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LISBON LIONS: BERTIE AULD (Part Three)

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CQN today marks the 53rd anniversary of Celtic’s historic European Cup triumph in Lisbon with EXCLUSIVE extracts from Bertie Auld’s autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,’ co-authored by Alex Gordon.

Here is part three of the inimitable Hoops legend’s take on the achievement by Jock Stein’s great team that unforgettable day on May 25 1967.

THE Czechoslovakian champions of Dukla Prague were captained by the wonderful Jozef Masopust who had been voted European Footballer of the Year in 1962 and had led his country to the World Cup Final where they were to lose 3-1 to Brazil the same year.

Dukla had also beaten Ajax Amsterdam in the previous round – the same Dutch side who had annihilated Liverpool 7-3 on their way to the quarter-final. The Dutch were just emerging as a football nation at the time and were to offer us the delights of Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep and so many more in the years to come. However, Dukla had taken care of their threat and were in the semi-finals on merit. Once again, another tense occasion was just around the corner and, thankfully, I had overcome my injury to get my place back in the first team.

A crowd of 74,406 made their way to Parkead on a fairly crisp evening on 12 April and they were about to witness another unforgettable encounter. Wispy Wallace had missed the games against Vojvodina because he hadn’t been registered in time following his £30,000 transfer from Hearts in December. But he was was more than willing and ready to go in this one. It wasn’t a bad debut on the biggest platform European football had to offer – two goals in a 3-1 triumph.

Once more the atmosphere was out of this world. I loved playing in these games; this was what football was all about. People used to say I was arrogant. No, I wasn’t – I was big-headed. Seriously, I was afraid of no-one. They would have my utmost respect, of course, but once that whistle blew to start the game I was determined to show them who was the better man. It was an outlook that surged through the team.

LISBON, HERE WE COME…Bertie Auld and Jock Stein embrace in Prague.

Dukla, like Vojvodina, were a fine passing team, laced with a lot of clever players. I remember they had a beanpole centre-forward called Stanislav Strunc who must have been about 6ft 8in. Caesar was just about unbeatable in the air, but this skyscraper striker made it difficult for our captain all night. Everything looked as though it was going according to plan when Jinky opened the scoring in the twenty-eighth minute which was justice after the referee had ruled out what looked like a perfectly good goal from Stevie earlier.

Have you ever been in the middle of a crowd of over 74,000 people and been able to hear a pin drop? I have. Celtic Park was enveloped in an eerie silence just before the interval when the Czechs equalised. We couldn’t believe it. Our defence got into a bit of a mess on the edge of the box as they tried to hack the ball clear. It didn’t travel any distance until it was being continually blocked by some part of a Dukla player’s anatomy; it was bouncing around like it had a life of its own as it ricocheted all over the place. As luck would have it, it eventually fell to the towering Strunc and he slipped the offending article beyond Faither. Once more, some choice words were exchanged between the keeper and his defenders.

Enter Wispy! TG hammered a pass downfield in the sixtieth minute and Wispy, who had always been a real nuisance when he was playing against Celtic, made his run with Swiss-precision timing. The Dukla defence was caught square as he chased TG’s ball into the box where a defender mistimed his attempt at a clearing header. Wispy anticipated the bounce superbly and then calmly lofted the ball with the outside of his right boot beyond the outrushing Ivo Viktor, their international goalkeeper. The ball floated nonchalantly into the net and it was time for our old ground to rock to its foundations again.

Five minutes later, it was shaking once more. A desperate Dukla defender pawed away a cross from Chopper and the ref awarded us the inevitable free-kick. It was about twenty-five yards out, fairly central and well within striking distance. Suddenly, for absolutely no good reason, something pops into your head that you think will work. I placed the ball down and was aware Wispy was at my side, on the right.

The Dukla defence erected its wall as Viktor, another fine custodian, watched nervously on his line. I stepped forward as though I was about to steady the ball with my hand. The defence must have relaxed for a split-second and that was all I needed. Quickly, I withdrew my hand, touched the ball sideways, Wispy arrived bang on time and clubbed an unstoppable effort wide of the open-mouthed keeper into the net.

It might have looked impromptu, but, like so many things, it was a variation on a move we worked on over and over again in training at Barrowfield. It’s always nice when it pays off. It’s even nicer when it puts you to within ninety minutes of the European Cup Final.

The grim and foreboding Juliska Stadium in Prague was the setting for the second leg on 25 April where we knew we had a date with destiny. I think there was construction work already underway in this vast bowl of an arena – it looked like chunks of the stands were missing. Fans appeared to be standing on a hillside. There was a huge police presence, too. If this was supposed to unsettle or intimidate us they were wasting their time.

Jock did the unthinkable that afternoon – he ordered us to play in a defensive formation. It was alien to anything we had been used to since he arrived when entertainment was very much the watchword. He went through everything with painstaking attention to detail, so no-one was in any doubt about his duties against the Czechs. Even Jinky was told to lie deep alongside Cairney on the right and Lemon likewise over on the left alongside TG.

NINETY MINUTES FROM HISTORY…Billy McNeill shakes hands with Dukla Prague skipper Josef Masopust before the 0-0 draw.

Wispy, our two-goal first leg hero, was given a man-marking role on Masopust. We were almost unrecogniseable from the team that had faced Dukla only a fortnight beforehand although there was only one change in personnel, Lemon coming in for Yogi.

We all felt sorry for Stevie. He was given the lone striker’s role and told to keep on the move for ninety minutes; to continually harry their defenders and let them know he was there. It was a hellish task Stevie accepted with a smile on his face! He was fearless that day as he covered every inch behind enemy lines. We would thump the ball out of defence and there was Stevie haring after it, taking two or three defenders with him.

It wasn’t the most glamorous role he was ever asked to carry out on Celtic’s behalf, but he didn’t moan once. There was an occasion, deep in the second-half when the Czechs were resigning themselves to their fate, when he got caught up in a melee deep in their half. About five or six of their defenders descended upon our solitary frontman and Caesar looked at me and asked, ‘Do you think we should help him out, Bertie?’ I answered, ‘Naw, he’ll be fine on his own!’

Faither had made a couple of fine saves when the Czechs had managed to get themselves free of our shackles and we were all mightily relieved when the referee decided to call a halt to the contest. His shrill whistle sounded and we all danced around like schoolboys. Celtic were in the European Cup Final. And, of course, it was to get even more magical and memorable.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a disconsolate Masopust. He was standing there, looking at the ground and, now that he had reached the veteran stage, must have known his last chance of European Cup glory had surely gone. Wispy had made certain he contributed very little in the second leg. He never left his side and shadowed him everywhere, as instructed by Jock.

Masopust looked close to tears as Wispy approached him and offered to shake hands. Masopust didn’t want to know – he refused the gesture. That was disappointing. Wispy had played him cleanly throughout the game and, of course, he was just following orders. Masopust trudged wearily in the general direction of the tunnel, making his way past elated Celtic players as he did so.

I’m glad to say there is a happy postscript. This fine Czech player, one of the world’s first genuine superstars, must have realised how churlish he had been and came into our dressing room to seek out Wispy and offer him his hand in friendship. They duly clasped hands together and Masopust wished Wispy and the rest of us the best of luck for the final. We all appreciated that gesture.

Jock assembled the players around him afterwards and told us, ‘I will never ask you to play like that again. That is a promise.’ It was a promise he kept.

 
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