UNDENIABLY the most significant season in the monumental history of Celtic Football Club kicked off in earnest in the nation’s capital city when Jock Stein’s men were required to initiate the defence of their League Cup trophy against Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday August 13 1966.
The previous week, the newly-crowned Scottish champions had annihilated Manchester United 4-1 in an extremely competitive challenge game which was played throughout in welcoming sunshine, possibly not enjoyed as much by the exposed participants on the field of play as the short-sleeved audience on the terracings.
A week later, demonstrating the need for adaptability in their chosen sport, the players of Celtic and Hearts were asked to perform on a surface which was swiftly transformed into a something resembling a swamp as heavy rain, driven by a near-gale force wind, incessantly lashed down from the slate-grey skies over Edinburgh.
Interestingly, Hearts decided to field a player at centre-forward who had been resolutely refusing to sign a new deal. His name? Willie Wallace. The stocky and versatile frontman had turned down several attempts to persuade him to agree terms to extend his contract at the club.
Despite the dispute, the Edinburgh outfit retained his registration and, back in the days before anyone had heard of a Belgian footballer by the name of Jean-Marc Bosman, there was little the player could do about it. He was Hearts’ property. Wallace took his place in attack, but it was his opposing number, Joe McBride, who commandeered the headlines.
Diligently throughout the summer months, McBride had worked on his fitness following the frustration of the previous campaign when he had been forced to miss the last three games in the run-in to the club’s first title success in twelve years.
Jock Stein’s initial buy for the club completed the campaign with the impressive total of forty-three goals, but he admitted he was disappointed he didn’t get the opportunity to reach the half-century.
Bertie Auld recalled, ‘Most strikers would be happy with the return of twenty goals in a season, but Joe was a different breed. When he realised fifty goals was within range, he made up his mind to go for it. Seven goals in our remaining three games against Morton, Dunfermline and Motherwell wouldn’t have been outwith the bounds of possibility for Joe.
‘Sadly, he never got that opportunity, but I also realised he was determined to hit the ground running in the new term. Every day in training, he told me he was feeling good and he was ready to go. He came out the blocks at full pelt.’
McBride’s first competitive goal of the season arrived in the eighteenth minute via the penalty spot after Bobby Lennox had hared onto a long ball from Billy McNeill and was in the act of shooting when he was crudely dumped to the sodden turf following a rash challenge from Hearts skipper Alan Anderson.
McBride placed the ball on the spot, took a couple of paces back, measured his stride running forward and blitzed a ferocious drive into the net with keeper Jim Cruickshank left without an earthly.
After the long-awaited change of rules, each team were now allowed a substitute in season 1966/67 and Charlie Gallagher was the first to be bestowed the ‘honour’ at Celtic. The clever midfielder didn’t get off the bench, although Jimmy Johnstone took a knock in the first minute following a robust tackle from left-back Davie Holt.
Jock Stein stuck with his original formation and was rewarded when the outside-right set up the second goal in the eighty-eighth minute with a low cross that was tucked away without ceremony by McBride.
Four days later, McBride smashed in a hat-trick, including a spot-kick, as Clyde were taken apart 6-0 in the east end of Glasgow. Bobby Lennox, with two, and Stevie Chalmers completed the rout against a Shawfield team that had appointed Davie White as their manager in March that year when John Prentice left to take over Scotland.
At thirty-three years of age, he was the youngest team boss in the UK and earned deserved plaudits when he guided the club to third spot in the league by the end of that campaign. Later in his career, he would come face to face with Jock Stein in the heat of Old Firm battles.
To be continued this evening…
GET YOUR COPY SIGNED BY LISBON LION BERTIE AULD!
Extract from That Season in Paradise – Ten Months of Celtic Heaven which is published by CQN Books. We have a limited number of copies signed by 10.30 himself and these are available on a first come first served basis. Order now for your copy signed by both author Alex Gordon and Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld.