YOU think Scottish football is a head-bursting, brain-melting, nerve-shredding business these days?
Try 50 odd years ago and you might just find the very definition of the above. Half a century yesterday, to be precise.
On April 24, 1965, Kilmarnock travelled to Tynecastle in search of a 2-0 victory that would make them champions for the first and only time in their history.
They had to win by at least two goals but if Killie had won 3-1 theh Hearts would have won the league. 4-2? Ditto.
That was thanks to the goal average system in place at the time so the calculators came out after Kilmarnock’s 2-0 win took them level on 50 points with the Jambos.
After dividing goals scored by goals conceded, Killie became the 1964/65 champions by 0.042 goals. If goal difference, rather than goal average, had been used Hearts would have won the league. Just as in 1986, if goal average had still been in operation rather than goal difference, the Tynecastle club would have pipped Celtic.
But the players who celebrated that title success on April 24, 1965, didn’t care about that and Tommy McLean still shakes his head in wonder.
The winger went on to carve out a glorious career at Rangers winning three titles, four Scottish Cups and three League Cups, as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972, but he’ll never forget the first medal of his career, picked up that afternoon when he was only 17.
“Going into that game, it had been neck and neck throughout the season but Hearts had just edged ahead,” McLean recalled. “ Dunfermline were still in it right to the end as well.
“But the goal average system meant we had to win 2-0 at Tynecastle. Bizarrely, if we had won 3-1 or 4-2, Hearts would have won the title but 2-0 would have given it to us.
“Hearts were big favourites. Everything was in their favour because they were two points clear and a draw or even a one or two-goal defeat – apart from 2-0 – would have won the title.
“In the build-up we played it low key. That was our manager Willie Waddell’s way. He didn’t get over-excited about anything.
“We didn’t do anything like go away overnight before the game and we didn’t even have a pre-match meal together.
“Some of the boys who lived in Kilmarnock got the team bus through and it stopped at the St Enoch’s Hotel in Glasgow to allow them to have a snack.
“But I was told just to report to Tynecastle at 2pm. I lived in Larkhall and rather than have to travel to Kilmarnock and then Edinburgh, they said they would meet me at the stadium.
“I was only 17 and had just passed my driving test so that was lucky. I had a wee car and just drove to Tynecastle.
“By the time I reached the outskirts of Edinburgh, though, I could tell this was anything but an ordinary day.
“There seemed to be Hearts fans everywhere and they obviously thought their team was going to win the league.
“But I wasn’t overly nervous. At the age I was, you’re fearless, aren’t you?”
It seems he wasn’t alone. His Killie side took the lead after half an hour and by half-time had the two goals they needed.
“In terms of the match itself, it panned out exactly as Waddell wanted,” McLean added. “We started the better team.
Former Kilmarnock players (clockwise from top left Campbell Forsyth, Jackie McNally, Kilmarnock Chairman Jim Mann, Tom Brown and Bobby Ferguson, (Front Row) Ronnie Hamilton, Davie Sneddon, Stuart Layburn, John Smillie and Tommy McLean
“Hearts were very nervous and the occasion and maybe the expectation of their fans got to them a bit.
“Getting the first goal after half an hour gave us a real lift and we got the second one, the one that put us in command, about 10 minutes later so that was huge.
“I crossed for Davie Sneddon to head home the first goal and it was great to play a part in it. Brian McIlroy scored not long later and at half-time we deserved to be 2-0 up.
“Hearts came back out for the second half knowing that even one goal would still give the title, so they threw everything at us. They were the better team and I remember a magnificent save from our keeper Bobby Ferguson to keep out an Alan Gordon header late in the game.
“If that had gone in, everything would have changed.
“Finally, the whistle went and I remember Waddell charging onto the pitch with his arms in the air.
“I’d never seen him react like that but he realised immediately what we had achieved.
“The occasion got to him without a doubt and when you think about it, in the 50 years since we won it there hasn’t been another provincial club to have claimed the title.
“Dundee United and Aberdeen have won it but they are big city teams.
“Kilmarnock are the last of the ‘smaller’ teams to have done it and that is something the club can be rightly proud of.”
All that was left was the bus ride back to Kilmarnock to receive the acclaim of the thousands lining the streets. But Tommy had taken the car to Tynecastle, remember?
“After the game, they were making arrangements to get back to Rugby Park on the bus but, of course, I had my car so I wasn’t able to join in the celebrations on the way back,” he said. “I had to drive back to Larkhall, pick up my girlfriend (now wife, Beth) and head to Kilmarnock from there because although we had no celebrations planned, we wanted to go back and be part of it with the people of the town.
“I just happened to get to Kilmarnock as the bus was getting there, so I followed the bus all the way to the ground.
“It was a strange feeling because there seemed to be thousands of folk on the streets and the journey took a long time. But I’m not sure the folk even realised that the wee car following the bus had one of the players in it!”
There was a celebration dinner on the eve of the 50th anniv in Kilmarnock, where stories were retold and memories rekindled.
“We still keep in touch,” McLean said of his team-mates. “Kilmarnock have been very good about continually recognising what we did.
“We had celebrations on the 40th and 45th anniversaries and, of course, we are now marking the 50th year.
"I won a lot of things with Rangers" ncluding a European trophy, but being part of that achievement with Kilmarnock is the equal of anything else I did.
“I can never say that one was better than the other but, with that being my first, it is feeling I have never forgotten.
“When you realise that such a feat has never been done by a club of Kilmarnock’s stature since then, it brings home just special it was.”
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