Inverness are aiming to win first major trophy, while Falkirk are looking for their first Scottish Cup success in 58 years
It seems fitting that among the motifs depicted on their club crests, Falkirk and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who meet in today’s 130th Scottish Cup final, are represented by a steeple and an eagle. These are high times for both clubs. But there is something else is in the air – history. As happened last year, when St Johnstone defeated Dundee United in the Scottish Cup final, there is the prospect that a club can again lift the trophy for the first time.
Compared to the Perth club, whose victory was their first in 130 years, Inverness will not have had to wait too long should they prevail this afternoon, having been formed in 1994.
While ill-feeling provoked by that merger between Thistle and Caledonian, two Highland League sides, means some Invernessians feel they cannot attend today’s final, there is no question time has healed many of the wounds.
Although Hampden will be far from full this afternoon, between 35-40,000 will be present. More than 13,000 will be supporting the team from Inverness bidding to win their maiden major honour. The majority, however, will be followers of the underdogs. Around 18,000 are estimated to have bought tickets for the chance to see Falkirk win the trophy for only the third occasion in their history.
It would count as their first success since 1957, when Aston Villa, who play Arsenal today in the English equivalent showpiece occasion, also last won the FA Cup. Spookily, Falkirk’s only other Scottish Cup success – in 1913 – was also another of Villa’s seven FA Cup winning years. But history beckons on a personal front as well. Peter Houston, the Falkirk manager, is looking to become only the third manager to win the Scottish Cup with two different clubs. Indeed, he would become the only the second manager to achieve this with two non-Old Firm clubs, joining Alex Smith, the current Falkirk technical director, in this, to date, rather exclusive club of one.
“I’m getting messages from Dundee United fans. They probably don’t even like me!”Peter Houston
Smith won the Scottish Cup with both St Mirren in 1987 and then Aberdeen, in 1990. If Falkirk should prevail today, a slightly longer gap of five years will separate Houston’s triumphs – he won the cup for the first time back in 2010, when Dundee United defeated another set of Highlands opponents in the shape of Ross County.
“Alex is one of the most modest men in the world,” said Houston, when asked whether Smith had mentioned this to him this week. “He will not bring that up. We’re desperate to win it and I’m desperate to win it, but not from a personal point of view,” he added. “I re-live 2010 and the scenes – the punters, the players, the bevvy, the night out, whatever you want to call it, all that married into one. I’ll never forget that.”
Houston played for Falkirk in two spells bookending a two-year stay at Dumbarton, and is regarded as a legend by the fans for his performances on the pitch in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“A lot of people have said, given my connections with Falkirk, would this be bigger or better [than 2010]?” said Houston. “No. If it equals it, I will be more than happy.”
He is currently feeling the love after a difficult start to the season, when some Falkirk supporters wondered whether this much-loved former player’s return as manager was a mistake. As well as the expected text messages from figures in the football world, including Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes and old compadres Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown, Houston has been pleasantly surprised by another group of well-wishers.
“I’m even getting messages through LinkedIn from Dundee United fans wishing me luck,” said Houston, whose departure from the Tannadice club, two-and-a-half years later, was not as mourned by the supporters as one might have expected. “I think that’s magnificent for them to do that. They probably don’t even like me! But for them to turn round and do that and send emails saying ‘remember 2010’ is terrific.”
It was a slightly less smooth countdown on that occasion than he might have preferred. “On the Friday lunchtime we trained at Tannadice, we worked on our set plays and then made sure everyone had their new suits all ready to travel down,” recalled Houston. “Then David Goodwillie comes over to say he’s forgotten his shoes and not got his club tie. The fortunate thing was that he’s from Stirling so the bus had to stop at Stirling services on the way down from Dundee so his mum could drop off his shoes and his tie. But that didn’t surprise me. Not with Goodie.”
Only the matter of too-short socks – the club were sent the children’s version by their suppliers, Puma – has hampered Houston’s preparations this time around. Nevertheless, striker Rory Loy’s fitness concerns – he hasn’t played since March – and the frustration of knowing key players John Baird and Mark Kerr are cup-tied have kept the manager on his toes.
He named his starting XI two days ago in order for his players to get used to the idea of being Scottish Cup final participants. So Loy’s fate is known – just not by anyone outside the camp, or so Houston hopes. “I’d be disappointed if any team news came out,” he said.
The manager knows he can ill-afford to let Inverness gain any additional advantage over their opponents from the tier below. After beating three teams from the Premiership en route to the final, including Celtic at the semi-final stage, it would be considered careless if Inverness let this opportunity to create history slip through their fingers against a side they are expected to beat.
They are leaving nothing to chance. Manager John Hughes even grabbed an extra afternoon with his players yesterday as they ran through some last-minute preparations. He left organisers disappointed by his failure to show up for a pre-cup final press conference at Hampden.
Assistant manager Russell Latapy stepped into the breach – ironically for someone whose Scottish Cup final history is defined by a non-appearance for Hibs in the 2001 final against Celtic, when he was left out by then manager Alex McLeish for going on a night out prior to the match.
“I think we should focus on this game, not what happened 15 years ago,” he said yesterday. Latapy admitted the identity of the opponents today meant it was an especially significant occasion for him personally. However, it would provide him with no comfort to know he had been beaten by a former club.
“There’s no consolation in losing for me,” he said. “What I would say is I’m happy that it’s one of the clubs I represented for many years and there are a lot of special memories. I’m happy that it’s Falkirk we are playing in the final. But I want to win this for Inverness.”
So too does Hughes, despite his own links with Falkirk over two spells, as a player and then manager. Not that he was around to confirm this yesterday. Hughes will presumably argue that nothing, not even the need to fill newspapers and appease sponsors, should get in the way of a shot at glory, something well within his club’s grasp today.