CELTIC: THE AWAKENING: TROUBLE IN PARADISE (Part four)

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TODAY CQN brings you the eighteenth 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.

OCTOBER came to a halt with a superb 3-2 triumph over Aberdeen at Pittodrie; Bobby Murdoch, Jimmy Johnstone and Jim Brogan tucking the ball behind Bobby Clark. Davie Hay, continuing to display his versatility, remained at left-back for Tommy Gemmell, and also played in the 4-2 win over Ayr United at Somerset Park at the start of November.

Hay had now played a handful of first team games and appeared at centre-half, midfield and right and left-back. ‘I half-expected Big Jock to tell me I was playing in goal one day,’ joked Hay. ‘To be honest, I was just happy to be in the side. Everything at that stage of your career is a learning curve. You are still getting used to the style of players around about you, but that wasn’t too difficult with this set of guys. I already had a fair idea of how they performed before I played a first team game, but it was interesting to actually play alongside them because that’s where you pick up the little things you might miss during training, sitting in the stand or watching on the television. It was a marvellous experience.’

Jock Stein brought back Gemmell for the visit of Hearts the following week and also took the opportunity of giving a first league outing to Kenny Dalglish while Lou Macari, too, got a place in the starting line-up. It was a bold move by the manager, but the Edinburgh outfit ruined the day by winning 2-0 in Glasgow. Andy Lynch, who would later join up at Celtic, played outside-left that afternoon and scored one of his side’s goals.

The nearest Dalglish came to scoring his first goal for the club came in the second-half with a pulverising right-foot drive that almost knocked Jim Cruickshank into the net. Dalglish and Macari were rested for the match against Motherwell at Fir Park a week later as Celtic won 2-1 with goals from Harry Hood and John Hughes. Macari was back in harness a week later and claimed his first goal for Celtic, the opener in a 3-0 triumph over Morton at Cappielow. Hood and Willie Wallace also got on the scoresheet, both players going into double figures before December arrived.

If it was relatively plain sailing at Parkhead, it was panic stations at Ibrox. The two-year courtship of Davie White was over. The manager, under intense scrutiny by the same board who gave him the stunning vote of confidence in the first place, had made one mistake too many. Tales circulated of White socialising with some Rangers players. If true, he was placing himself in an invidious position when it came to decision making, especially in choosing his team. There were rumblings of a lack of discipline and things came to a head when the players were at Largs preparing for the second leg of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup-tie against Gornik in November with Rangers trailing 3-1 from the first game in Poland.

Jim Baxter and Willie Henderson missed training one day and, coincidentally, both claimed they had overslept. There were cries for them to be severely disciplined, but White ignored the clamour and, instead, included them in the line-up to face Gornik in Glasgow. Bad idea. The Poles completely outplayed Rangers and triumphed 3-1 for a second time. White was sacked two days later. Former Rangers player Willie Waddell, who had quit as manager of Kilmarnock to take up sports journalism at the Scottish Daily Express, savaged White in an editorial after the game. Under the banner headline ‘THE BOY DAVID’, Waddell shredded the young man’s reputation.

It was, therefore, something of a surprise when Rangers got round to unveiling their new manager – Willie Waddell. To many it was a bizarre decision; to Jock Stein it was a welcome one. He had seen off two Rangers managers in Scot Symon and Davie White and he now had Waddell in his sights. It would be accurate to say Stein and Waddell were not friends. Waddell, wearing his reporter’s hat, had written a scathing report on Scotland’s 2-1 defeat from Poland at Hampden during their failed 1966 World Cup qualifying campaign. Stein was boss of his nation in a caretaker capacity at the time. Waddell laid the blame squarely on Stein’s tactics. The Celtic manager had never forgotten what he believed to be a personal attack on him. Now he would get the opportunity to go head-to-head with Waddell where it mattered most to him – on the football pitch.

JOCK STEIN…ready to take on new Rangers manager Willie Waddell.

Stein realised Ronnie Simpson’s playing days were at an end after the League Cup semi-final replay against Ayr United. The keeper, who allied agility with anticipation, had struggled to command his immediate area as he once had not so long ago although his courage could never be questioned. The Celtic manager saw John Fallon concede twenty goals in fifteen league games and knew he needed an experienced back-up keeper. He signed former Third Lanark goalie Evan Williams from Wolves for a modest £20,000.

‘I took a pay cut to join Celtic,’ recalled Williams, ‘but I knew it would be worth it in the long run.’ Williams, despite the Welsh name, was Scottish, but never got a look-in at the international side. ‘I would love to have played for my country, but Rangers’ Peter McCloy got the nod more often than not. On the positive side, though, it allowed me to concentrate completely on performing for Celtic.’

Williams played his first game for the club in a Glasgow Cup-tie against Clyde at Parkhead in October. ‘I didn’t have the best of starts,’ he said. ‘They scored when I completely misjudged a high ball into the penalty box. My timing was out and the ball sailed over my head into the net. Thankfully, we scored four at the other end to spare my blushes.’ Williams, a very under-rated No.1 according to most of his team-mates, was also chosen for the 2-0 victory over St.Mirren at the start of December with Macari, shaping up nicely as a striker of top quality, netting both.

The unpredictable Fallon returned for the 1-0 win over Dundee where Gemmell scored with another explosive penalty-kick. ‘We didn’t play particularly well that afternoon, so it was absolutely crucial that I put that one away,’ remembered the defender. ‘John had to make a couple of good saves to keep them out. He had fabulous ability as a shotstopper, you could never take that away from him. I saw him turning in some excellent displays, but he was prone to the odd mishap and Big Jock frowned on inconsistency from any of his players.’

The keeper conceded four goals in the next three league games, but Celtic won them all. St.Johnstone were trounced 4-1 at Muirton Park with Wallace (2), Hood and Gemmell on target. Next up, was an incredible nine-goal duel with Dundee United at Tannadice with Celtic netting seven. Wallace knocked two past the overworked Sandy Davie, in the United goal, and Bertie Auld, Hood, Hughes, Murdoch and Gemmell also got in on the act. Three days later Kilmarnock were beaten 3-1 with Hughes notching a double and Gemmell again proving unstoppable at penalty-kicks with another howitzer from the spot.

There had been a real scare in the European Cup after Celtic had eased to a 2-0 aggregate triumph over Switzerland’s Basle with Hood and Gemmell scoring in the second leg in Glasgow. Benfica, with Eusebio still in fine form, visited Parkhead for the first leg of the second round tie and it looked all over after a pulsating ninety minutes, another European night to cherish for the fans.

BERTIE AULD…set up Tommy Gemmell for a howitzer-like strike against Benfica.

Auld recalled, ‘There had been a bit of a fall-out between Big Jock and Tommy Gemmell around that time, but we all knew TG was a big-game player; the more important the occasion, the better he played. He was absolutely nerveless and a match against the Portuguese champions was one we all knew he would welcome and, indeed, relish. Jock realised that, too, so no-one was unduly surprised when TG took the field that night. And what an impact he made, too.

‘I think the game was barely two minutes old when we were awarded a free-kick about thirty yards out. I shaped to send it into the box, but tapped it sideways to the left for Tommy. He raced onto the square pass and gave it an almighty clatter. The thing just took off and the keeper hadn’t an earthly as it rocketed into the roof of the net. Harry Hood and Willie Wallace got the others as we took a three-goal lead to Lisbon and we thought the job was as good as done. Not quite! With Eusebio in devastating form, the Portuguese gave us one hell of a fright. They were 2-0 up nearing the end of a fairly frantic encounter and searching for the equaliser that would take the game into extra-time.

‘The minutes were ticking by agonisingly slowly as we tried desperately to keep them at bay. Eusebio had netted just before the interval and Garca piled on the pressure with the second after the turnaround. The game was deep into injury time when Diamentino got their leveller. I have to admit it was deserved. They really put us through it in front of their own fans. There were no more goals in the extra half-hour and in those days the tie was settled by the toss of a coin. Big Billy and the Benfica captain were both called into referee Louis van Raavens’ room and asked to make a call. Thankfully, our skipper got it right and, naturally enough, we were elated. We had just been gubbed 3-0 and we were all dancing around the dressing room. I felt a bit for Benfica, too. They had put so much into the game and, in the end, got nothing because of the flip of a coin. Cruel game football, but I wasn’t complaining that evening in Lisbon. I was beginning to enjoy myself in the Portuguese capital.’

BILLY McNEILL…made the right call in Lisbon.

McNeill recalled, ‘I had the honour – if you can call it that when your insides are churning and you would rather be anywhere else than the referee’s room at that moment – to call first, after winning the initial toss of the coin. Having called “heads” to earn that right, I stuck with my hunch and shouted “heads” again as the coin was about to land. Thankfully, my luck held. However, when I asked Jock what he would have done had the coin landed in favour of Benfica, he replied, “I would have kicked the coin before it had even stopped rolling!” I’m sure he wasn’t joking, either.’

There was one last league game before the final whistle sounded on the sixties, a truly remarkable decade in the history of Celtic Football Club. Davie Hay summed it up fairly succinctly, ‘From depression to delight.’ Four words that completely encapsulated ten years on soccer’s rollercoaster. A team that couldn’t make an impression in Glasgow had gone on to make an impact on the globe. It had been a fascinating journey.

Partick Thistle, who had beaten Celtic twice at Parkhead in 1960, once in the league and once in the League Cup, provided the opposition. How far the pendulum had swung was endorsed with the final scoreline; a resounding 8-1 triumph for Jock Stein’s side. Fittingly, Billy McNeill and Bertie Auld, the two survivors from the team that had played in the first day of the decade, both scored. John Hughes, who had made his debut in August 1960, celebrated with a hat-trick. Willie Wallace and Auld got two with McNeill netting with a trademark header.

That was the completion of the sixties, but hardly the end of the drama.

* TOMORROW:Don’t miss ‘FAIRWELL TO THE LIONS’, another dramatic instalment of Alex Gordon’s book, ‘CELTIC: The Awakening’– only in your champion CQN.

 

 

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