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Rangers broke Dundee United legend Jim McLean’s heart in forgotten ‘family final’

Iain Phillip brings down Bobby Russell in the United box with just seconds to go in the 1981 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden.
Iain Phillip brings down Bobby Russell in the United box with just seconds to go in the 1981 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden.

Hamish McAlpine saved a last minute penalty in the 1981 Scottish Cup Final but still got an ear-bashing from Dundee United manager Jim McLean.

The match 40 years ago was a turgid affair but ultimately Jim McLean’s best chance of winning the only prize which eluded him during his 22 years in charge.

At the time his opposite number John Greig was struggling as Rangers manager.

Greig’s side could only finish third in the league in 1980-81 and suffered a humiliating defeat to English minnows Chesterfield Town in the Anglo-Scottish Cup.

Jim McLean pictured in his office in 1988.
Jim McLean.

The final was United’s 21st cup tie in a season which had already brought success in the shape of a second successive League Cup triumph.

United took 10,000 supporters to Hampden in 1981

McLean was convinced they could win the Scottish Cup against a Rangers side they defeated 4-1 at Ibrox in March.

United took 10,000 fans to Hampden.

They crowded into cars, coaches, double-decker buses and trains.

One group of United fans travelled the 160 miles to Hampden and back in the cramped confines of an ice cream van.

McLean picked the same side which defeated Celtic 3-2 following a replay in the semi-final.

“Everyone’s very chirpy and eager to get on with the match now,” said McLean.

“The final will be decided on what we do, or don’t do.

“We must let Rangers do the worrying and I suggest they have had more to think about than us in the build-up.

“We must take control of the final and play positively.

“All our successes so far have come from this attitude and the fact it is Rangers makes no difference.”

While McLean was hoping to plot Rangers downfall from the dugout, brother Tommy started the match in the Rangers midfield at the age of 33.

Tommy McLean pictured in 1981 which would be the closing stages of his illustrious career with Rangers.

Tommy was in the final stages of an illustrious career which had brought him every honour in the game and was looking to win a fifth Scottish Cup medal.

McLean’s brother Tommy was still a Rangers danger man

Dundee manager Donald Mackay was working as a pundit for the BBC at the cup final after winning promotion back to the Premier League.

He said: “It’s a great day for the city, not just Dundee United.

“Success for United creates extra interest from which both city clubs benefit.

“Success doesn’t come easily or quickly.

“A lot of patience and hard work is required.

“That’s what I kept pointing out during our season when things weren’t always going our way.

“I think the cup final should be a cracker and United should win if they cut off the threat from Tommy McLean who I rate as Rangers’ danger man.”

Davie Cooper had to be content with a place on the bench.

Greig dropped former skipper Derek Johnstone from the 13.

John MacDonald and Davie Cooper were on the bench.


Rangers: Stewart, Jardine, Dawson, Forsyth, Stevens, Bett, McLean, Russell, McAdam, Redford, Johnston. Subs: Cooper, McDonald.

Dundee United: McAlpine, Holt, Kopel, Phillip, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Milne, Kirkwood, Sturrock, Dodds. Subs: Stark, Pettigrew.


The pre-match entertainment started at 2pm when the Massed Pipes and Drums of eight bands took to the field to play a medley of tunes.

Supporters were reminded there would be extra-time in the event of a draw with a replay the following Tuesday at 8pm if the teams were still level.

There would also be no lap of honour for “safety reasons” following the pitched battles between Rangers and Celtic fans at the 1980 Scottish Cup Final that got drinking banned from football matches in Scotland and on supporters buses going to games.

United went close to opening the scoring in the early exchanges of the 1981 Scottish Cup Final at Hampden.

United started the match the better side with Rangers set up as if it was the away leg of a European tie with Colin McAdam playing up front on his own.

Eammon Bannon, playing left midfield and breaking down the wing, turned on the style for United and he should have scored a hat-trick himself.

Paul Sturrock, Billy Kirkwood and Willie Pettigrew all missed chances that normally they would have put away.

There were plenty of cross balls put in to the Rangers box which should have been put away by the United front line.

Rangers were reinvigorated when Davie Cooper and John MacDonald came off the bench in the second-half.

MacDonald surged down the wing on 89 minutes and his cross was missed by McAlpine and headed away by Frank Kopel into the path of Bobby Russell.

The Rangers player was brought down in the box by Iain Phillip.

Hamish McAlpine was the Hampden hero for United

Ian Redford took the penalty with the last kick of the game but his effort was straight at the legs of McAlpine and referee Ian Foote blew for full-time.

Referee Ian Foote points to the spot after Bobby Russell is brought down in the box.

United’s players flocked round their goalkeeper to congratulate him but his manager wasn’t one of them and tore a strip off the Hampden hero.

“If he hadn’t come for that cross ball and missed it there would never have been a penalty,” said McLean.

After a period of extra-time the match finished goalless.

Manager John Greig tries to gee up his players for the 30 minutes of extra time after the disappointment of the Ian Redford penalty miss.

“The cup was there for us to win,” said McLean.

“Over the piece we deserved to win it.

“We always had the upper hand.

“However our front three didn’t do their job.

“There were plenty of cross balls which should have been put away.”

Stand and Deliver by Adam & the Ants was number 1 at the time and McAlpine certainly delivered for United even if his team-mates were shot-shy.

Dundee United striker Davie Dodds goes up for a high ball with Rangers defender Gregor Stevens at Hampden.

McAlpine said: “I was as nervous as Ian.

“My team-mates shouted for me to take a side.

“I did, but it was the wrong one.

“However I managed to stick out my leg and stop it.”

1981 Scottish Cup Final provided watershed moment

SFA secretary Ernie Walker told BBC commentator Archie Macpherson the match provided an “historic, watershed moment for our game” just a year after supporters on both sides of the Old Firm divide attacked one another on the Hampden pitch.

“I took my two girls to Hampden to have a look around,” Walker said.

“It was the day after the Rangers-Dundee United Scottish Cup Final, which I had attended.

“The place, of course, was deserted.

“We went firstly down to the end where the United supporters would have been and climbed into the terracing.

“Now, usually on a Sunday morning after a game like that you wouldn’t have been able to walk anywhere for thousands of bottles lying about.

“It was devoid of them.

“So I told my girls: ‘I’ll give you a pound for every bottle you can find’.

“About 20 minutes later one of them came back with a single Coca-Cola can which had been flattened underfoot.

“That was all.

“Then we went down to the Rangers end where the bulk of the crowd would have been.

“In all the previous years we would come and see ten huge industrial skips being filled with bottles.

“Now I had been cynical about this legislation and felt the habits were so ingrained in the fans that they would still bring the bevvy to the game regardless.

“But I was astonished.

“It worked.

“It was the most spectacularly successful piece of legislation I have ever known.

“This was an historic watershed moment in our game.

“I’ll always remember that squashed Coca-Cola can.

“It told the whole story.”

Greig rang the changes for the Tuesday night replay

McLean spent the weekend watching the match which was recorded by his son Colin.

“I have watched the game on tape umpteen times since Saturday and have no complaints about many aspects of our play,” he said.

“We did most of the attacking and we won the ball a lot in midfield where it is essential to do so.

Ally Dawson and Paul Hegarty exchange a handshake before the first game which finished 0-0 after extra-time.

“Where we let ourselves down was that we did not get in the box often enough, and that is one thing which will have to change.”

United put on cut-price buses for the replay but the game was over within 20 minutes after John Greig made three vital changes to his starting line-up.

Derek Johnstone, Davie Cooper and John MacDonald were brought in to replace Tommy McLean, Tom McAdam and the injured Willie Johnston.


Dundee United: McAlpine, Holt, Kopel, Phillip, Hegarty, Narey, Bannon, Milne, Kirkwood, Sturrock, Dodds. Subs: Stark, Pettigrew

Rangers: Stewart, Jardine, Dawson, Forsyth, Stevens, Bett, Cooper, Russell, Johnstone, Redford, MacDonald. Subs: McLean, McAdam.


Cooper turned in one of the most magnificent individual performances ever seen in a Rangers shirt and United were 2-0 down after 20 minutes.

The late great Davie Cooper came in from the cold and would open the scoring for Rangers in the replay after flicking the ball over Hamish McAlpine with just 10 minutes gone.

Cooper scored the opening goal on 10 minutes when he latched on to a loose ball before deftly flicking the ball over the onrushing McAlpine.

Bobby Russell made it 2-0 with a half-volley 10 minutes later when Cooper turned provider after whipping in a free-kick from the left.

United hit back through Davie Dodds before John MacDonald got onto the end of a Cooper through-ball with 12 minutes left on the clock.

MacDonald, set up by Redford late on, completed the scoring.

Derek Johnstone runs across to celebrate with goal hero Bobby Russell and Jim Bett after Rangers went 2-0 up.

Tommy McLean was an unused sub but would celebrate a fifth Scottish Cup victory while his older brother was haunted by the one that got away.

There would be another family final 10 years later

The Scottish Cup was a hurdle McLean couldn’t get United over.

United would lose again at Hampden in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before the McLean brothers were on opposite sides in the dugout in 1991.

Rangers captain Ally Dawson celebrates with the Scottish Cup following the Tuesday night replay victory.

Tommy was managing Motherwell when United played Motherwell in another ‘family final’ which United lost 4-3 in extra-time.

It was ironic that his successor Ivan Golac would end the Hampden hoodoo in 1994 with victory over Rangers.

Never-before-seen photos of Dundee United fans in Gothenburg in 1987

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