OLD FIRM games are seen as the absolute acid test. You would swiftly discover the stature of friend and foe in these meetings. Some could handle it and others, unfortunately, simply disappeared off the radar.
These games engulfed them and stifled their abilities. The intensity, the sheer insanity of it all, in fact, turned some legs to jelly. You could touch the electricity in the air in the dressing room before kick-off. The cacophony of noise, as I said, carried downstairs and you knew what you were about to encounter. Some could go out and show off.
Others, alas, could go out and switch off. The entire atmosphere could suck the strength out of some players’ muscles. There was a lot of excessive muscular activity around. That’s nervous tension to you and me. Folk have said the ball was like a hot potato in these confrontations. Hot potato? More like a live hand grenade, as far I am concerned.
One Celtic manager was asked his views when a vitally important Old Firm match was only days away. The inquisitor wanted to know how he was feeling. In that special Glasgow sense of humour, he replied, ‘It’s time to look out the big nappies!’ Strange way to answer the query, I suppose, but it got the message across loud and clear. There was absolutely no hiding place and a few backsides fainted at the prospect of the hurly burly that is unique to the Old Firm.
BOOKED…Bertie Auld with a copy of his autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie’.
Each player handled the strain in his own particular fashion. Some, naturally enough, were more on edge than others. Big TG, for instance, could have been preparing to go out and smell the flowers as he got ready. Some players, like Stevie Chalmers, liked to be well prepared about an hour before the start.
Tommy Gemmell would be out dispensing tickets to supporters and chatting to friends before wandering into the dressing room looking as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He was always one of the last to get dressed. That routine didn’t seem to do him any harm at all. I read somewhere that a former player has admitted he used to put his fingers down his throat to help him throw up before going to play. That seems a bit drastic.
I would like to think I stood up to be counted on these occasions. Back in Big Jock’s days we went into these meetings brimming with confidence. We knew we had better players than Rangers and, if it came to a fight, we could also give as good as we got. One guy who never shirked an Old Firm game was my wee pal Jinky. There wasn’t much of him, but he had the heart of a lion.
Actually, Jinky was a really powerfully-built guy. He had tremendous upperbody strength and that was because he trained so hard. He always reminded me of a light-middleweight boxer in his physical stature. He was strong, too. He was rarely injured and that suspends belief when you consider the amount of kicking he took during 90 minutes. The Wee Man enjoyed life, as we all did, but he never abused his body.
There was one game on 6 May, 1967 at Ibrox when the Wee Man put on as spellbinding display you could ever wish to witness. He was unstoppable that day and when you consider the conditions it made it even more astonishing. The game was played in monsoon conditions and it poured down from the heavens all day. The pitch quickly became a bog and you would expect someone who measured up to 5ft 4in to be swallowed up by the conditions.
JIMMY JOHNSTONE…”an awesome performance,” says Bertie.
Not Wee Jinky. He decided to pirouette and prance all over the place while other players couldn’t keep their feet on an extremely tricky surface.
We were due to play Inter Milan in the European Cup Final nineteen days later and their manager Helenio Herrera was in the stand that day to run the rule over his opponents. He couldn’t have failed to be massively impressed by the Wee Man. It ended in a 2-2 draw and Jinky got both our goals. That draw also sealed the league title for us.
I will always remember that awesome performance by our winger. He was skipping past defenders like they weren’t there, setting up opportunities, scoring himself and generally just creating chaos in the Rangers rearguard.
The Ibrox side actually took the lead when Sandy Jardine rifled a long-range drive into the top corner. It was hit so well and with such marvellous accuracy that Faither didn’t even bother going for the ball as it soared past him. Cue Wee Jinky to enter proceedings. Lemon smacked an effort off the upright and, before their keeper Martin could get back to his feet, Jinky came flying in to prod the rebound over the line for the equaliser.
His next effort was just a shade more spectacular. Rangers were making a real game of it because they didn’t want their oldest foes to clinch a title on their own pitch. Also, they were a very good team at the time. They reached the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final that year only to lose 1-0 in extra-time to the formidable Bayern Munich, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller et al.
However, they just could not pin down Jinky. He was irrepressible as he weaved around the pitch with that wonderful mazy, snake-hipped style of his. It was still locked at 1-1 when he decided to come wandering inside; the ball, as ever, glued to his toe. Rangers backed off, their defenders wondering where he was going. The ball was on his left foot and their defenders seemed quite relaxed about letting him drift inside. That was a mistake.
Despite the atrocious conditions, the driving rain in his face and the pitch now a quagmire, Jinky, with his jersey soaken wet and flapping outside his shorts and socks down at his ankles, looked up and from about 25 yards sent a left foot effort thundering high past the startled Martin. He made a superhuman effort to stop the drive, but there has been no goalie born who could have kept that shot out of the net. Even Jinky’s team-mates were left open-mouthed at this piece of genius.
It was truly astounding and the watching Herrera must have had a sinking feeling as he saw this piece of magic from our diminutive winger. God knows where he summoned up the power to launch that blistering effort into the roof of the net. He didn’t just beat the Rangers defenders that day, he also took on and beat the elements. They got a late leveller through Roger Hynd, but it didn’t matter. We had all witnessed a virtuoso display by a genuine world-class player. And we also had our second successive title to boot!
You could always rely on Jinky rising to the occasion – as he did even as an 18-year-old in the 1963 Scottish Cup Final against Rangers. I was at Birmingham City at the time and would rejoin my old club two years later, but I was still keeping tabs on all things Celtic. I received reports that Jinky had been magnificent at Hampden and was hugely influential in helping the team to a 1-1 draw. Chopper scored the goal and Frank Haffey, one of life’s truly eccentric goalkeepers, had a tremendous game to defy Rangers time and time again. But I was told Jinky had a stormer and worked the left-hand side of the Rangers defence all day with his outstanding dribbling.
TWO OF A KIND…Bertie Auld and Tommy Gemmell, described as “the best left-back in the world”.
The Wee Man must have been looking forward to the replay. Remember, Celtic had lost both their league games to their opponents, 1-0 and 4-0, that season. Jinky hadn’t played in either of these defeats. So the 1-1 draw was a step in the right direction as everyone with Celtic at heart believed. The winger’s reward for his scintillating performance in the first game? He was dropped! It could only happen at Parkhead back then. Rangers must have been overjoyed at the news.
There was a lot of meddling with the team, of course, and chairman Bob Kelly would have had made that unfathomable decision. Into Jinky’s place came a guy called Bobby Craig and he must have been as surprised as anyone that he got the nod over the Wee Man. Jinky watched from the Hampden stand as Rangers ran amok and eased to a 3-0 replay triumph.
Why did Craig get the go-ahead to play in the second game? Your guess is as good as mine, but there was a train of thought that Celtic had paid a few thousand quid to Blackburn Rovers for him and they wanted to show it had been money well spent by a board of directors who would never become famous for throwing cash around. Now they were looking to get something back for their investment.
It didn’t quite work out and, in fact, Craig never played for Celtic again. Jinky missed a handful of games at the start of the next campaign, but was back in his rightful berth on the right wing for pretty much the rest of the season. Someone must have seen the error of their ways, but they never owned up!
I wasn’t to know it at the time, but I would line up against Rangers in a Celtic jersey for the last time on January 3, 1970. After being involved in so many enthralling, engrossing, frantic, hectic Old Firm games throughout the years this one passed fairly quietly. It ended goalless and there wasn’t much to note except it was a bitterly cold afternoon in the east end of Glasgow.
What a way to say farewell to the most memorable and intoxicating fixture in the world.
* LOOK out for some more big-name EXCLUSIVES coming up in your champion CQN this month.