CELTIC’S final game of an eventful November (1966) came in the European Cup Second Round first leg against Nantes, the excellent French club renowned for their flamboyant, attacking style.
Once again, Jock Stein’s outfit had been drawn against a team who had provided several players for their nation’s squad for the World Cup Finals in England, most notably Robert Budzynski, a tough, solid and dependable centre-half with the ability to pass the ball out of defence.
There was little doubt, though, of the Celtic player who had caught the imagination of the home support – Joe McBride, the thirty-three goal hitman who had been immediately christened ‘Marlon Brando’ by the French Press. It was a nickname that baffled even the stocky Celt.
Ronnie Simpson recalled: “The Malakoff Stadium proved to be a smallish ground and the game did not attract a great deal of people with the attendance given as 15,464.
“In sixteen minutes, we were a goal down. Their full-back, Gabriel De Michele, had attacked down the left wing and pushed through a great ball to Francis Magny. We were caught open and he beat me with his shot, which was low and hard.
“But ‘Marlon Brando’ had us all-square in twenty-four minutes and, in the second-half, Bobby Lennox and Stevie Chalmers also got on the scoring charts.
“We deservedly won 3-1. The Man of the Match was undoubtedly Jimmy Johnstone. The French fans rose to him and applauded his trickery.
“The French newspapers called him ‘La Puce Volante’ – ‘The Flying Flea’ – and that’s what he must have seemed to the Nantes defenders as he jinked through their ranks with calculated danger.
‘The boss told Jimmy before the game to keep taking the ball up to the full-back and to carry it past him and not to be disheartened if he failed. He was to keep trying to beat him. De Michele did stop him in the earlier parts of the game, but eventually Wee Jimmy had him so bamboozled that everyone was applauding him. Including me!
“The French team manager, Jose Arribas, did not really give much hope of saving the game at Celtic Park. When you lose a home tie 3-1, you’re in dead trouble.’
“Marlon Brando” and “La Puce Volante” celebrated St Andrew’s Day alongside the rest of the Celtic contingent on the banks of the River Loire that evening and prepared for the rigours of a demanding December.
*From That Season in Paradise – ten Months of Celtic Heaven available now from CQNBookstore.com and from Celtic stores, Waterstones and selected bookstores.