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THAT SEASON IN PARADISE: MAY: THE HIRPLING HERO

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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, the author turns the spotlight on midfield orchestrator Bobby Murdoch who played through the pain barrier during a mesmerising solo performance against Inter Milan in the European Cup Final on May 25 1967 in Lisbon.

BOBBY MURDOCH was a genuine working-class hero from Rutherglen. Not for him the flash cars, the snazzy clothes or the crazy hairstyles. He lived with his family in a comfortable, but hardly ostentatious, home in Cambuslang and shunned the bright lights of nightclubs in preference for a beer with his team-mates and long-time friends at the local.

Months after his mesmerising performance in Lisbon, Argentina’s Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in the world at that time, were reported to be getting ready to make a massive bid for his services. In typical Murdoch fashion, he responded, ‘Ach, I’m no’ interested – no way. I’m staying with the club I love. I’m only interested in playing for Celtic.’

And you just knew that he meant every word of it.

One of his prize belongings was a gift from Celtic a couple of months after the victory over Inter Milan in the Portuguese capital. He said proudly, ‘Every member of the first team pool that year was given an eight-millimetre colour film of the highlights of our European Cup Final which runs for some forty-five minutes.

‘I regularly run it through at home when friends drop in for a spot of supper or a natter and I never cease to marvel at some of the football the boys turned on. This film is one of my most treasured possessions.’

Murdoch recalled the countdown to that special day in his club’s history. He said, ‘There was something about Jock Stein leading up to that game in Lisbon that I found impossible to put my finger on.

‘He was a confident individual, of course, but this was different. Our manager looked as though he was utterly convinced we would win the trophy. And, remember, this was the guy who would get all his players around him and insist, “There are no easy games, they all need to be won.” It didn’t matter who Celtic were playing, he thumped out the same advice. Complacency in the Celtic dressing room was a huge no-no.

HEADS I LOSE…Bobby Murdoch’s close-range effort is saved by Inter Milan keeper Giuliano Sarti.

‘I got the impression Jock genuinely believed he had taken us to a level where we couldn’t be beaten. No stone had been left unturned in his preparation for the game. And I mean none. He had gone through the Inter Milan team, man by man, dissected their tactics, told us what every player would be asked to do, how they would set up, which player favoured which foot.

‘The only thing he couldn’t have predicted was the performance of their goalkeeper. Many actually thought Giuliano Sarti was the team’s Achilles’ Heel and, frankly, that made no sense to me. They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, don’t they? It didn’t sound right that Sarti was second rate.

‘Inter’s obvious strength was their ability to defend in depth. Would a manager such as Helenio Herrera, with his incredible reputation and eye for detail, continually choose a last line of defence who could have been seen as suspect? That went against the very ethos of his thinking. You would have thought his ideal outline would be the spine of the team starting with the goalkeeper, going through his centre-half, central midfielder and through to his centre-forward.

‘Sarti was thirty-three at the time of the Cup Final and had played only eight times for Italy. A lot of us had watched the 1966 World Cup Finals in England the previous summer and there had been no sign of Sarti in the squad. Their keeper was Enrico Albertosi, of Fiorentina, and the Inter No.1 hadn’t been rated good enough to get a place as one of the two back-up keepers. We weren’t fooled, though.

‘We wondered what Inter Milan’s players might have thought about our own Ronnie Simpson. A player who cost virtually nothing from Hibs, thirty-six years old – three years Sarti’s senior! – and with two international caps. But we all knew how important Ronnie was to Celtic.

JUST IN TIME…Bobby Murdoch stretches to cut out a cross to Inter dangerman Mario Corso.

‘But I have to say Sarti’s performance against us in Lisbon bordered on the unbelievable. We bombarded that guy, but he stood up to everything we launched at him. I thought I had scored with a header from about six yards. It looked a goal as soon as it left my forehead, but I couldn’t believe it when the keeper caught it in mid-air with one hand. I almost applauded that effort myself.

‘We knew it would take something special to beat him and, thankfully, Tommy Gemmell came up with the answer. It was a long time coming, though – far too long!’

Indeed, there was genuine agony among the ecstasy for Murdoch during the encounter. The midfielder had his right foot stamped on by an Inter Milan defender early in the game. He said, ‘The pain shot right through me. It was probably an accident, but it was a dull one. If there had been outfield substitutes available back then, I might have had to go off. However, as it was, we only had stand-by goalkeeper John Fallon on the bench that day.

‘Big Jock told me, “Run it off, Bobby, you’ll be fine.” As the game progressed towards half-time, I looked down and my right ankle seemed to be twice the size it was at the kick-off.

‘People must have wondered why I was favouring my left foot that day. Fortunately, I was two-footed, but my right was undoubtedly the stronger of the two. I even managed to get a couple of left-footed shots on target against Inter, but both were saved.’

BY THE LEFT…Bobby Murdoch hammers in a long-range drive.

Murdoch’s midfield ally Bertie Auld remembered, ‘I saw Bobby grimace at one point and I asked him what was the matter. He pointed to his right foot and I could clearly see that his ankle was beginning to swell up. I said, “I don’t like the look of that, Bobby.”

‘”I’m no’ too chuffed myself, Bertie,” came the reply. What a performance he put in that day on one foot. The Italians got lucky – could you even start to imagine what he would have done to them if he could have used both feet!’

Captain Billy McNeill recalled, ‘As Bobby said, we didn’t have a substitute to cover for him if he had gone off. Listen, there was no way Bobby was going off that day. No chance. He would have played on with his leg hanging off if need be!’

Bobby Lennox said, ‘I thought Bobby was Celtic’s best player in Lisbon. I can’t give him a higher tribute than that, can I? Of course, he had plenty of competition for that honour with my wee pal Jimmy Johnstone, Bertie Auld, Tommy Gemmell and anyone else you care to mention really turning it on that day. But it was Bobby for me; a real  ten out of ten performance.

‘He had all the talent in the world and he could also be very aggressive when need be. I mean in a sporting manner, but Bobby was never interested in an opponent trying to boss him around out on the field. That was his domain and he didn’t invite anyone in there.

‘We all know what he contributed against Inter Milan. That, I swear, was one the most selfless displays I have ever seen. He was carrying that injury, but he was still all over the place trying to galvanise the rest of the team. Just ask Big Billy or John Clark. When they got the ball he wanted it immediately.

‘Luggy seemed to have a lot of the ball that day, as I recall. He would do his sweeping up as Inter’s rare attacks came to nothing and he would look around for someone to pass to. Bobby was always there.

THE WINNER…Giuliano Sarti is left helpless as Stevie Chalmers diverts in Bobby Murdoch’s low cross.

‘I am sure Bobby was as happy for me as I was for him when we lifted that European Cup. We had grown up together at Celtic Park. I signed two years after him, but, even as a young man, you could see he was going to go all the way to the top. You can’t disguise that sort of quality.’

Bobby Murdoch realised a dream that day. He strode the immaculate surface of the Estadio Nacional with a grace and guile that bewildered Inter Milan. He was in the thick of everything. Adding his powerful frame to defensive duties, making himself available for passes from the defence, patrolling the middle of the park with Bertie Auld, spraying the ball around with gravity-defying accuracy and plunging into attack to blitz the overworked Sarti in the Italians’ goal. All with one good foot!

It was a truly memorable performance from the masterful Murdoch. Inter Milan, doyens of their defensive craft, had no answer to the gifted linkman. Inevitably, he was involved in both goals that brought the European Cup to Celtic Park. No surprise, really. If you ever want to witness a midfield player in his absolute prime and doing everything with breathtaking precision, just look again at the European Cup Final of 1967. Bobby Murdoch, with one good foot, was in the spotlight and, to everyone’s delight, this wonderful and self-deprecating character played a pivotal role in the club’s most famous triumph.

Jim Craig said, ‘Bobby was known as Chopper for most of his career, but he was also called Sam for a spell – and he didn’t like it one little bit! We were down at our usual HQ at Seamill on the Ayrshire coast preparing for an important game and Jock Stein set up a training exercise that saw us dribbling round paint pots.

‘Bobby clattered into a few of these obstacles and sent paint flying all over the place. I recall there was a van parked nearby with the name Sam B. Allison emblazoned on its side. He appeared to be the local painter and decorator. Big Jock laughed, “Hey, Bobby, you’ve spilled more paint than Sam has in a lifetime.” So, Bobby instantly became Sam and the nickname stuck for awhile.

‘He may not have been able to skip round inanimate objects, but Bobby knew how to get past more orthodox opponents. He had a very graceful, artistic touch. You would sometimes see him going up on his tip-toes, having a wee look around and then arcing a pass about fifty yards or so with uncanny precision.

‘His shooting power was fairly devastating, too. He had it all. Another thing you might not know about Bobby was that he was a very emotional character. He would cry if we won. He would cry if we lost. He would even cry if we drew. We just cried when he wasn’t in the team!’

CONQUERORS OF EUROPE…Bobby Murdoch is ‘crowned’ by delighted team-mates Tommy Gemmell and John Clark.

John Clark said, ‘Bobby was quite a quiet, even reserved, sort of character. What a transformation when he got out on that football field, though. That was his stage and he revelled in that setting. If you asked me to list his strengths, I would say you might as well cut to the chase and try to detect a flaw. If there was one, I didn’t see it and I played alongside him often enough.

‘Bobby was good with either foot, could shoot from range with equal power and accuracy, could tackle with the best of them and wasn’t bad in the air, either. He wasn’t the fleetest of foot, but he more than made up for that by his reading of the play. It was actually a pleasure to be on the same pitch as Bobby – especially as he was wearing the same strip as you.

‘A lot of teams paid him the compliment of sticking markers on him, but they would simply be undone if Bobby spotted an opening and zapped one of his precision passes through it to a lurking colleague. And, if they weren’t sticking the ball in the net, he wasn’t adverse to coming forward and rectifying the situation himself.’

Stevie Chalmers laughed, ‘Folk have often asked how I celebrated our European Cup triumph. They always looked a wee bit disappointed when I told them I spent it in an empty hotel with Bobby! Let me hastily explain. I roomed with Bobby at our rather splendid hotel in Estoril and after the game we both went back and got ready for the specially-prepared banquet with all the UEFA delegates. The beaten Inter Milan players were there, too, but they really looked as though they would have preferred to be somewhere else. Can’t blame them.

‘Anyway, our wives had travelled over to Lisbon and were staying in a different hotel from the players. They were scheduled to travel back that night and Celtic were due to fly into Glasgow the following day. Anyway, after the banquet, Bobby and I saw our wives, said our farewells, wished them a safe journey home and then made our way back to our hotel. After a wee while we decided to get some shut-eye. It had been a long and fairly exhausting day and we knew something special would be waiting for us at home. How special we couldn’t possibly have known at the time.

‘So, we decided to get tucked up in our beds and no sooner had we put our heads on the pillows than there was a banging at our hotel room door. “Hurry, you two, get up,” ordered Jock Stein. “There’s been a problem with your wives’ plane. The flight’s been cancelled. The girls have nowhere to stay. You’ll have to give them your beds!”

‘So, a bleary-eyed Bobby and I dutifully gave up our accommodation for our wives only to find there was no room at the inn for us. And the guys with whom we had made history that same day weren’t at all interested in letting us bunk up with them. So, there you have it. Bobby and I were booted out and had an empty hotel foyer to ourselves. I couldn’t think of better company.’

Bertie Auld commented, ‘I loved playing alongside this boy; he could do everything. He could tackle, he could shoot and he could pass. Everything Bobby Murdoch did was stamped with class and authority. His vision was phenomenal and you would have had to go far to actually meet a nicer bloke.

‘Bobby’s career really took off when Jock Stein came back to the club. He actively encouraged an individual to play with adventure. Big Jock gave Bobby Murdoch the freedom to express himself and I don’t think the player let anyone down. Ever.’

TOMORROW: Assault course at the Estadio.

 
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