THREE CHEERS: TREBLE No.1 (1966/67)

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LEGENDARY manager Jock Stein masterminded Celtic’s first-ever clean sweep of domestic silverware in the memorable season 1966/67.

CQN has journeyed back in time to turn the spotlight on the Parkhead club’s Magnificent Seven seasons where they have won every prize Scottish football has to offer – the league championship, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup.

To get the ball rolling, we will focus on the breaththrough feat by Stein’s all-conquering Hoops side that triumphed in every competition – including the prized European Cup – in an outstanding season.

Author Alex Gordon researches each and every one of the Parkhead club’s FIFTY-ONE untainted championship triumphs in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.

Here, the former national newspaper sports editor, veteran of fifteen Celtic books, investigates the most memorable season in the club’s folklore.

In an edited extract, Alex writes:

THE swollen clouds parked in the heavy dark skies above Glasgow wept triumphant tears of joy for Celtic on the sodden Saturday afternoon of May 6, 1967.

Monsoon conditions had seen the city under siege from the unabated elements from early morning. Torrential downpours had visited chaos upon the public travel system while floods on tracks and roads forced the cancellation of trains and buses. There had been havoc on the underground, too, with the freak and severe circumstances creating mayhem among the electrics. Drivers were warned about making any unnecessary car journeys during the forbidding bombardment from the heavens.

Try telling that to something like forty thousand Celtic supporters who had forked out twenty shillings – one pound sterling in today’s money – for a precious match ticket as they headed in the general direction of Govan for a two o‘clock kick-off at Ibrox Stadium – and a date with destiny.

This was the day where Celtic had the genuine opportunity to roll back the years. It had been over half-a-century since they had managed to win back-to-back flags – in 1915, to be precise – and something such as mere aberrant weather was hardly going to prevent a pilgrimage across the River Clyde to the south side of the city to witness the event.

The incomparable Tommy Gemmell took his favoured position at left-back that afternoon. “Big Jock was never an advocate of his full-backs passing the ball inside to Billy McNeill, John Clark, Jim Brogan or whoever may have been playing in central defence,” he would often to say. “Back passes to the keeper were not encouraged, either. Jim Craig, Willie O’Neill, myself and anyone playing in the wide defensive positions were told to move the ball forward as soon as we received it.

“So, on a rain-drenched pitch at Ibrox with so much at stake, we didn’t have to be told twice to keep the ball away from areas where the conditions could play an unwanted part in proceedings.

“So, to a man, the Celtic players knew their duties and what was expected of us at Ibrox that day.

At a storm-lashed Ibrox Stadium, Jock Stein put his trust in the following eleven players to bring back a second successive championship: Ronnie Simpson, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, John Clark, Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Wallace, Stevie Chalmers, Bertie Auld and Bobby Lennox.

MUDDY MARVEL…Jimmy Johnstone prepares to follow up Bobby Lennox’s shot to hit the opening goal at Ibrox in May 1967.

Nineteen days later, in dramatically different climatic conditions, the same collection of players would deliver the European Cup as the inimitable double-act of Murdoch and Auld struck up a soccer symphony in Lisbon.

The anticipated glistening sunshine of the Portuguese capital wasn’t in anyone’s thoughts in grey, sodden Govan, though, when referee Willie Syme’s whistle shrilled to set in motion an epic encounter. The attendance was shy of the 90,000 anticipated with 78,000 fans in the stadium to witness an exciting, entertaining, rip-roaring confrontation that ebbed and flowed like a wayward tide.

It was the fourth occasion the teams had locked horns that season and Stein’s side had won the previous three encounters without the loss of a solitary goal. A hat-trick from Bobby Lennox followed Billy McNeill’s opener to give the visitors a 4-0 triumph in the opening round of the Glasgow Cup in August at Ibrox with a crowd of 76,456 in attendance and Celtic had followed that up a month later with a 2-0 victory in the opening Old Firm league game of the campaign in front of 65,000 spectators at Parkhead with two strikes inside four minutes from Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch.

On October 29, with 94,532 supporters crammed into Hampden, Bobby Lennox, leaving opponents in his slipstream, latched onto a knockdown from Joe McBride to lash a raging drive over the shoulder of Norrie Martin for the only goal of a tense League Cup Final.

HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and Willie Wallace celebrate the first goal in the 2-2 draw at Ibrox.

Now, in the most dreadful of circumstances, performing in deplorable, tempest-like conditions, the nation’s titans were about to play out a classic confrontation. Stein’s players had manoeuvred themselves into a situation where they were a mere nine minutes away from their first league win in Govan in nine years.

They had recovered splendidly from losing the breakthrough goal when Sandy Jardine accepted a pass outside the penalty box and steadied himself before unleashing a right-foot drive high past the static and startled Ronnie Simpson with the ball exploding high into the net.

Jardine’s goal arrived in the forty-first minute and the home side must have thought they had been presented with a half-time advantage. Celtic, and a sprightly little character by the name of Jimmy Johnstone had other ideas. Within sixty seconds, he had snapped onto a shot from Bobby Lennox that had rebounded from the base of Norrie Martin’s left-hand post. With his speed of thought and foot in perfect synchronisation, the Celtic winger prodded the ball into the net.

In the seventy-fourth minute, Johnstone struck again with a bewildering, breathtaking 25-yard effort that soared into the roof of the rigging. It was the work of a genius.

With the clock ticking down, Willie Henderson, always a tricky customer, cut inside to drill a low shot across Ronnie Simpson towards the far corner. The veteran swooped to push the attempt away from the danger zone, but, as fortune would have it, the ball dropped kindly for Roger Hynd, a muscle-bound old-fashioned wing-half who was often thrown into the centre-forward position, and he diverted the ball towards the net from four yards.

And so it ended in a 2-2 stalemate, honours even after an exhausting ninety minutes and the First Division championship remaining in the east end of Glasgow, won for a twenty-second time.

It took pride of place alongside the League Cup and the Scottish Cup where Willie Wallace snapped up a double to defeat Aberdeen 2-0 in the Hampden showdown on another gorgeous afternoon in Mount Florida.

*TOMORROW: THREE CHEERS: CQN continues the journey through Celtic’s most memorable trophy-laden campaigns 

 

 

 

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