Born and raised in the heart of the Lanarkshire coalfield, Jim and Tommy McLean knew exactly what it meant to be brothers in arms.
Football and the pits went hand-in-hand for many in mid-20th century working-class Scotland – Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Jock Stein – and the McLeans were no different.
Playing and management careers would see the siblings carve out fearsome reputations, no doubt enhanced by values adopted in their Ashgill youth.
They were competitive, they were winners, at times singularly driven, but above all they were family men.
When their father Tom passed away not long before the 1991 Scottish Cup Final between Jim’s Dundee United and Tommy’s Motherwell, the game took on a whole new meaning.
Already dubbed ‘The Family Final’, the match was now set against a backdrop of personal loss and grief.
Tommy McLean’s men of steel, representing a town facing up to deindustrialisation with the looming closure of its Ravenscraig factory, understood such depression on a deep level.
Jim McLean’s team’s woes were trivial by comparison. They were fighting for a first Scottish Cup win under his stewardship after five previous failed attempts.
However, it would be wee brother Tommy that would come out on top in front of over 57,000 at Hampden on May 18, 1991.
With the game poised at 3-3 headed into extra-time and ‘Well goalkeeper Ally Maxwell sporting a ruptured spleen and broken ribs after a collision with John Clark, Steve Kirk would find the goal that brought the cup back to Fir Park for the first time in 39 years.
Maurice Malpas, who captained United that day, believes despite everything else going on, the loss would’ve stung his boss.
The McLeans – ‘Wee Jim would’ve been raging his brother won it and he didn’t’
“Knowing wee Jim and how he was with football, that wouldn’t have helped him,” the Tangerines legend said, speaking 30 years on.
“I’m sure the upsetting week they had would’ve taken a wee bit of the edge off the disappointment but wee Jim would’ve been raging his brother won it and he didn’t, especially the number of times he’d taken Dundee United to a cup final.
“In terms of the football, it was the same build-up. If Jim McLean had a job to do, he did it.
“Obviously, it was an upsetting time for the family so, away from training, everything else was far more low key.
“There was no glitz and glamour like previous cup finals. It was a case of leaving us to our own devices.
“Guys like myself, Bow and Jim McInally, we’d been in that many cup finals there was a desperation to win.
“We realised it was a difficult event for the McLean family. They’d lost their dad but my mind was on trying to win the cup.”
‘Wee Jim was a winner’
Dave Bowman, who levelled the game at 1-1 for United after Iain Ferguson had given Motherwell the lead, concurred with Malpas.
Bowman added: “Wee Jim, when it came to it with anybody, ultimately, he was a winner and wanted the best of things. That’s what he was.
“Brother or not, it wouldn’t matter at all who it was. Especially with a prize like that, which he’d never won.
“It was a big hurt of his and rightly so. I can see why, with all the really good teams he had and he didn’t manage to win the cup.
“I was fortunate that I was still there a few years later when we managed to win it but, with wee Jim, I think about some of the players he had.
“To think that Heggie (Paul Hegarty), Davey Narey, Eamonn (Bannon), Luggy (Paul Sturrock), Holty (John Holt) – none of them picked up a Scottish Cup winners medal.
“That’s ridiculous for the players they were.”
Both Bowman and Malpas would go on to be a part of Ivan Golac’s team that defeated Rangers 1-0 to finally get their hands on the Scottish Cup in 1994 – the season after Jim McLean moved to the boardroom.
For former Terrors midfielder and current coach Bowman, the Motherwell defeat was fuel to the fire their passionate boss had lit under them for so many years.
He continued: “Now they bring the cup about and everybody touches it but before you saw it on cup final day and that was it.
“The cruellest thing, probably, in football is when you’ve got to go up, get your losers medal and walk by that trophy and down the stairs again.
“I always remember saying to Mo (Malpas): ‘Whatever happens I’m going to touch the cup’.
“I might’ve been done in ’94 for grabbing the cup if we hadn’t have won it!”
The Curse – ‘Hampden Hoodoo’ wasn’t on players’ minds but they didn’t dare rile up superstitious boss
Bowman’s highly-superstitious boss McLean wouldn’t have liked the idea of a premature stroke of silverware, that’s for sure.
At the time, there was a belief his United team just couldn’t win a cup final at the national stadium – a phenomenon dubbed ‘The Hampden Hoodoo’.
It was something the players never subscribed to but Bowman admits his gaffer may have been guilty of displaying some strange behaviour at times to avoid falling victim to it.
“Maybe he did,” the 57-year-old said when asked if McLean believed in ‘The Hampden Hoodoo’.
“Certainly, as players, it never came across our minds at all.
“I never, ever went into finals or semi-finals thinking: ‘Oh god we’ve got this ‘Hampden Hoodoo’ over us’.
“I didn’t really believe that it was anything like that. Sometimes it’s just like sheer luck on the day or that wee rub of the green you maybe need.
“Unfortunately, for numerous years we didn’t get it.”
Elaborating on the lengths the late, great Tannadice boss would go to to manage his superstitions, Bowman continued: “We’d tried every hotel in Glasgow!
“That’s why we were over in St Andrews (for 1991), we were trying hotels anywhere.
“Wee Jim was very superstitious so if you got beat somewhere you never went back!”
Despite the zany behaviour, Malpas admits there was nothing the players could do to stop it without fear of retribution.
“You were too scared to say anything or sit in the wrong place in case you got a roasting or got dropped,” he smiled.
“That’s how he was, everybody knew he was superstitious and wanted things done a certain way.
“It was to suit his superstition.”
The Game – The greatest Scottish Cup Final of all time?
Following Bowman’s equaliser, Motherwell would race into a 3-1 lead thanks to goals from a young Phil O’Donnell and Ian Angus.
John O’Neil would pull back one back quickly for the Terrors before, with virtually the last kick of the 90 minutes, Darren Jackson bravely crashed into walking wounded Maxwell to nod beyond the ‘Well keeper for 3-3.
Referee David Syme would blow for time and United headed into extra-time the more confident side.
Bowman explains: “When Darren scored late on, Mo has a chance right after it, and I remember it at the time, but seeing it again it’s a great opportunity.
“When it went 3-3 they must’ve been sick because they had the trophy in their hands and two or three minutes from the end of the game we equalise.
“You then think: ‘We were in the ascendancy to try to win it’.”
Alas, super-sub Kirk’s header would win the day as he nodded into an empty net with Alan Main in no man’s land.
It is a moment Malpas hasn’t forgiven the Motherwell hero for until this day.
“I think after being 3-1 down and looking as though we were well out of the game, we came back and Darren scored right at the death,” former Scotland full-back Malpas recalled.
“You’d have thought if any team had the upper hand it would’ve been us but Kirky went and scored a goal I’ll never forgive him for.
“It was them that got the result they wanted and us that went home with our tails between our legs again.”
Despite the disappointment was the clash the greatest Scottish Cup Final-ever?
Malpas, who turned out in tangerine for 21 years from 1979-2000, sees the merits of the argument but can’t get over the dejection of losing the match.
“The greatest Scottish Cup Final for me was the one that I won but you can understand people saying it’s one of the best cup finals,” he admitted.
“There were a lot of neutrals there and it was a cracking game.
“Seven goals in a cup final, end-to-end stuff and there was none of this tippy-tappy stuff.
“There were plenty incidents in the game, plenty attempts at goal and that’s something football lacks nowadays, in my opinion.
“I don’t think you’ll get a much better cup final than that.
“There were 58,000 there, which was a great crowd considering none of the Old Firm were there.
“It had the right tag – The Family Final.
“I knew a lot of people who had nothing to do with Dundee United or Motherwell but wanted to go and see a Scottish Cup Final.
“That was the game they went to and by god did they get a game to watch.”
The Keeper – Maxwell struggled on with two paracetamol after Clark clash
Of all the sub-plots billed before the game, an unexpected twist stole the show after United’s giant centre-half Clark went clattering into the Steelmen’s stopper Maxwell.
In the days where goalkeepers were a far less protected species and teams only had two substitutes to call on, short of fielding Kirk in goals, Tommy McLean had to rely on Maxwell lasting the distance.
He did exactly that – but not without putting himself through a whole world of pain; a fact not lost on Bowman.
“I’d rather have a crane land on the top of me than big Clarky,” he mused.
“He landed right into him. I don’t think it was deliberate but he did some damage to Maxy.
“It was his spleen he ruptured so fair play to him he played on there.
“I think we thought at the time: ‘He’s milking that’.
“You see the medical report and he maybe wasn’t!”
Maxwell would sign for United in 1995 and play alongside both Bowman and Malpas under Tommy McLean for two seasons.
And Malpas was sure to remind the keeper of the incident.
“We kid him on that he was never injured and it was just because he had a disaster for our last goal,” he said.
“In that time, it was a case of you just get your head down and get on with it.
“I think there was only two subs then and there definitely wasn’t one that was a goalkeeper.
“Maxy had a couple of paracetamol and was told to get up and get on with it.
“That’s what he did.”
Intimidate the opposition
For all they have admiration for the way Maxwell carried on and helped his side to cup glory, both Bowman and Malpas believe that kind of physicality wouldn’t slide in today’s game.
No matter how much they’d love to see it.
“Collisions like that now and there’d be players rolling around for about a week – no chance of them getting up and playing,” Malpas joked.
“That’s just how it is. Life’s changed as well.
“Guys like Bow and Jim (McInally)that was a massive part of their game and me, as a defender, a massive part of my game was intimidating the opposition.
“Whether that’s kicking them or whatever but, nowadays that’s taken completely out of the game, whether that’s for the better of the game I don’t know.
“I don’t think we get any more goals or excitement because of it.”
Bowman added: “You’d have the sub goalie on and they’d be rolling about the goalmouth for 20 minutes like squealing nowadays.
“It’s a bit different.”
‘What they didn’t know about football wasn’t worthwhile knowing, to be honest’
When all was said and done, the Family Final ended with Jim and Tommy McLean still brothers in arms. No doubt they were all too aware of the legacy they were building in our game.
Five months on from his death, ‘wee Jim’ is remembered as one of the greats and Tommy, long-since retired, will be forever an icon of Scottish football.
All the stories surrounding that crazy 120 minutes 30 years ago aside, that’s simply all there is to it for Malpas.
“Two football guys through and through,” he said of his former bosses.
“What they didn’t know about football wasn’t worthwhile knowing, to be honest.
“They had their silly streaks, their crazy streaks, major crazy streaks and a wicked temper but underneath all that they were footballing people.”