Jimmy Bone recalls Partick Thistle's incredible cup final triumph over Celtic 50 years on
It seems something worth celebrating that making an appointment to discuss someone's heroics in a game that took place half-a-century ago involves slotting into a work schedule.
Jimmy Bone, now 72, is still coaching at Wallace High School, in the shadow of the Wallace Monument in Stirling.
He is helping maintain a tradition of sporting excellence stretching back many years and including Scotland rugby star Finn Russell and the Caldwell footballing brothers. It’s 11.15am in the morning and Bone has already been out on the playing fields with kids.
He is also just off the phone to Dick Campbell, manager at one of Bone’s former clubs Arbroath, and who he helps by studying future opponents.
“Right, where do you want to start?” Bone asks, placing his hands on the knees of his Adidas tracksuit in a corner of the school staff room.
This week of all weeks, it can only be one place.
There are many reasons to commend the brilliantly maverick Partick Thistle side of the early 1970s, including of course that League Cup triumph over Celtic 50 years ago this very afternoon. Something else distinguishing them is they are all still here – “all above ground,” as Bone phrases it – and able to tell their stories.
This is in contrast with Celtic, sadly. It seems very poignant to note that five players who featured for them that afternoon are now in the high stand. This does not even include the late Billy McNeill, who missed the game because of illness.
“It was a factor,” says Bone, who ended up being team-mates with McNeill not long afterwards. “Billy was such a leader for Celtic. When I joined, you immediately knew who The Man was. Billy was.
“He was a leader. He made sure everything was right. On that particular day they did not have that leader. We started so well and scored the first goal they did not have anyone to go and gel and bring them back round. If Billy was playing maybe he would have calmed things down and got things sorted.”
Maybe. Reviewing footage of the match underlines just how irrepressible Thistle were. It really was a case of the Maryhill Magyars. Among the repercussions, Bone’s abrupt sale included, was Alan Hansen helping Liverpool to three European Cups and umpteen other titles. It’s said that watching his brother John taste such glory in unforgettable style convinced him to play football seriously having already shown enough promise to consider golf as a professional.
“One thing we did have – when we were hot, we were really good,” says Bone. “And when we were not hot, we lost goals because we had four forwards, two wingers and two strikers, and we had two full backs – Hansen and [Alex] Forsyth – who bombed on. On our day, we were capable of beating anyone.
“Playing for Thistle was great,” he adds. “They had a real loyal support. They would turn up on a Saturday not knowing what to expect but they got behind the team anyway. If they got beaten, they were still there the next game anyway. If they won? It was all singing and dancing. They had a real hard core. It was a fabulous club to play for.”
It seems fitting that the current Thistle are a glorious reincarnation of such freewheeling times, scoring six in their last outing, away at Hamilton Accies, four in their last home game against Ayr United and in between times losing 2-0 in the SPFL Trust trophy to Queen of the South. Ian McCall’s side will wear sponsorless, 1971-style shirts today against Dunfermline.
Those who originally filled them have been in demand this week of course and all of them, minus 82-year-old father of the team Hughie Strachan and Ronnie Glavin, who turned 70 earlier this year, will be in attendance at Firhill this afternoon.
They will then gather tomorrow for an anniversary lunch at the Hampden Park venue where, on October 23, 1971, they were four up before Celtic had finished their starters.
Bone walked the fourth goal past Celtic ‘keeper Evan Williams just 37 minutes in to send the information superhighway of the day – basically reporters spluttering into phone receivers – into meltdown. Legend has it Rangers fans swarmed to Hampden to get in on the action. And we’ve all heard stories of Grandstand anchor Frank Bough reacting to the news of the half-time score from Hampden as if, well, he’d just heard that Thistle were four goals up at half-time against Celtic in a cup final. Say again? “We’ll get that checked,” he told viewers while adjusting his earpiece.
While it is of course unusual to be four goals up in a cup final against anyone, let alone opponents of Celtic’s class, it doesn’t seem outrageous for Thistle to harbour belief they had a chance. According to Bone, that’s exactly how they felt. They’d already beaten Rangers that season and would go onto finish seventh in an 18-team league. Hardly no-hopers.
“Six of that team went on to represent Scotland, and four of us went to Celtic and one, Alex Forsyth, went to Rangers as well as Man Utd.
"Roughie [Alan Rough], Gibby [Johnny Gibson], Ronnie Glavin and me went to Celtic.
"On that day, it was not a fluke. We were capable of doing that against a lot of teams. One time we scored seven against Motherwell.
"Sometimes we would lose heavily too,” he adds, truthfully.
Thistle’s response to the triumph was wonderfully Thistle – they spent a week in Blairgowrie. The Perthshire base was reckoned to be convenient for the midweek clash with Dundee – rescheduled from the Saturday – and for a third game in an emotional, draining week v Aberdeen at Pittodrie, which they lost 7-2.
“We stayed up in Blairgowrie, which I don’t really think that was the best decision,” says Bone now. “We were doing a lot of sitting around. We drew 0-0 with Dundee. That was a good performance, that was a right good Dundee team. Then we went to Aberdeen, we just didn’t have any legs left. Everything hit us. Bang. But we recovered.”
Bone was sold to Norwich City a couple of months later and missed out on Thistle’s foray into Europe, where they lost to Hungarian side Honved – in fact, Bone wouldn’t make his European debut until the grand age of 35, while at Hearts.
There was a lot to fit in before then, including locating Norwich on a map. He was part-time at the time – Bone calculated as many as three of the Thistle team against Celtic had day jobs – and so Norwich City's plan to sign him had to be relayed to Bone down a coal pit in Fallin. He had just completed an apprenticeship as an electrician.
“You know, it was my first day as a tradesman,” he says. “I went to part-time then I had spell when I went full-time and then I thought, wait a wee minute, I have just left a trade here, I only have a matter of eight or nine months to do, so I went back part-time. When we won the cup final I was part-time – I was on night shift.”
“Jackie Campbell was also part time, Coulston and myself. We trained the Tuesday and Thursday night. I was an electrician, I worked in the mines. After I qualified, on my first day, I got the phone call to come up the pit. It was manager David McParland. He said, ‘grab an overnight bag, you are coming to stay with me tonight. We are going down to Norwich tomorrow for talks.’ In those days it was a case of you were going. We did not have the power players have now.”
While heading to Norwich hadn’t been his intended career path, it was the making of him. Talk to any Canaries fan of a certain age about Bone and their eyes will mist up. While it now might seem like they are perennially yo-yoing between the Premier League and Championship, Bone helped Norwich secure promotion in the last few weeks of that same, enchanted 1971-72 season before scoring their first-ever goal in the English top-flight, against Everton.
As now, Norwich found it hard going and manager Ron Saunders felt he needed some midfield grit. Bone was on the road again, this time to Sheffield United, in exchange for Trevor Hockey. It broke up a "Cross-Bone" partnership with David Cross that seemed born to be.
Remarkably, the transfer took place days before Norwich were due to take part in the League Cup final against Spurs, which meant Bone, who had played in the quarter-final and semi-final wins over Arsenal and Chelsea, was denied making League Cup final appearances on either side of the Border in successive seasons.
Norwich lost the final 1-0 to Spurs. Bone, meanwhile, made his debut for Sheffield United a few miles away at Highbury, scoring in a 3-2 defeat.
“A Scotsman called Jim Blair, formerly of Airdrie, replaced me,” he reflects. “He was a completely different player to me. He was a dribbler guy whereas I had a really good partnership with a guy called David Cross. Crossy was good in the air, I was able to run onto things. Jim Blair was more about having the ball at his feet. It was a strange one.”
Aside from playing there once, for next club Sheffield United, he has never returned to Norwich, though not through lack of trying. He is after all in their Hall of Fame and is bound to be warmly received.
“One of the times I was intending to go I was at Prestwick, the flight could not go because of snow,” he recalls. “But it wasn’t at Prestwick, it was at Norwich! It never snows in Norwich!”
He also had to call off from attending Musselburgh-born former skipper Duncan Forbes’ funeral two years ago due to work commitments.
He will return one day because the ties are strong. It’s not quite how he feels with regards Celtic, where he experienced a frustrating time after Jock Stein brought him back to Scotland after a short, productive spell at Bramall Lane, where he scored nine times in 31 league appearances. Bone just wasn’t given the chance to get going in a side packed with talent, and when he did finally score a goal, in a win over Dunfermline, he was sold days later – to Arbroath.
It’s where, he says, he got his “sparkle” back. There was something about Gayfield. Even the wind seemed to blow for him. “The ball just seemed to run for me there,” he says. “Whereas in other places it would go out of play.”
St Mirren’s Love Street was another place that suited him, playing in the No 10 position, with attacking players of the calibre of Doug Somner, Frank McDougall, Frank McAvennie and Billy Stark. There’s a recently completed mural at the new stadium of Bone holding aloft the Anglo-Scottish Cup, won in 1980. Bone is in the Hall of Fame there, too. He left St Mirren, via two summer spells with Toronto Blizzard, to sign for Hong Kong Rangers.
On his return from the Far East, there was a message waiting for him at the airport. “It was Alex MacDonald from Hearts, wanting me to make contact …”
After all the coming and going, all the highs and the lows, all the travelling, this was the maroon shirt – no disrespect to Arbroath – that he had always really wanted to pull on.
Although his mother was from Glasgow, her family had been Hearts. His father was Rangers and the young Jimmy – the eldest of six – went along with that just so he could see some football on a Saturday afternoon, hence why his boyhood hero was Ibrox striker Jimmy Millar.
But he kept a light burning for Hearts which is why there was a grin almost as wide as the Alexanders logo on his chest when he signed for the Tynecastle side in 1983
“I was also offered the chance to go to Hibs, they wanted me to do some coaching as well. I said no because I wanted to play for as long as I could. And also, well, I am a bit of a Jambo.”
He quickly became a part of the scenery. According to John Robertson, one room in the old Tynecastle main stand was christened “Jimmy Bone’s tea room”.
“To be fair it was not just Jimmy Bone’s,” he says. “It was Jimmy Bone and Willie Johnston’s tea room. The manager was Alex MacDonald, the assistant was Sandy Jardine, and there was me and Willie Johnston. The papers would give it: ‘Oh, it’s Dad’s army..’
“So if any of the young boys were stepping out of line, me and Bud we would ask them to come and see us in the ‘tea room’. ‘Why should we not go and tell the manager’, it was that kind of stuff.
“There would be a knock on the door, and we would say: ‘why do you think you should come in here? And we’d say, ‘ok you have a cup of tea’, or it was a case of ‘nah, you spoke back to one of the experienced players, you have not shown enough respect,’ and we would throw them out.”
It was undeniably old school but Hearts youngsters such as Robertson seemed to benefit from this treatment, bunking up with Bone – who he stills refers to as “Da’” – on way trips. The pair remain close. Sandy Clark was Bone's more than decent replacement, but who knows, things might have been different had the veteran still been around to come on and save the day in the final league game of the 1985/86 season.
“I was actually coaching in Zambia,” he recalls. He listened to the Dens Park denouement in the toilet. “It was the only place I could get reception!” He mimics holding a crackling radio against his ear. “It was crazy.”
Perhaps not quite as crazy as what happened 50 years ago today. However one judges it, Bone’s lived a life – and is still going strong.