The Anglo-Scottish Cup: When Little England Met Big Scotland

Chesterfield FC have fallen on difficult times in the last few years and are now part of the English non-league football scene. Despite this, many supporters of lower league UK football would say they still have the potential to be one of the biggest clubs outside the top two tiers of the English game. It might surprise many football fans, in Scotland in particular, to discover that the greatest day in the club’s history is still regarded by many of their supporters as the day they saw off Rangers in the final season of a now defunct cross-border tournament.

The Texaco Cup of the early 1970s was the first attempt to establish a ‘British Cup’ after frequent discussion concerning such a tournament becoming a permanent fixture in the football calendar. Calls were increased during the 1960’s when Celtic met Liverpool, Morton took on Chelsea [and lost heavily in the Fairs Cup] and Spurs and Wolves played Rangers. Adding weight to the arguement was the still popular Home Nations Championships in which Scotland v England proved an annual highlight.

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When the petroleum giants pulled the plug on the cup, the competition continued as the Anglo-Scottish Cup which carried into 1980/1. The participation of Rangers in the last Anglo-Scottish Cup did add a bit of prestige to the tournament, although for the club itself the embarrassment of missing out on European qualification hardly made the competition attractive.

The start of the 1980/81 season promised so much though as the club embarked on a 15 match unbeaten run in the league, but a woeful display in the Anglo-Scottish Cup was just around the corner. Despite not immediately ruining the season, it certainly planted seeds of doubt regarding John Greig’s squad of the day.

It would be Chesterfield who would face the daunting task of tackling Rangers in the two-legged quarter final of the ‘80/1 Anglo-Scottish Cup. Even with Rangers in mind, confidence was flowing through manager Frank Barlow’s team. Before the first leg at Ibrox took place, the side was sitting proudly on top of the Third Division table. 

A few hundred Chesterfield fans made the journey to Glasgow and witnessed a fine performance from their side, Phil Walker putting them in front direct from a corner, and although Rangers equalised through Gordon Dalziel, the tie was intriguingly poised ahead of the second leg at Saltergate.

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Faced with the prospect of thousands of Rangers fans making the journey to Derbyshire, club officials and local police forces met in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the type of trouble that had seen a friendly match with Aston Villa abandoned in 1976. Pubs were closed in Chesterfield, alcohol was banned from coaches and supporters’ club trips were instructed to follow given routes into the town. Furthermore, 500 police were drafted in to cope with the arriving ‘Scottish hoards’ as they were described in the local Derbyshire press.

As an extra measurei and as part of a PR exercise aimed at quelling any potential aggravation, Gers manager John Greig and some of his players met the fans before the match and gave away goodies. Come the end of the match it would be safe to assume that the 5,000 travelling Rangers fans would not have been quite so welcoming of Greig and his squad.

A crowd of 13,914 watched on as Gers reject Phil Bonnyman came back to haunt his old club. His two goals after 15 and 18 minutes, both from corners sent in by Chesterfield’s first leg scorer Walker, stunned the Scottish Premier Division high-flyers. During a first half, Chesterfield should have been awarded a penalty for the clearest handball imaginable, and also struck the bar.

When Ernie Moss added a third on 64 minutes, Rangers’ misery was almost complete, and a terrible evening was rounded off aptly when home goalie John Turner saved a McAdam penalty ten minutes later.

“Obviously we thought we could win,” commented Turner the morning after the night before. “I would have settled for 1-0. I’d have settled for no score and win on away goals. I’d have settled to just win the tie, but to win 3-0 is really out of this world.”

Chesterfield went onto win an all English final v Notts County and when I visited Chesterfield’s current Proact Stadium in 2017 ,there it was, the last Anglo Scottish Cup [which the club was allowed to keep] still taking pride of place in their trophy cabinet.

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Chesterfield meet Notts County in the final

The club’s impressive restaurant carries pictures of the glory night v the Gers at the club’s old Saltergate ground and the club’s historian is proud to reel off nearly every detail of the night Rangers were humbled in the quintessential English market town.

Chesterfield commercial manager during my visit in 2017 was former Albion Rovers, Sheffield Utd, Chesterfield and Scotland goalie Jim Brown who is one of the 'one cap club' having gained his moment of glory in a 1-1 draw in Bucharest v Romania in a failed European Championship Qualifying campaign for the 1976 tournament.

Brown was also sub goalie the day Scotland were humbled 5-1 by England at Wembley in the Home Internationals in 1975 and older readers will remember the curse of Stewart Kennedy who seemed to freeze on the big occasion despite having played in Old Firm matches for Rangers. Caught three times on his right side by goals from Gerry Francis of QPR, Kevin Beattie of Ipswich and Colin Bell of Man City in the first half, the sight of Kennedy clutching the post instead of ball as Beattie’s header looped over him for goal number two is still an iconic nightmare moment for Tartan Army members of the Bay City Rollers generation.

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Brown was actually stripped and ready to replace the Gers goalie as he lay prostrate on the turf after England went 2-0 up but Kennedy was deemed fit to carry on before conceding three more goals [David Johnston of Everton and Kevin Keegan of Liverpool netting the second half double for England after a Bruce Rioch penalty for Scotland had made it 3-1 at Half Time].

One wonders what might have happened had the shellshocked Kennedy been replaced by the then Sheffield United goalie Brown preparing to appear for his club side in the top flight of English football in season 1975/6.

Scotsman John Duncan, a prolific scorer for Dundee and Spurs in the 1970s, was a popular manager at Chesterfield for two spells between 1983 and 1987 and 1993 until 2000. Duncan took the blues to an FA Cup semi final which they lost in a replay to eventual beaten finalists Middlesbrough with the first game, a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, maybe second only to the defeat of Rangers in moments of glory for a club that is maybe no more than a name on Final Score Results for most Scottish fans, and perhaps not even that these days, as Chesterfield battle to regain EFL status.

The Anglo-Scottish Cup nightmare proved merely a blip in Rangers history in the 1980’s. Graeme Souness was brought in as manager in 1986 and by the time they beat Leeds Utd home and away in the opening season of the Champions League in 1992/3, the mighty Glaswegians had recovered their pride and normal service had been resumed at Ibrox.

Rangers are now in the Europa League while these days it might be a case of  "Chester who?" even in some parts of the north of England. Despite this, the clubs will forever share a period of football history where the blue of Chesterfield rose to new heights with the blue of Rangers falling to depths unlikely to ever be experienced again by the club currently managed by Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard.

This piece was kindly written for @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh @AlexRockSport. Alex is a DJ on Rock Sport radio - combining a love for music with a love for sport! Listen to him on the Breakfast show 6-10am weekdays!
©The Football History Boys, 2020

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