Celtic went into the home first leg of their European Cup semi-final against Dukla Prague at 1-1. Two second half goals from Willie Wallace added to Jimmy Johnstone’s opener were enough to ensure a British team would eventually reach the final of Europe’s premier tournament. The return leg finished goalless.
The clubs met 14 years later in the Feyenoord Tournament, when two first half goals from Murdo McLeod secured a 2-1 win. Since then, European football has been robbed of its meritocratic principles, which allowed talented clubs a route to the top, no matter how rich or poor their domestic TV contract was. Nowhere has been so brutally robbed as east/central Europe.
The 1960s-through-80s saw teams from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Poland regularly dominate clubs from Scandinavia, south-eastern Europe, France, and occasionally, all comers. Eastern Europe remains one of the world’s most productive areas for developing talented footballers, but even the average ones are stolen for a pittance while still in their teens.
In the 60s, Dukla were a genuine leading light in the game, producing seven of the Czech team who collected runners-up medals to Pele’s Brazil in the 1962 World Cup, with peerless midfielder, Josef Masopust, picking up the European Player of the Year award that year. They would have fancied their chances against Celtic in ’67.
Where great tradition and sporting affection exists, so too does commercial opportunity. The people of east/central Europe just need to figure out how to harness it. Uefa are Europe’s maker of competitions. Their job is to establish the structures which allows great and successful sport to take place. A modern-day Jules Rimet is needed.