It cannot be overstated how much Killie were on the slide around 1970. The cost of remaining full-time was unsustainable and the only saleable asset – Tommy McLean – was reluctant to forsake the joys of Larkhall when a transfer to Chelsea was agreed!
The apparent strength of Scottish football at the time is shown by the fact that sixth place in the previous season was good enough to secure yet another Fairs Cup qualification. The prospects of another and possibly more lucrative run were enhanced when the first round draw paired Killie with part-time Coleraine of Northern Ireland.
Club finances were apparently not entirely grim as the club had invested in sending manager Walter McCrae to the World Cup in Mexico! What he had learned there was not immediately obvious as the club was eliminated in the group phase of the League cup and started the league campaign with two defeats and a draw. So the trip to Coleraine was seen as an opportunity for a morale-boosting victory.
In as much as a scoring draw away from home is never a bad result, a 1-1 draw as a result of Ross Mathie’s 56th minute goal being cancelled out four minutes later was not a bad result. Not a great result either.
Miserable league form had not improved by the time of the second leg on 29th September, the club lying fifteenth out of eighteen. However, the Blaxnit Cup holders from the banks of the Bann would provide no problems... or so it seemed.
Tommy McLean (16) and Eddie Morrison (22) calmed any fears which the more nervous in the 5,911 crowd may have had. If anything, there was annoyance that the lead was not increased by the arrival of half-time. None of this, of course, inhibited the raucous support of the small band of Coleraine supporters in the Main Stand!
Complacency reigned supreme on and off the pitch but no-one had provided for Des Dickson having the most purple of patches in the second half. A prolific scorer – 452 goals in 619 (4) appearances – is not a record to be scoffed at, whatever the level.
I won’t dwell on what is probably the most miserable 45 minutes I have spent at Rugby Park but suffice to say that Dickson scored in the 48th, 52nd and 60th minutes amidst mounting anger on the terracing. No matter that there remained half an hour to score to two goals to win the tie, Killie were utterly abject. That the Coleraine supporters were by now ecstatic only made matters worse.
We may not have accepted the fact that evening, but the club was staring a transfer to part-time football and eventual relegation in the face. The portents could not have been more evident but were still too unpalatable to accept. After all, it was only six years since the club had stood at the summit of the Scottish game! Kilmarnock in the Second Division? Bah!!
It would be 26 years before Rugby Park saw another European tie as the club went through the most bitter and turbulent period in its history.
INTER CITIES FAIRS CUP
15/09/70 – Coleraine 1 (0) Kilmarnock 1 (0) (Att. 5,000)
29/09/70 – Kilmarnock 2 (2) Coleraine 3 (0) (Att. 5,911)
Scorers: T McLean, Morrison