I am delighted to have long-time Pars fan, Sammer, as guest writer on Throwback for 6 weeks, during which he will give his own first-hand account of games he attended from the period 1964 to 1973. Here, in part 5, he looks back on a Pars v Hibs game from March 1972.
Dateline: 11th March, 1972
Match: Dunfermline 2, Hibernian 1
Charts: American Pie
The news broke around lunchtime as we hung around a smoky, corner shop across from the
school. The owner sold us cigarettes as 3d singles, but had sparked a near riot the week
before when, on the D-Day of decimalisation, he had rounded up the price to 2 new pence for
a fag. Old Jock needed a long handled brush to drive the mob back from the counter that
February day, a day you might say planted the roots of Brexit Britain. There was also a
currency problem at East End Park: goals. We just couldn’t find any and were sitting bottom
of the league. Our last effort, in a surprise 1-0 win over Aberdeen, had come after a defensive
mix up allowed Jim Gillespie to net from one yard out. That was just about our range these
days. The Pars manager’s son, Brian, was standing very quiet in the corner.
Alex Wright’s been sacked! It’s on the radio. Wright’s been sacked!
Some were excited, some were pleased, some had no interest. We offered what comfort we
could muster then picked up some inside info from Brian that had till then been secret. About
Alex Wright turning down the Dundee job which went to ex-Rangers boss Davie White.
How the directors had made his father an offer they knew he could only refuse - a salary cut.
How John Cushley had gone out of his way to walk across to the car park and shake Wright’s
hand. How Brian had laughed at his father’s team selection for the next match - Barrie Mitchell was down to play at right back - but the directors did not see the joke.
The Pars now had nine games to save themselves from relegation starting with Hibernian on
the Saturday, under newly installed manager George Miller. Pars line-up:
Hibs lined up with: Herriott, Brownlie, Schaedler, Stanton, Black, Blackley, Davidson, O'Rourke, Baker, Gordon, Duncan.
On paper it was a no contest. Eddie Turnbull had most of the ‘Tornadoes’ in place and his Hibs side were about to knock Rangers out of the Scottish Cup en route to the final. When Dunfermline had gone into freefall at the start of 1970-71, new manager Alex Wright had barely managed to slow the descent, the Pars escaping relegation on goal average at the end of that season. The signing of Joe McBride had proved crucial but, now that he had retired due to injury, every game seemed a war of attrition from which a meagre point might occasionally be won. There was talk of putting shin guards on the goalposts. Good professionals like Paton, Gardner, Robertson and Lunn had not been replaced, placing too heavy a burden on the youngsters coming through. So it was surprising that Manager Miller handed a debut to young Ken Mackie in a desperate effort to pep up the attack, but it was a gamble which was to pay off.
The pitch was sticky on top which suited the Pars’ clog and clatter style, especially a midfield digger like George O’Neill. This ex-Partick stalwart had featured in a Sunday Post article with a photo of his wife dropping a medicine ball on to his stomach, evidence of his strength and stamina. Or maybe’s his wife’s. The problem was, the limited range of O’Neill’s passing suggested he practised passing with a medicine ball as well.
Wearing their all white strip, an economy measure which had not endeared Wright to supporters, the Pars opened in lively fashion as is often the case under new management
and took the lead. Mackie had already troubled Hibs defence and when the ball landed at his feet from a corner about 12 yards out he drove a rising shot high past Herriott at the Halbeath End to make it 1-0. Brimming with confidence, he then threw Black off balance on the left side of the box and narrowly failed to curl a shot into the far corner. For a support resigned to the flat beer of relegation battles this was champagne soccer, but could it last? After all, in Brownlie and Stanton, Hibs had two players with more football ability than the entire Pars team put together. And they also had Joe Baker.
Even now, at the age of 32, Baker could still generate a crackle of anticipation when he moved
towards the ball for although the blistering pace of his youth was more muted, he still retained an edge and awareness to make defenders nervous. Baker’s return meant Hibs’ appeasement policy had now come full circle, since the veteran striker was easing the pain of Peter Cormack’ transfer down south. His journey from Hibernian to Torino, Arsenal, Notts Forest and back again had been an unlucky one in that Joe Baker was fated to play for teams either going into decline, or a few years short of a golden age. He turned up in the wrong place this day as well.
When a ball was knocked down the right touchline Baker, an exceptional player with his back to goal, set himself to control the ball on his thigh. Unfortunately for him the ball arrived at the same time as John Cushley, a muscular defender in the same vein as Jim Holton, then breaking into the Scottish international team. Cushley had remained a part-time player, even when playing alongside the likes of Billy McNeill and Bobby Moore, so had never reached the heights he might have done. But he was determined to reach thisparticular ball and went right through the back of Baker to do so, sending ball and striker spinning on to the cinder track.
Cush all together, Cush all together, Cush all together now- Cushley!
It took two minutes of spray and massage to his lower back before Baker got back gingerly
to his feet. Worse was to follow. Within minutes O’Rourke lobbed a pass over the Dunfermline rearguard, one that Baker had anticipated before it was played, and it was now a race between Baker and keeper John Arrol as the ball bounced towards the penalty spot. Arrol got a fist to the ball first, then carried through to the face of the fearless Baker who was laid out for a second time. There was no malice in the challenge, indeed it could have gone either way, but to the Pars support these two moments signified the determination needed in the battle against relegation.
Ultimately the Pars squeezed out a 2-1 victory, Pud Paterson sweeping home an opportunistic effort inside the 6-yard box. Miller’s team had played with a positive mindset, taking the field with the belief that they could actually win the game, a rarity at that time. Negativity had ruled for too long. Miller was a breath of fresh air and there was a feeling, not just that relegation might be avoided, but that a new team with Mackie leading the line could be emerging.
That did not happen, but not for want of trying. Results picked up and there was a momentous 4-3 win at Ibrox which meant a draw in the last home game would be enough. Too much ground had been lost however. The final match, a 0-1 defeat by Dundee United, is remembered best for a lack lustre display by Barrie Mitchell who had already secured a transfer to Aberdeen. Little good did it do him. He flopped there and ended up at Tranmere, first as a player then later as a publican with a spell in America in between. Mitchell had shown potential as a youngster but never became as good a player as he thought he was, lacking the character required of a top professional. Maybe Alex Wright had been correct and he was just a hard-tackling hard-running right back. Mitchell was inadequate, as were the Pars for top division football. We deserved to go down. The football had been ghastly for over a year.
The sixth and final part of Sammer Looks Back will be posted next Wednesday.