UEFA Cup 1971
St Johnstone’s qualification for Europe coincided with the first season in which the trophy they were competing for was known as the UEFA Cup. In the thirteen previous tournaments it was known as the Fairs Cup and Saints achievement in gaining entry to the competition came about as a result of their highest ever league position in season 1970/71, finishing third behind Celtic and Aberdeen.
Round 1 – SV Hamburg
Saints were one of 63 clubs that went into the hat for the first round draw and one of three Scottish clubs – Aberdeen and Dundee being the others. The men from Pittodrie and dens Park must have been pleased with the draw as they faced less fancied sides from Spain and Denmark respectively. For Saints though, it was a tough one – crack West German side and experienced European campaigners SV Hamburg. Among the top names on their books at the time were former World Cup stars Uwe Seeler, Willi Schulz and an up and coming Manfred Kaltz.
A chartered plane took the Saints team and many of their supporters to their destination and from there Manager Willie Ormond fired out a defiant message: "You can take it from me that we will be playing our own kind of football and that means attacking. You can tell the fans at home that we are out for goals. There will be no defensive policy. The Hamburg people think we play it hard and if this impression gets around the S.V players it will not do us any harm!"
Tough talking from Ormond but he was genuinely confident. He had seen Hamburg in action against Schalke 04 on a spying mission to Germany and he felt that both Seeler and Schulz were "over the hill" and reckoned that Saints’ Jim Pearson and John Connolly could take advantage of this. However, Ormond was quick to dismiss reports in both Scottish and German newspapers that the "over the hill" tag applied to most of the S.V team.
"Our opponents are very experienced in Europe and they must be treated with respect" he said during the three hour Glasgow to Hamburg via Amsterdam flight.
"The thoughts and tactics of the home side were summed up by Willi Schulz who said "We will play the game we play best – and that means going forward. It would be madness to change that policy."
Newspaper reports estimated that around 100 Saints fans welcomed their team onto the pitch at the Municipal Stadium and most of those fans had given Ormond and his men a great send-off from their hotel as they commenced the journey to the stadium under police escort. Preparations finished, it was time for Perth St Johnstone to make their debut in Europe and the teams lined up like this;
SV Hamburg - Kargus, Sandmann, Kurbjuhn, Kaltz, Ripp, Zaczyk, Nogly, Hallfritz, Bjornmose, Seeler, Winkler.
Saints - Donaldson, Lambie, Gordon, Rennie, Coburn, Rooney, McPhee, Aird, Aitken, Connolly, Hall.
Referee - S Ribiero from Portugal.
"I have waited 10 years to play in Europe and I am expecting to begin with a victory. Although none of us have been involved in European football before, this won’t deter us. At our best we need fear no team and we have forwards capable of scoring against any opposition. The boss has told us we can win." Captain Benny Rooney".
The game was only 11 minutes old when Hamburg took the lead with a controversial goal. The Saints defence expertly played the offside trap and caught a number of home players in it. The linesman flagged for offside and Jim Donaldson made little effort to stop Klaus Zacyk flicking the ball into the net. However, to the astonishment of everyone connected with Saints, the Portugese referee allowed the goal to stand, ruling that the ball had touched a Perth player on the way through and despite vehement protests he would not even consult his linesman, let alone change his mind.
Saints bounced back and in 53 minutes John Lambie beat two defenders before crossing the ball in and when that cross took a deflection Jim Pearson was quick to side-foot the ball home. However, with ten minutes of the game remaining the Germans scored what proved to be the winner when Zacyk scored his second of the game beating Lambie on the right before crashing a low drive into the net.
Willie Ormond emerged from the match angry but confident. "We should have won" he said. "The Germans’ opening goal was the worst decision I have ever seen. There were five German players offside but the referee maintained that the ball had touched one of our defenders. It was utterly disgraceful but my side showed wonderful fighting spirit in coming back to equalise and dictate the game. I am certain that we will win the return leg at Muirton."
Meanwhile Hamburg Manager Klaus Ochs admitted his side had been foxed by Saints tactics. "In Germany when, say, the right winger switches over to the other side of the field, the opposing left back goes with him. But your Scottish team didn’t play it that way. We will be practicing ways and means of countering these tactics between now and the second game in Perth."
The St Johnstone party had been given great hospitality by the Germans and they reciprocated two weeks later. Staying in the City Mills Hotel, the S.V team did a degree of sightseeing and included a visit to John Dewar’s distillery in their itinerary.
The centre stand price for the Muirton tie was £1.50 with terracing admission 40p. The Vale of Atholl Pipe Band led the teams onto the pitch and without Uwe Seeler who was absent due to a thigh injury, manager Ochs admitted that the tie could be over if Saints scored first.
Close on 15,000 fans crammed into Muirton Park for the game and they witnessed St Johnstone’s finest ever 90 minutes.
Saints had two great early chances to score and only 15 minutes had passed when they did Saints 3rd goal v hamburgtake the lead. Ian McPhee sent the ball forward and Henry Hall nipped in on the blind side of the German defence and lifted the ball past Turkish goalkeeper Arkoc Ozcan. With a precious away goal already bagged Saints had the scoreline they needed.
Before half-time John Connolly had a goal disallowed and Jim Donaldson produced a great save from Danish defender Ole Bjornmose.
Henry Hall had to be replaced early in the second half due to injury and it was his replacement Jim Pearson who lifted the roof off of Muirton when he put Saints 2-0 ahead in 63 minutes, prodding home a John Connolly cross.
Hamburg had a goal disallowed before the icing on the cake was provided in 78 minutes with a third goal. A Fred Aitken corner was only partially cleared and from the edge of the box Gordon Whitelaw buried the ball beyond Ozcan.
A great performance, a stunning result and Saints had eliminated the German side.
Round 2 – Vasas Budapest
After that fine achievement, Saints now had to ensure they did not fall flat on their faces in the next round. The opposition this time was from Hungary – Vasas of Budapest and the tie was made additionally difficult with the first leg to be played in Perth.
Like Saints, Vasas had finished third in their national league the previous season and they boasted no fewer than six international players.
Saints again turned in a good performance and at half time they led through a 12th minute John Connolly penalty but that was the only goal of a tense, tough first half. Vasas controlled a good deal of the second period and things looked bleak for Saints. Vidat netted in 65 minutes but the goal was chalked off for offside and this did not go down well with the Hungarian players who had not been happy with the first half penalty award.
Tempers were running high amongst the visiting players and when, with five minutes of the game remaining, Jim Pearson ran in between two defenders to head home a Kenny Aird cross to give Saints a priceless second goal, they lost the plot completely.
The final minutes of the game saw the Vasas players simply hoof the ball up the park in a display of temper and when the final whistle went Police were required to protect Norwegian referee Nyhus as the visiting players attempted to jostle and spit at the official.
The scenes at the end were not good but they could not over-shadow another fantastic St Johnstone performance.
Judging by the scenes at the end of the first game it looked like Saints were in for a less than comfortable trip to Hungary and due to problems at the airports, the number of Saints fans who followed the team was smaller than expected. However, there were no problems for the group of 4 Saints fans who took a week off work and motored the 1500 miles to the match.
Before the game the Saints official party of 28 went to the circus in an effort to relax but it wasn’t easy and it could be that there was more atmosphere in the Big Top than there was at the game as only 3,000 fans filed into the giant Nep Stadium in Budapest.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Donaldson was to prove the hero of the evening as he saved a penalty kick with 20 minutes of the match remaining and although the Hungarians did manage to score in the 85th minute Saints held on to win the tie by two goals to one.
It was another magnificent result for Saints and Willie Ormond was justifiably pleased. "I’m very happy indeed and the boys played exactly as planned. Some of the work, especially by the three forwards, may not have looked effective but their work rate was tremendous." Ormond’s counterpart, Vasas coach Ferenc Machos was not grudging in his praise saying "I admit they were a better side than I thought and were worthy winners. I think they could very close in this competition."
It was just a pity that his players were not so gracious in defeat. At the end of the match they badgered and bullied the referee who had to be helped away by police. The trouble continued in the passageway under the stand with the police having to restrain two of the home players from assaulting any of the match officials.
Afterward, when Ormond said "I simply believe that we will reach the final of this tournament", people started to believe him.
Round 3 – Zeljeznicar Sarajevo
The full third round draw looked like this: AC Milan v Dundee, Spurs v Dinamo Bucharest, St Johnstone v Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, PSV Eindhoven v Lierse, Eintracht Brunswick v Ferencvaros, Utard v Victoria Setubal, Carl Zeiss jena v Wolves, Rapid Vienna v Juventus.
Saints’ tie against the Yugoslavian side saw the first leg in Perth and Zeljeznicar (translated it means "railwaymen") stayed at the City Mills Hotel although their supporters stayed in Glasgow. Ormond and Director J Clark went on a spying mission to Yugoslavia and on their return the Saints boss said "They don’t have the class of Vasas. I am confident."
That confidence looked to be misplaced though when Saints found the visitors a tough nut to crack. Both sides had chances to score before John Connolly grabbed the winner with just four minutes remaining, hitting a shot through a ruck of players from 12 yards. That gave the support of 9,000 (where had the other 6,000 from the Hamburg game gone?!) some hope that their side could progress further.
The players didn’t need to be hold that their European jacket was on a shaky nail. Benny Rooney said "We played well only in spasms. We can do a lot better than this – in fact we know we will have to when we get out there."
Sarajevo coach Kulovic said "The one goal difference gives hope to both teams. If St Johnstone score again they will be very confident but if we get a goal then we should go on and win. The position is very interesting."
The Saints party departed for Yugoslavia from Glasgow on the Sunday prior to the match via London and Zagreb with a total journey time of 8 hours. Sadly, there was no Henry hall who failed a fitness test but Ian McPhee was back in the picture after a long spell out injured. Could Saints make it to the quarter finals?
Sadly, the answer was no. Zel got a goal after only 1 minute of the game to level the tie and just three minutes later had scored again. However, Rooney then scored two minutes later to give Saints an away goals advantage but Saints had no answer to a suerb home side who scored again in 25 minutes and then twice in the second half to win the game 5-1 and the tie 5-2.
The party was over. The team had been on a loser from the start when their boots went missing and turned up just two hours before kick-off and once in the match, the the words of the reporter for the Daily Express "they had to contend with a Belgian referee who was as much of a homer as any racing pigeon." However, the truth was that Saints had been handed a football lesson by a much superior side, a fact acknowledged by Willie Ormond who also said of the bitter Sarajevo cold – it was by now the 8th December - "I’ve never been so cold – and I was wearing four pairs of long drawers!"
An exit from the competition may have been made but the adventure wasn’t over – if you can call nearly dying in a plane crash an adventure. The post-match events are best described as written in the following day’s newspaper by reporter ian Broadley who was with the St Johnstone party.
"For three suspense-wracked minutes yesterday I sat terrified aboard a plane and watched and waited as a pilot fought to save a Scots soccer team amid snow-clad Balkan mountains. And thank God he won that fight by making an emergency landing after disaster and death seemed only seconds away.
The drama began when Flight JU358 carrying the 23-strong St Johnstone party, four other Scottish journalists and myself, took off from the ice-covered tarmac. The ancient twin prop Metropolitan barely got off the runway and skimmed a couple of feet over a clump of trees. Unable to gain altitude, the pilot sent out a Mayday call and our danger was underlined by the ambulances and fire tenders racing out from the terminal just over 100 feet below.
Desperately, the pilot banked round in a circle to avoid the rocky slopes and get us back to the airport but halfway round the engines stopped. I immediately thought, It’s another Munich disaster. But, mercifully, the engines restarted and we got our nose lined up roughly in the direction of the runway.
The plane touched down, just missing a tree-lined field and slewed wildly along the runway before coming to a halt.
We disembarked shaking with fear but thankful to be alive, to be told by the ashen-faced pilot "we are very, very lucky people to be alive right now. The plane was overloaded because of icing. The moisture on the plane had solidified and the undercarriage was just solid ice."
Even before take-off the Saints players had their doubts about the flight. Alex Rennie is quoted as saying "That thing will never pass its MOT!" and years later Benny Ronney recounted the events thus: "When we saw guys standing on the wings with brushes trying to take snow and ice off the wings we knew there were problems. Suddenly we were all thinking about the Munich disaster. Fortunately, the pilot managed to get us back to the airport after what was the longest take-off of my life. To say we were apprehensive would be understating the situation. No sooner were we in the air than we were back down again. Willie Ormond read the situation well and took us all to the bar for large brandies!"
From the potentially disastrous situation, two members of the Saints party were able to raise a smile. Willie Coburn, on seeing a number of fire engines in attendance but only one ambulance said "How the hell are 60 people going to get in THAT?" while Ormond himself had the last word on a memorable inaugural European campaign when he said "I know we almost hit the trees – I have the pine cone to prove it!"