Saturday Interview: Donald Ford recalls Hearts' run to Texaco Cup final

Overlooking the North Sea from his home in Carnoustie, Donald Ford’s surroundings are perfect for a touch of reminiscing.
Donald Ford in action for Hearts against Motherwell.Donald Ford in action for Hearts against Motherwell.
Donald Ford in action for Hearts against Motherwell.

“We’re very lucky. I feel so sorry for people in cities stuck in flats during this pandemic,” he says. Empathy is an endearing quality of a man who, at 76, is as sharp in the mind as he ever was in the penalty area.

He is asked to delve into his memory bank and regurgitate events from five decades ago. This Wednesday is 50 years to the day since Ford took to the field with Hearts in the inaugural Texaco Cup final against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

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For those currently advocating a cross-border tournament to replace the League Cup in Scotland and England, the Texaco Cup served that very purpose between 1970 and 1975. It was then revamped as the Anglo-Scottish Cup when sponsorship ended.

It offered traditional British knockout football, crowds of 25,000 and 30,000 under midweek floodlights, not forgetting pitches like a melted choc-ice if the weather turned bad.

The sport seemed simpler back then. So did life in general. People’s days weren’t consumed by that internet thing. There was none of this VAR in football, or free Champions League places for rich clubs with high co-efficients. You had to earn the right to compete in the Texaco Cup. And ‘compete’ was an operative word.

The fashionable formation at the time was 4-2-4: One big guy and one wee guy up top with wingers either side. Sound exciting? Well, it was. Ford remembers it well.

“I’m obviously biased but the Texaco Cup was a real breath of fresh air,” he recalls. “Even though we played other Scottish clubs, it was still a different tournament. There was a real excitement in the mind when you were walking out. That final in 1971 was just on another level.

“The attendances spoke for the enjoyment people got from it on the terracings. It would be nice if people were talking in the background about another competition like that.

“I’d like it to start again. It could be an extra incentive for clubs to finish in the top six, although I’m sure it will be stuck on a shelf for now with the virus. Nobody is going to make decisions on a new tournament with everything else going on.”

He’s right, so we plough on with tales from 50 years ago. Six Scottish teams, six English, two from Northern Ireland and two from the Republic of Ireland made up the 16 participants for the new Texaco Cup.

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Only clubs not in European competition were involved. Airdrie, Dunfermline, Dundee, Hearts, Morton and Motherwell qualified from the Scottish First Division. From its English equivalent, Burnley, Nottingham Forest, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and Wolves registered.

Ards and Derry City were the Northern Irish teams, with Limerick and Shamrock Rovers the Republic’s representatives. Every round was two-legged. Petroleum company Texaco came on board as sponsors, rather appropriately given Hearts were on fire in that first ever tournament.

“Our first game was away at Burnley and they were absolutely outstanding,” says Ford. “The quality of their football was magnificent that night. They had a brilliant right-winger called Ralph Coates who signed for Tottenham Hotspur eventually and played for England.

“They had a very good side and beat us comfortably down there but George Fleming scraped a goal for us in the last ten minutes. Instead of it being 3-0, it was 3-1. That gave us a bit of hope.

“Burnley were so much on top of us that, when they came up to Scotland for the second leg, they must have just thought: ‘We just need to turn up here and we’re home and dry.’

“We beat them 4-1 at Tynecastle and it was an outstanding performance from us. They weren’t expecting us to show that much quality, so that night stands out.

“I remember we beat Airdrie at Broomfield in the next round 5-0. Then they beat us in the return leg at Tynecastle, probably because we had taken the Burnley stance. It’s the hardest thing for a manager to get players mentally right after such a good result.”

Ford still talks a good game but he could certainly walk the walk as well. A classy striker capable of finishing off attacks in various different ways, he scored 23 goals during the 1971 campaign. It was the second biggest return of his memorable 11-year career at Tynecastle Park.

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He remembers the goals, who set them up, what time they were scored, and even how other players’ careers progressed after he faced them. After Hearts overcame Airdrie, one of his most important strikes came in the Texaco Cup semi-final against Motherwell.

“I remember we equalised with a minute to go at Fir Park. The place was absolutely packed. There was a stramash after a corner-kick, I had a go, the goalie stopped it and the ball fell to George Fleming, who knocked it in to take the game to extra-time.

“Then I got a lovely pass sent through the Motherwell defence in extra-time, their goalie Billy Ritchie came out and I knocked it past him. That was us in the final.”

He asks if there is an official attendance figure from Fir Park that spring night – March 3, 1971. It is 25,259. “Gee whiz,” he chuckles. “You could take the last figure off and that’s probably about right for these days.”

The Scotland-England final everyone hoped for transpired when Wolves thumped Derry City 5-0 on aggregate to progress and meet Hearts. Hype rose considerably in the build-up in an era when rivalry between Scotland and England was as fierce as ever.

This was back in the days when the two neighbouring British nations met every year at international level, with the Scots always keen to get one over on their biggest rivals. It was no different at club level.

“It was a different atmosphere. You were a top Scottish side against a top English side so there was an incentive when you got to the final. The old Scotland-England rivalry always rears its head so it would have been great to win it,” admits Ford.

“We were 1-0 up on seven minutes. Ian Sneddon sent this long ball into the penalty box and I just found myself in bags of space. I couldn’t believe it. The ball dropped over the centre-half’s head and I headed it in. The goalkeeper was stuck on his line.

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“There was no challenge on me at all. At 5ft 7ins and a half, they must have thought: ‘He’ll never get up for a ball like that.’ That was a great feeling.

“I mentioned the Burnley team but Wolves’ forward line was phenomenal. They had Jim McCalliog, Bobby Gould, Derek Dougan the centre-forward and Dave Wagstaffe the outside left.

“Wagstaffe and Dougan had a fantastic relationship on the field. Wagstaffe was like Bobby Prentice – really quick with a tremendous left foot. They were brilliant.

“At that time, we had Eddie Thomson and big Alan Anderson as our two centre-halves. Their partnership had gelled and they were playing really well, but they couldn't cope with the Wolves forwards at Tynecastle.

“It was the great days when every team in the world played with a big centre-forward and another guy playing just off him – the old 4-2-4 formation, which Hearts actually brought to Scotland in the early 1960s. It was brilliant.

“I was lucky to play with Drew [Busby] and that was a great partnership. Dougan had the same effect on that Wolves team. I’ll always remember the atmosphere. I couldn’t see that being anything different even nowadays.

“I wonder if there would be enough positive thinking within the football associations in Scotland and England to look at another tournament. Would the English teams be looking more at European fixtures?

“That would probably produce more money and be more exciting for them than coming up against Scottish teams, unfortunately.”

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Again, he’s spot on. Hearts actually won the second leg of that final 1-0 at Molineux with Fleming scoring, but the 3-1 first-leg defeat at Tynecastle cost them the trophy.

There was no doubting the new Texaco Cup had been an overwhelming success. The competition would run for 11 years in total in its different formats before dwindling crowds brought it to a halt in 1981.

For Hearts supporters of a certain vintage, the 1970/71 campaign remains memorable. Players also recall it fondly despite the ultimate disappointment at the end of a season in which they also competed in the Scottish league, League Cup, Scottish Cup and East of Scotland Shield.

With all the domestic tournaments done and dusted, the Hearts squad might have been entitled to expect some time off to rest their weary limbs. However, the club hierarchy had other ideas.

“The thing about that return leg against Wolves was, win or lose, we had to get a bus down to Heathrow Airport because we were going to America for a ten-game tour,” explains Ford.

“We had to fly from Heathrow to Lisbon, Lisbon to New York, then New York to Dallas – and we were playing Dallas Tornado the next day after we arrived.

“It was the first game of the tour, we drew 0-0 and we were absolutely out on our feet. It’s ridiculous now when you think about it but that was the beginning of a tremendous trip.

“Ourselves and Manchester City were invited to play against the ten American teams because they were trying to grow the league over there. They got league points for beating us or drawing with us, although they were officially friendlies for us.

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“That was really the start of football taking off in America, so it was quite a month and a real thrill. Great memories.”

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