HITTING THE OLD FIRM FOR SIX (AND FIVE)
Falkirk successes against The Old Firm are pretty rare, and older fans will remember some awful hammerings. On other occasions, Falkirk were portrayed as “gallant losers” according to fair-minded reporters, while some scribes concentrated their copy on the Rangers or Celtic performance. On the occasions when Falkirk did manage some successes, it was all about why Celtic or Rangers had dropped points, but rarely were Falkirk given the credit they deserved. One match I really enjoyed reporting was a game at Ibrox when Falkirk drew 1-1 against Rangers and it was only a last-minute winner from Mo Johnston that earned Rangers a point. My report was totally biased- in favour of Falkirk- but the unsuspecting editor let it get into print, no doubt incurring the wrath of all Rangers readers.
Two games stand out in my memory- and I saw a total of 11 goals scored against the Glasgow giants. First up was an amazing game at Brockville in March 1959. Falkirk were struggling at the wrong end of the table and had been beaten 4-1 at Rugby Park on the previous Saturday. Rangers were engaged in a titanic battle for the league title.
Saturday March 1959 At Brockville Park
FALKIRK 5 RANGERS 5
Wright 3, Moran, J. White Murray 2, Caldow (pen), Brand, McMillan
Few teams in Scotland score five goals against Rangers, and fewer still fail to win with that number of goals in any game. It was a real coupon-buster as a team fighting for their First Division lives held a team challenging for the title. There can’t have been many more sensational starts to a game and the opening twenty minutes saw Falkirk supporters rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Eric Caldow’s poor clearance was pounced on by ALEX WRIGHT, and the veteran gave George Niven no chance to open the scoring after only 7 minutes on the clock. Rangers were visibly shaken, and young John White was causing panic in the Rangers defence, with centre half Willie Telfer unable to track his runs or match him for pace. The irony was that Rangers had watched White for over a dozen times when he was at Alloa but dismissed him as being too frail and lacking pace. It was from a White pass that DOUGIE MORAN put Falkirk 2-0 ahead.
Rangers started to come back into the game and local boy and former Falkirk High School pupil MAX MURRAY scored twice to draw level. The game was being played at cup-tie pace and yet Falkirk came back strongly. They went 3-2 up when ALEX WRIGHT, having the game of his life up front, took advantage of a slide-rule pass from Billy Price to beat Niven. International full-back Caldow was being given a torrid time by Tommy Murray, and he was at fault for Falkirk’s fourth goal just before the break. Murray beat Caldow and set up JOHN WHITE to make it 4-2 at the break. Willie Telfer looked to have suffered a deep cut to the head and looked as though he would need stitches in the wound at the interval. The half time score from Brockville must have caused consternation as it was hoisted on the wooden scoreboards all over the country.
It was a heavy pitch and the incessant rain started to take its toll on Falkirk. They were well worth their two-goal half-time advantage, but they started to tire as the powerful Rangers side were roared on by their fanatical following. The Bairns defence was under constant pressure and the inside forwards Moran and Wright were having to pull back to shore up the defence. Referee Crossley awarded an incredibly soft penalty to the Ibrox side and ERIC CALDOW converted. Older fans started to fear the all-too-familiar collapse as wave after wave of attacks bore down on Bert Slater’s goal. It was another local boy, Alex Scott, who led the Rangers comeback and Ian Rae was given an uncomfortable afternoon trying to keep him in check. It was from a Scott pass that RALPH BRAND made it 4-4. It was like a heavyweight boxing contest as the sides fought desperately for the upper hand. Rangers went ahead at 5-4 in the 77th minutes with a rare header form ex-Airdrie star IAN McMILLAN and many of the reporters in the press box were expecting further goals for the title chasers.
Falkirk were still coming forward as the game entered its closing stages, and then Brockville witnessed one of the most dramatic finishes to a game ever seen at the old ground. Tommy Murray crossed from the right and keeper George Niven cut out the cross. His feet had hardly touched the ground than firstly Jim Oliver and then ALEX WRIGHT bundled the Rangers keeper and the ball into the net. The goal was given and within a matter of seconds, the final whistle sounded. All hell broke loose on and off the park. The Rangers players surrounded referee Crossley and two of them, George Niven, and Bobby Shearer, should have been sent off for protestations that would certainly have seen red cards being issued in the modern game. The Ibrox legions were furious and the atmosphere in the ground was decidedly tense. The game had ended 5-5, and some press reports felt that Falkirk were “nearly safe” after such a heroic performance. They were not.
FALKIRK: Slater, Richmond, Rae, Price, Prentice, McMillan, Murray, Wright, White, Moran, Oliver.
RANGERS: Niven, Shearer, Caldow, Davis, Telfer, Stevenson, Scott, McMillan, Murray, Brand, Wilson.
The other half the Old Firm had inflicted several hammerings on Falkirk, but few could have foreseen the events of Wednesday April 14th, 1965. Not many teams score six goals against Celtic- but Falkirk did on that unforgettable evening.
Wednesday April 14th, 1965 At Brockville Park
FALKIRK 6 CELTIC 2
Moran 2, Wilson, Graham, Halliday, Fulton Auld 2
Ten days later, this Celtic team, with only two changes, won the Scottish by defeating Dunfermline 3-2 at Hampden. There were members of the Celtic line up at Brockville that night who were to become Lisbon Lions and yet Falkirk were convincing and deserved winners. Celtic had won the corresponding game at Parkhead 3-0 and Falkirk’s indifferent league form had given little indication of their ability to win with such ease.
Jock Stein’s side opened in whirlwind fashion, and many in the Falkirk crowd feared another defeat. Big defeats were commonplace that season and six goals had already been conceded against Hibs, Clyde, and Rangers with five goals going past Willie Whigham from Dunfermline, Rangers, and Hearts. Amazingly, Falkirk were 2-0 ahead after only 8 minutes of play, as they decided to go at Celtic and not sit back as many teams did. Keeper Fallon fumbled a cross and DOUGIE MORAN, in his second spell at the club, scored. Johnny Graham headed for goal and young JIM HALLIDAY prodded the ball over the line. Celtic with their customary vocal support were shell-shocked, but worse was to come as Falkirk went in 4-1 up. Northern Irish International SAMMY WILSON headed a great third goal and danger man JOHNNY GRAHAM added a fourth. Celtic’s goal came from BERTIE AULD. Jock Stein’s half-time talk must have been interesting to say the least. It had been an incredible opening 45 minutes, and few could have believed the score line.
The expected Celtic backlash materialised, but Falkirk held their nerve and came back into the game. BILLY FULTON sent the home supporters wild with one of the best goals ever seen at Brockville. He hit a rising volley from all of 30 yards out which gave keeper Jim Fallon no chance. It was fitting that Billy donated the left boot that scored the goal as an auction item at the Hall of Fame dinner. Falkirk were playing some great football and when DOUGIE MORAN made it 6-1 with nine minutes left for play it seemed to partly make up for all those heavy defeats we had suffered at the hands of Celtic teams. The green and white clad supporters were leaving long before BERTIE AULD converted a last-minute penalty kick. Celtic were beaten 6-2 by a team struggling at the foot of the table. They had been played off the park. Whether they had been too confident or were holding something back for the Cup Final we will never know. They too had an indifferent league season, finishing eighth and Jock Stein was clearly building a new tea. It would be interesting to know what lessons he learned from that night in Brockville.
FALKIRK: Whigham., Lambie, Hunter, Houston, Baillie, Fulton, Graham, Gourlay, Wilson, Moran, Halliday.
CELTIC: Fallon, Young, Gemmell, Murdoch, Cushley, O’Neill, Chalmers, Gallagher, Hughes, Lennox, Auld.