ABERDEEN were a stepping stone to Celtic making history back in the glorious, all-conquering season of 1966/67.
Jock Stein’s team had already won the League Cup earlier in the campaign when Bobby Lennox scored the only goal of a tense encounter against Rangers at Hampden.
It was a typical whiplash strike from the man known as ‘Buzz Bomb’ because of his electrifying pace. Joe McBride nodded down a cunningly-flighted ball from Bertie Auld and Lennox didn’t break stride as he lashed the ball beyond the helpless Norrie Martin.
That was the first piece of silverware on the team’s unstoppable surge to a fantastic clean sweep, including the European Cup success on the unforgettable evening in Lisbon on May 25 1967 when goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers against Inter Milan made sure the Parkhead side were the first British team to conquer Europe.
Lennox’s League Cup matchwinner arrived on a gloomy, grey afternoon of October 29 1966 at the national stadium, but it was an entirely different outlook when Celtic returned to play Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final on April 29 1967.
The silverware showdown against the Pittodrie outfit came just four days before Stein’s men should have clinched their second successive crown – but things did not go according to plan as author Alex Gordon points out in his latest book, ‘Fifty Flags Plus One’.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Alex takes up the story with an edited extract from the tribute book:
Tommy Gemmell prepared for the league game with Rangers on May 6 and was up for the challenge. The flamboyant full-back said: “To a man, the Celtic players knew their duties and what was expected of us at Ibrox that day. In fact, we really should have been facing our old rivals as champions. We had lost 3-2 to Dundee United the previous midweek, only four days after Willie Wallace had netted both goals in our 2-0 Scottish Cup Final victory over Aberdeen at Hampden.
“The newly-won silverware had been paraded in front of forty-four thousand of our supporters and no doubt they anticipated watching Celtic clinch the title for the second successive season. We had lost only one league game that season and, coincidentally, that had been another 3-2 defeat against United at Tannadice on Hogmanay.
“The odds were on Celtic to get the required victory. Someone also pointed out our last league loss on our own ground had been on April 17, 1965 when Partick Thistle had won 2-1. I missed that match with Jim Kennedy in the No.3 position. I had forgotten what it was like to lose at Celtic Park! I scored against United with a first-half penalty-kick, but they equalised shortly after the turnaround.
“It didn’t take long before Willie Wallace put us ahead again, but the celebrations among our fans were just a wee bit premature and United levelled again. A draw, though, would have been enough. Incredibly, we were hit by a classic sucker-punch and they claimed a third goal.
“I think I upset the Rangers fans when I was asked by a newspaper reporter for a quote afterwards. I said something along the lines of: ‘Ach, we’re not too bothered. We fancy winning the title at Ibrox’.
“The Gers followers were not too impressed by my remarks, but that never bothered me. We had something like a hate/hate relationship almost from day one. They questioned my parenthood to the extent my mother, Margaret, never returned to see me in an Old Firm game after her experience of the first one when her son was on the receiving end of dog’s abuse.
“Naturally, that only served to fuel me with extra motivation in such circumstances, although, in truth, it was never required.”
It’s history now that Celtic did win their twenty-second flag in Govan with a 2-2 draw where the incomparable Jimmy Johnstone scored twice.
And the Dons could again play an unwanted part in Hoops folklore tomorrow afternoon when the teams meet in the delayed Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden. A victory for Neil Lennon’s men will set up a Final showdown with either Hibs or Hearts on December 20 where another triumph will see the club life an unprecedented quadruple treble.
* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in a glorious history. The book will be published soon. Watch CQN for details.