Football: Cheers and tears at people's party

Phil Gordon sees a refreshingly bile-free Cup final unfold at Ibrox
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The Independent Online
From the moment you spotted Jimmy Knapp, you knew this was truly the People's Final that it had been dubbed.

The larger-than-life rail union leader and defender of the working class was back to lend his support to his home-town team, Kilmarnock, and witnessed a refreshing show of football unity. The good citizens of Falkirk and Kilmarnock did not just embrace the Scottish Cup final at Ibrox yesterday, they planted a giant-sized kiss on its lips.

The Scottish Football Association may have issued an edict to the players of both sides that their celebrations - whoever should be successful - must be restrained. However, thankfully, the fans took no notice of that nonsense.

For once, without either half of the Old Firm in attendance, Scottish football was putting on its smiley, happy face, much of it applied by the army of face-painters working overtime outside the massive Ibrox stands to service the queues of wide-eyed kids who were here in their thousands with their mums and sisters, as well as dads.

Since each club only gets to a Cup final once in a blue moon - this ended a four-decade wait for both - the two shades, Falkirk's navy and Kilmarnock's royal, were intent on letting the world know they were here, simply to party.

The music was provided by a samba band which gathered outside to entertain the Kilmarnock fans. Usually, round these parts, the only musicians to get permission to play are Orange flute bands, but the South American style made a pleasing change from the traditional Glaswegian bile.

The heroes of 1957 - the Cup final between these clubs which Falkirk won - were given a bow before the crowd and were made a good deal more welcome than the subsequent VIP, Jim Farry, the SFA chief executive who was roundly booed as he was introduced to the teams.

That was the only bum note on an afternoon where both sets of fans seemed very much in harmony, a point they underlined as they cranked up the atmosphere a notch just before kick-off, raising Ibrox's decibel level. Even the managers were at it. Falkirk's Alex Totten, eschewing the normal Cup final suit for a splendid full Highland dress with a kilt in his club's tartan, hugged his counterpart, Bobby Williamson, after the pre-match ceremonies were over.

Just five months ago, Totten was in charge of Kilmarnock and Williamson his assistant, before the former was sacked - but the bond remains strong.

There was no collective cheer, though, when Paul Wright scored after 21 minutes. The unrestrained joy belonged to one side of the house only. Wright, given his debut as a 16-year-old in 1986 by Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, once had to dodge one of his former manager's legendary tea-cup throwing tantrums. Fergie, though, would have been proud of his protege's contribution yesterday, particularly as it came on his own native Govan soil.

For the thousands of Falkirk kids, the only souvenirs of the day were tears running down their painted faces after they experienced the bitter disappointment of Neil Oliver's "equaliser" being ruled out after 85 minutes. However, even the men in the Bairns' Blue Army were joining in the crying game.

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