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JOHN HUGHES – THE BATTLES WITH RANGERS 

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JOHN HUGHES is the seventh-highest goalscorer in Celtic history. He is a genuine club legend; a spectacular, awesome player in his prime.

John was affectionately known as ‘Yogi Bear’ after the popular TV cartoon character at the time. Celtic Park would reverberate to raucous chant of ‘Feed The Bear’ when Hughes was in rollicking action.

He fired in 189 goals in his eleven eventful years in the Hoops and became a cult figure with the supporters.

In his autobiography published in 2014 Yogi decided to lift the lid on his remarkable life and times. As you might expect, he pulls no punches!

We have six small features, taken from ‘Yogi Bare’ and will publish these today. You can order a signed copy of Yogi Bare from www.cqnbookstore.com now, with first class post for Fathers Day.

YOGI ON…GAMES AGAINST RANGERS

The traditional New Year game was due to be played at Parkhead – in fact, it was January 3 after we had beaten Clyde 3-1 on the first day of 1966 at Shawfield. I have to say the playing surface was treacherous that afternoon. It was flint-hard and there was a silvery glow under the floodlights. We didn’t possess such a luxury of undersoil heating in those unenlightened times.

There was a further problem with fog beginning to settle on the east end of Glasgow. Celtic were top of the league and Big Jock was determined to get the game played to increase our lead over our main rivals. He was confident of a victory and it was so important to show who were the new masters of Scottish football. It was preposterous to accept the club had last lifted the championship in season 1953/54. During that grim period Rangers won the flag on six occasions. We knew our time was coming, but even the most optimistic among those at Celtic would never have believed we would be victorious in 1966 and win it on another eight successive occasions.

Jock, as was his normal pre-match routine, walked onto the pitch with referee Tom Wharton, a massive match official who, at 6ft 4in was actually two inches taller than me. So, naturally, he was known as Tiny. At this stage, possibly about half-an-hour before the kick-off, the game must have been in doubt. The Celtic manager was nothing if not persuasive. He must have got to work on the ref. I can almost hear him say, ‘Och, there’s nothing to worry about, it’ll clear in minutes.’ Anyway, Tiny agreed and he declared the game on.

However, Jock must have wondered if his compelling and forceful argument to play the fixture might just have backfired on him. Rangers left-winger Davie Wilson was a tricky, little customer. It was often said he could win the Ibrox men a penalty-kick when he was fouled on the halfway line. Listen, Wee Davie could get our old foes a spot-kick at Aberdeen when he stubbed his toe getting on the team coach at Ibrox! A bit far-fetched, but you get the drift.

Having said that, he was a superb goalscorer for the club, especially for a player normally operating in a wide position. He demonstrated that against us inside ninety seconds of that particular confrontation. He mastered the tricky conditions better than our defenders, collected a rebound and slammed a low left-foot drive away from Ronnie Simpson. The man known to us all as ‘Faither’ was blamless as the ball squeezed in at the far post. It was a blow, no argument, but I doubt if there was a single team-mate on the park that day who didn’t believe we could turn it around. Although it must be admitted it’s never clever to give Rangers a goal of a start.

We began to turn the screw and pummelled their defence for just about the entire remainder of the first-half. They were defending frantically and I must admit I wasn’t getting too much joy out of my immediate opponent Kai Johansen. I was pushing the ball past him and chasing after it, but he was doing a very reasonable job of getting back to put in tackles. It was frustrating, to say the least.

As ever, Big Jock had something to say in the seclusion of our dressing room at the interval. Like the rest of us, he was not happy. ‘This is more important than a Cup Final,’ he observed. ‘This is the league championship. Win this and they’ll never catch us. Get out there and get the job done.’

We had forty-five minutes to change things around. I spotted a pair of discarded white training shoes lying in the corner. They had suction pads and were used for training indoors. I think they were Billy McNeill’s gear, I’m not sure. I had been wearing rubber studs in the first-half and they were as useful as a chocolate fireguard. I decided to give them a try and, thankfully, they fitted.

The game was merely four minutes into the second-half when I combined with Tommy Gemmell and our left-back sent a dangerous low cross skidding into the Rangers penalty area. Joe McBride dummied the ball and that was just perfect for someone of the speed and courage of Stevie Chalmers. He darted into the danger area and turned the ball past Billy Ritchie. Game on!

I was beginning to get into my stride on the left wing. The shoes were doing their job and definitely helped me maintain my poise and balance when I was running with the ball. Suddenly I was leaving Johansen in my slipstream. My pace was beginning to tell and he was mistiming his tackles. Thirteen minutes after the equaliser, we were ahead. It was Stevie again with a header from a left-wing corner-kick. Rangers were on the ropes and we knew it. So, too, did they. Time to go for the jugular and finish them off.

Seven minutes later, I got away from Johansen again and saw Charlie Gallagher taking up a great position about twenty-five yards out. Charlie struck a beautiful ball, that was undoubtedly his forte. He wasn’t a tackler and Big Jock always insisted we had to let our opponents know we were on the field. ‘Win the battle and you’ll win the war,’ he would say often enough. Charlie had other strengths, though. He was a lovely passer of the ball to unlock the meanest of defences, but he could hit the ball like a cannonball, too. I beat another couple of defenders before looking up to make sure Charlie was still unmarked and slipped the ball as expertly as I could in front of him. Charlie simply lashed an unstoppable drive in the direction of Ritchie’s goal. The ball exploded against the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line. The Rangers keeper didn’t move a muscle.

The fourth goal in the 79th minute from Bobby Murdoch was a collector’s item. Not because of the awesome power and flawless accuracy from our midfielder because he displayed both qualities often enough in his exceptional career. No, it’s the role referee Tiny Wharton played in it. Jimmy Johnstone and Gallagher combined on the right before Charlie sent the ball across the Rangers defence about twenty-five yards out. The pass was actually heading for Tiny when he suddenly opened his legs and let the ball go through them. It was a consummate dummy any pro footballer would have been proud to claim.

Bobby read it perfectly and hit a devastating left-foot drive that almost took the net away. I have watched a video rerun of that game and I was hugely impressed by Ritchie. He was left lying on the turf, beaten for the fourth time, the game lost and, staggeringly, he got to his knees and applauded Murdoch. That didn’t often happen in the heat of an Old Firm duel, but it did display the keeper’s unbelievable sportsmanship.

It was all over for the Ibrox side when I moved the ball over from the left, Wee Jinky got involved and the ball dropped perfectly for Stevie to launch a low drive past Ritchie. It was the end of a perfect day played in hellish conditions. The fog continued to descend and about an hour after the game, you could hardly see a hand in front of your face. The Rangers contingent in the 65,000 crowd must have hoped it had fallen earlier in the afternoon.

Signed copies available at www.cqnbookstore.com – first class post included so will arrive for Fathers Day.

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