What a sensation

On 23rd October 1971 a major event took place in Scottish football when Partick Thistle beat Celtic Football Club 4-1 in a domestic cup final. I was there and this is my story as publish din the above book by Lorne Gardner.

You can view my contribution at 2:34 and 2:43 in this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icGznExojzc

I could have been a Jags fan.

The second football game my father took me to was Partick Thistle overcoming the Czech side Spartak Brno on a cold winter’s night in November 1963.   It was a great European night an exciting game, goals and thrills throughout.  Even so, it wasn’t able to compete in my mind with the first game I went to – Celtic v Real Madrid a friendly played a year earlier. I was to be a Celtic fan. 

However, in October 1971 I was not only there for Thistle’s semi final and final in that season’s Scottish League Cup. I played my part.  In the games against Falkirk on October 6 and against Celtic on Saturday 23rd October I was a ball boy.  Indeed sometimes I think I was THE ball boy. 

Back then returning the ball to the field of play at Hampden Park was one of most sought-after ball boying jobs not just in Scotland but across UK football stadia. Over 70 applicants for 15 places (12 for a game and 3 reserves).  It wasn’t just the sheer joy at participating in the games with the amateurs of Queens Park whose home was at Hampden. In addition Scotland’s national stadium hosted international fixtures, prestigious friendlies and cup tournaments too.   Real bonus games for the successful ball boy applicants.

The first perk of the job was being able to stroll through the crowds at front door at Hampden on match days.   Before games fans would be there  waiting  around for team buses or checking out guest arrivals. A few quick steps into the entrance a nod to the blazered club secretary then across the hall, through the glass panelled doors and then past the inner sanctum of the dressing rooms home to the right,  away team’s to the left. 

Before games ballboys at Hampden assembled in their room at the bottom of the stairs below the dressing rooms and across from the officials’ room. Players would walk past our door to get down onto the field for a look around at their state-of-the-conditions check.  This was the best opportunity for the team of ball boys to pester the stars of the game for their autograph. In the semi-final game against Falkirk my autograph tally was high. Several Thistle players kindly added their signature on my programme and the centre forward for Falkirk, one Alex Ferguson obliged too. 

That night I adopted the belt and braces approach and left my autograph book on the small table just  inside the door of the Thistle dressing room to collate some more names in the little blue book. Of the Falkirk game I remember little though for each semi I was operating on the touchlines at the sides of the pitch. . 

Having been on the sidelines for the semi-finals I had the choice between the Mount Florida end or the goals in front of the East terracing.  Celtic fans would have the east terracing to themselves, while the west end (naturally)   would host the Thistle fans and Celtic support too.  Given the shared arrangement then it was the west for me. My reasoning being that the Mount Florida end, with opposing fans aside each other, would offer a better  Cup Final atmosphere. 

Once this game started there was little atmosphere as a result of Thistle onslaught’s;  attack of shock and awe. Each attempt from a Thistle player, no matter the distance from goal or number of defenders around them resulted with the ball in the back of the net. By half way through the first half both sets of fans were oddly silent.  The Jags were winning, already two up. 

Not many people realise that as a ball boy there are few occasions you are required to kick the ball in guiding it back to the game. The job mostly requires handling skills, throwing the ball back or rolling it towards one of the players.  However this game required a kicker’s intervention to ensure Thistle’s mauling of Celtic could continue. 

My vital contribution, well my vital double contribution came with goals three and four. Each one crossed the line then trundled and nestled in the back of the net. In each case the ball slowed to a dead stop.   It seemed to me that time stood still. It was quiet. You can still view a teenage ball boy toepoking a ball with greater effect and exasperation in game highlights. 

By the fourth goal the Thistle fans were wild in disbelief and joy.  Celtic fans were still there;  silent observers of their annihilation.

At the end  of the game, ball boys changed in their room at the room before the tunnel,  below Thistle’s dressing room.  Shouts and songs of joy were continual for twenty minutes or so after the game. We changed and waited outside the door to complete our autograph requests. 

When Thistle left I entered their dressing room surveying the littered mess of their celebrations. Two empty champagne bottles were  scattered on the floor. It seemed obvious to me these were irreplaceable souvenirs of an earth-shattering victory.  In those days you could still get money back on ginger bottles , it may have crossed my mind that champagne bottles might also have a cover charge. 

Back home the programmes, the autograph book and champagne bottles were all duly admired by Thistle supporting teammates of the club I played for at the time. I gave one of champagne bottles to a Thistle supporting fan and never ever tried to get any money back on the other.  It was disposed of sometime later.

I still have the programmes from the semi-final and final. That old autograph book has a couple of pages with the scrawling signatures of the Thistle team.  On occasion to this day when in conversation with Thistle fans I let them know of my crucial role in their team’s victory on that October day at Hampden Park.   

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