Scottish League Cup Memories 1963/64

OK, we know it’s 100 years ago this season that Morton won the Scottish FA Cup, a fantastic achievement from a smaller “provincial club” which we rightly celebrate. But we have returned to the National Stadium three times since for major finals, most recently in 1963 when we had our most successful shot at the Scottish League Cup. The date was 26th October – so it’s a good time to look back.

Not many people know this, but the predecessor to the Scottish League Cup was the Southern League Cup, played for in the War-time years 1940/41 through to 1945/46. And our first “final fling” in the competition was in 1941/42 season when a fantastic Morton side, featuring future internationalists Billy Campbell, Tommy Orr, Billy Steel and Johnny Kelly lost narrowly to Rangers in May 1942, Gillick scoring the only goal for the Ibrox side, watched by a reported attendance of 42,000. Press reports were fulsome in their praise of the Cappielow men, one reporter describing them as “the best young team he had seen in ages.”

Since then, we have faced Rangers twice more in finals, firstly losing the epic replayed Scottish Cup Final 1-0 to Rangers in 1947/48. These matches were watched by a record total of 265,199 !

And so to 1963. Hal Stewart had dragged Morton out of the doldrums, playing a fast, entertaining  style of football, and how the Greenock public responded. Crowds of 1,000 in the late 1950s were pushing nearly 10 times that by the early 1960s. and 1963/64 was the year when it all came together. Morton won all 6 games in their League Cup qualifying group, which featured Clyde, Ayr United and Stranraer; they scored 20 goals for the loss of just 4, with an average home attendance of 9,000.

Quarter Final v Motherwell

The tournament format pitched the four lower league Section winners, including Morton, in with the successful Division One clubs with the quarter final ties played over two legs on successive Wednesdays.  Morton drew Motherwell, who had won their Group without conceding a goal. They had also scored 17, with front men Joe McBride and Bobby Roberts prominent.

The first leg at Fir Park attracted over 21,500, it finished goalless with highlights shown on TV late at night. The media concentrated on one key incident in the match, the dismissal of Morton outside right Bobby Adamson. What a day for the player; he’d been married that afternoon and then made a 60-mile dash, accompanied by his wife, to play in the tie. He was dismissed after an incident with Motherwell’s Matt Thomson, Adamson reacting to some pointed comments from the defender. 10-man Morton competed well for the remainder of the tie.

Cappielow was mobbed for the second leg; the estimated crowd was over 20,000 and the official figure given as 18,845. Hal Stewart laid on pre-match entertainment – a display from trampoline athletes followed by a pipe band, and the atmosphere was electric. Alec Byrne put Morton ahead in just two minutes, intercepting a short pass back and walking the ball into the net.  And a second goal, ironically from Adamson early in the second half, clinched the victory and triggered ecstatic celebrations including a lap of honour!

Semi-Final v Hibernian

Older Morton fans will remember the two matches against Hibs at Ibrox. TV highlights of the first game which was watched by 47,000 on a Monday evening showed Adamson putting Morton ahead after three minutes, but Hibernian’s Neil Martin headed the equaliser after 20 minutes. Thereafter it was a typical semi-final with Morton’s Allan McGraw and Hibs’ Martin injured. By the end, “both teams looked like boxers who had trained for 10 rounds and were faced with 15!”

The cameras were back for the replay a week later, by which time the crowd was 10,000 lower at 36,092. Comedians amongst the Greenock support reckoned there were more Morton coach drivers than Hibs’ fans. The Edinburgh side fielded new £30,000 signing Pat Quinn, a Scottish international. On the stroke of half-time Morton “scored” through McGraw following a corner, but the referee disallowed the effort, claiming the kick was taken from outwith the arc!  McGraw was not to be denied however, beating keeper Ronnie Simpson from the penalty spot in 64 minutes, and prompting wild celebrations on the pitch and the terraces.

The Final

Sadly, the wheels eventually came off in the Hampden Final,  Morton’s fourth (and last) such encounter with the Ibrox side. Rangers’ path to the National Stadium had involved two relatively straightforward ties against lower league sides East Fife and Berwick Rangers, and some of the media were not ruling out a shock given Morton’s 20-match unbeaten run (including 18 wins) going into the match.

A record crowd of 105,907 turned up, and Greenock was a ghost town. Morton competed well in the first half which was goalless, but the pace of the Rangers forwards began to tell after the interval and they broke the deadlock through Jim Forrest in the 55th minute; within 10 minutes it was 3-0. Morton continued to attack, Mallon missed a good chance from a well worked free kick, McGraw hit the bar and forced a great save from Rangers’ keeper Ritchie, before two further goals for Forrest (his 3rd & 4th) in the 88th and 89th minutes gave the final result a harsh and painful appearance. Grainy footage from the game shows just how open Morton were at the back as the half wore on.
But what an adventure it was all those 58 years ago! 11 matches watched by nearly 270,000 people; four TV highlights appearances, and masses of positive PR for the club as they stampeded their way to the Division Two Championship by a record margin.

By Niall McGilp