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THAT SEASON IN PARADISE: THE GREAT AMERICAN DREAM: CHAPTER FOUR

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CQN continues it’s thrilling and EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘That Season In Paradise’, that charts the most glorious campaign in Celtic’s proud history.

Today we look at the club’s extensive pre-season tour that many critics thought would backfire on Jock Stein and his players. 

IT SEEMED that no sooner had Bobby Lennox’s close-range drive nestled in the Motherwell net, than the Celtic players were packing their bags for the football trip of a lifetime. There were a few who questioned the wisdom of Jock Stein ushering his newly-crowned champions on an eleven-game one-month tour of the United States, Canada and Bermuda a mere four days after an exhausting and gruelling domestic and European campaign.

The dissenters should have known better.

Quite simply, Stein, with that uncommon commodity of common sense, reckoned he would find out a lot more about the depth of personality within his players on a prolonged trip as opposed to a scattering of pre-season games. Seventeen professionals were among the Celtic party who flew out from Abbotsinch Airport – now Glasgow International Airport – on the Friday morning of May 11 1966. Jim Craig remained at home for dental exams, a situation which left Stein doubting his commitment to the club, and young Frank Carron was brought in as his replacement. Ian Young and Jimmy Johnstone were involved, but had been given permission to return with two games still to play to attend their respective weddings.

It became a voyage of discovery and players have repeated over the years that it could very well have been the axis around which the Celtic success story revolved in the developing twelve months. As an exercise, it served as an extraordinary bonding factor among the individuals. The Parkhead side returned in the early hours of Wednesday June 12 with a record that showed eight wins, three draws and no defeats. A remarkable forty-seven goals had been racked up with the concession of only six. A foundation had been put in place for what lay ahead.

JOY BHOYS…Bobby Lennox, Harry Hood and Jimmy Johnstone celebrate a Celtic goal at Hampden.

Bobby Lennox was the goalscoring star of the roadshow with nineteen strikes. He reflected, ‘I have often stated that Celtic really gelled and came together months before we even thought about playing in Lisbon. I am talking about our American tour in 1966 and it was a masterstroke to take us away for four weeks. The players got to know one another even better than is possible when you are just turning up for training and, of course, playing on matchday.

‘We all enjoyed the experience, but we also realised we were there to work. This was no holiday and Jock Stein, even after a full season, was still getting to know the squad of players he had inherited. We all wanted to impress him and I think I did well enough – I managed to score nineteen goals in eleven games!

‘Okay, we did play a few select teams from Bermuda, New Jersey and St.Louis, but we also took on Spurs three times. The London side were a really top outfit at the time and they went on to win the FA Cup in 1967, beating Chelsea 2-1 in the Final. Of course, they had also won the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in 1963 when they walloped Atletico Madrid 5-1 in Rotterdam. But I think they were a bit annoyed that they couldn’t put one over on us. We beat them 1-0 and then 2-1 before we played them for a third time and they managed to get a 1-1 draw. These were important games for us. They were taking us to another level and it didn’t do our confidence any harm, either.’

Tommy Gemmell agreed that it was not all fun and games on the trip. ‘Big Jock became our social convener for a month and that drew us all together, but there was never any doubt who was the Boss. There was a line that was never crossed. I don’t want to paint a picture of a control freak because that wouldn’t be fair or accurate. But he let you know who made the final decision and would never be swayed.

‘I pestered him on the trip to let me play up front in a game against one of the local sides. “If I can score all those goals as a left-back, gaffer, how many do you think I’ll get if I play as a centre-forward?” It was all a laugh, of course. However, our first game was in Bermuda against the Hamilton Select and he cut me some slack. We won 10-1 and I scored two. I was completely eclipsed by Bobby Lennox, though, as he got four and my wee mate Bertie Auld claimed a hat-trick. Billy McNeill got the other and I recall their scorer was a Scot by the name of Jimmy Copland who used to play for Kilmarnock.’

Three nights later, Celtic took on the Bermuda YMCA and Lennox had to be content with a hat-trick in another one-way confrontation. Gemmell rattled in two and Joe McBride matched that in a 7-0 victory. Stein, though, was raging before the match when he was told Jimmy Johnstone, Ian Young and Frank Carron couldn’t play because of sunburn. He gave the three of them a verbal dressing down and the manager remembered the incident a year later when Celtic were domiciled in Estoril before the biggest game in the club’s history.

POWERHOUSE WITH A PRECISION PASS…midfield maestro Bobby Murdoch.

After two days’ rest, Lennox, with praiseworthy consistency, fired in another treble in the 6-0 victory over New Jersey All-Stars at the Kearney Stadium and McBride added two with Bobby Murdoch joining in the net-bulging frolics. A reporter noted, ‘It was all very easy, all very pleasant – even for the American fans, who were shown a brand of football entirely new to their eyes. Indeed, but for a mountain of a man, goalkeeper Gary Grantz, who looked as though his huge bulk would make him as agile as a sloth, the score would have been well into double figures. Grantz was astonishingly deceptive. He made an entire series of super saves and, although he was beaten with relentless monotony, he still ended up with the title of “Star of the All-Stars”. Deservedly so, as well.’

Lennox couldn’t stop scoring and, three days afterwards, got the only goal of the game to defeat Spurs in front of 20,000 fans at the Varsity Stadium in Toronto. The voracious little forward struck sixteen minutes from time and Jock Stein’s dedication to winning – even friendlies far from home – was demonstrated when he put on Jimmy Johnstone for John Hughes in the seventieth minute. The White Hart Lane club’s assistant boss Eddie Bailey, with manager Bill Nicholson remaining in England, was incensed at the substitution. He believed there had been a pre-match agreement that fresh players would only be introduced to replace an injured colleague.

Stein remained completely po-faced as he replied, ‘Yogi had a knock and, in fact, shouldn’t even have played in the first place.’ Bailey was rendered speechless; no-one had noticed Celtic’s giant winger in any distress during his hour-plus performance. In fact, Hughes was in the starting line-up for the next outing four days later against Hamilton Primo in Ontario. Bobby Lennox, as anticipated, took centre stage with a four-goal spree in an 11-0 walkover. Bobby Murdoch knocked in a hat-trick, Joe McBride, two, and Tommy Gemmell got others, but the individual who took the spotlight on this occasion was the unassuming quiet man of Parkhead, dependable sweeper John Clark. Lennox recalled, ‘I scored four goals, but John got all the plaudits after that game because he, too, netted with the help of a penalty-kick. John didn’t score an awful lot, so the players made a fuss of him afterwards.’

Two evenings later, Celtic played Italian opposition in Bologna who had finished the season as runners-up to Inter Milan in Serie A, only four points adrift after their thirty-four game campaign. The game was organised by the large Italian community in New Jersey and the occasion was marred by bottle-throwing from raging fans after star winger Giancarlo Merrone was sent off for persistent fouling in the sixty-eighth minute. It finished goalless accompanied by a cloud burst throughout the second-half and veered close to a roughhouse on occasion. Billy McNeill missed the next game after receiving stitches in a gash on his brow. The entire episode wasn’t aided by the fact it had been played on a surface at the Roosevelt Stadium that was more suited for baseball.

It was on to St Louis next for the Scottish champions and a game on the Sunday evening against their All-Stars’ line-up. It was played in suffocating temperatures of eighty-five degrees and Celtic weren’t extended as they eased to a 6-1 win. There had been an agreement between the clubs that substitutes could be used at any stage. Joe McBride and Stevie Chalmers both scored in the opening two minutes and that was the signal for the home coach to begin putting on substitutes. He utilised his entire squad of eighteen throughout the ninety minutes. Nevertheless, McBride added another and Bobby Lennox, inevitably, Bertie Auld and John Hughes brought the total to six.

Lennox remembered, ‘San Francisco was next and again Spurs were the opposition. They were determined to get revenge for losing in Toronto, but we triumphed again, this time 2-1 and I got the winner. Actually, I was beginning to feel a wee bit sorry for the Spurs lads by this time. Whenever we were in town the Scottish and Irish exiles would abandon the London team and start following us everywhere.’

HAPPINESS IS…a goal at Ibrox where Bobby Murdoch, Bobby Lennox, Tommy Gemmell and Bertie Auld celebrate.

Bertie Auld thumped Celtic into the lead in the twenty-fifth minute in the Kezar Stadium, but the opposition were awarded a penalty-kick within sixty seconds. Dave Mackay, the club’s rugged Scottish midfielder, blasted the ball goalwards and was stunned to see Ronnie Simpson dive full-length to push his effort away. Unfortunately, Mackay reacted quicker than the defenders and he managed to squeeze the rebound over the goal-line. Lennox lashed in the clincher just before the hour mark.

There was a worry, though, for Jock Stein when Auld was carried off with an ankle injury. By this stage of the tour, John Cushley and Frank Carron were also sidelined with similar knocks. Jimmy Johnstone and Ian Young were now in a position where the club might have requested they gave serious thought to cancelling their nuptials! Stein was swiftly running out of fit players. Johnstone, though, was still available for selection for the next game on June 4 and Spurs were given a third opportunity to prevent a Celtic victory. This time they managed a 1-1 draw, but Johnstone was involved in an incredible melee with only five minutes to go following the London side’s equaliser.

Bobby Lennox had zipped his eighteenth goal behind Northern Ireland keeper Pat Jennings in the nineteenth minute before his best pal Jinky saw red at the opposition’s equaliser. Terry Venables appeared to push Bobby Murdoch in the back as he took possession before belting the ball past Ronnie Simpson. The wee winger was raging and delivered a stream of verbals at local referee John Webber. Obviously, some of Jinky’s observations hit a raw nerve and the match official immediately pointed to the dressing room. The Celtic star continued to remonstrate with the American and Dave Mackay, Johnstone’s international team-mate, intervened on his behalf. Jock Stein, too, appeared on the scene. After much gesticulating and arm-waving, Webber backed down and, remarkably, Jinky remained on the pitch until full-time. Afterwards, he took his leave and flew home to an altogether more convivial situation by marrying fiancée Agnes the following Saturday.

Celtic returned to San Francisco on June 8 to take on Bayern Munich only four days after a side consisting of legendary players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier had won the German Cup. It ended 2-2, but the game was held up for seven minutes after another astonishing incident. Tommy Gemmell recalled, ‘They had a full-back by the name of Adolph Kuntswald and he must have had some sort of death wish. He had been kicking Stevie Chalmers for most of the game and I could see our boy was getting a little fed up with the treatment. Just for good measure, the Bayern player delivered a punch straight to Stevie’s jaw. Someone had just lit the touch paper; Stevie, a fairly mild-mannered bloke, just lost the plot.

THOU SHALT NOT PASS...Tommy Gemmell and Jim Brogan combine to thwart Falkirk with keeper Ronnie Simpson grounded.

‘It was like something out of the Keystone Kops as our player chased the German around the pitch. Herr Kuntswald looked horrified when he realised he had overstepped the mark just a bit. Before he could take to his heels, Stevie smacked him one in the eye, but obviously wasn’t quite content with that. He sought more retribution and the 12,000 fans were given some extra entertainment for their four dollars. That was amusing enough, but at one stage a fan raced onto the pitch to try to pull Stevie off the Bayern player so he could get a couple of punches in himself! Thankfully, peace was restored and the game came to a conclusion without any more fisticuffs.’

Celtic, in fact, had to come back from two goals down to salvage a draw at the Kezar Stadium. Rainer Olhauser scored the opener with a blistering shot behind John Fallon in the twenty-second minute and he added a second in the sixty-seventh minute. Back came Celtic, though, with their never-say-die spirit and Bobby Lennox pulled one back in the seventy-fifth minute and Joe McBride levelled eight minutes from time.

Jock Stein’s men were the walking wounded for their final game of the tour against Mexican champions Atlas at the Los Angeles Memorial Colliseum on a Sunday evening on June 12. Celtic were so strapped for players that trainer Neil Mochan, aged thirty-nine, who last played for Raith Rovers in 1964, was told he might have to get stripped. John Fallon was in goal and Ronnie Simpson was the team’s only substitute. Joe McBride played with one thigh heavily strapped and Willie O’Neill was clearly half-fit. Into the bargain, there were the conditions of 80 degrees heat.

Remarkably, Celtic, against all odds, won 1-0 when Tommy Gemmell, ignoring the oven-like heat, galloped down the right wing and flashed over a low cross which was expertly turned into the net by Charlie Gallagher with only two minutes remaining. Bobby Lennox remembered, ‘Our opponents were obviously a bit more used to those sort of temperatures and I recall they were a good side. John Fallon made a handful of decent saves, but we eventually wore them down. We were so happy to return home undefeated.

‘The pre-season tour of the States should never be underestimated in what it meant to the club. There was a real sense of camaraderie among the players and I still believe that’s what laid the foundation to make 1967 such a memorable year.’

TOMORROW: AUGUST – AND SO IT BEGINS

 
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