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Tom Maxwell: After 44 years, it's high time we completed the Old Firm double

Today is a big day for Scotland's only English football club. While Celtic will cross the Border expecting an easy passage into the next round of the Scottish Cup, Berwick Rangers will be hoping to end their 44-year wait to complete an unlikely Old Firm double.

After all, there's more to my hometown club than being the answer to the greatest pub quiz question in the world - they're also famous for executing one of the biggest upsets in the history of British football.

While it is the wont of certain sections of the UK media to remind us that 1966 was a great year for English football, in my part of the world it's 1967 that people still talk about.

It's also the year that the Rangers of Glasgow would prefer to forget. In the space of a few short months, the Ibrox faithful suffered a double whammy. The only thing worse than watching Celtic win the European Cup was the ignominy of seeing their own heroes capitulate to a bunch of part-timers south of the Border.

Former Rangers captain John Greig described the 1-0 defeat to Berwick as "probably the worst result in the history of our club", while John Rafferty wrote in The Scotsman that it was "the most ludicrous, the weirdest, the most astonishing result ever returned in Scottish football".

Not only was a Berwick victory not in the script, but the men in black and gold indulged in some full-on, Robin Williams-esque ad-libbing.

And, just like anybody watching Patch Adams, the Rangers players weren't laughing.

Personally, I like to believe that Greig used his humiliating experience at Shielfield Park as the spur when he led Scotland to victory over England at Wembley three months later - the day Scotland became the "unofficial world champions".

But some of his team-mates weren't given the chance to make such amends. Prolific strikers George McLean and Jim Forrest were immediately shown the exit door, a knee-jerk reaction that midfielder Dave Smith claims cost Rangers victory in the final of that year's European Cup Winners' Cup.

Before Scot Symon himself was sent packing later that year, the long-serving Rangers manager dipped into the transfer market, splashing out 65,000 - then a record fee between two Scottish clubs - on a young Dunfermline striker by the name of Alex Ferguson.

With Forrest and McLean gone, the future Manchester United and Aberdeen boss had particularly big boots to fill. But, while his playing career was not as celebrated as his managerial achievements at Old Trafford and Pittodrie, it would be nice to think that arguably the greatest manager in the history of the game remembers the debt he owes to Berwick Rangers for securing his dream transfer. If Sir Alex ever fancies sending Wayne Rooney up north on loan, we'll happily call it quits.

Although it was Sammy Reid who got the all-important goal, Berwick owed much of the victory over Rangers to no-nonsense player-manager Jock Wallace - or "Mr Wallace", as those players who didn't want a fat lip knew him.

The goalkeeper would later enjoy great success as manager at Ibrox, the top brass in Govan perhaps thinking it would be better to have the Big Man with them rather than against them.

But, while Wallace moved on to bigger and better things, Third Division Berwick have yet to match the heroics of '67.

When they held Rangers to a dire 0-0 draw at Shielfield on a bitterly cold night back in 2002, there was some suggestion that the result was just as good, if not better, than the one achieved by their predecessors.

But, as much as the draw meant to me and everyone else in Berwick, there's no way the two results compare. History remembers only those who kill giants, not those who wound them.

We live in hope, however, with first-hand memories of the glorious victory fading fast. Like many other people who will be in the crowd today, I wasn't even born when the dramatic events unfolded.

The only known film of Reid's 32nd-minute winner was captured on cinecam by Ronnie Martin, the brother of Rangers goalkeeper Norrie. Unaware that what he had in his possession was the football equivalent of Abraham Zapruder's footage of John F Kennedy's assassination, Ronnie emigrated to Australia shortly after the match. As he picked the ball out of the net, his shell-shocked sibling may have been sorely tempted to do likewise.

The people of Berwick-upon-Tweed need something else to cheer about and we can at least rejoice in the fact that any upset today will be captured in glorious high definition for future generations of Berwickers to enjoy.

I know what you're thinking - do we Berwick fans truly believe that lightning can strike twice? Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that it ever struck at all.

But when it comes to football, I'm an eternal optimist. When your two teams are Berwick Rangers and England, you don't really have a choice.

I'm not saying it'll be easy. While Berwick's record against Rangers down the years has been reasonably good, Celtic have always proved an exceedingly tough nut to crack.

The last time the sides met was in 1997, in the neutral surroundings of Tynecastle.

The fact that one of the seven goals Berwick shipped without reply that day was Henrik Larsson's very first for Celtic was of no consolation.

Celtic, however, are no strangers to Cup humiliation, not least in last season's semi-final defeat to Ross County.

And if they somehow fail to get a positive result against the Northumbrian namesakes of their fiercest rivals, at the so-called "93rd league ground in England", Berwick fans won't be the only ones cheering.

Within moments of holding Rangers to a draw in 2002, online Berwick Rangers forums lit up with messages of congratulations from jubilant Celtic supporters.

Today, many Rangers fans will no doubt be hovering over their own keyboards, itching to return the compliment.

n Tom Maxwell is the author of The Lone Rangers: An English Club's Century in Scottish Football (Northumbria Press, 7.99), which is published on 31 August.

 
 
 

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