On the 22nd of September, 1964, Kilmarnock F C beat Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 in their first ever European tie at Rugby Park.
In a match dubbed as the greatest comeback in Scottish football history, Kilmarnock defeated Eintracht Frankfurt in a European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie at Rugby Park in Ayrshire. The Germans had arrived in Scotland very pleased with themselves, having a 3-0 advantage from the first leg. Then, just over a minute into the return leg, they had taken a seemingly impervious lead, from a stunning long range drive into the top corner of Kilmarnock’s net by Huberts, the inside-left. Killie, nevertheless, refused to lie down and fought back to not only win the game, but also the tie, with an aggregate score of 5-4. “Hail Killie Tigers!” ran the next day’s newspaper headlines and “Here was a game that will be remembered as long as football is played in Ayrshire” ran the standfirst. Surely, we’ll never see the likes again.
Kilmarnock Football Club’s early roots can be traced back to 1869, when young cricketers (yes, cricket is played in Scotland; it was ‘invented’ there by Rob Roy Macgregor) who played on Barbados Green (now the Howard Park) decided that they needed something to occupy their time during the cricket close season. Local pitches at the Grange, Holm Quarry and Ward's Park all hosted home matches in the team’s early years, before the Ayrshire town's football, cricket and rugby clubs agreed on closer ties towards the end of the last century. Three decades after being founded as Scotland's first professional club, Kilmarnock moved to its present stadium. It is said that, at its first ground near South Hamilton Street, the team played a primitive sort of football-rugby that was nothing like association football. The name of the ground – Rugby Park – derives from that era.
The opening fixture at the permanent stadium of the new Second Division champions was against the reigning Scottish Cup holders; Celtic. The Kilmarnock Standard reported that “Even the horses of the mounted police danced with joy” as Killie came from two goals down to force a draw on that occasion. Since then, Rugby Park has hosted several Scottish Cup celebrations, the remarkable 1965 First Division title triumph, and the odd, spectacular European evening. The spirit that saw Killie draw with Celtic way back in 1899 was particularly evident during the golden era of the mid-Sixties as Eintracht Frankfurt, Real Madrid, Leeds United and Everton all endured the intimidating atmosphere of Rugby Park at that time, when Killie challenged in the European and Fairs Cups. Eintracht Frankfurt were selected to be the Club's opposition for its Centenary Match on the 12th of April, 1969, but it is the 1964 meeting between the sides that will live longest in the fans’ memories.
In their first ever European tie, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, Killie were drawn against Eintracht Frankfurt, which was a team that only four years earlier had narrowly lost to Real Madrid in the European Cup Final. In 1964, they were still a formidable team as Killie found out. The Scottish team lost the first leg in Germany 3-0 and its Scottish Manager, Willie Waddell, came under heavy criticism – nothing ever changes – for setting up his players in a 4-2-4 formation. On the evening of the 22nd of September, 1964, watched by a Rugby Park crowd of 14,930, Killie got off to the worst possible start. Inside the first two minutes the players found themselves a goal down, which meant 0-4 on aggregate, and seemingly with a mountain to climb. Instead of letting their heads go down, the team simply rolled up its collective sleeves and the rest as they say is history!
Killie had no choice but to attack and, with the crowd on its side, a major football mirkle happened. An inspiration for the team was Jim McFadzean, who had been brought in for the injured Matt Wilson, and the fans didn’t have to wait too long to get an idea that things weren’t as bad as they seemed. In the thirteenth minute, wee Davie Sneddon sent in a cross, which might have led to a penalty, but the Referee didn’t whistle for an offence and Ronnie Hamilton stole through and finished well to make it 1-1 on the night. A mere two minutes later and Killie’s fans began to dream as Brian McIlroy got a second goal. By now, of course, the Germans were less than zufrieden, decidedly rattled in fact, but they rallied and finished the first half strongly, forcing a great save by Forsyth from the boot of Schamer.
Killie started the second half in somewhat similar fashion to the Germans in the first. After just seven minutes, fullback come centre forward McFadzean, rose like a salmon and headed home Killie’s third goal from a Brain McGrory freekick. The noise from the home crowd became almost deafening and must have been daunting to the Eintracht players as it echoed around the ground and urged on the Scottish players to ever greater endeavour. The scoreline remained at 3-4 well into the second period and those fans who were not biting their finger nails were hoarse from shouting. The noise had abated slightly and the Germans had regained their composure. However, with just eight minutes remaining, Jackie McInally delivered a telling blow when he rose above the German defence to head home a McIlroy cross and level the tie. Rugby Park went crazy and young boys ran onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. But the best was to come; it wasn’t over just yet.
With just a few seconds remaining on the clock, Ronnie Hamilton grabbed the winner after a free kick by Davie Sneddon. On a night of passionate joy, Kilmarnock went wild with delight as hordes of fans invaded the pitch after the full time whistle. The Polis even had to fight their way through the crowds to get the players off the pitch and to safety. For Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and Scotland, these eleven players did everyone, especially themselves, great credit, for which they will be long remembered.
The Killie team that night: Forsyth, King, McFadzean, Murray, McGrory, Beattie, McLean, McInally, Hamilton, Sneddon and McIlroy.