Jock Wallace and the giant killers

Jock Wallace and the giant killers

This is a story that’s been flitting in and out of my consciousness for some time now, apparently just waiting for me to write it; in fact it’s been prodding me along for knocking on half a century or so. Not that I would even have contemplated such a thing as a callow youth, all those years ago. Sometimes though, fate prods you enough times and you get the message.

At the tail-end of the 1960s, a cousin of mine went on holiday to Scotland and, as tradition has it, returned with a gift for me. Knowing of my passion for all things football, it was The Scottish Football Book No. 13. I guess I’d be 12 or 13 at the time, and with a voracious appetite for anything to do with the beautiful game, so I read it from cover to cover.

The book would have been produced in 1967, and featured stories about Celtic’s Lisbon Lions winning the European Cup and how Scotland had travelled to Wembley for the home internationals and defeated the newly crowned world champions 3-2. That particular feature closes with a picture of Martin Peters fishing the ball out of the England net, with the headline ‘England Mastered’. I have to say that I never really liked that part, but humility is a lesson we all need to learn.

The story that really stuck in my mind was about the day when Berwick Rangers knocked their mighty Glasgow namesakes out of the Scottish Cup in a game that ranked among the greatest upsets ever in Scottish football. Let me confess straight away that the title for this feature is a direct lift from that book. It was just too good not to use. So that was the genesis of this article.

Many years later, my wife suggested that instead of going for a de rigueur type of seaside summer holiday, we should try something different for a change, and suggested Berwick-upon-Tweed. I can’t recall the precise year, but it would have been around the early to mid-90s. It just so happened that while we were there, Glasgow Rangers were visiting to play a pre-season friendly. The scenario brought back to mind the story I had read many years before.

Then, last year, whilst researching for a different story, I came across the news that a Scottish ex-footballer named Sammy Reid had passed away. The name rang a bell, but I couldn’t think why. Until, that is, I saw his obituary. Reid was the man who scored the winning goal in that match way back in 1967.

In the intervening months therefore, between other commitments, I’ve been researching and building up some references so that I can tell the tale that fate has been hammering on my door with for almost half a century, about a game that The Scotsman, at the time, described the outcome of as, “the most ludicrous, the weirdest, the most astonishing result ever returned in Scottish football”. It really wasn’t lapsing into hyperbole. It records the day that a team comprised entirely of Scots representing a small and unheralded club from England turfed the mighty Glasgow Rangers out of the Scottish Cup.

The fact that Berwick is in fact south of the border merely adds an extra layer of flavour to the story, but Berwick is an exceptional place in a number of ways. Legend has it, for example, that the town is still officially at war with Russia. Apparently, Berwick was specifically mentioned in the declaration that signalled the start of the Crimean War, but was missed off from the subsequent armistice. I doubt, however, that Vladimir Putin or any of his successors will be too concerned. It’s the sort of story that works well for tourists though, which is why I recall it.

As we found out when we visited there, Berwick is the kind of town that actually feels as if it should be in Scotland anyway. The landscape and the local accents both carry echoes of a Caledonian theme. With the traditional border between England and Scotland being the River Tweed, Berwick would have historically been in Scotland, and with Edinburgh being less travelling distance away than Newcastle for example, it’s hardly surprising that its football club opted to compete in Scotland, rather than what would have been its own country’s domestic league structure.

The club was founded in the early 1880s. The exact date is less than totally clear, but they pottered around a number of local leagues before, in the 1950s, becoming part of the nascent Scottish Second Division, playing games at the small Shielfield Park stadium. Without sounding too disparaging, and with an acknowledging nod to a few promotions, and subsequent relegations, plus some notable cup victories thrown in, the likelihood of any complications arising from a nationality issue should Berwick qualify for European competition are probably not high on Uefa’s list of urgent issues to resolve. They probably have one or two more pressing issues on the agenda at the moment. Besides, if Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham can compete in the English league structure, why shouldn’t Berwick bow to the pressures of geography, rather than political borders, and take their place in the Scottish leagues?

Success in football, however, is one of those things that Albert Einstein may have approved of, in that it’s very much defined by relativity. Certainly more to do with ‘square passes’ than E=MC2 of course, but promotion – albeit even to a fairly lowly division – can be a valid a cause for celebration for a club of limited resources, and to their own fans at least, be at least as worthy as the accumulation of silverware by more celebrated clubs. Much the same can be said of truly historic cup victories, and for Berwick Rangers their day in the sun, well actually in the mud of a winter’s Saturday on a heavy Shielfield Park pitch, came on January 28, 1967, when the might of Glasgow Rangers crossed the border and came to visit.

It’s going against tradition to single out individual players when talking of historic cup wins. More often than not, there’s homage paid to the indomitable team spirit of the small, whipper-snapper club’s players, often a collection of wannabes, nevergonnabes and has-beens who, for that unforgettable day, deliver performances that no-one believed they had in them.

On that particular January afternoon, the eleven players on the pitch, not to mention the 13,000 fans shoe-horned into the town’s stadium, all played their full part in the drama to unfold, although two players are worthy of particular mention. Manager and goalkeeper Jock Wallace, and the aforementioned late Sammy Reid, who despite having two pins in a knee-cap he shattered when colliding with a boundary wall at Hibernian’s Easter Road, gave a similar number of pins’ regard for the reputation of the Ibrox club when he notched the winning goal.

Wallace had been appointed the previous year after deciding that, if he was to prolong his career in the game, a move into coaching and management would be the way to achieve it. A journeyman playing career had seen stops in Cumbria, Scotland, the Midlands and the Welsh borders as he travelled around the lower levels of both Scottish and English league football. Wallace was, however, also a keen observer of the game and on his travels had gleaned knowledge of a modern tactical approach and training methods that were way ahead of a number of Berwick Rangers’ rivals in Division Two of the Scottish league. The young manager certainly didn’t lack self-belief either.

Ahead of the game against Rangers, he told anyone impressionable enough to listen: “We have a plan and I’m convinced it will work.” Of course, confidence is the type of essential trait that all managers seek to instil into their teams, especially when facing supposedly more illustrious opponents.This was no mere bravado, however, and Wallace’s thoughts were echoed by others who had seen the young manager’s charges turn in a series of impressive performances in the league – even if they were against Second Division opponents. Tom Fagan, the redoubtable ex-Albion Rovers manager had said: “No-one should have been kidded about Berwick Rangers. They are a good team.” It was a prediction destined to be borne out, as player-manager Wallace brought the knowledge he had learned to the Borders.

Players such as Reid were ideal for Wallace’s plans. Almost the epitome of trickily skilled players of those days, Reid was a talented schoolboy and youth international for his country, and as a teenager had the opportunity to join the Ibrox club. Eschewing Rangers – of the Glasgow variety, that is – Reid instead opted to follow his brother Billy, and joined Motherwell in 1956. This was at a time when The Steelmen were a force in the game north of the border, with Reid serving alongside the talismanic Ian St. John, who was later to decamp to Liverpool and work under Bill Shankly, as Shanks built his legend. It was a path that Reid himself had pioneered. Such had been his progress at Motherwell that it was no surprise when Shankly made Reid his first Anfield signing, paying £8,000 for the privilege.

The forward’s sojourn south of the border was, however, blighted by injury. It was a foretaste of what was to come. Reid never made a single first-team appearance at Anfield, before being sold to Falkirk where he proved his ability – when fit – by netting 20 goals in 33 games as the club won promotion to the top flight in Scotland in 1961. AS injuries again took their toll, Reid was moved on to Clyde, who were relegated a couple of years later, before bouncing straight back.

Recurrent knee injuries were by this time eating away at his career, and it wasn’t therefore surprising that Reid stepped down a level to join Berwick. Although it hardly seemed to be likely when he moved to Shielfield, his one season just south of the border was to give him a career-defining moment, before a move to Dunfermline and then retirement in 1968 brought his playing career to an end. That moment, representing an English club with eleven Scottish players, in the Scottish Club would make the name of Sammy Reid famous, and later lead to Jock Wallace taking over as manager at Ibrox.

During the late 1960s, as was the case for many years afterwards until financial irregularities brought the club to its knees early this century, Rangers were part of the Old Firm duopoly that dominated Scottish football. The Scottish Cup itself, the trophy that Rangers visited Berwick to compete for, had resided at Ibrox 19 times by the time the teams met. All ‘giants and minnows’ comparisons were pretty stark when placing Berwick’s cup triumphs of precisely zero next to that figure.

The contrast was also emphasised by an event a few years previously. The Ibrox club had nearly become the agent for Berwick’s expulsion from the league structure when Rangers sought a restructuring of the competition’s format. The plan would have seen Berwick and four other clubs removed from the league. Despite their less celebrated standing in the Scottish game, the five clubs weren’t prepared to undertake a ‘lemming-like leap’ merely to keep Glasgow Rangers happy, and took the matter to court.

They lost the case, though, and eventually appealed to the Inner House of the Court of Session. At this hearing the chairman of Rangers’ fierce rivals, Celtic’s Robert Kelly, was unsurprisingly less than supportive of Rangers and opted to support Berwick and the other clubs, and the proposal was eventually dropped. Rangers failed to have Berwick and the others removed from the competition. In 1967, on that January afternoon, Berwick would have more luck as they sought the same fate for Rangers.

No-one other than Wallace himself and probably a few diehard Berwick supporters would have given much for the English club’s chances of success before the game started. Always divisions apart in the league, the clubs had met only three times previously, each one in the Scottish Cup. An aggregate score of 10-2 illustrated the cavernous gap in perceived class over the years.

Following a bye to the first round, the draw invited Rangers to nip across the border for what was widely seen as a ‘playing’ equivalent of the means that got them there. By this stage, Berwick had already played two preliminary rounds. Adopting the role of relative giants, they had eliminated non-league Vale of Leithen 8-1, and then had a less easy, but still fairly straightforward progression, triumphing 2-0 over Forfar. Despite that, the chances of the little club turning over the visitors from north of the border were rated as slim in the extreme.

On the day of the match, The Glasgow Herald had reported: “Anything other than a comfortable Rangers victory must be deemed a surprise.” They clearly hadn’t been listening to Jock Wallace – or perhaps they had and dismissed it as mere optimistic posturing. If so, it certainly wouldn’t have been an unreasonable stance. Rangers were tucked into second place in Division One, behind perennial rivals Celtic, while Berwick were midway in the division below.

As the game got underway form seemed to be playing its way out. Before the clock had ticked round to the five minutes mark, Rangers had forced a trio of corners. The total had reached double figures before the half-hour mark. Smith, Johnston and Henderson all went close as Rangers pressed for the early goal that would surely open the floodgates. Then Henderson was tumbled in the box by Kilgallon. On another day it could have been a penalty, but not on this one.

As time ticked on, the scores were still level. Were Rangers being just a little too relaxed; comforted by the pundits’ views, had they been lulled into a belief that the result would happen anyway?

A breakthrough was on the way, but not in the way that most people expected. Berwick’s Craig won the ball from Forrest, and played it out to Lumsden. The right winger then passed to Ainslie, who fed it forward for Dowds and Christie to create an opening for Reid. Not a Rangers foot had touched the ball since Forrest had lost possession, and Berwick’s skilful passing scythed through the blue-shirted defence. Now, whilst many of the other players in Berwick’s team may have been somewhat overawed by their opponents, the same couldn’t be said for Reid. In his time at Motherwell he had been part of a team that defeated Rangers no less than four times in a single season.

Pins in his knee or not, Reid buried the chance as his shot cannoned into the net via the upright. The goal was not unlikely. It was not unexpected. The build-up to the game and the play up to that moment meant that it was impossible. But there it was. Reid danced away in celebration as the Rangers players looked at each other in disbelief. The blue-shirted Rangers were temporarily stunned, and another blow nearly tipped them over the edge a couple of minutes later as an opportunity fell to Christie, but his tame shot was easily gathered by Martin in the Rangers’ goal. Whether it was shock or surprise as the amber and black-shirted minnows now found another level of performance, Rangers were taken aback and only a shot from John Greig – that flew wide – threatened Wallace in the home goal before the break.

Any elation among the Berwick fans in the crowd during the break was tinged with the sense of reality that Rangers would surely now come out in the second-half and assert their superiority. In all likelihood, Berwick’s goal and their moment of glory was to be all too brief before being buried under an avalanche of Rangers vengeance and goals, driven by their wounded pride.

The goal had breathed further belief into the Berwick players, and any anticipated backs to the wall formation simply failed to materialise as they continued to trouble their illustrious neighbours’ defence. Twenty minutes of decreasing confidence and increasing angst for the Ibrox club had gone when a sickening collision between Wallace and Willie Johnston, Rangers’ tricky winger, resulted in the Scotland international suffering a broken leg. The wide man was stretchered off to be replaced by fellow Scot Davie Wilson, who had netted a hat-trick against Berwick seven years earlier.

Now the pressure was building and surely the stubborn Berwick defence and Wallace in goal – apparently semi-blinded due to the loss of a contact lens in the Shielfield mud – would buckle. Wilson had an attempt saved, then Greig again and McLean both missed opportunities. Perversely, Rangers appeared to be sucked into a game of high balls lofted into the Berwick box. For Wallace and centre-back Coutts, it was food and drink, and as the ariel assault continued, eschewing opportunities to pull the tiring Berwick players about to create openings, the heavy pitch became an increasingly important factor in the game, gumming up any smooth running and passing options for Rangers.

The home team were not bereft of attacking options, however, and in a rare sortie upfield, Ainslie forced a less than comfortable save from Martin, before later striking the upright. Most of the possession, most of the attacking and most of the pressure, came from Rangers’ increasingly desperate attackers. Greig was thrown forward as an auxiliary striker to add height and muscle to the forward line, but the defiant Wallace, ably supported by his defenders, was resolute.

Injury time arrived and legend has it that Rangers’ skipper Greig pleaded with referee Eddie Thompson that more time should be allowed, only to receive the reply: “I have given you four minutes already.” Given the hold up in play resulting from the injury to Johnston, plus other delays, the story may be less than totally accurate, as four minutes hardly seemed to be overly generous to the Glasgow club. At the final whistle, despite his efforts to ruin their day, the gallant and honourable John Greig buried his disappointment, making a point of seeking out each Berwick player in turn to shake hands with them, as the jubilant home fans stormed onto the pitch to acclaim their heroes.

If the result was to send shock waves of disbelief through the Scottish game, Jock Wallace was to offer disdain to such reactions, claiming the margin of victory should have been even bigger, “we missed far easier chances than the one Sammy Reid scored.” Despite his sporting attitude at the end of the game, John Greig’s assessment of the result left little to the imagination, defining it as “probably the worst result in the history of our club”.

Some attributed the result to it being just one of those things that happens every now and then, when a lowly club brings a giant down to its knees. Others blamed the mud-bath that comprised the Shielfield Park pitch. Some even credited Wallace for his tactical acumen. At Ibrox, however, none of that washed, and there was a call for action. Strikers Forrest and McLean were offered up as scapegoats, and despite both being regular scorers for the club, neither would ever wear the dark blue shirt again. A few short weeks after the result, Forrest was sold to Preston and McLean to Dundee.

Back in Berwick, goalscoring hero Reid had to return to his day job as a gear cutter in an engineering factory on the following Sunday to make up the time he had taken off earlier in the week to attend training. The vanquished still seemed in a better position after the defeat than the victors. In the following round, flushed with their success, Berwick travelled to Easter Road to face Hibernian, and for Reid it was a reminder of the occasion when a wall at the Edinburgh ground shattered his kneecap. There was to be no revenge, however. Despite Wallace saving a penalty, Berwick were defeated 1-0 and left the Scottish Cup with the warm glow of a famous victory to remember.

For Rangers, the defeat may have had an immediate shock, and some commentators have suggested that it eased the way for Celtic’s period of dominance in the late ’60s and early ’70s. That said, the season was not a complete write-off and the Ibrox club battled through to the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, eventually losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich. Some players were to comment that but for the knee-jerk action selling of Forrest and McLean, the trophy could well have been won. The fact that rugged defender Roger Hynd was deployed as a striker against the Bavarians certainly adds weight to the theory. Perhaps Berwick had denied Rangers two trophies in one day.

Reid was to move on from Berwick for a single season with Dunfermline before injury finally took its toll and he was forced to retire from playing in 1968. When he lost his life last year at the age of 75, Berwick Rangers posted this on their website: “News came through on Sunday evening of the sudden death of former club legend Sammy Reid at his Wishaw, Lanarkshire home. Sammy will live in Berwick history of course as the man who netted the only goal in the 1-0 Cup win over Rangers at Shielfield on 28th January 1967. Reid, the former Liverpool and Motherwell player, netted the only goal with a sweetly struck left-foot shot in 32 minutes. The club extends sincere condolences to all Sammy’s family and friends.”

Later events were to lead some to question just how valued the players of that famous day were by the modern day club. If Reid’s moment of glory was the prelude to a fading of his particular sun, for Wallace the opposite was the case.

A couple of years after the game, Wallace moved on to a coaching job at Hearts, and then ironically on to Rangers. It’s not known what sort of welcome was prepared for him when he arrived at Ibrox, but suffice to say that his time there was successful enough to lead the club to appoint him as manager in 1972. As if to take the irony a step or three further, a few years later, Dave Smith, who had been in the Rangers’ team defeated on that damp and cold January day in 1967, later managed Berwick, and eleven years after the seismic result the two clubs were again drawn against each other in the Scottish Cup. This time, the former Rangers player was in the Berwick manager’s chair, with Wallace, Berwick’s hero of mud and a single contact lens, was manager of Rangers. Wallace again held sway on that day, as this time form was upheld with the Ibrox club running out 4-2 winners.

Had Berwick triumphed, it may have been a result to rank even above that of 1967. By this time, Wallace had restored the Ibrox club to the top of the Scottish game. They secured the Scottish league title in 1975 and 1976, the Scottish Cup in 1973 and 1976, additionally lifting the Scottish League Cup in the latter of those two years. In 1978 they won the treble, securing all three of Scottish football’s domestic trophies. If it was to be Wallace’s zenith, it was also to be his nadir, as he unexpectedly resigned as manager of the club. The reason for the departure was never fully explained, but disputes over money – both for his salary and transfer budget – were touted widely as being contributory factors.

Venturing south of the border, he then became manager of Leicester City, where he led the East Midlands club to the Second Division championship, but also became involved in two newsworthy, and seemingly outlandish, enterprises. Following a game when his team went in at half-time 3-0 down, but suffered no more reverses in the second half, he publicly advocated a change to the league’s points system where three would be awarded to the team winning each half of the game, and a further three to the team that won the overall match. Novel? Yes. Likely to be adopted? Not so much.

The other event involved an approach to sign the legendary Holland international, Johan Cruyff, for the Foxes. Thought by many at the time to be a mere publicity stunt, it was later revealed that the Dutch maestro had expressed a measure of interest in the move, although how long that measure was is open to conjecture. In 1982, Wallace then returned north of the border to take over at Sammy Reid’s first club, Motherwell. He only stayed a short while before being tempted to return to Ibrox.

Wallace also left a reminder of his abrasive and no-nonsense approach to man-management during an infamous incident involving Gary Lineker. The young England striker thought he had been performing well, and came in at half-time with Leicester leading 2-0, both goals scored by Lineker. Wallace, however, apparently thought there was something still lacking and told the striker so. When Lineker pleaded his case, the fiery Scot presaged a celebrated compatriot and delivered the sort of hairdryer treatment that was to become famous at Old Trafford. Lineker recalls being forcibly pinned against the wall, still shaking, dreading another bout of the same at full time as he hadn’t added to his total.

Prior to his return, Rangers had been managed by his old foe of aerial duels back at Shielfield Park in 1968, the club’s former skipper, John Greig. By this time, Aberdeen were establishing a new hegemony north of the border, as the young Alex Ferguson’s team elbowed their way into the domination of Rangers and Celtic. Bringing Wallace back to Ibrox was seen as Rangers’ way of putting the upstart Dons back in their place.

Although he secured a brace of Scottish League Cup victories, the task was beyond him, and Wallace’s stay lasted less than three years, before he shipped out for an abortive spell with Sevilla, and finally a brief spell in East Anglia with Colchester United. Wallace died of Parkinson’s disease in 1996, aged 60, and despite the humiliation, he put them through back in 1968, is still remembered as one of the Ibrox club’s greatest ever managers.

For two different retrospectives of the game, I turned to a couple of different sources. One was a lament from a Rangers fan who had stood and watched the unbelievable unfold in front of his eyes. The other was from Sammy Reid himself, during an interview with the Daily Record upon the occasion of another meeting between the clubs in 2012.

On a Rangers Fan Forum website, I found the account of a fan who, in November 2011, had happened to be walking past Shielfield Park, recalling the old ghosts from forty-odd years ago, that still haunted his memory of “our worst ever defeat”. He related how he had watched as his team had “battered the Berwick goal from kick-off”, but that Berwick’s manager and goalkeeper had been “outstanding and saved everything”. He also described the “disaster” as Reid put the minnows ahead and the “Alamo” siege that followed the goal. The last couple of sentences sum up the feeling however as the whistle went to end the game: “Even although the ref played four minutes of injury time, it was not to be, and I stood there in shock along with all our other fans. To be honest, as I headed home yesterday, the pain is still the same as it was all those years ago and will never leave me.”

A year or so after the Rangers’ fan had posted of his plight, the spotlight fell on Sammy Reid as Rangers were again pitted to play against their namesakes from south of the border. As if it wasn’t already newsworthy enough, it took on an extra piquant when it was revealed that despite their supposed exalted status, and that the club would always honour them, none of the side from 45 years ago was even given a ticket by the Berwick Rangers hierarchy to watch the game.

The snub was clearly something that was keenly felt. Reid related that he would probably only watch the first half of the game on television, as he had promised to take his wife out for lunch.

“This interview,” he said, “is about a goal I scored and a game we won 45 years ago. We are still talking about it all these years later but no one at the club thought to invite the team down. We all know they’re getting big bucks from ESPN for this game. It would cost them £250 for one night’s bed and breakfast for all five of us who are here. I feel really strongly about this situation.

“I know if I phoned them up they would have me down but that’s not the point. The only reason this game is on the TV is because of a goal all those years ago. They’ve had a few TV games over the years they’ve made a fortune from. I was invited down for the 30th anniversary. I was a guest of Sky’s last year for the Celtic game. The sponsors invited me down for a cup game against Rangers a few years ago where Berwick drew with them. It’s disappointing. It would have been nice to have been invited.”

It’s not difficult to detect the bitterness in Reid’s words. Had the club put the relatively trifling amount of £250 or so ahead of paying due respects to the club’s heroes? Its difficult to say for sure, but given that it would be difficult to accept that no-one at the club had thought of the idea, what other conclusion is there to draw?

The Daily Record sought to allow the club to put their side of the story. Berwick director John Bell said: “There has been so much to do to prepare for the match I accept it might have been a bit of an oversight and we may well look at it when Rangers are back in February. But at the same time it has been more than 40 years now. We’ve faced Rangers five or six times over the years and have had the players back and they were down in recent years for a book launch.

“We’ve got 902 seats and we have to accommodate players’ families, sponsors, season ticket-holders and press. I’ve been inundated with ex-players looking for tickets but our first priority has to be with the fans who have supported us in every game. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy.”

Despite the tone of Bell’s words, they almost offer a ringing endorsement of Reid’s assessment.

There is of course merit in Bell’s sentiment. Things eventually have to be put away in the drawer marked ‘The Past’. In sport, however, and especially in football, timelines have a different life and heroes are heroes for all of time. There are many memorials, television programmes, newspaper features or similar about the big players from more celebrated clubs going much further back than 1967.

The Lisbon Lions, for example, have a stand named after them at Parkhead. It’s important not to forget the worthy exploits of those who stand in the shadow of giants. Fate gave me several nudges to write this article, and if it helps to keep alive the tale of ‘Jock and the Giantkillers’, I’ll consider it well worthwhile.

By Gary Thacker @All_Blue_Daze

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