanark in 1904 and Motherwell in 1932) managed to break the grip the two Glasgow giants had on the league. From 1905 to 1939, Celtic and Rangers divided the titles between them.
Such is the dominance of Rangers and Celtic in Scottish football that there has only been one season in Scottish football where neither of the Old Firm finished in the top three, and in the 111 years that the Scottish League has existed, there have only been 19 occasions where neither Celtic nor Rangers won the league.
In 1948, Hibernian where the first team to break this spell since Motherwell did it in 1932. This started a spell of 17 years when five different teams won the league: Hibernian (3 times), Hearts (twice). Aberdeen, Dundee and Kilmarnock would all record their first league win.
Hibernian won their two titles in the 50's on the back of a forward line of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond (left), better known today as the "Famous Five". That line-up first played together in 1949 in a game against Nithsdale Wanderers and became the core of a team that would finish third in '49, then second in '50 before finally helping the Hibees to two league wins in 1951 and 1952.
Aberdeen won their first title in 1955, and when Hearts won the league in 1958, it was their first since 1897. For Dundee, their only league title to date came in 1962.
Kilmarnock's only title was won on the final day of the 1964/65 season. Tynecastle, April 24, 1965. History was in Kilmarnock's favour going into the game. They'd beaten Hearts 3-1 at Rugby Park back in December, but there was a lot more riding on today’s game than the mere two points on offer back then. For both sides it was a must-win game. For Hearts, the task was simple - don't lose! Going into that final Saturday, Hearts had a superior goal average (calculated as the total number of goals scored divided by the number of goals conceded) of 1.91, whilst that of Kilmarnock was 1.81. For Kilmarnock then, the task was a little bit harder: an away win by at least two clear goals was needed to push the goal average in their favour and take the league title back to the West.
Hearts, managed by Tommy Walker lined up with:
Cruickshank, Ferguson, Holt, Polland, Anderson, Higgins, Jensen, Barry, Wallace, Gordon, Hamilton.
Kilmarnock, who had finished second on four occasions in the past five seasons, were managed by Willie Waddell (right), the former Rangers player who'd made over 200 appearances for the Ibrox side between 1939 and 1955. On the day, they lined up with:
Ferguson, King, Watson, Murray, McGrory, Beattie, McLean, McInally, Black, Sneddon, McIlroy.
All the ingredients for an exciting game where in place. Kilmarnock, knowing they needed to score got off to a great start when David Sneddon scored in the 26th minute. As he recalled later:"The ball went out to Tommy McLean on the wing. Tommy saw me at the far post and he put the cross over perfectly on to my head. To be honest, I thought I'd miss - I never scored many with my head. Big Jim Cruikshank came right back across the goal and threw himself at the ball. By the time it hit the net, he had dived beyond the post, so that shows how close he came to stopping it."When Brian McIlroy fired home a left foot drive into the far corner of Cruikshank’s goal a few minutes later, Kilmarnock got the second goal they needed. A rear-guard action would now be required as Hearts went for the single goal it would take to tip the match in their favour. They pushed the Kilmarnock defence to the limit and it was only a brilliant save by Bobby Ferguson from Alan Gordon six minutes from time that kept the score at 2-0 to the visitors.
When the final whistle blew, the 37,000 spectators packed into Tynecastle had seen an exciting end-to-end game that saw Kilmarnock win the title by a mere 0.04 of a goal!
Kilmarnock were unable to repeat their championship winning form, finishing third the following season. They have not finished in the top 3 since that time. It would be another 21 years before Hearts finished second again. In the last game of that season, they lost 2-0 to Dundee. Despite the loss, had goal average and not goal difference been used to differentiate the teams, Hearts and not Celtic would have been champions (ironically, had goal difference and not goal average been used, Hearts would still have won the league in 1965; football is a cruel game!).
It would take another 13 years for another team outside the Old firm to win the league. Aberdeen won their second title and their first under new manager Alex Ferguson in 1979. They would also be the last non-Old Firm team to win the league in 1986. Since then, Rangers equalled the nine-in-a-row set by Celtic between 1989 and 1997 and Celtic have won the league on the last three occasions.
Both teams are now only 5 titles short of beating the record 26 titles they won - without interruption - between 1904 and 1931.

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