Cup Winners’ Challenge Matches

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Aberdeen, 29th February 2020)

In 1959, a few days after St. Mirren and Nottingham Forest won their national Cup competitions against Aberdeen and Luton Town respectively, the Clubs opened discussions about playing two challenge matches on a home and away basis. The hope was that this would cement an everlasting friendship between them, and perhaps lead to an annual challenge between the Cup Winners of the two Associations.

Notts F. v St. Mirren 1959

Notts F. v St. Mirren 1959

The first of these matches took place in Nottingham on 23rd September 1959, kicking off at 5.30pm as there was no floodlighting at Forest’s City Ground. In seven minutes, the home side’s ‘keeper fumbled a shot from Laird, presenting Bryceland with an easy chance to put Saints 1-0 up. Thereafter, Forest had the better of the first half but could not break down Saints’ strong defence, in which McGugan and Neilson were outstanding. In the second half, Forest’s amateur inside right Vowden equalised, but Laird and Kerrigan put St. Mirren 3-1 up. Vowden pulled another goal back, but Saints withstood an incessant barrage in the final quarter to hold on to their 3-2 lead.

The 16-page A5-sized programme was typical of Nottingham Forest’s issues of that season. It was printed black on white semi-gloss paper, with red spot colour used on the outside and centre pages. The front cover gave the match details and an aerial view of the City Ground. A welcome to the visitors appeared on Page 3 and the next three pages gave a potted history of St. Mirren and pen pictures of the players. Page 7 displayed a St. Mirren team photo, apparently taken at Cappielow! The centre pages gave the team line-ups in the familiar 2-3-5 formation of the day. Fixtures and league tables for the Football League Division One and the Football Combination (reserves) occupied pages 12 and 13 and the remainder of the programme was filled with adverts. Despite its age, it is not a difficult programme to obtain nowadays.

St. Mirren v Notts F. 1959

St. Mirren v Notts F. 1959

A crowd of 20,000 turned up for the return match in Paisley a week later. St. Mirren were more than competent in the first half against a poor Forest side and raced to a 2-0 lead within 14 minutes thanks to goals from Baker and Laird. Imlach reduced the deficit just before half time when he cleverly deceived Forsyth in the Saints goal and Gray equalised from the penalty spot on 55 minutes after Vowden had been fouled. From that point on, both sides fought hard for the deciding goal, but the match finished 2-2, giving St. Mirren victory by a 5-4 aggregate.

St. Mirren issued their usual 12-page programme for the occasion. The cover showed a photo of “Cairter’s Corner” and gave the full match details and a Lucky Programme Number, the winner of which would receive the match ball. Three pages were devoted to the visitors and the centre pages, as usual, gave the probable team line-ups. Fixtures for 1959/60 and features on Bobby Flavell and Tommy Bryceland occupied the next two pages and a half time scoreboard appeared on page eleven, although this appeared to be for the following Saturday’s fixtures! Again, this programme still crops up from time to time and is not too difficult to obtain.

Coventry C. v St. Mirren 1987

Coventry C. v St. Mirren

The Cup Winners’ challenge was then discontinued, probably due to the advent of the European Cup Winners; Cup in season 1960/61. However, after English Clubs were banned from European Competitions in 1985, replacement fixtures were sought, and in 1987 it was proposed to revive the Cup Winners fixture under the title “Anglo-Scottish Challenge”. By coincidence, St. Mirren were the current Scottish Cup holders and were paired with Coventry City, who had triumphed over Tottenham Hotspur in the 1987 FA Cup Final.

The first leg was played at Highfield Road on 22nd December 1987, with both sides fielding many of the players who had won their respective Cups. The Sky Blues took the lead after 28 minutes through Phillips, but this was equalised just after the hour when Kenny McDowall hammered home. This was to be the final goal, not just of the night but, as it turned out, the competition as a whole. The second leg had been scheduled for 22nd March 1988 but it disappeared from the fixture lists some three weeks before for no apparent reason, leaving Saints fans to confidently claim victory in the tie on the away goals rule.

Coventry issued a four-page A5-sized programme, printed blue on glossy white paper. The front page gave the match details and inside there was a welcome alongside a team photo of St. Mirren, pen pictures of the Saints, and details of each team’s Cup run. The back page gave the team line-ups. Again, this programme is not difficult to obtain.