FINISHING on the losing team in the Scottish Cup final can lead to a wretched summer for a footballer.

They have to wait weeks, months even, to play competitively again and, with no immediate opportunity to get the result out of their system, the pain of the defeat lingers.

Rangers great John Brown knows only too well what that feels liked having been on the receiving end of an agonising 1-0 reverse at the hands of Celtic at Hampden in the last game of the season back in 1989.

However, the circumstances which led to the treble-chasing Ibrox club failing to complete a clean sweep of domestic silverware for only the fifth time in their history still irk him 35 years on.

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“To this day, it grates with me that we lost that,” said Bown earlier this week as he met pupils from Ibrox Primary School who were attending the Rangers Charity Foundation’s Scottish FA Extra Time after school programme at the Ibrox Community Complex. “I’ve still got a bitter feeling about it.”

It is maybe understandable. Billy McNeill’s side ran out 1-0 winners over Graeme Souness’s team on a baking-hot afternoon in Mount Florida thanks to a goal from striker Joe Miller three minutes before half-time.

However, the build-up to his strike was controversial to say the least. Parkhead midfielder Roy Aitken put the ball out of play directly in front of Ibrox defender Brown and referee Bob Valentine. Everyone in the 72,069 crowd expected a throw-in to be awarded to the newly-crowned Premier Division champions.

The Herald: Quick-thinking Aitken, though, did not wait for a decision. He took the throw-in anyway, Celtic broke up the park, Gary Stevens lost control of the ball on the edge of his area and Miller nipped in and slotted beyond Chris Woods.    

Brown, who was not exactly averse to indulging in the dark arts during his trophy-laden playing career, has a grudging respect for what his rival did. But, boy, did it hurt afterwards. For years afterwards in fact. 

“I could have done with VAR then,” he said. “To be fair to Roy, he was right at the ball and the referee allowed him to take it. But the thing about it that made it worse was that we’d done a double and were going for a treble. That cup final has stayed with me to this day.”

The former defender argued that game is relevant ahead of the climax of the Scottish Gas-sponsored competition between the ancient Glasgow adversaries at Hampden tomorrow.

Brendan Rodgers’ men are, having triumphed in three and drawn one of the four Old Firm derbies which have been played in the 2023/24 campaign, favourites to prevail and complete a Premiership and Scottish Cup double.

Philippe Clement’s charges, who have won just four of their last nine matches due in part to a lengthy injury list, are not expected to end a winless run in meaningful games against their opponents which stretches back to 2022.

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But Brown, a battle-hardened veteran of numerous clashes with Celtic, believes the 1989 encounter shows that over the course of a cup tie anything can and frequently does happen.

The Rangers starting line-up that day comprised Terry Butcher, Richard Gough, Mark Walters and Ally McCoist and Souness and Davie Cooper both came off the bench. However, they still came up short at the end of the 90 minutes.  

The Herald: “That season, we’d beaten Celtic 5-1 and 4-1 here at Ibrox,” he said. “Celtic beat us 3-1 over there and it could have been five or six. Then we managed to win the last league game 2-1 at Parkhead. So we had won three out of the four games before the final. We managed to win the league and the majority of the games against them over that period. 

“It just shows you what can happen on a one-off occasion. Celtic had Paul McStay, Roy Aitken, Tommy Burns and Packie Bonner – all international level players. So they had a decent team. But the 3-1 game at Celtic Park? Honestly, within half an hour it was looking like it could be a five or six no problem. How we got away with a 3-1, I don’t know.”

Brown added: “I’m sure all the Celtic players have had a fantastic week there having won the league. Going into the cup final, they’ll be full of optimism. But I go back to the 1989 game. We went into that knowing that Celtic was a good team and that we had to be at our best. 

“We were poor that day. All the press guys were tipping us to win. But it turned out that we never got that cup. It just shows you that anything can happen.

“For our players, it’s a massive one come Saturday to quickly get back at Celtic having played them not long ago at Parkhead. It would be a great one for the manager to finish on a high going into the summer break. 

“The last game of the season is massive – it is the chance for our boys to upset the Celtic party that’s been going on for a week. It would be fantastic for our club. It would also mean we’d have won both cups.” 

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Brown firmly believes that completing a Viaplay Cup and Scottish Cup double will give Rangers a platform to launch a challenge for the Premiership next season and enjoy more success in future – just as it did after he finally laid his hands on the oldest trophy in world football in 1992. 

“Graeme had left the previous season to go to Liverpool,” he said. “When the campaign started Walter Smith said, ‘It’s 11 years since we’ve won the Scottish Cup and it stops this year’. He wanted us to make a dent in the competition and that’s what we did, we laid a marker down.

“We beat Celtic in the semi-final and Airdrie in the final. That was the turning point for us. We won it the following year at Parkhead as Hampden was being done up and then we had 1996, the Laudrup Final. That turned out to be my last ever game, not that I knew it at the time. I got injured going into the following pre-season, the Nine-In-A-Row season.

“Some of the players have a taste for the Scottish Cup having won it, for the others it’s stand up and be counted come Saturday. I have great memories from the competition – but a sore memory from that one in 1989.”

The Herald: