CQN continues its enthralling and EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘That Season In Paradise’, which takes us through the months that were the most momentous in Celtic’s proud history.
Today, we look at another dramatic period that saw the team fight back after a stutter in December.
WINTER’S unforgiving icy grip, with the attendant obbligato of piercing, shrieking howls and the drifting, persistent snowfalls, forced football in Scotland to a quivering standstill as 1966 frostily crossed over into 1967.
The scheduled Old Firm encounter at Ibrox on January 3 was an early victim of the freeze. The game against Clyde had already met with the same chilly fate. The Celtic players had to wait seven days into the momentous new year before they were required to don their new rubbersoled shoes. The innovative John Hughes, of course, had shown the way the previous January as he tip-toed through the frigid conditions at Celtic Park on his way to ransacking Rangers.
Now, twelve months on, Jock Stein insisted on all his players being kitted with the new shoes from the Adidas manufacturers. An admirable crowd of 37,000 turned out in the frosty east end of Glasgow to welcome their heroes into another year of hope and expectation.
No-one had a clue what lay ahead as the combatants of Celtic and Dundee emerged from the tunnel that chilly afternoon.
Jock Stein’s team gave the supporters a bit of a clue by taking a two-goal lead in five minutes before coasting to a 4-0 advantage inside half-an-hour. Ten of the men who would become legends in Lisbon on May 25 that year were on parade; Bertie Auld was the odd man out with a place on the substitute’s bench while Charlie Gallagher teamed up with Bobby Murdoch in the middle of the park. John Hughes, after struggling to make an impact in his comeback game against Dundee United on Hogmanay, was rested.
It was Murdoch who pointed Celtic in the direction of a cavalcade of goals in the opening moments when he delivered a vicious cross into the Dundee penalty area. Bobby Wilson, the Dundee right-back, was smack in the line of fire and the ball cannoned off a shin before flying past his static and unprepared goalkeeper, John Arrol. Ninety seconds later, Murdoch picked out Willie Wallace with a forty-yard pass of laser-beam accuracy and the striker killed the ball instantly and, in the same sweeping movement, thundered in a shot from an acute angle that had the keeper admitting defeat again. Jimmy Johnstone administered more punishment on the custodian in the twentieth minute, but, in between the goals, Arrol had made outstanding saves from Stevie Chalmers and Wallace. He had no answer, though, when Johnstone clipped one past him following a clever Gallagher free-kick.
Gallagher, so often Auld’s understudy, was gifted with poise and balance and was revelling on the dodgy surface that had only passed an inspection at 8.45 that morning. The delicate inside-forward would never be known as a great goalscorer, but he was the scorer of great goals. And that was ably demonstrated in the twenty-eighth minute when he pulled the ball down, pirouetted and, without even looking up, cracked a shot of awesome power high into the net. By this time, the fans had forgotten about the Arctic temperatures. Celtic eased up after the interval and Kenny Cameron pulled one back for the visitors, but the first game of the 1967 adventure got a fitting last-minute salute when Wallace walloped in the fifth goal.
One impressed national newspaper scribe wrote, ‘Someone had to pay for Celtic’s defeat at Tannadice on Hogmanay and fate ruled that the team should be Dundee, who were so outclassed that only the brilliance of their goalkeeper John Arrol prevented complete and utter humiliation. Time and time again, Arrol came to his side’s rescue with saves bordering on the miraculous as Celtic made light of the treacherous underfoot conditions and bombarded the Dundee goal from practically the first minute to last.’
The Celtic goalscoring spree continued in midweek with Clyde on the receiving end of identical punishment dished out to Dundee. The players of the Shawfield outfit, who would finish an extremely credible third in the First Division upon the completion of the campaign, arrived at Parkhead with the handsome record of picking up win bonuses on their last four sorties outside Rutherglen. Also, Davie White’s side had lost only once in their previous eight games. And, for close on an hour, the visitors, including future Celt Harry Hood, showed why they had racked up such an excellent sequence of results. Then the roof caved in on the gallant part-timers.
There was the little evidence of the drama that had yet to unfold when Celtic, as expected, took an early lead in the twelfth minute as Stevie Chalmers accepted a thoughtful through pass from Willie Wallace and launched an unstoppable drive high past Tommy McCulloch, Clyde’s highly-respected thirty-two-year-old goalkeeper. Joe Gilroy, however, interrupted proceedings just after the half-hour mark when he slid the equaliser beyond Ronnie Simpson, three years the senior of his opposite number. It remained locked at 1-1 at the interval and beyond.
ALL SMILES…the clever and astute midfielder Charlie Gallagher.
However, Charlie Gallagher, who scored goals with the regularity of sightings of Halley’s Comet, netted his second in successive games to hand the initiative back to the champions. The midfielder nimbly tucked away a low cross from Chalmers in the fifty-fourth minute and the 38,000 crowd had to wait another eighteen minutes before witnessing a spellbinding succession of deadly finishing as Clyde were blown away by a green tempest. Chalmers started the goal parade in the seventy-second minute when McCulloch could only parry a low shot from Jimmy Johnstone. Two minutes later, Tommy Gemmell, from his favourite shooting distance of twenty-five yards, crashed in another as he tested the strength of the rigging and, within sixty seconds, Bobby Lennox headed in the fifth and final goal. Who could have blamed veteran custodian McCulloch for reaching for the smelling salts afterwards?
In glowing terms, one newspaperman noted, ‘As if charged by some invisible dynamo, Celtic seemed to play out the last half-hour at a pace even faster than anything that had been set before – and it paid off in no uncertain manner, with three goals in the space of four minutes. That was the end of the match as a contest, but not as an entertainment, for right until the end Celtic kept plugging away for more goals and were denied them only by some resolute defensive play by the stout-hearted Clyde defenders.’
Tommy Gemmell was given a special round of applause from his team-mates and the 19,000 supporters crammed into the confines of Muirton Park as Celtic travelled to Perth to take on St Johnstone on January 14. The cavalier-like full-back was celebrating the occasion of his one hundredth successive first team appearance for the club – and he came close to marking the event by putting the Celtic physiotherapist Bob Rooney’s son in hospital. With the game poised at 0-0 and pushing beyond the hour-long evaluation of their opponents, Gemmell, forcing on his forwards as usual, raced on to a ball about thirty yards out and he let loose a mighty effort which appeared to be fizzing towards the top corner of Jim Donaldson’s goal. However, defender Benny Rooney, who started his career at Parkhead while his father Bob worked with the backroom team, was either brave or foolhardy – certainly ill-advised – managed to get his head in the way and diverted the ball off target.
One scribe wrote, ‘Gemmell almost decapitated Rooney with a shot that hit the centre-half on the brow and sent him to the ground with the ball spinning for yet another corner.’
The Celtic great said, ‘What on earth was he thinking? Goalkeepers used to get out the way of my shots and there he was trying to head it clear! Served him right for trying to deny Celtic a goal. He should have known better. Actually, I do recall that moment and I think that shot had goal written all over it until his intervention. He went down as though he had been hit by an invisible cannonball. Thankfully, Benny was made of good stuff and was back on his feet shortly afterwards. And, also, I was grateful that we got the goals afterwards that took the points back to Parkhead.’
Following Rooney’s moment of injudicious valour, Jimmy Johnstone sneaked in a left-foot drive for the opening goal in the sixty-third minute and added another six minutes later. There was another two-goal burst late in the game when Stevie Chalmers netted a third in the eighty-sixth minute and Bobby Lennox clipped one over the line only moments afterwards to make the final scoreline an emphatic 4-0 for the league leaders and defending champions. It proved to be a crucial victory for Celtic. On the same day, Rangers beat Dundee United 3-1 at Ibrox to kick off an astonishing twelve-game sequence of league wins, an accomplishment which merely emphasised the tour de force that was Jock Stein’s team who were able to meet and overcome such a sustained challenge while retaining their title.
After almost fifty years of working in newspapers, I can vouch for my wonderful city of Glasgow being the world’s capital of rumour, innuendo and speculation, malicious or misguided, informed or otherwise. There is always someone ‘in the know’ with the genuine ‘inside info’ about this, that and the next thing. God only knows how so many of these tales originate. I’ve always thought there were too many people with fertile imaginations with too little to occupy their minds or take up their time. Trust me, after so many phone calls over the many years, I have the severely bent ears to prove it.
And so, I am reliably informed, that was the case back in the middle of January 1967 when the whispers began concerning the welfare of Joe McBride, who hadn’t been seen in the Celtic first team since Christmas Eve the previous year. Less than a month had elapsed since his enforced absence and that was enough to get the ball rolling. Joe, everyone was reliably informed by the ‘insiders’, had scored his last goal, his career was over.
Jock Stein was concerned to the extent of getting touch with some of his friends, principally chosen by the team boss, in the national Press. He instructed them to quote him directly as he emphasised, ‘Joe McBride will play for us again and that should kill once and for all the stupid rumour that he is finished as a player. The rumour is completely untrue. We are going to prove that when we replay our Second X1 Cup-tie against Hearts. Joe is completely fit now as our supporters will see on Wednesday night.’ Celtic edged it 3-2, but the fans who were there to witness the action were not quite as convinced as their club’s manager about the merits of the centre-forward. Their doubts were given some substance when McBride was omitted from the team for the reserve fixture at Easter Road three days later after Stein had been informed the pitch was particularly heavy following torrential rainfall in the capital. McBride, for the time being, anyway, came off the radar as the gossips moved onto some other unfortunate victim.
ON STRIKE…Stevie Chalmers prepares to launch a shot at the Rangers goal with John Greig getting a good view.
The club’s top scorer was, in fact, in the Parkhead stand to witness his Celtic pals squaring up to the Hibs side that had made them work so hard for two points in Edinburgh back in the first week in October. The champions had won that exciting skirmish 5-3 and, in the opening minutes of the return fixture, it looked as though the 41,000 supporters were in for another bumper episode of goalmouth action. Inside the first ten minutes, Willie Wallace and Stevie Chalmers had hit the woodwork and Jimmy O’Rourke had replied for the visitors by blitzing one off Ronnie Simpson’s post.
The goal avalanche didn’t materialise, though. Celtic won 2-0 fairly comfortably in the end. Wallace had the Parkhead faithful cheering in the twelfth minute when he drove the ball wide of Thomson Allan and Chalmers followed up with the killer second seven minutes before the turnaround. Celtic strangled the game in the second period with their possessional expertise while still maintaining a high level of entertainment. Chalmers’ goal was his fourth in three successive league games and he had given the impression he had unhesitatingly picked up the goalscoring gauntlet in the absence of McBride.
The appealing nature of the team’s adventurous outlook, moved one newspaper reporter to write, ‘To declare that Celtic are the outstanding football side in Scotland is as much a statement of the obvious as to say the best way of remaining alive is to keep breathing. For the critic – be he friendly, alien or neutral – the problem of each passing week rests in how to rephrase former eulogies. On this evidence, Celtic are unlikely to offer him much relief from his difficulty until the season ends.’
January 28 just happens to be the date this author made his debut on the planet. Celtic – and Rangers – supporters may have other reasons to remember this milestone, for both vastly differing reasons. On the face of it, a quiet and unremarkable Saturday was on the cards with both teams taking part in the Scottish Cup against teams from the lower division. Celtic had been drawn against Arbroath at Parkhead and Jock Stein had pondered the wisdom and validity of bringing back Joe McBride against inferior opposition, especially at home.
However, he heeded medical advice that informed him the striker still required to rest his problematic knee. McBride was again in the comfy seats to watch the game which was just about over beyond the half-hour mark with the home side coasting along with a three-goal advantage. It would eventually finish at 4-0 and Ronnie Simpson may have even felt a little guilty at accepting his win bonus such was the inactivity around his goalmouth.
Bobby Murdoch sent a twenty-yard rocket screeching high into the net for the first goal in the thirteenth minute and six minutes later Tommy Gemmell demonstrated his shooting power from thirty yards when he torpedoed one into the top corner. Stevie Chalmers applied a typical finish for No 3 and Bertie Auld had a tap-in for the fourth near the end. Everything had gone according to plan for one half of the celebrated Old Firm. However, it wasn’t quite the case for the holders of the trophy who had been drawn away from home to play the minnows of Berwick Rangers. It had been billed as a mismatch of colossal proportions. Had it been a boxing contest, no board of control would have issued a licence for the fight to take place in legal circumstances. Or so we were informed.
BERWICK RANGERS 1 RANGERS 0 was the scoreline that sent shock waves through football. The host of BBC Grandstand had to repeat the result a couple of times to astonished viewers such was the unexpectedness and sheer disbelief at the outcome of the game at Shielfield Park. Rangers went into the contest as holders of the trophy content in the knowledge they had never lost in the tournament to a team from a lower division. Also, it had been thirty years since the Ibrox team had vacated the competition at the first hurdle. Sammy Reid was the player behind the sensational result with the only goal in the thirty-second minute. The following day, Reid was back at his job as a gear cutter in a local engineering yard to make up for the time he had been given off to train for the big game.
The story still persists of Rangers captain John Greig asking referee Eddie Thomson to allow another couple of minutes as the game edged towards its conclusion. The match official is alleged to have replied, ‘I’ve already given you four!’ The Ibrox stalwart, who later became the club’s manager, didn’t attempt to play the down the humiliation when he said, ‘This is probably the worst result in the history of this club.’
Ironically, the Berwick Rangers goalkeeper that fateful afternoon was none other than Jock Wallace, who was player/manager of the tiny club. His take on the score? ‘We should have won 3-0,’ he said. ‘We missed two easier chances than the one Sammy put away.’
Bertie Auld recalled, ‘Everyone seemed shocked by that result, but not me. I was convinced Rangers had used up a full season’s luck when they beat us in the Scottish Cup replay the previous season.’ Tongue in cheek, perhaps? Only the most devilishly mischievous of the Lisbon Lions has the answer to that.
TOMORROW: FEBRUARY – FIGHTING BACK