When winters were warmed by six appeal

IT WAS the tournament that brought a little light to our lives through a decade of dreary winters. The fiesta of football that quickly found favour with players and supporters alike.

IT WAS the tournament that brought a little light to our lives through a decade of dreary winters. The fiesta of football that quickly found favour with players and supporters alike.

The sensational sporting smorgasbord which taught Stevie Fulton that eating too many hot dogs can be harmful to your health.

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The Tennent’s Sixes gasped its last 20 years ago this month, but it is still fondly remembered by fans. On most of the chatrooms for supporters of the clubs which participated, you can find threads reminiscing affectionately about the event.

Nobody, it seems, had a bad word to say about it, and why should they? If your team won, you could look on it as a sign of bigger successes to come. If they didn’t, well, you’d enjoyed yourself anyway, at an event which was invariably played in the best of spirits.

Sixes had been pioneered in the US and Germany, and there had been earlier televised indoor tournaments in England too – viewers of a certain age will recall the five-a-side event broadcast on the BBC’s Sportsnight in the early 1970s. There had been short-lived Scottish equivalents, as well, including tournaments at Meadowbank and Murrayfield Ice Rink in Edinburgh, but they never had anything like the impact enjoyed by the Tennent’s Sixes when it got going in 1984.

The format was a simple, two-day affair: two league sections, both usually of five teams, with the top two in each going through to the semi-finals on the second day. Most participants were from the Premier Division, and occasionally there would be a guest club from England – Manchester City and Nottingham Forest both took part, in separate seasons.

There was a basic seeding system which ensured Rangers and Celtic were kept apart until the latter stages of the competition (just like in the Scottish Cup, those of us with suspicious minds would claim). One group would play in the afternoon, the other in the evening, and with tickets being sold separately for each session, that meant the Old Firm fans were kept apart. Otherwise, there was no real segregation, and 
the largely young audience mingled without heavy stewarding or policing – although one fan does remember being told off by an officer after directing 
an encouraging chant at reporter Hazel Irvine.

Rangers won the inaugural tournament, held at Coasters Arena in Falkirk, beating Dundee in the final. The event switched to the Ingliston Showground just outside Edinburgh the following year, 1985, and there was a home win, with Hearts beating Morton in the final.

The weather was particularly poor that year, as one fan on a Morton supporters’ chatroom recently recalled. “Abandoning the car at Langbank due to the blizzard, then getting the train to Glasgow, then bus to Ingliston,” he wrote.

“Can remember feeling slightly intimidated inside, when the 20 or so Morton fans found ourselves surrounded by about 5,000 Hearts fans. Probably just as well Hearts beat us in the final. Still, it was quite an achievement getting to the final, because we were well and truly horsed throughout that season.”

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In 1990 it was Hibs’ turn to find a spot of light relief at the Sixes when they beat St Mirren in the final. The Edinburgh team had been struggling for goals in the league, and after then right-back Paul Kane finished the indoor tournament as top scorer, their manager decided to play him up front in their next match.

As Kane recalled yesterday, it was not a success, as Hibs lost 2-1 to Motherwell. “We’d been struggling for goals, and we needed a wee spark, so Alex Miller said he’d play me up front. I lasted 45 minutes, and at half-time I got put back in defence.

“I was a wee bit surprised when he said I was playing up front, because the Tennent’s Sixes are obviously a lot different from an 11-a-side game. But it wasn’t totally out of the blue, because in my first two seasons at Hibs I’d played as a striker.

“Still, winning the Sixes was good. It was a wee high point for the fans who got the chance to go through to Glasgow and see the team win something, and it was on TV as well so the people who’d stayed at home got to see it too.”

Two years later it was Celtic’s turn to give their supporters something to cheer about as they beat St Johnstone in the final to claim their first trophy since 1989. “It was great to do it for the big support which came to cheer us on,” captain John Collins said at the end.

“They were mostly kids and it is nice to think we gave them something to shout about to their pals the next day. We know that hasn’t been possible much recently, but maybe it will be soon.”

The Celtic View, the club’s official magazine, was just as enthusiastic. “Celtic’s first Tennent’s Sixes success in nine years may not stand for a great deal in the overall scheme of things but was, above all, GREAT FUN!” editor Andrew Smith enthused. “The way the club’s participants set about the tournament – with smiles and laughter much in evidence – was a delight,”

One of Collins’ colleagues in that victorious Celtic squad was Fulton. Never one of the slimmest players in the game, he later recalled how his own participation had been at a price.

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“The organisers would lay on hot dogs and I over-indulged once and suffered a terrible stitch,” he said. “I didn’t repeat that.”

When Tennent’s ended their sponsorship after the 1993 event, the SFA decided to call it a day. There was a general feeling that the novelty had worn off, and that even some of the participants had become a little jaded. Clubs were not fielding so many recognised first-team players as they did in the early years, and Tennent’s, sponsors of the Scottish Cup from 1989, were changing their strategy. As well as being the end of the Sixes, 1993 was also the last year in which the Lager Lovelies appeared on their cans.

Partick Thistle won that year, and so have retained the trophy until this day, but the main talking point was when Hibs were penalised in a group game against Celtic for being boring.

They needed to win by two goals to go through on goal difference, and at 2-0 began to play possession football, albeit in the Celtic half. Referee Bill Crombie took exception and awarded a free-kick to Celtic, who promptly went upfield and scored the goal which was enough to knock Hibs out of the competition.

Penalising teams for being boring. If only that habit had spread to the 11-a-side game, perhaps Scottish football would be in a healthier state today, and the Tennent’s Sixes would have left a lasting legacy. As it is, all we have left are the memories, the programmes and some increasingly crackly VHS highlights tapes.