WAR GAMES: PART ONE: ‘MORE X-CERTIFICATE THAN EXHIBITION,’ BERTIE AULD RECALLS BRUTAL HAMPDEN CLASH

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TODAY is the 54th anniversary of one of the most infamous games in Celtic’s proud history – the brutal first leg of the Intercontinental Cup Final against Argentina’s Racing Club of Buenos Aires.

It was the evening at a packed Hampden where ‘football went oot the windae,’ according to Wee Jimmy Johnstone, who became the target for the unscrupulous visitors.

In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Alex Gordon looks back with an edited extract from Bertie Auld’s explosive autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,’ co-authored by the writer, which was published in 2008.

WE were waiting to discover where our World Club Championship play-off against Racing Club of Buenos Aires would be played.

After two brutal confrontations with a bunch of Argentinian thugs who masqueraded as a football team, I thought I had a reasonable suggestion. I offered, ‘Why not take it to Madison Square Garden?’

Those guys were a lot more interested in fisticuffs than football and I thought the mecca of world boxing in New York would have been an ideal location. We had just played two pulverising and punishing games against a vicious ensemble of assassins  who had hacked, punched, kicked, pulled our hair, whacked us on the back of the head and generally violated us during the previous encounters.

ON PATROL…midfield schemer Bertie Auld in action.

I can take someone kicking me, but it is fairly hard to accept when someone comes up, with the ball about 50 yards away, and spits in your face. Then they would look at you and flash a wicked smile before running off. We had never encountered anything like this. Listen, when you can play in Scottish Junior football as a teenager, there is nothing left to frighten you on a football pitch.

But how do you react when you are left wiping spittle off your face for the umpteenth time? Where I came from in Maryhill there would be only one destination for a cretin who indulged in this disgusting behaviour – the Western Infirmary. Believe me, it’s not easy to control your emotions at a time like that.

However, I believe it is to my colleagues’ enormous credit that we took all that from a bunch of cowards in two games in Glasgow and Buenos Aires and didn’t allow it to interfere with our concentration levels. Everyone has a breaking point, though. And we were getting close to it as we prepared for that game in Uruguay. We had been goaded beyond belief by these guys.

PAINFUL…a concerned Jock Stein consults with Jimmy Johnstone after the winger had taken yet another kick at Hampden. Bobby Murdoch has a word with Spanish referee Juan Gardeazabal.  

Jock Stein beseeched us to be on our best behaviour when we travelled to Montevideo. Celtic could have packed up and gone home after the shambolic second game and our chairman, Sir Robert Kelly, didn’t even want to travel to Argentina for that encounter after what he had witnessed in the first leg at Hampden. He said, ‘If they want the trophy that badly, let’s just let them have it.’ He meant it, too. Actually, I have to admit I didn’t always agree with our chairman, but I did on this occasion.

We were absolutely appalled at the misbehaviour and the indiscipline of the Argentines in Glasgow. They had no intention of playing football and that was a shame because these lads could play if they were allowed off the leash. They had conquered the best South America had to offer to reach this stage, just as we had seen off the cream of Europe.

So, they had a certain pedigree, but, as Jinky said in his usual straightforward manner, ‘Football went oot the windae that night at Hampden.’

FLATTENED…Jimmy Johnstone lies on the turf after being brought fown by an uncompromising Racing Club defender.

Sadly, he was so accurate. Here was a platform for the two best clubs on the planet to put on a spectacle. We could have conjured up a genuine soccer showpiece, an extravaganza of spectacular skills to be applauded around the globe. We had an excellent opportunity to put on a football feast for everyone to enjoy. Unfortunately, it was more x-certificate than exhibition.

Our ruthless opponents were determined to triumph at all costs and if that meant spitting on you, slyly nudging you in the ribs and bouncing Wee Jinky all over Hampden then that’s the way they would perform. The ball was secondary to most of the action that night. Actually, it is a bit of an art form for a player to hammer you in the ribs from the side, slide his studs down the back of your ankle, pull your hair and control the ball in the same motion.

If they had only concentrated on the skills of the game we would have had three wonderful encounters. Alas, that’s not the way it turned out. These became spiteful, bad-tempered affairs.

DOWNED…Jimmy Johnstone is flat out on the Hampden turf as a Racing Club defender walks away.

The occasion at Hampden wasn’t helped by an overly-lenient Spanish referee in Juan Gardeazabal who, when you consider the circumstances, rather remarkably didn’t book anyone on the night. A steward’s enquiry might have been called.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not one for excuses. If I deserve it, I’ll take my dumps. However, the fates were certainly conspiring to make sure that trophy – officially known as the Intercontinental Cup – didn’t come back to Celtic Park.

For a start, we would have preferred to have played the first leg away from home as there are obvious advantages in that situation. It means you know exactly what you have to do in the second leg in front of your own support. It also means if there is a tie then the third match will be played on your continent.

Also, back then, Racing Club were given the opportunity to choose the match official from three referees who were put forward by the tournament organisers. To be fair, Celtic had the same option for the second game. Not surprisingly, however, Racing Club went for Senor Gardeazabal. He could converse with them in their native tongue given that Spanish, of course, is the first language of Argentina.

During the game in Glasgow we could hear him talking to their players, but all we got were shrugs and gestures. How different would it have been if we had, say, a German or a ref from northern Europe in charge of the game? They knew what our football was all about; hard and fair challenges, high energy levels, physical commitment and so on.

The Spaniard frowned on heavy tackles that were perfectly legal, something we did every matchday in Scotland. We were annoyed that he favoured the ‘style’ – if that’s the word – of our opponents. After all, that’s what he was used to every week in Spain. So, it was advantage to Racing Club before a ball – or a Celtic player – had been kicked.

YOGI ON THE RAMPAGE…John Hughes raids on the left as Racing Club double up in defence.

You better believe me, though, we were still convinced we would win that trophy. Just so long as we were allowed to play football. Racing Club had absolutely no intention of competing on a level playing field.

Their players were totally and ruthlessly dedicated to lifting the silverware. They were quite prepared to step over bodies on their way to picking up that trophy. That was their main goal for that campaign and that was obvious when you looked at their league form at the time. Our opponents had won only one game, had lost the previous three before they faced us and were sitting eleventh in a league of 16.

Everything was aimed at beating Celtic and being crowned the best team in the world. They also had four players over the age of 30 in their line-up and they knew it was now or never for them at this level. We had Ronnie Simpson, who was 37, I was close to 30 and the rest of the lads were in their twenties. Certainly, the Argentines had more experience, but we thought we had enough to beat them. We were afraid of no-one.

UP AND OVER…Bobby Lennox hurdles Racing keeper Augustin Cejas.

On October 18, 1967, a crowd of 83,437 turned up at Hampden Park to witness the biggest club game ever staged in Scotland. The Celtic team was: Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace, Auld and Hughes. Big Jock had left out Stevie Chalmers from our European Cup-winning team, this time preferring the unpredictability of John Hughes.

Our manager had put in overtime telling us what to expect. He urged us not to get rattled. He said, ‘Don’t let them put you off your natural game. Don’t get drawn into any feuds. If you lose your discipline, you’ll lose the game. Let the world see how to win the Celtic way.

‘Remember, who you are representing. Don’t let anyone down. Fight for each other and we’ll be okay.’

He must have been exhausted after his team talk, but we all realised just how much these games meant to Big Jock. Everything. Just everything.

HAMPDEN CELEBRATIONS…Bobby Murdoch is about to congratulate John Hughes after his pinpoint corner-kick picked out Billy McNeill for the winner.

To be honest, we went into these contests without too much knowledge of our rivals. Remember, this was over four decades ago and technology was still in its infancy as far as television was concerned. DVDs and videos were a long way off, so we got precious little information on Racing Club. We had to rely on reports from South America, but, in reality, we went in blind. There was no chance of Celtic sending a scout to Argentina to spy on them.

Within minutes of the kick-off at Hampden, our opponents set our their stall. They weren’t even going to camouflage the fact they were out to nail Jinky. He was clearly marked down as our main threat and we all took a sharp intake of breath when Juan Rulli sent the Wee Man flying with as crude a challenge as you would ever wish to see.

Making it even worse, Oscar Martin came in from behind and looked as though he was attempting to volley our winger over the Hampden stand. Jinky rolled around in genuine agony after this double dunt and we looked at the referee wondering if he was going to offer our colleague any protection. We’re still waiting.

He didn’t even admonish either of the Racing Club culprits and you could see them glancing at each other and their team-mates. They knew the referee was weak and, by God, did they abuse us for the rest of the evening.

If the match official had taken strict action there and then we might have had a football game. He failed lamentably and miserably in his duties and that was the signal for the Argentines to indulge in the dark arts of football. They knew that side of the business, alright.

However, there was nothing they could do to prevent Caesar, Billy McNeill, majestic in the air as usual, getting the only goal of an evening that was memorable mainly for all the wrong reasons.

HIGH AND MIGHTY…Racing Club keeper Augustin Cejas fists clear with Billy McNeill and Willie Wallace waiting to pounce.

We thought our fortune was out just beforehand when I slung over a free-kick in the 55th minute and our skipper thumped a header off the woodwork. Chances were few and far between against this side and we cursed our luck as that opportunity passed us by.

However, all was right with the world again when Yogi swept over a corner-kick from the right. Caesar, who had been bumped, jostled, punched and blocked throughout at deadball situations, managed to get clear in a packed penalty box.

His blond head met the ball perfectly and it seemed to take an age before it swept high into the net past their keeper, Agustin Cejas.

THE END GAME…Billy McNeill has something to say to Racing Club defender Alfio Basile as Bobby Lennox, Jim Craig, Willie Wallace and Bertie Auld come off the Hampden pitch.

Caesar leapt in delight and then had a few well-chosen words with Alfio Basile, who would later manage Argentina. Basile had tried to rough up our centre-half every time he ventured into their penalty area, but he was helpless as our impeccable captain got that so crucial goal.

I asked Caesar afterwards what he had said to his opponent, but he feigned surprise and claimed he couldn’t recall the incident. I got the drift he wasn’t inviting his opponent out for a drink afterwards.

A South American journalist asked their left-back Diaz what he thought about playing against Wee Jinky. At least, the Argentine was honest. He said something along the lines of: ‘I tried to tackle him fairly at the start, but I realised this would be impossible for the entire game. I elected to kick him when he came near me after that. He would have destroyed me.’

And yet he wasn’t booked by the referee. Racing coach Pizzuti didn’t take the risk of fielding him against Jinky in the second leg just in case a real match official turned up.

He promptly dropped him and brought in another hatchet man called Nelson Chabay, who looked as though he was just another version of Diaz. Only harder and dirtier.

*TOMORROW: BERTIE’S EXCLUSIVE LOOK AT THE BLOW-UP IN BUENOS AIRES.

 

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