Kilmarnock Change

Kilmarnock David Ross

January 1964. I was seven years old, my brother was six, and were both tremendously excited because our father was taking us to our first ever Scottish Cup tie. Of course I had been to football matches before but this is the first one I can clearly recall. There was much in that season of 1963-64 which was memorable off the pitch too. Some for good reasons, some for bad. Two months before the cup tie, Doctor Who had been shown for the first time on British TV and it brought a whole new world of fright to youngsters such as us. Scarier for adults was the Kennedy assassination the day before the Doctor Who screening. But although that was something we were aware of, it impinged less on our consciousness than the looming match.


Like virtually every school in Scotland at that time (and, I suspect, still in the present day) schoolchildren’s (or schoolboys’ as the game was still largely a male preserve in the 1960s) loyalties lay with either one of the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic or the local team. Our school was no different. You were either a Rangers fan or a Kilmarnock supporter. No others. No in-between. One side or the other and no switching.


Our whole family, with the exception of my Rangers-supporting Uncle on my mother’s side were Killie fans. Like all schoolboys we argued with the Rangers kids in the playground. On their side was the weight of history, all the titles, cups and various trophies won. On ours, local defiance, the concept of supporting through thick and thin. Though it has to be said that the 1960s were successful years for Kilmarnock as regards ‘provincial’ clubs. Since my birth there had been two Scottish Cup Finals, two League Cup Finals and the final of a prestigious international tournament in the USA. However, all were lost.


This season, we believed, would wipe away all those second prizes as Kilmarnock made a bold attempt on an historic double of League & Cup. When the opening Scottish Cup ties were played, Kilmarnock led Rangers by a point at the top of the league with both sides having played the same number of games. Hearts were five behind, having played a game more. It was a two-horse race and Killie – who had finished runners-up three times in the past four seasons – looked capable of taking it to the wire.


Meanwhile there was a cup tie to negotiate. On paper it should have been easy. We were at home to non-league Gala Fairydean. This team were to pose two problems though. One on the pitch and one off it. This latter related to their name. Never having heard of them and not being familiar with the pronunciation, my brother and I declared loudly and proudly to all and sundry that Dad was taking us to see Kilmarnock play Aberdeen. An easy mistake for a child to make but one which saw us relentlessly laughed at, particularly by the Rangers boys.


It was almost as bad at Killie’s Rugby Park as Gala gave as good as they got for the first half hour and it took Killie until five minutes before the interval before Eric Murray, a wing-half converted to centre-forward (we still used those outdated terms to describe a player’s position), tapped in the opening goal. Naturally, that provided the biggest cheer of the opening half.


The second biggest came a couple of minutes later. Behind the uncovered terracing at the Rugby Road end of the ground, opposite where we were at the Dundonald Road end, there was an old-fashioned scoreboard with the Johnnie Walker ‘striding man’ emblazoned across the left hand side. The half-time scores were put up with each one corresponding to a letter on the back of the match programme but we still couldn’t understand all the cheering, as we were so far away from the scoreboard that we couldn’t see the numbers.


Then, the sound system told us why. Killie had installed a new loudspeaker system with a huge blue speaker, marked ‘Magneta’ at the end of the terracing where we stood and one half-time score resonated far more strongly than any other. Celtic 0 Eyemouth United 0. That explained the roar. Apart from the habitual joy all supporters of Scottish teams outwith the Old Firm take in seeing the Big Two struggle, it was proof that it wasn’t just Killie who were having a tough time against non-league opponents.


The second half proved to be as frustrating as the first and several times Gala threatened to equalise. It took until the 87th minute before Killie scored again, thanks to a Jackie McInally (father of Alan) header. Even then no one could rest easy as Gala scored shortly afterwards to ensure a nervous finish to the match. Even Celtic, in such a bad way at half-time, had done better, winning 3-0.


Monday morning and school was a miserable time. It’s not easy to boast about watching your team beat a non-league side 2-1. Especially, when Rangers had won 5-1 away to Second Division Stenhousemuir. But at least Killie had won and the Double was still on.


Two weeks later when the next round of the cup took place, the league was unaltered, both Killie and Rangers winning between cup ties. The second round was at Hamilton. My brother and I weren’t allowed to go to away games until we were much older – 12 years old – so we heard that Killie had beaten Second Division Hamilton Accies 3-1 on the radio, that medium being quicker than TV with the results. The second half of a match was always broadcast live on radio but they never revealed in advance which game it was. Though you would never have lost your shirt in Ladbroke’s by betting on it being a Rangers or Celtic match.


In the third round Killie beat Albion Rovers – also a Second Division team – 2-0 at home and by now my brother and I were seasoned spectators. We were now in the quarter-finals without having played another top flight side. Killie were drawn away to First Division Falkirk in the last eight but an indication of how seriously they were viewed as a threat came in an incredible league match at Rugby Park, a week before the Albion Rovers cup tie, when Killie demolished the Bairns 9-2. Perhaps even more astonishing was that Killie were 9-0 up and missed the chance to go into double figures when the normally reliable Brian McIlroy missed a penalty kick.


That was the last day Killie spent at the top of the league though, as two draws allowed Rangers to edge in front. By the day of the quarter-finals they were a point ahead, with seven games to play.

The last eight tie was a lot more troublesome than the league game but Killie won 2-1 to reach the semi-finals. By now there were no more easy options in the draw. Killie avoided Scot Symon’s Rangers, seeking to win the Treble for the second time, and also Dunfermline, managed by Jock Stein, a manager with a burgeoning reputation and a team which had won the cup three years previously. They had also knocked English champions-elect Everton out of the Fairs Cup just over twelve months ago.


Killie were drawn against Dundee and installed as favourites to reach the final. But the Dens Park side were difficult opponents too. They had been Scottish Champions two years beforehand and had reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1962-63, losing to eventual winners AC Milan. They were managed by Bill Shankly’s older – and quieter – brother Bob. Killie manager Willie Waddell was the only one of the semi-final quartet yet to win a major honour.


By now things had changed at home. My father had been a quarryman but worked part-time at weekends in the local pub. The owner of the pub – a widower- died suddenly and his daughters asked my Dad to take over full-time, which he did. This meant he worked Saturday afternoons and was no longer able to take us to football. We had to make alternative plans. Sometimes my father’s brother would take us but he was a railwayman and he too worked Saturdays from time to time. After persistent moaning to my mother, she agreed we could go on our own as it was only a fifteen minute bus ride from our village to the ground and the bus stopped right outside Rugby Park both on the way there and back.


My brother and I then started to pursue the age-old tradition (undone by all-seated stadia) of asking an adult for a ‘lift over’ the turnstiles, thus saving our admission money for later investment in sweets and comics.


So far this season had been a wonderful adventure. Then, in the space of a fortnight, our world ended – both times at Ibrox. First came the vital league clash with Rangers. There were six games to go and Rangers now led by two points. Win and Killie were right back in it. Draw and the dream was still alive. Lose and it was virtually all over. My mother switched off TV and radio so we wouldn’t know the result and gave us permission to stay up late to watch the TV highlights. Dad was still at work when they came on. Rangers won 2-0. The taunting of all the Killie fans at school on the following Monday was remorseless. Looking back, it’s curious to realise that many of those Rangers ‘fans’ have never set foot inside Ibrox in their lives. The 1960s saw the dawn of the armchair fan, the precursor of the live pub TV of today.


The league was lost. The gap was still four points with only four to play two weeks later when the chance of redemption in the cup came round. My Uncle was working but a neighbour had very kindly offered to take my brother and myself to Ibrox for the semi-final. Fate – and illness - intervened. I can’t recall if it was Mumps or Chickenpox but it was definitely one of those two still common childhood diseases of the 1960s which laid my brother and I low. Even on the morning of the match we still hoped we could recover in time and the neighbour popped round to see if we were well enough. Mum said no. We were both bitterly disappointed. Less so when the – to us – incredible news came back that not only had Killie lost, they had done so by a humiliating 4-0.


That was the way the season ended, not with a bang, but a whimper, as Killie finished runners-up in the league for the fourth time in five seasons, bringing their tally of second prizes between 1960-1964 to eight! The Champion runners-up was the soubriquet given to the team.


Fortunately it all came right a year later when Kilmarnock won the last match of the season 2-0 at Tynecastle in a league decider, winning the championship from Hearts by four-hundredths of a goal. The Cup was a different story. I saw (losing) semi-finals in 1970, 1972 & 1994 before finally experiencing the thrill of seeing my team win a semi-final in 1997 – 33 years after I had expected to do so. Victory in the final ended a 68-years long wait for the trophy to be paraded through the streets of Kilmarnock.


There have been cup ties against other non-league sides too, including a humbling 3-0 loss to Inverness Thistle in the 1980s. But none of these matches have made the same impression on me as the one against Gala Fairydean on January 11th 1964. For that was the day when I felt that it wasn’t all just playground talk. That was the day when I became a bona fide Kilmarnock supporter. And, as all fans know, once that decision to support a team has been made, football’s Rubicon has been crossed.


No one can go back. And no true supporter would want to.


David is a football writer, his latest books are '1966: Sport's FORGOTTEN Year' and 'Barca - The Year Of Living Gloriously' and has written for a number of football publications both in the UK and abroad.

To order any of David's books please click here

Follow David on Twitter @RossFootball


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