CELTIC’S ONE CLUB MEN continues with BOBBY LENNOX who writer Hugh Gallagher explains technically only makes it into this feature on appeal! Hugh will explain in a moment. We started this feature earlier this week with none other that Caesar himself – so look back and enjoy. Over to Hugh to talk about Bobby…
BOBBY LENNOX shared in those glory years of 1965-75. He arrived at Paradise in 1961 and made his debut on 3rd March 1962, in a 2-1 home League win over Dundee. At that time Dundee were an excellent team; they won a very competitive Scottish League a few weeks after that and got to the European Cup semi final a year later.
Lennox, nicknamed ‘Buzz Bomb’ because of his phenomenal speed, scored his first goal in a League match against Third Lanark, in a 4-4 draw, in the 1963-64 season – he seemed to enjoy scoring goals against now defunct clubs but more of that later.
Lennox’s early years, like Billy McNeill’s – as we discussed earlier in the week- were not easy. His career seemed to be going nowhere and a transfer to Falkirk, for a modest fee, seemed possible. However, the arrival of Jock Stein transformed Lennox into one of the most effective goal scorers ever seen in Scottish football.
He played in the 1965 Scottish Cup win against Dunfermline, which signalled the start of the most successful era in Celtic’s history. Lennox was in scintillating form during 1965-66, when Celtic became a ‘goals machine’, with Joe McBride, Stevie Chalmers and him scoring regularly. The League Cup was secured early in the season and Lennox’s goals kept Celtic on top of the league for most of the season. On 7th May 1966, Celtic travelled to Fir Park, needing a win to ensure the first League Championship since 1954. In a very nervous game, it was Lennox, with a 89th minute strike, who sealed the first League in 12 years.
I celebrated my 12th Birthday on the day the League was won; it was the first League win since I was born, as the 1954 league was won a few days before I was born.
Lennox had the speed of an Olympic sprinter but, unfortunately, this speed ‘cost’ him a lot of goals. Many referees made ‘honest mistakes’ wrongly ruling out legitimate goals for offside. Conveniently, they didn’t seem to realise that Lennox’s speed had usually beaten the opposition’s offside trap. One such occasion was 2 weeks before the winning of the 1966 League. Celtic had played Liverpool, at home, in the 1st Leg of the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi final and, thanks to a Lennox goal, had beaten the new English champions 1-0.
Five days later, the action moved to Anfield. Going into the last few minutes, Celtic were 2-0 down on the night, when Lennox found the net and seemed to put Celtic through to a Hampden final against Borussia Dortmund. Disgracefully, the referee ruled that Lennox’s ‘goal’ was offside; a decision which, many years later, he admitted he had got wrong. This was a scenario that Bobby Lennox had to get used to over the years. Referee Bobby Davidson, in particular, seemed to make a lot of these ‘honest mistakes’.
Celtic approached 1966-67 with great confidence after this League triumph and a successful summer American tour. Bobby Lennox scored the only goal of the game against Rangers (1872) to win another League Cup.
The club’s first season in the European Cup had started well, with Celtic cruising through to the last 8, winning home and away against Nantes and Zurich. Bobby Lennox scored 4 goals in those games. As Christmas approached, it was obvious that Jock Stein had built one of the best ever teams in Celtic’s history.
Lennox alternated between playing on the left wing and playing as a striker, his partner being Joe McBride and, at times, Steve Chalmers. Even the major blow of losing prolific striker, Joe McBride, did not knock Celtic off their stride; Willie Wallace, signed by Stein to play alongside McBride ended up replacing him as Celtic’s great run continued.
After winning the Scottish Cup with a 2-0 win over Aberdeen thanks to a Wispy double, Celtic won the league at Ibrox. After winning the league at Ibrox (so good I’ll said it twice), the stage was then set for Lisbon, as Celtic prepared themselves to become the first British team to play in a European Cup Final.
An early Inter Milan goal from a penalty simply increased Celtic’s determination, as they played some of the most entertaining football ever seen in a European Cup Final. Celtic attacked incessantly; Inter packed their central defence but Celtic’s strength was that all of the front 5- Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld and Lennox- had previous experience of playing as wingers, which was used to great effect as Inter gave Celtic the freedom of the flanks.
Happily, Celtic emerged as well deserved victors by a 2-1 scoreline that could have been 12-1.
Shortly after that magnificent display, Celtic went to play Real Madrid in a testimonial for the legendary Alfredo di Stefano, in front of 120,000 fans. Another scintillating performance resulted in a 1-0 Celtic win, thanks to a Bobby Lennox goal. Di Stefano, in later years, said that Lennox was the best Scottish player he had ever played against.
After a season like 1966-67, it was going to difficult to ever get back to those peaks. However, from a purely personal perspective, 1967-68 was better; in 1966-67 he scored 32 goals but netted 44 times in 1967-68 and, in the process, picked up the award for being Europe’s third top scorer. Even that wasn’t good enough for the Scottish sportswriters who gave their 1967-68 Player of the Year award to Raith Rovers’ Gordon Wallace.
Lennox helped Celtic secure another treble in 1968-69 and scored in the 4-0 annihilation of Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. The following season promised to be a repeat of the all conquering 1966-67 season. However, despite winning the League and League Cup, there was disappointment in the Scottish Cup and European Cup Finals, with defeats against Aberdeen and Feyenoord respectively.
Having defeated Rangers and Leeds Utd decisively in earlier rounds of both competitions, the expectation had been of another clean sweep, but careless errors in both games destroyed the dream. An added problem in the Scottish Cup Final was deplorable refereeing. Bobby Davidson refereed this game, which was sandwiched between the 2 epic European Cup semi finals against Leeds Utd. It was probably the worst ever refereeing performance in a Scottish Cup Final, with the Celtic team and Lennox, in particular, being on the receiving end of Davidson’s infamous ‘honest mistakes’.
On the half hour mark, Aberdeen were given a soft penalty for hand ball against Bobby Murdoch, which was never deliberate. A few minutes later, Aberdeen goalkeeper Bobby Clark dropped the ball at Bobby Lennox’s feet and Bobby gratefully accepted this ‘gift’. Inexplicably, Davidson disallowed the goal. A few minutes after that, Lennox was clearly fouled inside the penalty area by Martin Buchan; Davidson waved play on. Celtic had won 10 of the 11 domestic trophies on offer since October 1966 and, clearly, Davidson was keen to engage in a bit of redistribution.
Celtic’s success continued and, when Celtic won 9 in a row, only 2 of the players who had won the first of those leagues in 1966 were still there- Lennox and McNeill. When McNeill retired at the end of the following season, Lennox was the only remaining link with the glory years. Even though he was no longer guaranteed a starting place, Lennox never complained, remaining a model professional.
He briefly joined Houston Hurricanes, between March 1978 but returned ‘home’ just 6 months later, shortly after Billy McNeill became manager. Most Celtic fans would call his brief ‘absence’ a summer job and would still regard him as one of our one club men. Lennox made a telling contribution towards the 1978-79 League win and played against Rangers in the 1980 1-0 Scottish Cup win. Bobby Lennox retired from football a few months later but did so as Celtic’s most decorated player ever.
This humble, modest man had won 11 League Championships, 8 Scottish Cups and 5 League Cups and, of course, a European Cup. He’d scored 273 goals in 571 games. Only Jimmy McGrory has scored more Celtic goals. Only 7 players in Celtic’s history have played more games. When he retired, only 2 had played more- Billy McNeill and Alec McNair. Since that, 4 other legendary Celts have exceeded Lennox’s total- Paul McStay, Pat Bonner, Roy Aitken and Danny McGrain.
Bobby Lennox was never a man to sing his own praises. However, he was held in high regard by just about everybody in football. World Cup winner, European Cup winner and world class performer, Bobby Charlton, said of him, “If I had Lennox in my team, I could have played forever. He was one of the best strikers I have ever seen”.
Written by Hugh Gallagher, for CQN Magazine.
Next up Pat Bonner…