JOCK STEIN’S Celtic machine rolled on in its historic quest for title successes and the eighth consecutive crown was won on the last day of the season against Hibs at Easter Road in April 1973.
Author Alex Gordon highlights the momentous episode in the club’s history in his latest tribute publication, ‘Celtic: 50 Flags Plus One’, in which he looks in detail at all fifty-one untainted championship successes.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Alex provides an edited extract as the legendary Stein guided the side towards the first nine titles.
BIZARRE is the only word to describe Celtic’s kick-off to the 1972/73 campaign and the club’s quest for an eighth successive crown. For a start, only 11,560 fans bothered to stir themselves from their armchairs on a Saturday evening to watch the understated curtain-raiser against Kilmarnock at a sunny Hampden Park on September 2 1972.
With Celtic Park’s renovations still ongoing, Jock Stein’s team had to move into their temporary home in Mount Florida. The match had a 7pm commencement because Queen’s Park had fulfilled a Division Two fixture on their ground earlier in the afternoon. The meagre turn-out was one of the lowest attendances in decades for a Celtic ‘home’ game at the start of a campaign.
Celtic also went into the confrontation in the knowledge they required a win of three goals or more to go back to where they left off the previous season. Rangers had already faltered at the first hurdle with a 2-1 loss against Ayr United at Somerset Park. The champions knew what was in front of them and duly dismantled a Rugby Park side 6-2 with a blistering four-goals-in-thirty-four-minutes blast in the opening half.
It spoke volumes of the quality and professionalism of the players in a stadium virtually bereft of atmosphere that they kept their focus firmly on the prize. Ally Hunter, who would join the Parkhead men later in the campaign, was the opposition’s star man with a series of astonishing saves after his team had come so close to being swept away by a green-and-white hurricane during a rollicking beginning.
The unfortunate keeper had to pick the ball out of his net in only the third minute after his team-mate Jackie McGrory deflected in a cross from Harry Hood. Penalty-box pirate Dixie Deans plundered the second two minutes later and Hood got on the scoresheet ten minutes afterwards. There was a brief interlude while Jim Cook netted a header beyond Denis Connaghan, but Deans zipped in a fourth before the interval. Hood nodded in a fifth, Eddie Morrison replied and Bobby Murdoch brought the scoring to a halt with a penalty-kick seven minutes from time.
So, after a mere one-and-a-half-hour’s worth of football, Celtic were at the summit and were already two points ahead of Rangers, who, in their centenary year, had been loud and brash with their promises throughout the summer. They had a wretched start to the season with three defeats and a draw from their first four league games. Among the losses was a 3-1 hammering from the champions at the national stadium in front of a restricted gate of 50,500 with a noon kick-off on September 16.
Kenny Dalglish scored in two minutes, Jimmy Johnstone doubled the advantage in seventeen minutes and Lou Macari, a bubbling menace, turned in a third shortly after the interval. The visiting fans had long since departed by the time John Greig scored with virtually the last kick of the ball to be greeted with ironic cheers from those of the Hoops persuasion.
Allan Herron, in the Sunday Mail, wrote: “This Hampden shoot-out at high noon turned out to be a public flogging for Rangers. The scoreline is a giggle.” Fellow-scribe Malcolm Munro, of The Evening Times, opined: “It’s crisis time at Ibrox – and anyone who says otherwise is being less than realistic.” John Downie, of the London Times, offered: “So comprehensively did they dominate Saturday’s midday league match at Hampden Park that Celtic’s score could well have reached double figures.”
It is nothing short of bewildering, then, to look at the climax of the season when Celtic were tasked with a game against Hibs at Easter Road on April 28 to secure their eighth consecutive flag and the club’s twenty-eighth in history. Jock Stein declared afterwards this championship, secured by a single point, had been “the most difficult to win” in the glorious sequence.
All eyes were on Edinburgh for a last-day duel with Hibs at Stein’s old stomping ground of Easter Road. A draw would suffice, but Celtic had a reputation for doing things in style and, yet again, they did not disappoint. The prolific Dixie Deans fired them ahead, Kenny Dalglish capitalised upon a blunder by keeper Jim McArthur for the second and Deans knocked in the third for a rampant 3-0 success.
The flag would be flying in the east end of Glasgow for the eighth consecutive year. EIGHTSOME REEL headlines dominated the back pages of the national press the following day.
A relieved Jock Stein reflected: “It felt just as good winning it for the eighth time as it did away back in 1966 when we clinched the first one at Fir Park.”
Alex Gordon, a former sports editor of a best-selling national newspaper, writes with insider’s knowledge in his fifteenth book on Celtic.
Club legend Davie Hay rates the title win in 1986 as “one of my best achievements in football” while John ‘Yogi’ Hughes, the club’s seventh-highest goalscorer, calls it “an amazing journey of several lifetimes”.* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in their glorious history. To order a copy – and get a FREE book, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’ – please click here.