Opening weekend flashback: Remembering 1975

IT MAY take more than a simple makeover or change of name to convince supporters that Scottish football is entering a brave new world.

A huge police presence as the Hibs team celebrate a goal in 1975

But as the inaugural season of the Scottish Professional Football League gets under way this weekend, it can at least take some encouragement from history that slapping a snappy new title on the top flight can breathe new life into the product.

Those teams and players taking part in the first round of Scottish Premiership fixtures, however, certainly have their work cut out to emulate the drama and incident which was delivered on the remarkable opening day of the Premier Division campaign 38 years ago.

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In compiling the fixtures for 30 August 1975, the Scottish Football League’s management committee clearly intended to ensure maximum impact for the birth of their reshaped ten-team top division.

It was a league restructuring far more radical but less hastily conceived than the 2013 set-up which was only agreed a little over a month ago after so much bitter wrangling.

It was in the summer of 1974 that the then 38 SFL members agreed to scrap their two division set-up of 18-20, moving to a 10-14-14 structure, giving everyone involved a full season to prepare for the change.

Rangers won the final First Division title in 1975, ending Celtic’s record run of nine consecutive titles under Jock Stein. When it was announced that an Old Firm clash at Ibrox would kick-off the new Premier Division campaign, concerns were raised over the potential for crowd trouble as Rangers unfurled their first championship flag since 1964.

As it turned out, the ceremony itself passed off peacefully as Hilda Waddell, wife of Rangers general manager Willie, did the honours.

But during a match in which rival goalkeepers Peter McCloy and Peter Latchford were among the few players awarded pass marks by The Scotsman’s venerable chief football writer John Rafferty, there were several outbursts of disorder on the terraces which led to a total of 84 arrests being made.

It was another stain on the fixture’s reputation, taking much of the spotlight away from the action on the pitch where second-half goals from Derek Johnstone and Quinton Young saw Rangers recover from new Celtic captain Kenny Dalglish’s first half opener to earn a 2-1 win preserved by McCloy’s brilliance in the closing stages.

The Old Firm clubs had done their best to promote a more harmonious atmosphere at the match, as reporter Jim Blair related in his running commentary for the Evening Times’ pink edition that day.

“We saw the two faces of ‘Old Firm’ fans at half-time,” wrote Blair. “While Rangers and Celtic supporters took part in the ‘It’s A Knockout Competition’ refereed by Glen Daly, trouble broke out again at the Rangers end. Police and ambulance men had to move quickly in an effort to restore order.”

The unusual half-time entertainment, with prizes presented by rival chairmen Matt Taylor and Desmond White in a show of Old Firm unity, was captured by The Scotsman’s photographer, showing a pillow fight between a Rangers fan and his Celtic counterpart. Sadly it could not prevent some on the terraces choosing to use bottles and cans instead as they confronted each other.

The crowd of 69,594 inside Ibrox, which remained a Premier Division record until 72,000 watched Celtic clinch the 1988 title against Dundee at Parkhead, was the biggest contributor to a healthy combined attendance of 107,762 at the five opening day fixtures.

Hibs and Hearts also got the new era under way with a derby with 23,646 looking on at Easter Road as Eddie Turnbull’s side extended their seven-year unbeaten home record against the Gorgie men. Hearts’ lame display earned the scorn of reporter Angus MacLeod in The Scotsman, describing them as “like a man in a boiler suit at a Royal garden party – completely out of place”.

Joe Harper scored the only goal of the game with a 30-yard thunderbolt, watched from the stand by Scotland manager Willie Ormond. It was enough to seal his place in the Scotland line-up for the European Championship qualifier against Denmark in Copenhagen the following midweek. Harper was on target again as the Scots won 1-0, only for his heroics to turn sour when he was one of five players banned by the SFA for being involved in an incident at a Copenhagen night club.

The rest of the inaugural Premier Division card had as much of a derby feel to it as the SFL could manage. Bobby Ford had the honour of scoring the competition’s first goal, the second minute opener in Dundee’s 3-2 win over Aberdeen at Dens Park.

Motherwell and Ayr United cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw at Fir Park, while John Muir’s 87th-minute goal gave St Johnstone a 1-0 win over Dundee United at Muirton Park in the remaining fixture. The Perth club hosted the lowest crowd of the day, just 3,340 bringing in takings of £1,700.

Fast forward to the next major ‘relaunch’ of Scottish football, the first ever Scottish Premier League season in 1998-99 after the top ten clubs broke away from the SFL, and the combined attendance for the five games was some 11,000 down on the 1975 figure.

But there were no real derbies on the first weekend of August 1998, although Dundee and Aberdeen met at Dens once more to herald the latest new set-up with goals from Craig Hignett and Eoin Jess earning the Dons a 2-0 win.

Celtic, winners of the last ever Premier Division title to end Rangers’ run of nine-in-a-row in a remarkable piece of symmetry with 1975, unfurled the flag before crushing Dunfermline 5-0 in front of 59,377 fans at Parkhead with Craig Burley scoring the SPL’s first ever hat-trick.

Pat Nevin was on the scoresheet for Kilmarnock who opened with a 2-0 home win over Dundee United, Jered Stirling netted the only goal as Motherwell defeated St Johnstone at Fir Park and the first round of fixtures was completed on Sunday 2 August when Hearts defeated Rangers 2-1 at Tynecastle.