MOST of the players turning out in today’s Scottish Cup quarter-final between Dunfermline and Rangers were not even born when the Ibrox side last lost in the league at East End Park 33 years ago.
It is less than half that time span, however, to the Pars’ massive upset of a Scottish Cup victory against Rangers in 1988. Under the inimitable guidance of Jim Leishman, Dunfermline took the scalps of Graeme Souness’s stars in the biggest cup shock of that year.
Playing in the front line for Dunfermline was Ross Jack, now the high-performance coach for football at the Scottish Institute of Sport.
A striker with clubs as diverse as Everton, Norwich City, Lincoln City and Dundee, Jack had joined Dunfermline the previous October, and was to go on to enjoy a fruitful spell in Fife, notching 46 goals in 130 games before moving to Kilmarnock.
He did not score that day against Rangers, but has a vivid recall of a match worth remembering:
"We all played our part, but I definitely wasn’t one of the better players on the day. I hate to use an old cliche, but the atmosphere was electric. We were fortunate to take an early lead, and it just rolled on from there."
Dunfermline were in the midst of a first season in the Premier Division, but were struggling badly before that fourth-round tie with Rangers. Needless to say, the Ibrox club were hot favourites, but Leishman inspired his players with a familiar Bible story - that of David and Goliath.
The Scottish Cup was Rangers’ bogey tournament for much of the 1980s: indeed, they had not made it to the quarter-finals in the previous three tournaments. John Lambie’s Hamilton Academical had memorably removed them the previous year.
On February 20, 1988, a massive crowd of 19,360 jammed into East End Park - that was nearly 7000 more than the present capacity.
"Those were the days of the big crowds," recalled Jack. "We were very fortunate that we had good gates even in the First Division. There was a lot of media interest, and Graeme Souness was at the forefront. They were flavour of the month, and were flying.
"Nobody really fancied us, but we were very confident. And with Leish around, you could never be anything else. When he gets in the dressing- room and starts reciting the poetry, the hairs come up on the back of your neck, and you just want to get out and bust a gut - or maybe you just want to run away from his poetry!"
This was the era of Richard Gough, Graham Roberts, Ian Durrant, Ray Wilkins and Davie Cooper, and Rangers were expected to cruise it, especially as Dunfermline had suffered an injury crisis, and were missing regular goalkeeper Ian Westwater.
"But we had some good players on the pitch that day," said Jack. "We had Dave McKellar in goals and he did very well and achieved the important thing, keeping a clean sheet.
"Graeme ‘Robbo’ Robertson was a good full-back, while Bobby Smith was a great professional. Vetle Andersen didn’t play that many games for Dunfermline, but he had a good game that day.
"Mark Smith was man of the match. He ran himself into the ground, and collapsed with exhaustion at the end of the game. He scored the first goal - he meant to cross it, but it flew into the top corner, so he claimed it was a great goal anyway.
"John Holt, Craig Robertson, Stuart Beedie, big John Watson, they were all there - and of course we had the late, great Norrie McCathie, who was such a massive player for Dunfermline."Chris Woods was in goal for Rangers, and I knew him from our days at Norwich many moons before. He was then the England international side’s goalkeeper."
At 1-0 down, Rangers fell deeper into trouble before half-time when recent signing John Brown - now under-21 team coach at Ibrox - body-checked Mark Smith, and was sent off. Jack thought it was a turning point, but did not think the foul merited the punishment.
"John had been a great team-mate of mine at Dundee. I didn’t think the clash with Mark Smith warranted a sending-off, but John being John he gave the referee one of his trademark blasts on the way off."
In the dressing-room, the cool, calm and collected Leishman called for "more of the same", according to Jack.
"He got us up again, and just dismissed the negative points and emphasised the positives. He thought we had a chance from corners, and our second goal came from one.
"He and Iain Munro had obviously done their homework, and it proved successful. Stuart Beedie took the corner, and it was headed on by big Norrie for John Watson, who did a brilliant diving header to score - it was a move we had worked on in training, of course..."
"Big John would put his head where people were scared to put their feet, not that he could have damaged the contents of his head much."
There was no way back for Rangers. The Pars marched on to the quarter-finals, but their best cup run for 14 years was ended in that next round by Hearts at Tynecastle. Rangers went out of the cup for the second year in succession to a team that ended up being relegated from the Premier Division.
Jack reflected: "It was simply a great all-round experience, from the build-up to the aftermath of the game when everybody wanted to congratulate us - it was just a pleasure to be involved."
Can Dunfermline turn the clock back today? Ross Jack thinks that they can.
"I have to be neutral in my job these days," he said, "but with my connections to Dunfermline in the past, I have a strong affinity for the club, and I’d love to see them do well.
"It will be very tight, and I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t sneak it."