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Jock Stein- The Man, The Icon, The Legend

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Big Jock was Invincible

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I have only ever been a “limited” Scotland supporter, I have attended a few Scotland matches at Hampden and I have only ever travelled away twice. Both were notable for different reasons, once to Wembly for a “festival of dance” in 77 and the other in Ninian Park in Cardiff on the 10th Sept 1986.

Five of us travelled to the game pretty much at the last moment. The decision made easier by having a friend who moved to Llantrisant a small village outside Cardiff a couple of years previously. A bunk up was the order of the day and as we had visited on a number of occasions we knew our way around and had made a good few friends at the local pub the Miskin Arms.

None of us had tickets for the game and in the pre touts age we managed to blagg 2 tickets for the game at various service stations on the way down. Only face price was paid. We managed to blagg another two tickets for the game in Cardiff after asking a Taxi driver who heard a guy was selling them in a pub. He told us to jump in which we did, and we later emerged from the pub with another two tickets. The Taxi driver never took the fare but we tipped him enough to buy a pint or two. In someways it kind of set the tone, the Welsh were hugely welcoming and super friendly There was a consensus that while we had to play each other and one of us would have been knocked out, it wasn’t what anyone wanted. Naturally we both wanted to win but we didn’t want the other to lose either. What we all agreed on was that we hoped England wouldn’t qualify.

The sense of anticipation for the game was electric all the more so as we previously knocked out Wales and qualified for The World Cup in a similar match in Anfield Liverpool. However Wales did seem to have the upper hand this time round, they beat at Hampden in the earlier qualifier and I remember we were struck with injuries for this game. Although Scotland held a slight advantage we had better goal difference we knew we just needed to draw, Wales need the win to make the finals in Mexico. It was the original winner takes all game

The atmosphere in the ground was electric, Wales Mark Hughes was probably the best striker in the world at the time – he simply scored for fun and I think everyone feared whenever he touched the ball. True enough Hughes scored and it started to look grim. Standing on the packed terrace we were desperate for a bit of inspiration as the game was drifting away from us. After all with legendary figures like Big Jock & Alex Ferguson we held faith that they would see us through. At nine minutes we had a penalty. Despite being behind the goal I never saw it but there wasn’t a Scotsman in the ground who didn’t scream for it. Davie Cooper stepped up and slotted it away. It was mayhem, ABSOLUTE MAYHEM. We were nearly there all we had to do was hold on. In truth we were hanging on – just. Wales were throwing everything at us to grab a winner. With only a few minutes left in the game the tension was building. The Scots were whistling for full time 5 minutes before the end and when it came Ninian Park erupted. Big Jock and Davie Cooper had us qualified for the World Cup in Mexico. Like so many Scots we were all wrapped up in the result and celebrating. We saw nothing on the pitch to suggest it was any other than a legendary Scottish win. Even the Welsh fans despite their own disappointment were congratulating us as we left the ground.

We jumped in the car and headed off to the Miskin Arms in Llantrisant. Bedecked in Saltires, Lion Rampants and tartan scarfs - we marched into the Pub. The contrast in atmosphere hit us as soon as we stepped inside. Initially we thought it was a wind up as everyone was looking at us with some sort of dismay. But we were up for it and continued the banter “Mexico, Mexico, Mexico”. The bar man stuck four drams on the bar and told us Big Jock had died at the game. Nah it was a wind up. Those Welch barstards were taking the piss, we were at the game and saw nothing except a Davie Cooper penalty, and Big Jock was invincible. It was just not dawning on us. The Bar was reasonably busy perhaps a couple of dozen folk patting us on the back shaking our hands saying they were really sorry. My girlfriend then walked into the bar in tears and it hit us. She saw it on the news. We had qualified for the World Cup but it didn’t matter anymore, Big Jock had died.

Closing time passed and went, the door was closed the bar was still open. I don’t think we actually bought a drink or even had the energy to stand at the bar, but the drams and pints kept coming. in a side door a Couple of villagers came in. Both were stewards at the game. They never saw what happened but were told a ambulance was on its way as someone had a heart attack. Initially they thought it was a supporter then the news began to filter out. The Welsh guys were genuinely shocked as we were, there was sadness, tears and commiserations. Winning or losing qualification didn’t seem important. As a Pars supporter for those who remember Norrie McCathie passing away will probably understand the emptiness we were feeling at the time. We went home with a Bottle of Malt, we didn’t pay for it the Barman felt we needed it more than him. He just said next time.

We travelled up the road late the following morning. Traffic was very slow, there was no celebrations just shakes of the head and acknowledged looks of anguish between the cars. I can remember carry outs were being passed from windows of cars to other cars in some kind of silent wake. You took a drink passed round the car then passed it back. No words were said, because there were none. When you did talk it wasn’t about the game, it wasn’t about Mexico, it was about Big Jock.

Football is an emotional game full of highs, lows and highs again. Norrie passing away and Robbo’s goal against Clydebank is the only other time I feel I have experienced such polar opposites of emotion. It’s not something I would wish to experience again. Big Jock and Norrie were invincible but I’m proud of my connection to them both as a Pars fan. COYP.

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