EXACTLY 55 years ago today, Jock Stein made his Celtic managerial debut when he took his team to face Airdrie in a First Division encounter at Broomfield.
Hoops fans wondered what was in store as Big Jock returned to the club after spells at Dunfermline and Hibs. John Hughes scored the first goal of an exciting new era for the Parkhead side and the irrepressible Bertie Auld then embarked upon a spectacular solo scoring spree with five strikes to make the final score 6-0. As first impressions go, it was quite a success.
CQN is proud to publish an EXCLUSIVE extract from author Alex Gordon’s latest book, ‘CELTIC FIFTY FLAGS’, which will be published soon to commemorate the 50 years in their glorious history in which the team conquered Scotland to be crowned champions in the style and flourish with which they are accustomed.
It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes tome packed with in-depth interviews that takes the Celtic supporters on an exciting odyssey through the most memorable seasons since the club’s birth in 1888.
Here we look at that unforgettable evening on March 10 1965 when Jock Stein got the ball rolling on one of the most awesome and thrilling periods in Celtic folklore.
IN the mid-sixties, the away dressing room at Broomfield Park, the antiquated home of Airdrie Football Club, was nothing more than a decrepit gang hut. The changing area for visiting teams was basic and barren. Metal pegs pierced the wooden strips that ran along the uneven plastered brick walls for the opposition’s players to hang their clothes. On a bare concrete surface, four low-level benches were haphazardly strewn around to provide spartan seating arrangements in the rectangular domain.
A primitive communal bath, with hot water a luxurious rarity, was tucked in a concealed alcove where competitors had to form a queue to get rid of the mud of battle. One wash hand basin was provided. No matter how stridently they held their collective breath, it would have been a physical impossibility for today’s stripped squads of eighteen footballers plus a manager and a backroom team to fit into the claustrophobic confines.
The dingy chamber was secreted within the “distinctive” pavilion which had been erected in a corner of the ground in 1907. Outwith misguided traditionalists, no-one shed a tear when the wrecking ball flattened the entire decaying structure eighty-seven years later.
The ramshackle construction became the improbable foundation for Jock Stein, Celtic’s new and ambitious manager, to lead the club into a glorious, exciting, enthralling new era of nine years of sublime historic dominance of Scottish football. Alas, where there should be a monument, there is now a supermarket.
It was a cold, crisp Wednesday evening in North Lanarkshire on March 10 1965 when the club’s successor to old-school Jimmy McGrory, the trilby-wearing, pipe-smoking individual everyone insisted was “too nice to be a football manager”, took his bow. Stein, a track-suited visionary, had met his players in his freshly-appointed capacity only two days earlier at the Barrowfield training ground and now he stood in the middle of the compact shell as he prepared to deliver his initial pre-match speech with the minutes ticking down to the 7.30pm kick-off. Stein was not a complicated man, the message was relayed in the most simplistic of terms to the assembled players.
Bertie Auld was one of eleven Celtic performers geared for action that fateful evening. John Fallon, who had replaced Stein’s former Hibs goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson five games earlier, was in the No.1 position with Ian Young and Tommy Gemmell in the wide defensive posts. Billy McNeill, the club captain, was at centre-half with John Clark on his right-hand side to aid with mopping up operations. Jim Brogan, at left-half, helped link play to midfield. Bobby Murdoch, a supremely-gifted individual, wore the No.8 shorts in the inside-right slot between defence and attack. John Hughes led the line with Bobby Lennox alongside for company while the attacking wing duties had been bestowed upon Stevie Chalmers, on the right, and Auld on the opposite flank.
Jimmy Johnstone, Willie O’Neill, Jim Kennedy and Ronnie Simpson would take their places in the stand and assistant manager Sean Fallon, trainer Neil Mochan and physiotherapist Bob Rooney, the man with the magic sponge, would accompany Stein on the cramped wooden bench on the touchline which was pushed up against a red brick wall in front of one of the stands. The action would take place on one of the narrowest pitches in the country, some sixty-five yards in width and one hundred and ten yards long. With the close proximity of the supporters almost overflowing onto the field of play, the local football team rejoiced in the fact no opponent anticipated with any eagerness a visit to their ground.
Auld listened intently as the fourth custodian of the team spoke in the dingy dressing room. “A few of the players had been in a similar situation with Big Jock during his days as reserve team coach at the club,” recalled the one-time winger who blossomed into a quixotic and creative middle-of-the-park schemer. “Guys such as Big Billy, Bobby Murdoch and Bobby Lennox had an idea of how he operated. However, Big Jock had left five years earlier to become manager at Dunfermline and a lot can change in that period of time in life, never mind football.
“I knew Jock from my first time around, of course, and we got on reasonably well, although there was no doubt that, at all times, he was The Boss. There was a line you did not cross. I’m sure he manoeuvred my return to Celtic from Birmingham City in January that year while, of course, he was still boss of Hibs. There are rules against such things, but Jock had already revealed he would be taking over as Celtic manager as soon as the Edinburgh team found a replacement. When they brought in Bob Shankly from Dundee, Big Jock was on his way back to Paradise.
“And it was at pokey, wee Broomfield where Jock delivered the words I will never forget. ‘It’s time for you to make your own history.’ He repeated it a few times to get the message across. I can tell you he was not a man to go over his words. He would say something once and if you missed it that was your bad luck. But, on this occasion, as we prepared to go out onto the pitch, he said it a few times. ‘It’s time for you to make your own history.’ We had no idea what lay in store.”
On a rutted, unkempt playing surface, the powerful and prolific Hughes scored the first goal of the Jock Stein era. Auld netted five, including two late penalty-kicks, in a 6-0 rout. Forty-five days later, Celtic, doggedly and determinedly, overwhelmed Dunfermline 3-2 to lift the Scottish Cup, their first piece of silverware in eight exasperating years.
At the conclusion of the following season, Celtic had won their first championship in twelve years; it would be the first of thirty titles in a fifty-three-year span. Considering they had dropped into a twenty-eight-year void from 1938 to 1966 with a solitary flag triumph, won in 1954, to their name, it could be perceived as a landslide.
The first crown was annexed with a 3-1 victory over Leith Athletic at Celtic Park on May 9 1893 and the half-century of championships arrived with a 3-0 success over Aberdeen at Pittodrie on May 4 2019. There have been cheers and tears amid the turmoil, tragedies and triumphs. This is the fascinating story of an epic journey through fifty of the most remarkable, wonderful, compelling and celebrated years in the history of Celtic Football Club.
* CQN readers will be given the FIRST chance to buy ‘CELTIC FIFTY FLAGS’ before it goes on general sale. Please watch this space!