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Season 1987

1987 was a memorable year in many respects – from Margaret Thatcher winning a third term as Prime Minister in the General Election to Kylie Minogue first bursting on to the music scene.

But there was a mood of optimism among certain clubs in Scottish football as we had a team in a European final, an unlikely name on the Scottish Cup, Celtic sacking a manager for the first time and Aberdeen still getting used to life after Alex Ferguson, as he was back then.

Rangers were ending their first year in the new Graeme Souness revolution, but the former Scotland captain, who took over in the summer of 1986, was denied a first season treble by an unlikely source.

Hamilton Accies were the Premier League’s whipping boys under John Lambie so when they were drawn to face Rangers in the Scottish Cup, only one outcome was expected.  Rangers were in great form, gunning for a first title in nine years and a goalkeeper who hadn’t been beaten in over 1,000 minutes.

But Chris Woods was finally beaten and it was Adrian Sprott that ended that unbeaten run as Accies notched what became an infamous victory over the Gers.  Even now, over 20 years on, it’s regarded as one of their finest moments.

Although a setback, it didn’t stop Rangers, who went on to clinch the title in a 1-0 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie, with skipper Terry Butcher netting the clinching goal, ending the nine-year title hoodoo.

Aberdeen themselves were adjusting to life as the era of Alex Ferguson and the success that he achieved had ended when he left Pittodrie in November 1986 to go and help out a small provincial club by the name of Manchester United.  Whatever happened to them?

Nevertheless the Dons appointed Ian Porterfield to replace the legendary figure, but could only finish in fourth place, two points behind Dundee United and five behind second placed previous champions Celtic, who decided to make a managerial change on the back of their failure to recapture the title they had won so dramatically 12 months before.

A lack of transfer funds, which showed Celtic’s failings compared to the money being spent at Rangers was a factor and there have been suggestions that Hay’s relationship with chairman Jack McGinn was a fractious one, especially in the final few months of Hay’s reign.

But when the one-time Celtic hero was given a choice to resign or be sacked in a meeting with McGinn, he chose neither and was eventually sacked at the end of May 1987, later learning from the radio that Billy McNeill, the man he had replaced in 1983 was returning.  This made Hay the first manager to be sacked by the Parkhead club.
While their fortunes had taken a downward turn, St Mirren had the party to end all parties in Paisley as they won the Scottish Cup in a memorable final with Dundee United, who was chasing glory on a European front as well.

The Buddies were not expecting to leave Hampden with the cup, especially against a Dundee United side that had done so well in Europe and pushed the Old Firm in the title race until falling away, but much was made of the fact that United had never won the cup in their history and this final would be their fourth attempt.

Incidentally both clubs had relatively straightforward routes to the semi finals where they would come up against Premier League opposition and with the Old Firm eliminated, the tournament really was any bodies.

Managed by Alex Smith, St Mirren got past Inverness Caledonian, as they were back then, Morton and Raith Rovers on their way to a last four clash with Hearts, who were widely expected to return to Hampden a year after their 3-0 final defeat to Aberdeen.

United on the other hand had to contend with city rivals Dundee for their place in the final after defeating Airdrieonians, Brechin and Forfar in the previous rounds, making the tournament a special one.

There was no doubt United were the favourites of the last four and they cemented their Hampden date in a 3-2 semi-final win over the Dens Park in front of 13,000 fans at Tynecastle.  An Iain Ferguson double and a Paul Hegarty strike sent them through, despite Tommy Coyne and Keith Wright netting for Dundee.
Now it was a matter of the other game at Hampden as St Mirren and Hearts faced off and Ian Ferguson (a different one) opened the scoring for the Buddies before Gary MacKay struck on 74 minutes to make the final quarter of an hour an interesting one.

But Frank McGarvey, he a two-time cup winner sealed it with a goal three minutes from the end and St Mirren were in their first cup final since 1962.

The final should have been straightforward, with Jim McLean’s United side heavily backed to end their cup jinx at the fourth time of asking, but a goalless 90 minutes left things on a knife-edge.

They didn’t count on Ferguson netting the winner to spark the biggest party Paisley had seen for years.  It made legends out of the 13 players that played that day for the club, while Dundee United had the chance to console themselves with trying to win the UEFA Cup.

After seeing off Barcelona and Borussia Moenchengladbach, United faced a two-legged final with Swedish side IFK Gothenburg to hopefully become the fourth Scottish side to win a European trophy.

The first leg at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg saw McLean’s men go down 1-0 to a Stefan Petterson goal in the first half, but the slender lead, despite not scoring away from home gave the Tannadice men hope for the second leg.

That hope was made all the harder after Lennart Nilsson increased the Swede’s aggregate lead in the return leg.  John Clark pulled one back on the hour mark to give the Arabs hope, but it wasn’t to be as the last Scottish team to reach a Euro final in the 20th century had failed.

First published in Issue 1.13 of The 12th Man Scottish Football fanzine

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