JOHN HUGHES fired in a blistering hat-trick as Celtic claimed their first-ever win in Europe – EXACTLY 57 years ago today.
The Hoops great, now a sprightly 77, led the way as the Parkhead outfit walloped Basle 5-1 in Switzerland in a Cup-Winners’ Cup-tie on September 17 1963.
Big Yogi, as he was affectionately known to the Celtic faithful, was unstoppable as he ran amok against a team who had no answer to his pulverising performance.
This is how Hughes recalled the evening in his autobiography, ‘YOGI BARE: The Life and Times of a Celtic Legend,‘ co-authored by Alex Gordon, in another edited CQN exclusive.
“We were drawn against Swiss side Basle in the opening round and I marked my European debut by becoming the first Celtic player to score a hat-trick in a European tie. And away from home, too.
“We thumped the Swiss 5-1 on their home ground and no doubt chairman Robert Kelly would have been satisfied that we had won in the ‘Celtic way’. My mate John Divers got our opener midway through the first-half and I netted my first European goal two minutes from the interval.
“Thirty-six minutes later, I had claimed a treble. Bobby Lennox hit our third about ten minutes after the turnaround and I helped pile on the agony for our opponents with a fourth shortly after the hour mark.
“To be honest, the thought of becoming the first player in Celtic’s history to score a hat-trick in Europe never occurred to me. You tend not to think about these things when you’re out on the field.
“I was playing through the middle that night with Frank Brogan, a real speed merchant, on the left wing. Basle had no answer to our forceful play and my big moment arrived in the seventy-eighth minute when I was presented with an opportunity smack in front of goal.
Typical Celtic line-up in season 1963/64: Back row (left to right): Ian Young, Tommy Gemmell, John Fallon, John Clark, Bily McNeill and Jim Kennedy; Front row: Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, Stevie Chalmers, Johnny Divers and John Hughes.
“I duly whacked it past the keeper and put myself straight into the record books. The miserable Swiss beggars refused to give me the match ball which was the norm for a player hitting a hat-trick. ‘SWISS ROLL FOR CELTIC’ was the headline in most newspapers the following day. And, ball or no ball, it had been a fairly satisfying experience.
“The second leg, as you could imagine, was a stroll, but it wasn’t without the usual baffling decision from our chairman. After scoring three goals away from home and shaking up their central defence all evening, he switched me to outside-left with Stevie Chalmers leading the attack. Go figure, as they say in America.
“It didn’t matter a jot in the end as two goals from John Divers and singles from Stevie, Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Murdoch made it an overwhelming 10-1 aggregate scoreline.”
Alas, John Hughes becoming a History Bhoy does not have a happy ending. He takes up the tale: “There was some fairly ludicrous decision-making at Celtic in the early sixties. But I don’t think there was anything crazier than our pre-match briefing as we prepared to play MTK Budapest in the second leg of our European Cup-Winners’ Cup semi-final at the Nep Stadium on April 28 1964.
“We were 3-0 ahead from the first game at Parkhead and were a mere ninety minutes away from achieving the honour of playing in a prestigious European Final. What an awesome prospect for a young team performing at this level for only their second year.
“Okay, you don’t need to be blessed with an IQ of genius proportions to work out what should have happened next. We’re three goals ahead, on the brink of making club history and even the dejected fans of the Hungarian team have conceded defeat with only 10,000 tickets sold for the game in a ground that could comfortably house over 100,000.
“So, you’re going to defend your lead, aren’t you? Keep it tight for the first twenty minutes or so, take the sting out of their initial attacks, maintain possession and look to take advantage on the break. Frustrate their players right from the kick-off and leave them simply going through the motions long before the referee blows for time-up and puts them out of their misery.
“That looks like a game plan, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the strategy just about every other team in the world would have adopted. Not Celtic, though. Not while chairman Robert Kelly was calling the shots. Nope, we were told to play in the ‘Celtic way’ and to continue taking the game to the opposition.
“Kelly addressed the players and I’ll always remember his words. ‘We beat them in Glasgow fair and square and I believe we can beat them here in the same manner. That’s the Celtic way.’ Naive? Tactics like that were simply preposterous, absolutely suicidal, completely irrational, totally absurd.
“We were sitting in our dressing room in the world famous stadium and looking for guidance. We had a very youthful team. There were two twenty year olds – Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Murdoch – while Ian Young, Tommy Gemmell and I were a year older. Billy McNeill, John Divers and goalkeeper John Fallon were twenty-four. We listened intently at what our chairman had to say and we blinked in combined astonishment.
“Jaws bounced off the floor. ‘Did he say ATTACK them?’ we thought in unison. That European tie predated the movie ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ by eleven years or else I would have been looking around to see if Jack Nicholson was in the room. Manager Jimmy McGrory, of course, said very little, maybe something along the lines of, ‘Enjoy the game, boys.’
“The entire Celtic party had been invited to an official reception at the British Embassy in Budapest the night before the game and you couldn’t help but wonder if some of our directors had been drinking something a little stronger than tea. How else was it possible to justify such bizarre thinking?
“In fact, the entire couple of days in Budapest had an unreal feel. The players were all presented with massive bouquets of flowers when we first arrived in the city. Maybe someone at MTK thought it would be a nice touch and there was the possibility of some members of the Glasgow Royal Horticultural Society among our number. Most of us wouldn’t have known one end of a weed from another.
“So, with all that in mind, we took to the field that night with orders to be on the offensive. None of this ‘shutting up shop’ nonsense for Celtic Football Club. We had earned the right to be overwhelming favourites to earn the right to become the second Scottish club to take their place in the Final of the competition, second only to the European Cup in importance.
“Rangers played in the first in 1961 when it was a two-legged affair and they had lost home and away to Italian side Fiorentina on a 4-1 aggregate. UEFA changed it to a one-off Final the year before we met MTK and that wonderful Spurs team of the era, with Dave Mackay, Jimmy Greaves, John White and Bill Brown in the line-up, demonstrated what could be achieved at this level with an excellent 5-1 triumph over Atletico Madrid in Rotterdam.
“Brussels was earmarked for the Final in 1964. Was it too much to hope that we could emulate the White Hart Lane outfit? Yes, we dared to dream, especially after our three-goal trouncing of MTK Budapest in Glasgow.
WHAM…John Hughes demonstrates his awesome shooting power as he scores against Dinamo Zagreb in a Cup-Winners’ Cup confrontation.
“The supporters even called for a lap of honour at the end of that one-sided confrontation. We were already getting out of our kit in the dressing room when Sean Fallon came in to say, ‘You better get some gear back on because the fans are refusing to leave until you go out there.’ The players grabbed at the assorted discarded kit and, with many of us bare-footed, went back out to take a bow. The supporters clearly thought we were heading for a date in Brussels. In truth, so, too, did the players.
“We had played extremely well against the Hungarians and were a goal ahead in the thirty-fifth minute, an effort that owed everything to the bravery and speed of thought of Wee Jinky. I touched a pass inside to the Pres, again lining up at left-half, and the ball was worked across to John Clark. It was rare to see Luggy, who was playing in the old right-half role, venturing into the other team’s territory.
“In fact, he scored only three goals in 318 games for the club, so I think it would be fair to say striking wasn’t his strong point. Undeterred, though, he smashed a low shot at goal and the MTK keeper went down to scoop the ball into his arms. However, he fumbled his attempt and that was all Jinky needed to race in and bundle an effort into the net.
“Stevie hit the second with a sweet left foot drive from about sixteen yards in the sixty-fifth minute. This time the keeper didn’t have the ghost of a chance as the ball sped low into his left hand corner. And it was Stevie again on target with around ten minutes remaining.
“I passed inside to Bobby Murdoch and he picked out our centre-forward with an exquisite cross into the box. Stevie made a perfect connection and once more the MTK goalie could do nothing as the net bulged behind him for the third time.
“We all danced a jig of joy as the referee blew for time-up and we genuinely believed we were on the verge of something special with glory beckoning in Budapest. Then came the instructions that shredded all our good work. I still can’t believe how we were asked to perform in that second leg.
“The chairman always got what the chairman wanted and that led to our downfall. No-one argued in the dressing room that evening. We were told what was expected and, of course, we would do our best to carry out those orders.
“MTK couldn’t believe their good fortune. Why weren’t we attempting to stifle them? Why weren’t we retreating into defence? They may have been a little puzzled with our unusual formation at the start, but it didn’t take them long to realise they were onto a good thing.
“Our clueless system was there for the taking. After just over an hour we were hurtling out of the competition. They pulled one back in the eleventh minute through Istvan Kuti, but we still didn’t respond to the flashing danger signals. Jinky put the ball in their net, but Austrian referee Dimitrus Wlachojanus ruled it for offside. I suffered the same fate before the interval and, once again, it came into the doubtful category. Everything seemed to be going for our opponents.
“Very little was said in the dressing room at half-time. There was no reorganisation and no revamp of our thinking. We were a tactically unsophisticated bunch and we would be punished for such unworldliness. Two minutes after the break, our advantage was cut to one. Mihaly Vasas was the guy who did the damage with a penalty-kick after Tommy Gemmell had punched an effort off the line with John Fallon absent.
“Karoly Sandor, who had been thundering up and down their right wing all night, rifled in a third and that was our lead well and truly obliterated. The agony was complete when Kuti got No.4 nineteen minutes from the end.
“Believe it or not, as soon as they were ahead in the tie, MTK dropped into a defensive shell. They were going to hold what they had. If only we had adopted the same sensible thinking when we were three goals in front.
“After such a resounding failure and horrible disappointment we might have expected nooses to be knotted and gallows to be erected. A firing squad might have been summoned.
“Not a word was said. There was no criticism from above. No fingers were pointed. No scapegoats were sought. After all, we had lost in ‘the Celtic way’. And that, sadly, seemed to be all that mattered.
“We were guileless innocents abroad and we paid a heavy price for our gullibility. We were manipulated all the way to oblivion. And no-one seemed too upset. In time, we would learn from this folly.”