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THAT SEASON IN PARADISE: MAY: BERTIE AULD’S BIG DISAPPOINTMENT

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CQN continues its enthralling and EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘That Season In Paradise’, which highlight the months that were the most momentous in Celtic’s proud history.

Today, midfield mastermind Bertie Auld reveals his disappointment in his recollection of the glorious triumph over Inter Milan in the European Cup Final on May 25 1967 in Lisbon.

BERTIE AULD admitted he had been disappointed he hadn’t been given the opportunity to pit his wits against Inter Milan’s world-renowned Luis Suarez as Celtic conquered Europe.

The masterful midfielder said, ‘Injury forced him out of their team and, immediately in the aftermath of our triumph, the Italians pointed out they would have picked up the trophy again if their much-vaunted Spanish midfielder had been playing. Believe me, that is utter nonsense. Suarez? They could have fielded Superman and they wouldn’t have prevented us from winning that day!

‘The Italians, as ever, we just a bit too quick to delve into that well-thumbed tome, “The Big Book of Football Excuses”, although, to be fair, their manager, Helenio Herrera, and a few of their players were just as swift to congratulate us. They knew they had been outplayed, outfought and outwitted.

‘But I really would have loved to have squared up to Suarez. I was on the left-hand side of the Celtic midfield and his favoured position was on the right of the Inter midline. It would have been very intriguing to see how we got on, to say the least. These days you can get live pictures of players and watch them in action at the flick of a button thanks to satellite television. Back then, of course, that was not the case.

‘You rarely saw up-to-date film of foreign players and you had to take what your boss told you about so-and-so’s strengths and weaknesses. They were all a bit mythical back then and you had to accept someone’s else’s word about their ability. Of course, you could catch up with reports in the newspapers, but there was nothing quite like matching up with the guy in the flesh. Genuinely, I welcomed that opportunity in Suarez’s case.

‘Suarez was one of the first football superstars. We all took a sharp intake of breath when we were told Inter Milan had paid a mind-boggling £214,000 to sign the player from Barcelona in 1961. That was massive money all those years ago; easily the world record transfer. Look at the Celtic team that took the field at the Estadio Nacional six years later – it cost a total of £42,000, a mere fraction of what Suarez had signed for.

ON THE RUN…Bertie Auld races at the Inter Milan defence.

‘We were also informed the Spaniard had negotiated a signing-on fee of £60,000 for himself. I didn’t think there had been that much money printed. The player was said to be picking up around £7,000-per-year in wages. Okay, I know an average player in the Scotland’s top flight can now command a figure like that on a weekly basis, but back in the Sixties that was massive dough. If I’ve got my sums right, the Celtic players were lifting something in the region of £1,300 in those heady financial days.

‘So, can anyone blame a wee chap from Maryhill for wanting to go toe-to-toe with this bloke? I would have loved it. I would have thrived on it. Apparently, Suarez was said to be suffering from a thigh strain in the run-in to Lisbon, but we did hear other suggestions that, at thirty-two, he might not have fancied playing against Celtic. He would have known about our high energy levels. He would have heard about our fitness and our willingness to go flat out for ninety minutes. He was a cultured playmaker, of course, but this might not have been a setting for him to show those skills. I’m not say he chickened out, but what I will say is that it did not matter one jot whether or not he was on the field of play on Thursday May 25 1967 – we would have still won the European Cup.

‘Think about this, too. Suarez was not known for enjoying defensive duties. He did all his playing facing the opponents’ goal from middle to front. Would he have chased Tommy Gemmell into corners? Would he have made runs to block off Bobby Lennox? Would he have trailed all over the place alongside yours truly? I doubt it. His replacement was a guy called Mauro Bicicli and he was actually more of a defensively-minded player and, naturally enough, Inter needed those sort of performers the way the game developed. Maybe, then, we might have won a bit more comfortably than 2-1 if Suarez had turned out.

‘I was also disappointed to read about the Italians saying they had struggled for a replacement. They were having a laugh, weren’t they? Inter Milan with their many millions, the most expensively-structured line-up in the world could not find a suitable player to take over from Suarez? A team that had won the European Cup in two out of the previous three years and had also lifted the World Club Championship twice over the same period? Pull the other one!’

Auld continued his observations, ‘I hit their crossbar with a run and shot as we swept down on them looking for a first-half equaliser. I’ve often been asked if I intended a cross because the ball took a strange swerve and ended up heading for goal. Take it from me, that was an attempt at goal. I put a little bend on the ball as I moved into their box and I thought my attempt looked good. Well, it would have had to be better than good to beat their keeper Sarti who was unbelievable. However, the woodwork got in the way of me and glory and the ball bounced to safety. Thankfully, Tommy and Stevie had better fortune later on.

‘But let’s look at that Celtic line-up. We weren’t exactly a cosmopolitan bunch in 1967. For a start, we were all born within thirty miles of Celtic Park with myself, Ronnie Simpson, Jim Craig, and Stevie Chalmers being allowed to boast that we were, indeed, true Glaswegians! The others came from places such as Bellshill, Bothwell, Craigneuk, Uddingston, Kirkintilloch and, in Bobby Lennox’s case, Saltcoats. I always thought that was just a place people went for their holidays; I had no idea people actually lived there.

‘Anyway, the Glaswegians among the lads used to kid the others on about being hicks from the sticks. Big Billy, from Bellshill, was often fond of saying, “Don’t ask me, I’m just a lad from the country, you better ask Bertie.” But we were one big happy bunch, you can believe that. There is genuine camaraderie among us and nothing will ever split that up.

‘What was so special about the team? Well, the word team gives you a clue. We may have had some excellent individuals such as Jimmy Johnstone, Tommy Gemmell and Bobby Murdoch, but we all fitted into a structure. We trusted each other and that was so important. It was comforting to go out on the field on matchday and know you had so many good players around you. Take Ronnie Simpson, for a start. How reliable was he? You instinctively knew he would do a good job. He may not have looked like your typical goalkeeper, but, to me, there was none better. He may have been on the small side, but Ronnie always insisted he was close to 6ft. He must have been using a different measuring tape from anyone else in the world, that’s all I can say! But he was a brilliant shotstopper and was extremely agile.

THE GLORY BHOYS…Bertie Auld and Stevie Chalmers – and their team-mates – show their delight at the final whistle.

‘Do you know, of the team that faced Inter Milan, only Ronnie and myself had played football outside Scotland? Amazing. Ronnie, of course, won two FA Cup medals with Newcastle United while I had my stint at Birmingham City before I returned to Paradise. Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, Stevie Chalmers and Bobby Lennox had all been brought up through the ranks at Celtic Park, although I believe Luggy may have been on the books at my old club Birmingham City very briefly. Willie Wallace, of course, arrived from Hearts. And Big Jock had never managed outside Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife. See what I mean about hardly being cosmopolitan!

‘I’ve already said the Boss was the man who deserved all the credit for what Celtic achieved and quite rightly so. He was way ahead of all the other managers of that era with his thinking and planning. He would develop wee things in training and opponents and supporters alike might have thought we were improvising on the pitch during a match, but, believe me, we had gone over these things meticulously in training at Barrowfield. He was a great believer in the old adage, “Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.”’

Auld added, ‘I missed out on only one game during Celtic’s run to Lisbon – the dramatic last-gasp 2-0 victory over Vojvodina – after failing a late fitness test. Even I was left gasping for air at our truly wonderful support. I swear Celtic Park was rocking that night. Of course, I would have loved for nothing more than to be out there contributing, but the next best thing was watching the action and roaring on the lads. What a game that was. Honestly, the hairs still stand on end at the recollection. It was one helluva exciting rollercoaster ride of emotions. Everything that is good in football was on show that cold, grey, but truly unforgettable, evening in the east end of Glasgow.

‘I was witnessing two football teams at the peak of their powers and it was all spellbinding stuff. Celtic would surge forward in wave after wave of attacks, but the Slavs were an extremely accomplished unit and they looked fairly comfortable as they soaked up awesome pressure while always looking for the out-ball to turn defence very quickly into attack. They were a very polished side with a very good manager in Vujadin Boskov. Charlie Gallagher took my place in midfield that night and let me tell you something about Charlie – he would have been a first team regular in any other team in the land outside Celtic.’

Matchwinner Stevie Chalmers concluded, ‘Lisbon was made all the sweeter because I had been at the club eight years before then, signing from Junior club Ashfield on February 6 1959, and there was absolutely no way I could have ever believed Celtic would one day conquer Europe. After putting pen to paper, I made my debut just a month later, an instantly forgettable 2-1 defeat from Airdrie at Celtic Park. Possibly not surprisingly, that was my only league appearance of that particular campaign.

‘After Lisbon, I came home to spend my bonus money. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about my so-called spending spree. My  wife, Sadie, would have got something, of course, and I probably spent the rest on things around the house. Not exactly Flash Harry, eh? But winning the European Cup was not all about money. It was about football and putting Celtic’s name on the European map. We managed that and, of course, Big Jock was smiling afterwards because we did it in the Celtic manner.

‘Ach, I suppose we weren’t a bad side.’

TOMORROW: The sacrifice of a showman.

 
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