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Philadelphia Union Academy director reflects on anniversary of Scottish Cup win

Tommy Wilson was the starting right back in an underdog victory for St. Mirren in the Scottish Cup final 35 years ago on May 16

16/05/87 SCOTTISH CUP FINAL .ST MIRREN v DUNDEE UNITED (1-0) .HAMPDEN PARK - GLASGOW .Saints Manager Alex Smith (bottom, second left) celebrates with his team Photo by SNS Group via Getty Images

Though he’s better known for his role heading one of the most heralded youth academies in the U.S. over the past decade, back home in Scotland Tommy Wilson has his name permanently etched in the history of his former club because of what he accomplished 35 years ago today.

Wilson started at right back and wore the No. 2 jersey for St. Mirren in the final at Hampden Park in Glasgow. A crowd of 51,782 watched as Wilson and his teammates pulled off a 1-0 upset in extra time to beat Dundee United.

“I remember it well,” Wilson said in a recent interview. “It was a fantastic journey we went on.”

That journey for Wilson started a short walk from Hampden Park, where as a boy he grew up dreaming of winning a Scottish Cup. He would end up starting his career with Queen’s Park in 1978 and played several times as a young pro at Hampden Park before moving to St. Mirren in 1982.

SEASON 1986/1987 . ST MIRREN . Tommy Wilson Photo by SNS Group via Getty Images

“Growing up as a young boy in Scotland there weren’t many live games on TV,” Wilson said. “You would get cup finals, some World Cup games, European championships and that sort of thing so the Scottish Cup was the one you dreamed of.”

Entering the locker room on that May day, Wilson’s career came full circle as he put on his kit in the same locker room he had used in his Queen’s Park days. The lockers are now a museum piece.

“It was a pretty unique experience,” Wilson said. “They have a museum there and those same lockers are still in it.”

The Scottish Cup was first held in 1873-74 and is the second oldest football competition in the world behind the English FA Cup, which originated in 1871-72. Over the course of its history its been won by Celtic and Rangers a combined 73 times. Only 14 other clubs have won it more than once.

St. Mirren hasn’t won it since but the final win in 1987 was the Paisley club’s third. Celebrating the title with his teammates on an open bus that weaving its way through Paisley, Wilson recalls just how big of a deal it was to the people of Paisley. St. Mirren had last won the coveted trophy in 1958-59, two years before Wilson was born.

“As we drove through the streets of Paisley, just the joy on the faces was amazing,” Wilson said. “What it means to a small town you just couldn’t not want to just win for the people of Paisley.”

Wilson and his teammates became legends that day and many like Wilson have gone on to find success in the game after their playing careers wound down. His teammate Paul Lambert might be the most recognizable example since he went on to win Champions League with Dortmund and has managed a number of teams in England, most recently Ipswich Town.

After retiring in 1994, Wilson went on to work in youth development for the Scottish Football Association and Rangers before coming to the U.S. to take the academy director job for the Philadelphia Union in March 2013. He was promoted last season to directory of academy and professional development.

Matt Ralph

One of the big lessons he’s passed on from his playing days and applied to his work is the importance of always being prepared for whatever might come.

“One of the things I always say to young players, young professionals now is to prepare properly,” Wilson said. “Even if your chance doesn’t come because if it does come you have to be ready. I remember Brenden (Aaronson) in the game against Atlanta (his MLS debut). He was ready for that and the rest as they say is history.”

Wilson had been a pro nearly a decade when his Scottish Cup glory came. As you can see in the full video of the game on YouTube there was no shortage of pomp, circumstance or bag pipes in the run-up to the game. The crowd was also titled in the favor of the Saints.

“I remember standing there before the game looking around and seeing all the black and white scarves,” Wilson said. “It must have been 40,000 (St. Mirran) fans in the stadium.”

The two teams played through a scoreless 90 in a defensive battle befitting a rainy day in Glasgow. Dundee United thought they had found the first goal midway through extra time when Iain Ferguson scored off a goalkeeper deflection. The goal was waved off for a questionable offside and St. Mirren’s Ian Ferguson played the hero instead when he collected a ball played in by Brian Hamilton and laced one past Dundee goalkeeper Billy Thomson.

“I remember feeling there was only ever going to be one goal between us that day,” Wilson said. “So when we scored, I remember running to celebrate and jumping up on somebody’s back.”

The second celebration would kick in when the Buddies saw through the remaining time left with the zero intact. Many more celebrations followed and anniversaries have marked opportunities to reflect on a feat that still carries a lot of significant in Scottish football. St. Mirren remains the last all-Scottish team to win the cup on a day both teams fielded all-Scottish lineups.

“The chances of that happening now (an all-Scottish final) are fairly slim,” Wilson said. “Probably non-existent.”

Wilson doesn’t have a lot of keepsakes from the day but he still has his No. 2 jersey — the same jersey he wore all season in those days — and a medal from his time. Rarely ever does it come up in his day job now but trips back home — his daughter lives in Paisley — bring on occasion to be reminded of his status as a St. Mirren legend who in addition to winning the Scottish Cup logged close to 300 career appearances.

“It’s always great to relive that day, especially because it doesn’t happen that often,” Wilson said.