Partick Thistle legend Alan Rough recalls stunning 1971 League Cup Final triumph over European giants Celtic

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The Jags shocked the football world by defeating Jock Stein’s Hoops at Hampden Park 50 years ago today

It is 50 years to the day since a Partick Thistle side ran out at Hampden Park to face European giants Celtic in the 1971 Scottish League Cup Final.

Nobody gave them a chance and who could blame the doubters?

This was a young Jags side who had been relegated the previous season only to bounce back immediately under the leadership of new manager Davie McParland.

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The ensuing 90 minutes sent shock waves through the football world as first-half goals from Alex Rae, Bobby Lawrie, Denis McQuade, and Jimmy Bone had the Jags in a commanding 4-0 lead at half-time.

Yet there was still feeling among the Thistle’s ranks that Jock Stein’s imperious Hoops could mount a momentous comeback.

After all, there were four members of the famous Lisbon Lions team – Jimmy Johnstone, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, and Jim Craig – along with rising stars Kenny Dalglish and Lou Macari that never knew when they were beat.

Despite a barrage of Celtic pressure in the second half, a solitary strike from Dalglish proved little consolation as Thistle stood firm.

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It was an afternoon fresh-faced 17-year-old goalkeeper Alan Rough will never forget as he recalled: “It flies by so quickly and the first thing I said to myself after the final whistle was ‘I wish I could do this all over again.’

“We were the kind of team who played attacking football and we were vulnerable to losing goals.

“At half-time we were 4-0 up and we didn’t think it was over as we knew they were regularly scoring five or six goals a game.

“There was a lot of apprehension even though we were winning so easily because they had guys like Kenny Dalglish, Lou Macari and Harry Hood.

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“They had a lot of goal scorers so we just had to try and keep a level head on it and believe we could see it out.

“Bizarrely I always used to keep a watch in my cap. I don’t know why but I did. I knew exactly how long was left when Dalglish scored. Someone said it was 21 minutes but I told them it was 22!

“I actually wasn’t too busy in the second half and it is a tragedy we can’t see the 90 minutes of that match again. We only have 15 or 20 minutes of highlights.

“We played as well in the second half as we didn’t in the first half and we didn’t have another few chances.

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“I do have a lasting memory of the second half just right at the start we could have scored another couple.

“I think Denis McQuade was through and I think Evan Williams had a tremendous save, so we weren’t on the back foot by any manner of means, I think we handled the game quite well.”

Partick Thistle celebrate with the League Cup after the Jags stunning win over Celtic in 1971. Picture: ContributedPartick Thistle celebrate with the League Cup after the Jags stunning win over Celtic in 1971. Picture: Contributed
Partick Thistle celebrate with the League Cup after the Jags stunning win over Celtic in 1971. Picture: Contributed

Rough described Jags boss McParland as a “father figure” to him and believes that was the main reason Stein decided to bring him to Celtic as his assistant manager at the start of the 1976/77 season.

He added: “You have to remember, I think there were four of us that were only 18 or 19, four of us had just played our first-team games in a season in the lower divisions so he was like Jock Stein.

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“I think that is probably why Jock took him to Celtic, I think Jock saw a lot in Davie McParland in himself in his younger career and basically he was a father figure, he watched what you were doing, he was always on top of you if you weren’t toing the line, that kind of thing.

“Tactical-wise you just have to look at the formation we played, 4-2-4, it was two full-backs attacking, four forwards, and that is the way we played and that was his philosophy of how we should be playing.”

Rough earned 53 caps for the national team, the majority coming under Stein’s tenure, and he still remembers vividly the ribbing he received from Scottish football’s greatest ever manager.

He reckons the biggest advantage Thistle had ahead of the Cup Final was the absence of centre-back Billy McNeil from the Celtic side.

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Rough admitted: “All the time, he used to wind me up by saying it was ‘just a one off’, ‘we felt sorry for yous’ and all that carry-on, but I said, ‘aye that will be shining bright’.

“For me I think one of the biggest factors of that was game was Billy McNeill not playing, and I spoke to big Billy, unfortunately he has passed away now, and he was sad he missed that game as well.

“I thought he was a mainstay in their team and it was a bonus for us I think he got injured before that game.

“It has become almost mythical because for provincial clubs like us, these days don’t come around very often.

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“St Johnstone were a perfect example last season and it is something you hang on to. The fact we beat Celtic in the final also makes it that bit extra special even 50 years on.”

Jock Stein on the pitch at Elland Road after being appointed Leeds United's new manager in August 1978.Jock Stein on the pitch at Elland Road after being appointed Leeds United's new manager in August 1978.
Jock Stein on the pitch at Elland Road after being appointed Leeds United's new manager in August 1978. | jpimedia

Remarkably, every member of Thistle’s 71’ squad are still around and will attend Firhill this afternoon when Ian McCall’s side take on bottom of the table Dunfermline.

Rough is hopeful the Jags can mark the occasion with a victory that would be sure to put a lot of smiles on people’s faces.

“It would be fantastic,” he stated. “I think obviously Dunfermline will be a different Dunfermline to who we played in the first game of the season, obviously we’d like to carry on the Hamilton result which was fantastic.

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“It would just be a great start to the weekend, but nothing is predictable and I’m sure Ian (McCall) and the boys will have that in the back of their mind that it would make a lot of people happy if they could pull it off.

“It will be a great day and if you mingle around our supporters there are still some who were at that game. Hopefully, there are plenty others who have heard about and will turn out in their numbers.

“Everybody in our team is still alive, unfortunately in the Celtic team there are some legends who are no longer with us.

“They won’t have great memories of that day, but I am sure if they were still here, they would be talking about it.

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“I remember as soon as those 90 minutes finished in the cup final, the first thing was every Celtic player to a man came over and congratulated us, there was no walking off the park or anything like that.

“I think they appreciated what we had done, which I just think is a great thing for a team like Celtic to do.

“But it is a tragedy that some of the Celtic boys aren’t here because they are big, big legends at their club”

Rough has been monitoring the progress of current Thistle keeper Jamie Sneddon, who continues to impress between the sticks.

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Sneddon is a product of Hearts youth system and the former Scotland legend has tipped the 24-year-old to have a big future in the game.

He said: “I think he’s improved year on year. He has obviously had to fight for his place, which is a good thing as well.

“The manager had a decision at the beginning of the season who to go with and in fairness he gave both of them a shot. Jamie came out winning that one and since he’s come back in he has been fantastic.

“His handling is superb and the back four must have a lot of confidence in him because he is the kind of goalkeeper now who can make that winning save, he doesn’t have to make four or five, he can make the one that wins you the game and I think that is always good in a goalkeeper.”

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