My Favourite Goal: Barry Nicholson’s moment of Scottish Cup magic for Dunfermline
The wrong-footing flick, the nutmeg, the drop of the shoulder, the subtle finish. Not Archie Gemmill in Mendoza but Barry Nicholson at Pittodrie.
Like Gemmill’s moment for eternity, the Dunfermline skipper’s graceful gem was full of promise.
While Archie took Scotland to within a goal of the World Cup second stage, Nicholson all but secured the Pars’ first cup final place since 1968 and a return to the European stage on which the club made its name.
It took only three minutes for Johnny Rep to extinguish the Scots’ hopes in 1978 but the crushing disappointment took a little longer for Pars fans in 2004.
The first match against Inverness at Hampden had produced a 1-1 draw, Craig Brewster’s crashing header cancelling out a Paul Ritchie effort for the Highlanders.
The replay was inexplicably set for Pittodrie rather than McDiarmid Park. In the build-up there was concern about the lack of ticket sales and, in the event, 5,728 turned up. Amid the tension, anticipation and trepidation, there didn’t seem to be any lack of atmosphere in the Beach End, where the travelling Fifers had gathered.
A few hours earlier, a small group of buses had set out from East End Park. Carrying pensioners, schoolchildren and those who had been able to blag a couple of hours off work, they headed east along Halbeath Road. Near the village of Halbeath itself, an elderly man in a bunnet stopped during his walk to salute the passing convoy with a wave. A cheering and emotional moment. Had he been there himself in ’61 and ’68 for the previous Scottish Cup wins which remain as Dunfermline’s crowning glories? Would the hopeful travellers enjoy the same sort of memories a further 30 or so years hence?
The game itself passed in a blur save the moment which brought the hopes and dreams of those who saw it at close range into sharp focus.
Paul Ritchie had again put Caley in front before Darren Young’s neat volleyed finish levelled the tie.
A stunning reverse pass by Gary Dempsey put Brewster, the Dunfermline talisman in that era, in on goal to give his side the lead by shooting past Caley keeper Mark Brown’s left hand and into the net.
If the score had remained the same that goal would have occupied an exalted place in the hearts of Dunfermline supporters. But with time short, a third goal would set off a blast of emotion, relief and expectation almost impossible to rival.
In the 78th minute, Nicholson received a pass from Lee Bullen and, with his first touch, flicked the ball away from substitute Darren Thomson. A neat nutmeg took the midfielder past Stuart Golabek before a drop of the shoulder bamboozled Stuart McCaffrey and a calm sidefoot finish steered the ball beyond Brown.
Viewed from the diagonally opposite side of the goal it seemed to take place in three stages, each producing a more audible gasp from the scarcely believing audience, before the magician’s final flourish sent them into raptures. And what a truly rapturous moment. The cup final dream and European adventure all but secured. A rush that surely no drug could match.
In the event, Caley scored an injury-time penalty but it was far too late for them.
The final itself was a magnificent occasion but, after another incredible moment when Lithuanian legend Andrius Skerla put the Pars ahead, Henrik Larsson’s farewell gift to the Celtic fans was a second-half double to secure the trophy, with Stilian Petrov adding a third. A missed handball by Bobo Balde which could have meant a penalty to go two up gave the Pars fans something to complain about, but the script seemed to have been written for Celtic’s No 7.
The letdown continued when, only days later, manager Jimmy Calderwood and No 2 Jimmy Nicholl were revealed to be leaving for Aberdeen.
The European “adventure” consisted of a somewhat shambolic trip to Iceland to face FH Hafnarfjordur followed by a humiliating exit at the hands of the part-timers at McDiarmid Park as they exercised their option not to play on East End Park’s admittedly abysmal plastic pitch.
Long after those moments of pain are forgotten, Barry Nicholson’s glory goal will retain a place in the annals of Dunfermline Athletic.
As good as Archie’s? Some might say even better.
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