1966 – England were world champions, The Beatles released Revolver, Carnaby Street in “swinging” London was the fashion capital of the world, Alf Garnett was outraging Mary Whitehouse with his racist and sexist opinions on TV, followers of Chairman Mao were brandishing their wee red books (not that one)… and Killie were back in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup!
Following the departure of Willie Waddell after the Championship win, Malky MacDonald had returned from Brentford for a second spell at the club. Wisely, he didn’t tinker much with the championship side, adding forward power in Gerry Queen from St Mirren (Ronnie Hamilton going the other way), Craig Watson from Morton (with Joe Mason leaving in part-exchange) and Dane Carl Bertelsen from Dundee. Watson’s main claim to fame in retrospect may have been his partnership with Alex Ferguson in the Govan High School team!
In his first season, MacDonald had guided the side to a very respectable third place behind good Old Firm teams. Just how good they were would soon become apparent!
After the testing trip to Albania the year before, this campaign had a relatively straightforward start: Killie were spared playing in the First Round, and the Second Round draw paired them with Belgian opposition in Royal Antwerp.
The team had made a solid start to the league campaign and sat third when they went to the Stade Bosuil on 29th October for the first leg. And they brought back a first away win in Europe for Killie thanks to Jackie McInally’s 16th minute goal.
I wasn’t at the second leg (I’m thinking that O Levels were taking priority!) on 2nd November. I vividly remember watching the highlights on Scotsport though, without knowing the result, and getting increasingly excited as Killie rattled in goal after goal in a 7-2 victory.
The Antwerp defence clearly lacked the hardness of the diamonds for which the city is famous – more like a soft centre from a box of that country’s famous chocolates - seven goals ahead after 70 minutes, Killie evidently spared the Belgian’s further punishment. McInally, Queen and Tommy McLean all netted twice (McLean and Queen both scoring penalties) while Craig Watson added the seventh.
A word about the television highlights from the time. The filming was done with a single camera mounted on a gantry suspended under the roof of the east terracing. Commentators and cameramen had to scale an open ladder at 90 degrees which, with a derisive crowd below, must have tested their mettle! After the match, the film was dispatched by fast car across the Fenwick Moor to the BBC or STV studios in Glasgow to be frantically edited in time for transmission as soon after 10.30 as possible. How times have changed today when you see the mobile studios with satellite dishes beaming out pictures from multiple cameras.
Killie’s reward for beating the Belgians was opponents from… Belgium, this time, ARA La Gantoise with the first leg on 14th December at Rugby Park. The club changed its name in 1971 from the French La Gantoise to the Flemish KAA Gent.
Having routed Antwerp who were to finish the season in fifth place while La Gantoise were relegated, Killie may have been complacent. They took the lead after 38 minutes through Eric Murray but were unable to extend their advantage.
A week later and four days before Christmas, Killie returned to Belgium for the second leg at the Jules Otten Stadium. They must have expected a tough examination and they weren’t to be disappointed. La Gantoise levelled the aggregate in the 78th minute, sending the tie into extra time.
The referee sent off Jim McFadzean and two Belgians as the match turned ugly, but Killie kept their heads and McInally (112) and McLean (114) scored to ensure a happy Christmas for all with Killie at heart. They could forget about the Fairs Cup until the late Spring!
The Quarter-final draw could scarcely have been tougher. Killie were joined by England’s Burnley and Leeds Utd, Bologna and Juventus from Italy, old foes Eintracht Frankfurt, Dinamo Zagreb (Yugoslavia) and East Germans Lokomotiv Leipzig. And it was behind the Iron Curtain that Killie were sent, to Leipzig.
Lokomotiv had defeated Benfica in the previous round so their pedigree was clear. This was the season after Portugal had reached the World Cup semi-final with Benfica’s Augusto, Graca, Coluna, Torres, Simoes and the tournament’s star, Eusebio.
The match was played on the afternoon of 19 April in the Zentral Stadion (now revitalised as the Red Bull Arena!). The size of Killie’s task was increased after only 3 minutes when Berger scored with this header:
After 49 minutes, Gerry Queen was ordered off (no red cards in those days!) and Killie were right up against it. They held out though without conceding again, giving them a great chance of reaching the Semi-final.
A good crowd of over 15,000 turned up the following week at Rugby Park and some of them – myself included! – entered the ground just in time to see Eric Murray’s 9th minute goal level the tie.
As I recall, Killie battered the Germans without getting the goal which would ensure a semi-final place. But they had accumulated a good amount of European experience – slightly more than their opponents – and were patient. The breakthrough came after 65 minutes when Brien McIlroy knocked the ball home on the rebound after McFadzean’s shot was parried.
In only their third European campaign, Killie were in the Semi-final!
A rematch with Eintracht was still possible, and arguably the best route to the final as the other qualifiers were Dinamo Zagreb and Leeds Utd. But it was to be the fearsome side managed by Don Revie which stood between Killie and a home-and-away final.
By the time the matches were played, the league seasons had finished and Leeds had come fourth, five points behind champions Manchester United. They were also losing FA Cup semi-finalists.
Killie had finished disappointingly seventh in the league. Apart from anything else, they would have to win the Fairs Cup to qualify again for Europe. But their preparations for the match could not have been worse as the entire squad signed a round robin transfer request over a bonus dispute!
To make matters worse, key forwards McLean and McInally were unavailable and manager MacDonald opted to replace them with the Pat O’Connor and Craig Watson.
In Killie’s favour was that this was, incredibly, United’s sixth match in 17 days as they coped with a fixture backlog. Goalkeeper Gary Sprake recalls:
“For the first time in a long while we went into the match with carefree abandon. The domestic season had finished and we felt relaxed. The boss, though, was his usual methodical self; the night before the game we had the same old team meeting. Which opponent kicked with his left, who tried to beat a man on the inside, while all we wanted to do was go out and show the public that we could beat anyone on our day, or any other day come to that.”
Elland Road’s third largest crowd of the season, including a large contingent from Ayrshire, piled in on Friday 19 May. Whatever Killie’s game plan was, it lay in shreds after only four minutes. The 21 year-old striker Rod Belfitt was to enjoy the best match of his indifferent Leeds career by netting a hat-trick and he struck in the first minute as McGrory and keeper Ferguson left a ball to each other. Three minutes later and the lead was doubled as Belfitt scored with a superb diving header.
Killie struggled to gain a foothold in the game but they did so and McIlroy netted in the 21st minute. It was end-to-end frenetic stuff and Belfitt completed his hat-trick after only 31 minutes, set up by Eddie Gray and Johnny Giles.
If United had been complacent at 2-0, it is scarcely credible that they should be so again at 3-1 but the normally ultra-disciplined United seemed to abandon any defensive discipline, and Gray’s back pass to Sprake after 35 minutes held up in the mud, allowing McIlroy to pull a second goal back.
Belfitt was not finished however and, four minutes later, he earned a penalty-kick when McGrory handled and Giles stroked home the sixth goal of an amazing half.
Half-time came as a welcome chance for the 43,000 crowd (and radio listeners like myself) to draw breath and wonder where on earth the scoring might end. As is so often the case after a high-scoring first-half, it ended there despite United hitting the woodwork three times and Killie once after the interval.
The second leg was amazingly only five days later. Killie supporters were not optimistic as United were the absolute masters of strangling the life out of game.
“We had defended ineptly in the first leg and the boss was none too pleased, so we knew what to expect when he unveiled the team and tactics. It was no surprise that we were going to operate with a lone striker and throw a blanket defence around our two goal advantage.”
You said it, pal! They rarely gave Killie a sniff of goal and some “high-jinx” between the two sets of supporters was about all I can remember of the match. Oh, and Billy Bremner jogging 40 yards just to take a throw-in! Leeds had their full complement of hatchetmen out, Jack Charlton excepted, and Messrs Reaney, Bell, Madeley, Bremner, Cooper and Norman “bites yer legs” Hunter were in no mood to let an opponent pass easily. Perhaps a British referee would have offered more protection than the weak Belgian who took only one name, that of Eric Murray!
A contemporary report describes the United team as having “wound its coils round the Kilmarnock attack like a boa constrictor and finally crushed the life out of it”. I couldn’t put it better! Leeds won no friends and made more than a few enemies in Ayrshire that night.
In the other Semi-final, Eintracht Frankfurt beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 in the first leg, only to surrender 0-4 in the second (what’s German for “Lightning strikes twice”?) and the Yugoslavs went on to win the final. It is pleasingly ironic that they "did a Leeds” on United, taking a 2-0 advantage to Elland Road and grinding out a goal-less draw (what’s English for “Getitupye's?).
Due to fixture congestion, the final was not played until 30 August and 6 September! To quote the title of an album by The Doors released that same September, Strange Days!
By not making the final, Killie failed to complete a full house of finalists for Scotland. The Original Rangers lost to Bayern Munich in the Cup Winners Cup final and the other lot did not too bad in Lisbon! Add a Scotland victory over the reigning world champions at Wembley and you would be justified in hailing 1966/67 as a high-water mark in Scottish football.
It had been a marvellous run by Killie but it marked the beginning of the end of the club’s golden era. Bobby Ferguson departed to West Ham United for £65,000, then a world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. Younger players such as Eddie Morrison, Robin Arthur, Brian Rodman, Billy Dickson and John Gilmour were brought in to replace the likes of McInally, Sneddon, Black and Matt Watson as the league-winning team was broken up. Home gates fell to – and sometimes below – 3,000, a harbinger of doom to come.
INTER CITIES FAIRS CUP
25/10/66 – Royal Antwerp 0 (0) Kilmarnock 1(1) (Att. 10,000)
02/11/66 – Kilmarnock 7 (3) Royal Antwerp 2 (0) (Att: 11,963)
Scorers: McInally 2, McLean 2 (1 Pen), Queen 2 (1 Pen), C Watson
14/12/66 – Kilmarnock 1 (1) ARA La Gantoise 0 (0) (Att: 8,612)
21/12/66 – ARA La Gantoise 1 (0) Kilmarnock 2 (0) AET 1-0 after 90 mins (Att: 9,500)
Scorers: McInally, McLean
19/04/67 – Lokomotiv Leipzig 1 (1) Kilmarnock 0 (0) (Att: 30,000)
26/04/67 – Kilmarnock 2 (1) Lokomotiv Leipzig 0 (0) (Att: 15,595)
Scorers: Murray, McIlroy
19/05/67 – Leeds United 4 (4) Kilmarnock 2 (2) (Att: 43,000)
Scorer: McIlroy 2
24/05/67 – Kilmarnock 0 Leeds United 0 (Att: 24,831)