Stalemate in the Love Street Semi-Final (1981)

(first published in the match programme for St. Mirren v Rangers, 8th October 2023)

St. Mirren v Rangers 1981

St. Mirren v Rangers 1981

St. Mirren progressed to their first League Cup semi-final in eleven years when, after topping a section which included Celtic, Hibernian and St. Johnstone, they disposed of Forfar Athletic over two legs in the quarter finals. Their opponents in the home and away semi-final would be Rangers.

The Club issued their usual 20-page programme for the first leg on 7th October 1981, priced at 30p. The full colour cover featured a previous encounter between the sides at Love Street with the match details overprinted in black.

As with other issues from that season, the inside of the programme was printed black on white gloss paper with various panels in the colours of that day's opponents. Unfortunately, the shade of blue chosen in the issues against Rangers made the black text very difficult to read.

In his page two "Team Talk", Manager Ricky McFarlane stated that the Club's first Scottish competition semi-final for many years would be a new experience for his players and that they could not have picked stronger opponents than the men from Ibrox. The St. Mirren players were looking forward to the encounter and knew what it meant to them, the Club and the supporters.

Page four listed the player pools and match officials above a photo of an aerial duel between Doug Somner and Rangers' Colin Jackson in the recent League encounter.

"Love Street Welcomes" offered an analysis of Rangers season thus far. The conclusion was that they had not yet reached a consistency of performance and were entering a transitional period with some senior members of the squad about to make way for new blood. However, Rangers were often at their most dangerous when the Ibrox scene was a little clouded and the advice was to not bet against them in the forthcoming domestic competitions.

A short piece on the other semi-final between Dundee United and Aberdeen shared a page with a feature inviting fans to raise questions on a refereeing decision from a specific game or a general refereeing matter. We would need a book to accommodate that kind of feature nowadays!

"What The Papers Say" reviewed Saints' recent 1-1 draw away to Partick Thistle and these sat opposite a football-related crossword on "Puzzle Page".

On the centre pages, "Saints Alive" featured a spread of photos from St. Mirren's 6-0 victory over Forfar Athletic in the previous round and against Rangers in the League match at Paisley earlier in the season.

"Love Street Scene" contained a variety of short news items and the serialisation of Ian Archer's World Cup Memories of Munich '74 covered Scotland s pre-tournament match in Norway. Striker Frank McDougall recalled his most memorable match, a Scottish Cup tie against Celtic in 1980, whilst "Buddies Business" aimed to recruit more lottery agents in a bid to increase revenue for the Club.

Alex Beckett clears from Rangers' Colin McAdam

Alex Beckett clears
from Rangers' Colin McAdam

Gardner Speirs was the featured player in the Cowan's Manshops "Spotlight a Saint" series and featured above an interesting photo of former player Jimmy Knox doing a handstand in a pre-war match at Love Street.

After the Fixtures and League Table standings, Reserve Coach Eddie McDonald reported on his sides' recent League Cup matches against Partick Thistle and Dundee United, both of which had ended in draws.

An all-ticket crowd of 14,058 saw both sides set off at a blistering pace. Jim Stewart in the Rangers goal was the first 'keeper to be tested when he dealt with an awkwardly dipping 40-yard drive from John McCormack and later on saved an Alex Beckett shot at the second attempt.

However, it was the visitors who took the lead after 17 minutes when John MacDonald back-headed a Davie Cooper cross into the path of Colin McAdam and, with the Saints defence caught flat-footed, the striker ran the ball into the net.

Frank McAvennie levels the scores

Frank McAvennie levels the scores

Saints equalised five minutes after the break when Frank McAvennie collected the ball on the halfway line, beat three Rangers defenders with a mazy dribble and sent a shot beyond the advancing Stewart.

Then came the game's most controversial incident. A tackle by Jim Bett on McAvennie inside the box certainly had the look of a penalty, but referee Douglas Downie waved play on and Rangers broke upfield. Willie Johnston's cross found John MacDonald in the open and the striker's shot was parried by Billy Thomson. In the melee that followed, Thomson and defender Jackie Copland collided and the ball ended up in the net to restore Rangers' lead.

With eighteen minutes remaining, the home side gained a lifeline. A Beckett ball from the right reached substitute Alan Logan in the box where he was bundled over by Ian Redford. Ian Scanlon stepped up to despatch the resultant spot kick high beyond the Rangers goalkeeper to level the tie at 2-2.