Paisley Daily Express
Lambert: Tasting cup glory forged winning mentality for future success
Paul Lambert still can’t believe he went from scrubbing boots to lifting the Scottish Cup in the space of a year.
The former St Mirren midfielder quickly progressed from talented prospect to first-team regular after joining the Paisley club in 1985.
Despite being just 17, he was one of the first names on the teamsheet as the Buddies prepared for a monumental Scottish Cup final clash with Jim McLean’s UEFA Cup-chasing Dundee United side in 1987.
Saints boss Alex Smith wasn’t one to shy away from throwing youngsters in at the deep end. Indeed Lambert was one of five players under the age of 20 to take on the Terrors at Hampden in that season’s showpiece, alongside Ian Cameron, Ian Ferguson, Brian Hamilton and David Winnie.
Lambert would end up on the winning side after Ferguson’s extratime winner ensured the trophy would be returning home to Paisley, and he believes the youthful character of St Mirren’s side played a big part in their upset that day.
The ex- Celtic star also revealed that despite going on to win the Champions League with Borussia Dortmund and several league and cup titles with the Hoops, that first Scottish Cup win with the Buddies forged a winning mentality he carried with him throughout his career.
Speaking exclusively to Express Sport, he said: “Without a doubt it was a great thing to have so many youngsters in the squad that day.
“Myself, Brian Hamilton, Fergie (Ian Ferguson), Winnie. We had a really good youth policy and the gaffer put his trust in us.
“Being younger did help us because we felt less pressure on the day.
I played it as if I was playing on my local park. I didn’t realise the magnitude of it at all.
“Smith told me the week before that I was going to play, so mentally I had plenty of time to prepare. I was ready to go.
“Dundee United were massive favourites. They’d just beaten Barcelona and were a top, top side.
“They had a great team with the likes of David Narey, Maurice Malpas, John Clark, Billy Thompson, Paul Sturrock.
“They had a brilliant team and Jim McLean was a brilliant coach. No one gave us a chance in hell of an upset.
“I don’t think anyone expected the sort of turnout we would get that day at Hampden.
“It was an incredible turnout from the Saints fans which made a big difference. It felt like a bit of a leveller.
“St Mirren gave a right good account of themselves on and off the pitch that day. It was a great occasion for Paisley as a whole.
“The first cup you win is always special, especially as I was only 17. A year before then I was just a young, hopeful kid cleaning the older guys’ boots.
“I never realised the significance of a provincial club winning the Scottish Cup at that age. To do it at that time was an incredible achievement.
“Once you get one, you definitely want more of them. You want to go and play in more big games, play at a higher level and win more trophies.”
After defying their underdog status, the Buddies squad returned home heroes with thousands gathering at Paisley Town Hall to welcome the open top bus and see the players lift the trophy.
At just 17, Lambert was shocked at how much the victory meant to the club’s supporters, who hadn’t tasted cup success before then since 1959.
To him and his fellow young teammates, the famous win meant they were finally accepted by the club’s more experienced players.
Lambert said: “We had some really experienced pros in our squad. I had great players around me in Billy Abercrombie and Tony Fiztpatrick.
“Frank McGarvey was a superb striker. We had a really good balance of young guys and experienced pros and the older guys made me battlehardened.
“The hardened pros brought me through and they gave me a rollicking if I needed it. Guys like Brian Gallacher, Ian Scanlon and Stevie Clarke.
“They kept me right and told me when I was doing wrong. That was so important for my development.
“I remember when we were back at the hall with the trophy, there were thousands of Saints fans all celebrating. It was incredible and you could see how much it meant to them.
“At the end of all the rigmarole, I felt like I was finally one of them. I felt like the older ones accepted us because they knew we could hold our own in that environment. They knew we could stand up and play when it counted.
“I thank my lucky stars I came through with that group of players, because they taught me so much.”
Lambert, who went on to earn 40 caps for Scotland before moving into management with clubs like Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and most recently Ipswich Town, admits he would love to see St Mirren repeat the feat and go on to lift the Scottish Cup again later this month.
The Buddies will have to win their semi- final with St Johnstone tomorrow afternoon first of all, with Lambert believing this is one of the best opportunities the club will ever get to bring the silverware back to Paisley.
He added: “St Johnstone are doing well at the moment. It’s going to be a tough game for sure.
“It would be great if St Mirren could go and win the cup again. It would be good for Paisley, especially with what’s happened over the last year.
“The experienced pros I played with were so streetwise. I’m not sure if the current crop are quite at that level.
“They’ll need to try and help the youngsters get through the occasion. They might not get the chance again in their career, so they need to make sure they don’t have any regrets after the full-time whistle blows.
“The League Cup semi that they lost against Livingston, that experience will definitely help them.
“At the end of the day this is a massive chance to win the Scottish Cup. Hibs are probably favourites, but there’s not really a strong favourite.”