LISBON Lion Bertie Auld insists he will be delighted if Brendan Rodgers’ side smash his old team’s remarkable 50-year record.
Celtic are only two games away from equalling the 26-match unbeaten run by Jock Stein’s history-making Hoops in season 1966/67.
And Auld is adamant that it is not a question of if, but when the current line-up achieve a place in the Parkhead Hall of Fame.
The former midfield general of the Europe-conquering outfit of 1967 said: “I’ll be celebrating when Brendan’s lads beat our sequence from that wonderful season.
“Records are there to be broken and it’s time this one was overtaken.
“We took great pride in putting that run together and we were annoyed when we lost to Dundee United at Tannadice on Hogmanay 1966.
“Actually, we were winning 2-1 with 18 minutes to go and, most unlike a team bossed by Jock Stein, we took our eye off the ball, conceded two goals and lost 3-2.
“That was our era and now we have a new chapter in the Celtic story with Brendan Rodgers in charge.
“When I first came to the club in 1955, characters such as Jimmy McGrory, the McStay brothers, Jimmy and Willie, Bertie Peacock, Charlie Tully and Bobby Collins told me about their time at the club and the expectations of the best support in the world.
“We were urged to beat their records and make our own history. And, of course, that’s exactly what we achieved.
“Jock Stein came in as boss in March 1965 – shortly after I had returned from Birmingham City – and everything just took off.
“It was a marvellous time to be associated with Celtic. It was exciting for the players and the fans.
“Big Jock stressed the importance of entertaining the support and, hopefully, we managed to do that, too.
“Did we feel unbeatable? That would be disrespectful to our opponents back in the day, but what I will say is that we were confident, had a passion about Celtic and were committed to the team.
“I can see Brendan Rodgers is setting out to do exactly the same as Big Jock – and that is to win with some style and a little bit of a swagger.
“He’s got the players working for each other and deriving everything from the ability they possess.
“Big Jock always said: ‘Play to you strengths and disguise your weaknesses’.
“There’s no way you can compare the two managers, but you see they both shared the same philosophies half-a-century apart.
“Big Jock arrived when something drastic needed to be done. The team had won nothing since beating Rangers 7-1 in the 1958 League Cup Final.
“They were nowhere in the league, year in, year out. Normally, our title chances had gone by the end of January.
“Big Jock changed all that. It’s not exactly the same situation for Brendan because the team he inherited had won two back-to-back titles.
“But you can’t tell me they were an attractive side under Ronny Deila. They weren’t putting bums on seats. And you can’t kid the Celtic fans.
“Brendan has arrived and suddenly the supporters are turning up again because they want to be entertained. Winning is all-important, of course, but the Hoops followers are used to watching their football with a touch of class.”
Auld, 78, who won 13 medals at Celtic including five successive league titles before leaving for Hibs in May 1971, added: “There are other significant similarities between the past and present managers.
“Big Jock could always detect a player’s strength even if the player didn’t know it himself!
“He moved John Clark from midfield to sweeper where his anticipation was key to our set-up as he mopped up round about Billy McNeill.
“Bobby Murdoch, my fabulous midfield colleague, was pushed back where his vision and passing could be utilised to its fullest capacity.
“Bobby Lennox was brought in from the wing and so, too, was Stevie Chalmers. I came in from outside-left to the middle of the park. Suddenly, everyone was at full throttle and perfectly happy with their roles in the team.
“Now look at today’s line-up. What a transformation in Stuart Armstrong, for a start.
“He’s a completely different player from the guy we saw last season. He was asked to play wide on the wing and that clearly was not his best position.
“Brendan has taken a look at him in the early games and knows where he is best suited in the team.
“Now the lad has a presence, he’s one of the first names on the team list and he is being rightly talked of as a Scotland international.
“Things like that don’t happen overnight. You need a manager who has overall view of what his role is at a club.
“He’s got to sift through the squad and make harsh decisions. Brendan has shown he can be ruthless and that is so like Big Jock, too.
“My old gaffer was never interested in winning any popularity contests among his players. He never lost any sleep when he decided to drop someone or sell them on.
“Everything he did was the good of Celtic and I see that in Brendan.
“I was delighted when he got the job in the first place because I had met him beforehand and I knew how much this club meant to him.
“So, it’s a marriage made in heaven, but – and he won’t need me to tell him – there is still a long way to go.
“It’s great being able to dominate in Scotland, but the real test for a club the size of Celtic is in Europe. That’s where they want to show everyone what this club is all about.
“We’ve been in the shadows for far too long. This season gave the supporters a wee taste of it again with glamorous games against Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach.
“It was a learning curve and I believe 100 per cent we will move on and improve from the experience.
“These are exciting times around the club again and, yes, it looks as though our 50-year record is about to be broken.
“I’ll be among the first to congratulate Brendan Rodgers and his players.”
Celtic’s next game is the Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Albion Rovers on Sunday, January 22, which is followed by a midweek home game against St Johnstone in the Premiership.
If Rodgers’ team remain unbeaten in those two encounters, they can become history-makers against Hearts at Parkhead on Sunday, January 29.
Auld added: “And I’ll be there to see it.”
Bertie Auld has signed some copies of That Season in Paradise – Ten Months of Celtic Heaven for CQN – get yours while stocks last at www.cqnbookstore.com – it’s a remarkable book.
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