Football: History entwined for strangers to big time

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The Independent Online
Ibrox will be swathed in nostalgia as well as shades of blue and white this afternoon as Falkirk meet Kilmarnock in the Tennent's Scottish Cup final.

The blue will not belong to Rangers, nor will there be even a hint of Celtic green in a final free of the Old Firm. The Scottish Cup perhaps lacks the glamour of its English equivalent, but the full house posters are evidence of the pulling power of the showpiece at towns which have been strangers to the big time.

Youngsters will paint their faces and don the high hats that have become de rigueur for such occasions while grandfathers who are old enough to remember will recall, perhaps in black and white, memories of the last time Falkirk and Kilmarnock were involved at this stage.

Premier League Kilmarnock's last final appearance was in 1960, while three years earlier a 10-year-old Alex Totten was at Hampden to watch his heroes, Falkirk, beat Killie in a replay.

Forty years on, the cycle will be completed as Totten leads Falkirk on to the pitch as their manager. Already Berwick Rangers and Raith Rovers have been beaten as they were in 1957, and once again Kilmarnock are the opponents in the final. The circumstances have given the Falkirk supporters a feeling of invincibility and a confidence in fate.

Such notions are anathema to Totten who is aware that history can be either an ally or a millstone for his players. "History will only be repeated if we win the game and deserve to do so," he said. "The players know they have to be very special because victory will depend on playing well and being the best team on the day."

Few will complain if this match equals the last final to be played without either Rangers or Celtic. In 1991, Motherwell beat Dundee United 4-3 in a modern classic. Both managers this year embrace an attacking philosophy, and both are good friends. Totten was, after all, the Kilmarnock manager as recently as Christmas, with his former player Bobby Williamson taking over when he was sacked.

"I called Bobby to wish him all the best when Kilmarnock reached the final and received a call from him when we beat Celtic. But I still have a lot of respect for everyone at Kilmarnock and don't see this as a personal grudge match," Totten said. "I feel it could be a very good game for the spectators."

This will be a final appearance for Andy Gray the defender who has played in an FA Cup final for Crystal Palace. He has indicated that he leave the Scottish First Division club.

Victory for the Bairns would make them the first team from outside the top league to lift the trophy since East Fife beat Kilmarnock in 1938, another historical note which will be less than welcome in the Kilmarnock camp.

Williamson, who signed a three-year contract as manager earlier this week, refuses to accept that this could be an easy game against lesser opposition.

"There's no way we'll underestimate Falkirk. They are here on merit having beaten some quality teams and deserve to be part of the day. We won't be complacent because we don't see ourselves as favourites anyway."

Today's final will once again remind others there is life beyond the big two clubs in Scotland. For the winners there's the prospect of European football, while the losers will have the genuine consolation of being there on the day.

That is something the supporters of both clubs have not been able to boast for a generation.