TODAY CQN brings you the fourth EXCLUSIVE extract from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘CELTIC: The Awakening’, which was published by Mainstream in 2013.
The book covers the most amazing decade in the club’s history, the Sixties, an extraordinary period when the team were transformed from east end misfits to European masters.
RANGERS 2 CELTIC 1. A new year; same old familiar sinking feeling. Under gun metal grey skies, the Celtic fans filed into Ibrox Stadium preparing for the kick-off on the chilly afternoon of 2 January and wondering what 1961 would bring. They left in silence, hardly inclined to view the future favourably.
The thin whine of the wind failed to obliterate the taunts rolling down from the opposite terracings. Strong ale was required to dull the memory of abject failure again against their age-old foe. Johnny Divers scored, but goals from Ralph Brand and Davie Wilson inflicted Celtic’s second Glasgow derby league loss of the season, following the 5-1 drubbing in September. The championship flag hadn’t fluttered over the Parkhead stand since 1954. It was evident to even the most defiant among the Celtic support that it wouldn’t be observed in 1961, either.
Four significant events occurred in 1961. Celtic reached the Scottish Cup Final, where, despite being overwhelming favourites, they contrived to lose in the replay against Jock Stein’s Dunfermline, the legendary Bertie Peacock left the club after twelve years and two young men signed Provisional Forms at Parkhead who were to have a major and dramatic say in the remarkable and unexpected turnaround in the fortunes of the club – Jimmy Johnstone and Tommy Gemmell. The history books tell us Gemmell signed on 25 October from Coltness United while Johnstone joined from Blantyre Vics on 11 November.
THE LISBON LASH…Tommy Gemmell scores his unforgattable equaliser against Inter Milan in the European Cup Final in 1967.
However, Gemmell was adamant someone got the dates mixed up. ‘I can guarantee you we signed on the same night,’ said Gemmell. ‘I have vivid memories of that evening. Who wouldn’t? I was there with my dad and Jimmy turned up with his father. The four of us were ushered into the boardroom, situated to the right of the main entrance of the stadium. Manager Jimmy McGrory was sitting there at this enormous table that is still there to this day. He was puffing on a pipe which was something I came to witness quite a lot over the years. The first thing that hit me, though, was the wall-to-wall trophy cabinets. “Wow,” I thought to myself. I had never seen such silverware. I took a walk around on my own while my dad talked to Jimmy McGrory and some other officials. I had just celebrated my eighteenth birthday nine days earlier on the sixteenth and, as I learned later, Jimmy was a year younger.
‘The actual signing of the forms was a bit of a blur and, basically, was left to our dads. Jimmy and I were just happy to put pen to paper when we were called over and the forms were pushed in front of us. There was no haggling over cash or anything like that. Signing what was known as a Provisional Form meant you would be allowed to return to the Juniors if you didn’t make the grade at senior level.
‘That was far from my thoughts at that moment in time. Money? Coltness would have received some sort of fee and, as was the tradition in those days, I think I received a farewell bonus of £40 from them and something in the region of £25 from Celtic. Cash was not important; that was way down my list of priorities that October evening. I was getting a chance to do something at the world famous Glasgow Celtic and, boy, was I excited. I had arrived!
‘Another reason I remember that Jimmy and I signed on the same date was the fact that we got the same bus home. It was the Number 240 to Lanark. The both of us, with our dads, walked from Celtic Park to Parkhead Cross. Jimmy lived in Viewpark, in Uddingston, and I stayed in Craigneuk, in Motherwell. Funnily enough, I had met Jimmy before. We were both at Burnbank Technical College in Hamilton at the same time. I was about seventeen and was training to be an electrician while Jimmy was taking a course in welding. We would go there a couple of times a week on a release course. Along with the other lads on various courses, we would get the tennis ball out at dinner time and have a kickabout in the playground. Even back then the Wee Man was untouchable. No-one else got a kick at the ball for about an hour. He ran rings round me, I must confess. Little did I know what the future held in store for me and my wee pal.’
There wasn’t much to get excited about at the start of the year, though, with yet another blow inflicted by Rangers. Five days after Ibrox, Third Lanark won 3-2 at Parkhead and all Celtic had to look forward to in terms of trying to win silverware for the first time in four years was the Scottish Cup. Bertie Auld remembered, ‘The national trophy was a big deal in those days. The league title was the priority, obviously, but winning the Scottish Cup wasn’t a bad second. There was a lot of prestige in lifting the Cup at Hampden on the last day of the season. It sent the players and the fans home happy and they could spend their summer realising their team had at least won something. That would have made the entire season worthwhile.’
Auld was on target as the Scottish Cup kicked off with a 3-1 win at Falkirk while Montrose, from the Second Division, offered scant resistance in the next round with John Hughes, reinstated to the first team, underlining his potential once more with two strikes in a 6-0 triumph. The draw took Celtic to Fife to face a Raith Rovers side struggling at the foot of the First Division. Their thoughts must have been on survival – which they achieved by winning four points more than Clyde – because they rarely threatened Frank Haffey on this occasion, scoring one goal, but conceding four. Hughes was on the mark again. It would get a lot tougher when Hibs came to town for the quarter-final meeting in March.
A crowd of 40,000 – almost double the average gate – was at Parkhead for the visit of the Edinburgh side who may not have been the force they had been in the recent past, but were still exceptionally dangerous opponents. That fact was highlighted when Bobby Kinloch gave them the lead and once again the Jungle was silenced. Celtic, urged on by Paddy Crerand from the middle of the park, fought back furiously, but they were being repelled by an inspired Hibs goalkeeper – Ronnie Simpson. Even in 1961 the newspapers were calling him a veteran and he was only thirty-years-old at the time. Surely he still had some mileage left in him?
As the clock ticked down, it looked like another failure was about to be inflicted upon Celtic. Six minutes were left when Stevie Chalmers snaked his way through the retreating Hibs defence to fire beyond the man who would become his golf partner for years to come. Celtic, though, were back on quicksand as they travelled to the capital for the replay four days later. The tie attracted another attendance of around the 40,000 mark. The tension was electric with both teams realising their only hope of any trophy success that season lay in the national competition.
Northern Ireland international left-half Bertie Peacock, one of Celtic’s most famous and respected players of the era, was forced to miss the match after being called up for international duty. His non-appearance would have serious repercussions. A youngster by the name of John Clark, who had celebrated his twentieth birthday only two days earlier, took his place.
POINTING THE WAY…John Clark.
Clark, signed from Larkhall Thistle eighteen months beforehand, would remain in place for the rest of the season. Peacock’s Celtic career, which lasted twelve years, was over at the age of thirty-one. He had won a league championship medal in 1954 and also picked up two Scottish Cup honours in 1951 and 1954 as well as being successful twice in the League Cup in 1956 and the following year, the 7-1 rout of Rangers. He was one of only eleven players who picked up a Coronation Cup medal in 1953 as well as being selected thirty-one times for his country. His stock was so high he also played in the Great Britain Select against the Rest of Europe in 1955. But it was the end of the road in March 1961 for an iconic Celt who later confided to Frank Haffey, ‘Maybe I stayed at the same club too long.’
Clark’s arrival could hardly have been more timely. Celtic and Hibs matches were more often than not played at a ferocious, frantic pace, the action sweeping from one end of the pitch to another in the blink of an eye. This was to be no exception. Ronnie Simpson and Frank Haffey were defiant as both goalkeepers were called upon to make gallant and brave saves throughout a goalless ninety minutes.
The game went into extra-time and that was when Clark was to make a massive impact on proceedings. Fourteen minutes into the extra half-hour, Clark surged through the Easter Road mud to lash a twenty-five yard drive at goal. Simpson had no chance as the ball thundered past him and strangled itself in the net low down at his post. Remarkably, Clark would only score another two goals in his next 317 games for Celtic stretching over the next thirteen years! Timing is everything in this game.
Clark said later, ‘I hardly crossed the halfway line throughout my career, so I was never going to be a goal machine, but that strike against Hibs will always remain special. Actually, I could hardly believe I had scored. I remember it was a heavy night with a muddy surface, but I came forward and just took a belt at the ball. It simply flew into the net with Ronnie too late to get a hand to it. I ribbed Ronnie about it on the odd occasion afterwards, but he would shrug his shoulders and say, “That was another Ronnie Simpson who was in goal for Hibs that night – nothing to do with me.” It certainly looked like my old mate to me.’
As the victorious Haffey shook hands with the vanquished Simpson at the end of a memorable night’s football, they couldn’t have known what an impact they would have on each other’s careers three years later in 1964. At that stage, Simpson, in fact, was on the verge of signing for Berwick Rangers after losing his first team place at Hibs to Willie Wilson. At the age of thirty-four, it looked very much like his days in the top-flight were a thing of the past. Or, as they say in football-speak, ‘his future was behind him’.
‘FAITHER’…Celtic’s veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson.
Jock Stein, by then the Hibs manager, was about to sell the veteran to the Second Division side, desperately seeking a reliable keeper after conceding eighty-four goals in thirty-six league games. The deal was just about done until Sean Fallon made a timely intervention in September that year. A fee was agreed with Hibs – ‘Just sweeties,’ according to Simpson – and, as he arrived at Parkhead, Haffey was packing his bags to move to Swindon Town in an £8,000 deal.
‘Any chance of the league was long gone,’ said Auld, ‘but we were now in a position where we were favourites for the Scottish Cup. I recall we beat Airdrie 4-0 in the semi-final with Yogi getting two goals.’ Intriguingly, Jock Stein had guided Dunfermline to the Cup Final, too. He had left his job as Celtic reserve team coach in 1960, a post he had taken when a persistent ankle injury forced him to quit playing three years earlier. He took over from Andy Dickson at East End Park with the club striving to stay alive in the top division with only seven games remaining.
As fate would have it, Stein would sit in the dug-out as a manager for the first time on 19 March 1960 with Celtic, of all teams, providing the opposition in Fife. That may have been seen as a bit quirky, but what was certain was that Frank Haffey was fishing the ball out of the back of the net after only ten seconds, put there by a raging bull of a centre-forward named Charlie Dickson. There was little finesse about the player, but he was effective. To him, then, fell the honour of scoring the first goal in Jock Stein’s managerial reign.
By the end of a storming ninety minutes, Haffey had been beaten twice more and two goals from Neilly Mochan couldn’t prevent Stein from enjoying a 3-2 debut triumph. Stein’s enthusiasm, drive and tactical knowledge had been immediately installed throughout a team that had looked as though it had accepted its fate and was preparing to head through football’s relegation trapdoor. Astoundingly, Dunfermline won their next six successive games and finished sixth from the bottom.
So, on a windy day, under leaden skies, Celtic and their former captain and reserve team coach had a date with destiny at Hampden Park on 22 April. Celtic and Dunfermline had twelve days to prepare for the Scottish Cup Final. The reason for the extended break was the Home International Championship being played on 15 April and Celtic were due to have Frank Haffey and Billy McNeill in the Scotland side to face England at Wembley. You have to wonder in what of state of mind both were in when they returned a week later to play at Hampden; Scotland were annihilated 9-3.
Goalkeeper Haffey, especially, must have been traumatised. He had a dreadful game and looked at fault for at least four of the goals. Dave Mackay, then of Hearts but who would later play for Spurs, observed bluntly, ‘We played crap, Haffey played double crap.’ The keeper would never represent his country again. McNeill also had an international debut he would prefer to forget, but it was Haffey who was the main target for abuse. Rather strangely, no-one in the Celtic management team thought it worthwhile to counsel their No.1, known to be erratic at the best of times. That dreadful lack of foresight was to backfire spectacularly.
Goodness knows what was going through Haffey’s mind when he ran out onto Hampden only seven days after his personal humiliation in front of 97,350 fans at Wembley. Emotionally drained or not, he took his place in a game of colossal importance to Celtic. The bookmakers made the Parkhead outfit runaway certainties to lift the trophy and after half-an-hour no-one would have believed they had been wayward in their judgement. Celtic were in control, smoothly passing their way through the Dunfermline side and peppering their goal with efforts from all ranges and angles.
There was only one snag; goalkeeper Eddie Connachan was unbeatable. Connachan had been conceding almost every week in the league and, in fact, by the end of the season would lose eighty-one goals, the joint highest amount along with relegated Ayr United. At Hampden, though, he was bold and brave in his in his resistance. It ended goalless, but it had been an exciting encounter in front of 113,328 supporters.
It rained all day the following Wednesday with Celtic little realising the heavens were weeping for them. Willie O’Neill, signed from St.Anthony’s two years earlier, was rushed into making his debut at left-back in place of Jim Kennedy, who had been taken to hospital after feeling unwell just hours before the kick-off. The significance of this would be obvious as the game developed. Clark had only played nine first team games and O’Neill, performing directly behind him, was taking his bow.
Their inexperience would not have been lost on Stein. This time there were 87,866 at the national stadium to see if Eddie Connachan could repeat the heroics of Saturday. Unfortunately, for Celtic, he could. Connachan was inspired, even better than he had been in the first game. The conditions were hardly ideal, but his grip was safe and sure in the air and on the ground. Celtic pounded away in the desperate hope that something had to give, that a goal had to come. It duly arrived in the sixty-eighth minute – for Dunfermline.
Davie Thomson started and finished the goal that flummoxed Celtic. He swept a pass out to the scampering George Peebles on the left wing. Thomson wasn’t picked up by the defence as he followed up into the penalty box and was unmarked to get his head to Peebles’ assured cross and send a looping effort over Haffey. Celtic’s fate was sealed two minutes from time when Haffey presented Dunfermline with a second goal. Alex Smith pushed the ball through the middle of the Celtic defence. Charlie Dickson was on to it, but his first touch was bad and he knocked it too far in front of him.
ALL SMILES…goakeeper Frank Haffey in a Celtic team on tour of Ireland in 1958. Billy McNeill is at the back extreme right with Bertie Auld kneeling in front of him.
It was the goalkeeper’s ball. Dickson followed in more in hope than expectation. Either that or he had viewed footage of Haffey at Wembley and realised anything was possible. Inexplicably, the goalie fumbled the ball, then somehow managed to stumble over it in the most awkward fashion and the gleeful Dickson simply raced round him and poked the gift into the net. He would never score an easier goal.
Dunfermline had won the seventy-sixth Scottish Cup in their seventy-sixth year and a white-coated Stein bounded onto the park at the end. He headed straight for his goalkeeper. Connachan had been a miner just like Stein and had just quit his job to concentrate fully on football. It looked a wise choice. Celtic were to live to regret it. The more cynical among the Celtic support wondered if their goalkeeper might contemplate a switch in professions, too, and take the reverse route of Connachan. Connoisseurs of calamity were in their element when Haffey was performing. Somehow he had become quite adept at mixing comedy with catastrophe.
Stein, as one would expect, was passionate in his celebrations yet Willie Cunningham, a player brought to East End Park by Stein and who would eventually succeed him as manager at the club, detected something different in his boss. ‘I think he had a special feeling for Celtic,’ said the defender. ‘There was most certainly a tinge of affection there. When we travelled through for the game and I heard him speaking to people from the west, I could tell he had a special regard for the club. He wanted to beat them all right, make no mistake about that. He was too professional for anything else, but there was definitely something about Celtic and him.’
Robert Kelly, the man who had allowed Stein to walk away from Parkhead the previous year, was in the presentation area at Hampden in his official capacity as President of the SFA and watched as his wife handed the Scottish Cup to Dunfermline captain Ron Mailer. Magnanimously, Kelly said later, ‘It’s no loss what a friend gets.’
Bertie Auld remembered, ‘Curiously, Celtic had a reserve fixture arranged that same night against Hearts at Tynecastle. I was told I wouldn’t be needed for Hampden, so I was packed off to Edinburgh. Little did I realise that my one and only appearance in the Scottish Cup that year – the 3-1 win in the first round against Falkirk – would be my last first team outing for Celtic for almost four years. Birmingham City manager Gil Merrick had taken a shine to me and he cornered me after the game in the capital.
‘”I want you to sign for my club,” he said with the minimum of fuss. “You’ll hear something tomorrow.” I was intrigued when I turned up at Parkhead for training the following morning. As you might expect, it was like walking into a morgue. The players, even those who didn’t play, including me, were scunnered. I had no thoughts of leaving the club, though – none whatsoever. However, someone else had other ideas.
‘I was awaiting the call that the manager wanted to see me. In his normal forthright manner, Jimmy McGrory told me that an English First Division club wanted to buy me. They had offered £15,000 and the directors were willing to accept the bid. To be honest, it was a shattering blow to discover that Celtic were quite content to allow me to leave. I felt sick in my stomach. I found myself in a quandary. What should I do? I didn’t want to go, but something within me told me I didn’t want to hang around some place where I wasn’t wanted. What had gone wrong? My old Parkhead chum Paddy Crerand had a theory that might not be too far off the mark.
‘He insisted, “Those in power at the club wanted rid of Bertie at the time. He was a typical Glaswegian and wasn’t afraid of answering back. That was to be his downfall at Celtic. Bob Kelly didn’t like his style.” That was Paddy’s thoughts and, yes, I wasn’t afraid to let my feelings be known if I thought I had something constructive to say. If I didn’t agree with someone I was hardly going to sit there and nod my approval. I’m not a particular fan of yes men. I should have known that outlook would have been frowned upon at Celtic.
‘So, with that, I was on my way to Birmingham City. You probably won’t believe this, but, deep down, I knew I would be back at Celtic some day. Honestly, I genuinely held that thought on the day I cleaned out my locker, said my goodbyes to my colleagues and headed for the Midlands.’
It was becoming a ritual that Celtic fans would clamour for new faces during the summer. They were being frustrated by continued failure, the team, bereft of leadership, obviously on the slide. Robert Kelly, though, appeared to be quite content with the squad of players who had finished the previous season in fourth position on thirty-nine points, twelve behind champions Rangers, trailing Kilmarnock by eleven and three adrift of Third Lanark.
IN CONTROL…Bertie Auld patrols the midfield.
Most football fans are blessed with an irrational and unwarranted sense of optimism at the start of a new season. Those who favoured a team in the east end of Glasgow were no different. As usual, the enthusiasm among the support was palpable and hopes were soaring when the League Cup got underway. It began with a promising 3-2 win over Partick Thistle at Firhill, with Mike Jackson claiming two and John Hughes, beginning to revel in this tournament, adding the other.
Frank Connor had done reasonably well although the consensus of opinion among the fans, getting their first glimpse of the custodian, was that he was “too wee”. Any early-season feelgood factor was wiped out in the next game when St.Johnstone won 1-0 at Parkhead. The Saints eventually qualified with Celtic failing once more. At least, the club were consistent; they scored ten goals and lost ten goals. New keeper Connor was consistent, too, by failing to keep a clean sheet in the six ties.
Celtic had looked forward to a good start in the league because, as Auld accurately pointed out, title ambitions were heading for the soccer scrap yard far too often around the turn of the year. A tricky trip to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock was the opening-day hurdle. It was a banana skin fixture and, sure enough, Celtic didn’t miss the inviting object. Johnny Divers and Stevie Chalmers scored, but, unfortunately, the backdoor was swinging open again and Kilmarnock stuck three past Connor. There was still no sign of Frank Haffey and that was a worrying feature for vaudeville writers always searching for new material. Connor kept his place and claimed his first shut-out when a goal from Divers undid Third Lanark. Ironically, after keeping a clean sheet in the only one of his eight appearances, that was the end of Connor’s Celtic career. A year later he signed for Irish side Portadown.
Would Haffey have the last laugh? He kept his position for the remaining thirteen league games in the rundown to the turn of the year as the Parkhead side stubbornly kept in contention. There were nine wins in those outings. The most intriguing and eagerly-anticipated match came in October when Jock Stein brought his Cup-winning Dunfermline to Glasgow. Stein even provoked some grudging applause among the home support.
There were no free gifts from Haffey on this occasion, though, as two goals from Bobby Carroll gave Celtic a 2-1 victory. McNeill and Co had every right to be fairly satisfied with their overall performances as they jousted with old rivals Rangers and Dundee at the top of the table. The turn of the year was upon us and there was more good news for Celtic.
* TOMORROW: RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE. Part Six of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘CELTIC: The Awakening’, an in-depth look at the most fascinating decade in the club’s history, the remarkable sixties.