Celtic 6 Hibernian 3, Scottish League Cup Final 1974
The early part of the 1970's saw a "gang of four" dominate the competition for honours in Scottish football. Naturally this included the Old Firm - a rampant Celtic side in the midst of winning a record nine consecutive League championships and a Rangers team triumphant in the European Cup Winners Cup of 1972. But there were also a notable contribution from Hibernian and Aberdeen who won the League Cup and Scottish Cup respectively at the start of the decade. When Celtic and Hibernian met in the 1974 League Cup final at Hampden Park it was a re-run of the final two years previously which saw the Edinburgh club lift their first trophy since winning the Championship in 1952. The teams had also met in the 1972 Scottish Cup final but with calamitous consequences for Hibernian - they lost 6-1 (a record equalling reverse for a Scottish Cup final in Scotland). Despite the fact that this was probably the best Hibernian team in twenty years, it was Celtic who were clear favourites to lift the trophy for the eighth time since the competition's inception in 1946. After all, Jock Stein's men had inflicted a heavy League defeat on the Edinburgh greens just a week prior to the final and, even more disheartening for the team from the capital city, Hibernian were just back from Turin where they had seen their UEFA Cup hopes destroyed in a crushing defeat from Juventus.
Considering it was two of the top teams in the country contesting the final, there was a rather disappointing attendance of a little under 54,000 at Hampden on an admittedly cold October afternoon. There were the usual optimistic noises from both camps but there were those who thought that Celtic, for all their dominance in League championships since the mid sixties, might suffer from something of a psychological complex as far as the League Cup was concerned - it was an irritation to Jock Stein that they had lost the last four finals, most spectacularly to Partick Thistle to the tune of four goals to one in 1971. Would their recent failure in this competition prey on their minds? Certainly, despite the recent experiences which had beset them, there was a confident air in the Hibernian camp. So there was plenty of anticipation as the teams lined up as follows:
Celtic: Hunter; McGrain; Brogan; Murray; McNeill; McCluskey; Johnstone; Hood; Deans; Dalglish and Wilson.
Hibernian: McArthur; Brownlie; Bremner; Stanton; Spalding; Blackley; Edwards; Cropley; Harper; Munro and Duncan.
The opening minutes contained enough to suggest there was to be real drama, and indeed one of the most incredible Cup finals ever witnessed at the old stadium was about to unfold. After the customary early exchanges it was Hibernian who had the first real chance in the fifth minute but Alex Edwards ballooned the ball over the bar from close range. Celtic's reply to this was swift — and clinical. Jimmy Johnstone scored with a precise finish after an equally precise pass from young Dalglish for whom the occasion seemed tailor made. Johnstone was one of those frustrating players. On his day he could equal Best, Cruyff, some said even Pele — but on other days he was almost disinterested and it was clear that when Johnstone was on form, Celtic were on form and the combination could prove awesome. Sadly for Hibernian this proved to be one of those days when the little winger was at his best and he was in the mood to make them suffer as a consequence.
After a Steve Murray "goal" -was disallowed for offside, Celtic went two ahead ten minutes before half time when a long Pat McCluskey pass from defence found John "Dixie" Deans and the ex-Motherwell man ran through to slip the ball past goalkeeper McArthur. It seemed, at this stage, a question of how many? Dejected Hibernian supporters remembered with horror the Scottish Cup final of 1972 but, in forty three minutes, Joe Harper gave the Easter Road men a lifeline by finishing off some good work by Stanton and Cropley and so it was 2-1 for Celtic at half time. Remarkably the second half began almost as a carbon copy of the first. Joe Harper had a great chance to equalise seconds after the re-start but dithered at the last minute and the chance was gone. Typically, Celtic went straight up the field where Paul Wilson scored number three after being fed by Johnstone. Again Hibernian fought back. After an hour's play, Joe Harper — the little striker seemed to be everywhere — pounced on a loose ball, while a confused Celtic defence looked on, to make it 3-2.
The Hampden crowd roared its approval and four minutes later the Celtic support was making all the noise as Deans scored his second after getting the better of defender John Blackley. A further two minutes and Deans had scored an astonishing hat-trick — a curious goal as Deans knew little about it! A wayward cross from Johnstone smacked off his head and the ball could have ended anywhere - but it was indicative of Hibernian's day that it flew into their goal. 5-2 to Celtic.There had rarely been a final like it -and there was still more drama to come.
Steve Murray made it six after more fine play by Dalglish and Hibernian looked, by now, a sorry lot. But Joe Harper was determined to make a little bit of history for himself. With just over six minutes left he scored a third consolation goal - and so became the first man to score a hat-trick in a Cup final and end up on the losing side.The final score was 6-3 to Celtic and as captain Billy McNeill lifted the League Cup aloft he knew he had just taken part in one of the most remarkable Cup finals ever seen at Hampden. One hat-trick man, Dixie Deans, sportingly consoled another, a despondent Joe Harper, after the game. Deans himself had known the anguish of failure when he had missed a crucial spot kick during a penalty shoot-out in the European Cup semi-final against Inter Milan a couple of seasons before.
It was of little consolation for Hibernian that no other team in Scotland could have lived with Celtic that day — indeed not many in Europe could have done either. Manager Eddie Turnbull admitted as much afterwards when he said he was proud of his team - deep down he realised that Hibernian could not have played much better than they did. A couple of players from the final went on the achieve big things in England. Des Bremner went on to win a European Cup winners medal with Aston Villa in the early 1980's while a certain Mr Dalglish went on to Liverpool...
Season 1974-75 was to prove to be a disappointment for Celtic, however, despite the fact that they had also won the Scottish Cup in what was Billy McNeill's last appearance for the club. They had lost the League Championship for the first time since 1965 and, to make matters worse, it was their arch rivals Rangers who snatched it from them. So, consequently, the team who won one of the highest scoring Cup finals in history, was about to be broken up. Of the starting eleven only Danny McGrain was still around when Billy McNeill returned to the club as manager four years later.
For Hibernian, it was downhill from here until the club faced a hostile takeover bid from Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer in 1990 before eventually stabilising. Manager Eddie Turnbull left the club and, although there was a Scottish Cup final appearance in 1979 they lost to Rangers after two replays -the club suffered the ignominy of relegation the year after. Hat-trick man Joe Harper returned to his first love Aberdeen, in 1976 and, most bitterly of all in the eyes of the supporters, captain Pat Stanton left for Celtic a year later.
For the supporters of both clubs, however, the memory of a nine goal Cup final lingers on. And for Joe Harper, whose emotions during those ninety minutes endured more ups and downs than a liftman's nightmare, the memories of that hat-trick will leave more than a bitter taste...