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Title win remembered

TODAY marks the 50th anniversary of the Bannsiders’ sole Gibson Cup triumph in the 1973/74 season…

After several near misses, Ivan Murray scored in a 1-1 draw at Portadown, which meant that with two games left, Coleraine could not be overtaken at the top and were Irish League Champions for the first time.

Coleraine rounded off the season with two further wins as they celebrated finally getting their hands on the Gibson Cup. Adding to the celebratory mood at the club was the news that Ivan Murray had been named Player of the Year by the Football Writers, a worthy recipient given his contribution to the title win.

But the club was rocked in its greatest hour when after the season’s conclusion, Bertie Peacock announced he would be standing down as manager. Having brought unprecedented success to The Showgrounds in his 13 years in charge, he would be a hard act to follow.

Tuesday, April 16, 1974:

At last! All the nail-biting and tension of a great Irish League campaign came to an end on Tuesday afternoon when Coleraine clinched their first-ever championship title by earning a one-all draw with main challengers, Portadown at Shamrock Park.

This hard-earned point made them the Untouchables, putting them on 31 points, whereas the best Portadown can now achieve is 30, and outgoing champions Crusaders can also just make 30. And Coleraine still have two games to make their victory margin even more decisive— against Glenavon at Lurgan this Saturday and away to Ballymena United on Monday night.

Coleraine’s triumph ends a 47-year wait since the club entered senior soccer, a year wait under the managership of Bertie Peacock, and happily puts paid to all the suggestions that Coleraine were yet again destined to be so near the title without managing to lift it.

Now the proud Peacock record with Coleraine is complete. The Gibson Cup was the only one that Coleraine had not won under his guidance and no one made any secret of the fact that this was the one that was wanted more than any.

Peacock’s efforts to secure it can be seen from the record books. In the past eleven seasons they have been runners-up three times, and never out of the top bracket.

But the record books do not pinpoint those seasons when Coleraine looked certain to triumph, but let the trophy slip from their grasp by perhaps even one bad result.

This time, however, despite all the tension of the past few weeks, there was no slip-up. They did not even have to linger to the last game before making the cup theirs.

People will no doubt say that Coleraine have lost the league in past seasons with better teams than the present one. That is a matter for conjecture, but no one can deny that there has never been such a team of campaigners as the present one.

Think back to previous years when, if Coleraine lost a goal, their cause was lost. Then consider the present campaign and how often Coleraine came back from behind, how often they powered their way to vital points by a single goal, and how often they did it in the last few minutes.

And this quality was never more apparent than at Shamrock Park on Tuesday, when, even in the eyes of their most ardent fans, they were  a beaten side.

Portadown, a goal in front, were playing some superb soccer and it looked as though Coleraine would have to wait yet another few days for their moment of glory.

But the team refused to submit. They hung on by their finger nails at times, but hang on they did, and, in an unforgettable moment, they equalised with just seven minutes to go.

It was incredible, Portadown goalkeeper Bobby Carlisle had scarcely a shot to deal with all afternoon until that moment, and that one gave him not an earthly.

And it was a goal and a situation that bore a remarkable resemblance to the Irish Cup final against Portadown two years ago, when Coleraine, after being out-gunned for most of the time, stormed to victory in the final minutes.

For the goal, as in the cup final, came from the head of Ivan Murray and was placed with such deliberate accuracy that it could not fail to succeed.

It actually stemmed from a free-kick won on the half-way line and near the touchline by Murray.

Davy Jackson floated the ball to the far post, Des Dickson beat Sammy Lunn in the air for only the second time to head the ball back across goal, and Murray seemed to take all the time in the world in heading it in at the upright.

After that there was no doubt that Coleraine were the champions.

They ran riot in those last remaining minutes and could well have scored again, but that one goal was enough.

Both teams seemed rather overawed by the big occasion at the start and there was not much between them until the Ports scored a fine goal to take the initiative.

The move started in their own penalty area, then up the left flank, and switched over to the right, from where Davy Malcolmson sent in a high centre. Martin Malone put in a strong header which cannoned back off the crossbar, but he did well to get his head to the ball again and steer it into the net.

A minute later, Coleraine could have been really down and out when Jackie Hutton put Vic Fleming in the clear, but Eddie Crossan made a superb save, dashing out to deflect the shot for a corner. This was just one of a number of brilliant saves from Crossan, another which sticks in the mind, being just before the equaliser, when he tipped a thundering drive from Malcolmson over the bar.

Also just before that equaliser, I thought Coleraine might have had a penalty, when Sammy Lunn body-checked Terry Cochrane as the Coleraine man was bursting through dangerously. But Cochrane probably spoiled a just claim by over-dramatising his fall, and play was allowed to continue.

Having already mentioned Crossan, I would add that there were others who had great games, and some who were not at their best. But I will not list any more individuals…they were a team that won the league!

COLERAINE: Crossan, McCurdy, McNutt; Campbell, Jackson, Murray, Cochrane, Clarke, Guy, Dickson, Gordon.

Sub: Peacock for Clarke,

Many thanks to Hunter McClelland for his research.

Meanwhile, numerous players from that title winning squad will be special guests at The Showgrounds on Saturday afternoon for the Premiership encounter against Crusaders.

The players will conduct a Q&A session with Grant Cameron in the Social Club at 2pm about that success and then will be presented to the crowd at half-time.

After the match, the players will enjoy a three-course meal at the Bushtown Hotel along with members of various supporters clubs.

It is only right that we remember and celebrate the achievements of this group of players as they formed the backbone of the teams which brought so much success to the club over a twelve year period from 1965 – including not only the Gibson Cup – but also two Blaxnit All Ireland Cups, four Irish Cups and various Ulster Cups, City Cups, Gold Cups and NW Cups.

Coleraine FC would like to thank the Friends of Coleraine and also the Spirit of 74 Supporters Club for sponsoring the day.