IN the past 25 years, wherever supporters of Partick Thistle have gathered, occasionally even at Firhill, the topic of conversation invariably turns to the greatest day in their lives when the Jags collected their only major trophy since the Second World War.

Perhaps it would be nit-picking to suggest that, as we listened over the years to all of those who claimed to be at Hampden on October 23, 1971, there must have been around 70,000 on the famous terraces wearing the red and yellow scarves. Where the tiny band of Celtic followers fitted in is difficult to explain as the official attendance was 62,740.

One man whose presence cannot be denied is Alan Rough, who was in the Thistle goal on that momentous day when they thrashed Celtic 4-1 in the League Cup final. He and his former team mates are gathering next Wednesday, the precise silver jubilee anniversary of their finest hour, for a reception at Firhill.

They might be a little more fortunate than they were on the original occasion when the triumphant shock troops returned to their stadium in Maryhill only to find that it was shut. ``We had to search around to see if anyone had a key to let us in,'' recalls Rough.

It would hardly be a surprise, either, remembering the eccentricities that have been an integral part of the Jags' history, that when the players changed into the dinner suits and headed for the dinner arranged for them in town, win or lose, there was scarcely a fan in sight.

Rough, whose own phlegmatic nature was tailor-made for a career at Firhill, explains, in a tone surprised that anyone should ask: ``Nobody expected us to win.''

The keeper, who went on to become one of the most capped goalkeepers in Scotland's history, with 55 caps, still looks back with immense pride at the day Thistle shook Scottish football, yet with great humour, too.

His recollection does illustrate the difference between the highly paid and cosseted players of today and the lads who did their bit for one of the lesser professional sides of the seventies.

For instance, the embryo hero caught the No.11 bus from Knightswood to Anniesland Cross to meet his mates at Esquire House to go together to Hampden. ``I took the 237th BB team on Saturday mornings, and after that just got the bus into town.

``It was full of Celtic supporters, but they didn't know who I was. I just sat in the middle of them.'' By half time his team had astounded those Celtic fans by going 4-0 in front.

In the Thistle dressing room all was surprisingly calm, according to Rough. ``I think we all sat there thinking we would get beat 5-4.'' He doesn't remember having to make a save worth the name.

He had been a Thistle boy at 14 with the Boys Club and had made his way through to the top team that season when he was 19. He was not the nervous type then, nor ever became one, through a career that encompassed spells with Hibs, Celtic and Ayr United before he went to the Juniors where he now manages Glenafton.

``Celtic got better in the second half, but I suppose it was our day. We had four shots at goal in the first half and they all went in.'' Rough did not imagine it would be the only time that he would lift a major cup winners' medal and that has made it all the more precious.

``People forget that we had a lot of young players in that team, like Alex Forsyth, John Hansen, Ronnie Glavin, Jimmy Bone and Bobby Lawrie, so we weren't really bothered about playing the mighty Celtic.

``Fortunately a couple of things went for us, like Billy McNeill not playing.'' Then he adds, scarcely able to keep a straight face: ``And unfortunately Glavin banged into Jimmy Johnstone after ten minutes and that helped us a wee bit.''

The irrepressible keeper reckons that he and his Jags colleagues began to think they could win the trophy with about 15 minutes to go. ``I thought we had a chance then.''

After it was all over and the happy warriors returned to Firhill they eventually found a key holder who let them in the front door. Then it was into dinner suits and off to Royal Exchange Square for the official celebrations.

``We did see the odd fan or two, but nobody knew where we were going because nobody expected us to win.'' Alan's excellent recall goes a bit hazy after 11pm that night, but it would seem he was not alone and in fact the celebrations went on rather longer than is the customs these days.

A week later Thistle did not seem at their most attentive as they went down 8-2 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

``We had gone to Blairgowrie before playing Dundee on the following Wednesday (we drew 0-0) and stayed on before we met Aberdeen. We had a good time playing golf and things.''

While they were in the north east, Rough saw the manager of Hull City, Terry Neil, and his assistant, Tommy Docherty, appear on the morning of the game and then drive away. What he didn't know was that the managers were there to offer #50,000 for him to move south.

``Nobody told me then but afterwards manager Davie McParland told me he didn't think it was a good move for me. Being young at the time I just accepted it.''

Six of that team went on to become internationalists, at Under 23 or higher level, Hansen, Forsyth, Glavin, Bone, Denis McQuade, and Rough.

The keeper has nothing but praise for Celtic, the beaten finalists all those years ago. ``They were really great. Obviously they had been in finals, but they were fantastic and came along to congratulate us. There was no animosity.''

There was a reunion attempt for the 20th anniversary but there was not a full complement. This time there are high hopes that the whole gang will be there.

Rough finally left Firhill in 1981, when he joined Hibs, where they reached a League Cup final but lost 3-0. After a short spell in America he returned to join Celtic but that proved a blank medal spell, too.

He finished his senior career with Ayr United. Rough was at three World Cups, but would tell you that the one he enjoyed most was Mexico where he didn't play a game and enjoyed ``the best holiday I had had for ages.''

He is having fun, too, as manager of Glenafton. ``The Scottish Cup started last week and we won 5-1. I have been here six years and we haven't done worse than reach the quarter finals. Considering that 180 teams take part it's not a bad record.''

Like so many of his peers, the goalie reckons managing is the next best thing to playing. He might have held ambitions to succeed at a higher management level once, but reckons his chance has gone.

``Maybe if I had gone through the SFA coaching schemes I might have got on the roundabout, but it doesn't really bother me.'' Has he any regrets? ``Maybe if I had gone to Hull City after the League Cup final things would have turned out different.''

Ask a silly question . . .