FIFTY-SIX YEARS ago Celtic were involved in three of the most infamous games in the club’s proud history.
The first encounter at Hampden on October 18 1967 had seen a header from Billy McNeill give Jock Stein’s men a 1-0 win over Racing Club of Buenos Aires in the Parkhead side’s historic quest to conquer the world and win the Intercontinental Cup.
The confrontation in Glasgow descended into brutal chaos. That was followed by the brawl in Buenos Aires. Up next was the unfortunate third meeting – the play-off – that became known as the ‘Second Battle of the River Plate’.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Alex Gordon looks back to those three savage and vicious encounters and today highlights the astonishing and intimidating scenes the club faced in Argentina with an edited extract from Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld’s best-selling autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,‘ co-authored by the writer, which was published in 2008.
THE setting in Montevideo was hardly conducive to sport. For a start, we were told 2,000 plain-clothed riot police would mingle with the expected 60,000 crowd at the Stadio Centenario.
They were anticipating trouble even before the kick-off and that got through to all the players. We knew how desperate Racing Club were to win this trophy and we also realised they would not be holding back at the third time of asking. Trouble was in the air and we all sensed it. We didn’t realise what a part we would play in the forthcoming mayhem.
Celtic asked for the Uruguayan referee Esteban Marino to again take charge of the third game in his native homeland. He wasn’t the best match official we had ever witnessed, but we thought he had been reasonably fair. However, our request was refused for whatever reason and, instead, it was announced a Paraguayan, Rodolfo Cordesal, would be the man in the middle.
Let’s cut to the chase here – the guy was hopeless. Utterly useless. I think he lost the plot at the toss-up. It was far too big an occasion for an inexperienced referee – I think he was only twenty-nine-years-old – and he hadn’t a clue what was going on around him.
I was back in the team after overcoming my ankle injury and Big Jock sent out this line-up: Fallon, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Lennox, Auld and Hughes. Faither was still injured and had to sit it out again.
BRING ON THE WORLD…Celtic line-up in Montevideo: Back row (left to right): John Fallon, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, John Clark; Front row: Willie Wallace, Bertie Auld, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and John Hughes.
Strangely, the first twenty minutes or so passed relatively quietly. The referee blew for just about everything and I was told afterwards that he awarded TWENTY-FOUR fouls against Celtic in the first-half. That was about as many as we would expect to give away in an entire season at home! We kept possession and tried to play Jinky into the game as often as possible. Once again Chabay was marking the Wee Man and, as usual, wasn’t slow to put the boot in.
Jinky took a couple of sore ones in that opening period and the Argentines were clever in the sense it was almost a rotation system when it came to kicking Jinky. Chabay would foul him and, a couple of minutes later, another defender would hack him. Then another and another. The referee didn’t twig what Racing Club were up to, but we did. Frankly, it was infuriating.
We were getting close to breaking point; individually and collectively. We had had enough of being abused. This was no preconceived thought of retribution. No-one thought of bringing the good name of Celtic Football Club into disrepute. All you could see was a player smack in front of you who had spat on you constantly and thought he was going to get away with it. You can lose it in these exceptional circumstances.
FLYING THE FLAG…Celtic players wave the Uruguayan colours before the kick-off in Montevideo.
The final straw came when Jinky was sent sprawling again and the weak match officicial awarded us a free-kick and didn’t even admonish the offender. I admit we were wrong; so terribly, awfully wrong. However, we were so angry at everything we had been expected to endure against these guys. All these years later, I can only apologise to that wonderful Celtic support. We were mere human beings and we just couldn’t accept any more abuse.
We had faced them three times in just over a fortnight and, I am sad to admit, we snapped. They pushed us over the edge. Amazingly, the first guy to be sent off was Lemon. This is the same Bobby Lennox I don’t think was ever even cautioned in his career before that. We were all astounded as Lemon made his way to the touchline and was then told to get back on by Big Jock who clearly thought there had been a mistake.
The referee was told Lemon was the offender by their own defender Basile, who was also dismissed. There had been a clash and the Argentinian hardman went down in a heap. Whoever hit him, it wasn’t Lemon, that’s for sure. Referee Cordesal ordered off Basile and then had a word with him. The Argentine motioned towards Bobby as the man who had struck him and the dopey match official immediately pointed to the stand.
Lemon looked aghast. I can’t recall him ever doing anything untoward on a football pitch. I really mean that. He was one of the fairest guys I can ever recall playing with or against. He hadn’t a bad word to say about anyone and, certainly, no-one ever had a bad word to say about him. He took some woeful kickings, but, just like Jinky, he kept coming back for more.
He had been a thorn in Racing’s side ever since the first game and they were delighted to see him go off. Lemon was so bewildered that he came back on for a second time after having a word with Big Jock. No-one could believe he was being banished. However, he was finally persuaded to accept his removal when a riot cop with an enormous sabre came onto the pitch to act as his escort. My team-mate, as you might expect, thought better of pursuing the argument.
That was in the thirty-seventh minute and shortly after the interval he was joined in the dressing room by his best pal Jinky. He had been booted all over the place for two-and-a-half games and their tough-guy defender Martin got a hold of his shirt yet again. Jinky tried to wrestle free and I think his elbow hit the Racing Club defender on the chest. He went down as though he had been shot.
The referee couldn’t get on the scene quickly enough to send off Jinky. No words were exchanged between the Celtic players. We just knew there was not going to be any justice in Montevideo that day. On a personal note, I was sick and fed up with players spitting on me. I wiped my hair at one stage and it was covered in spittle. You have to be an extraordinary individual blessed with remarkable patience if you can accept that sort of behaviour from an opponent.
The red mist came down and it didn’t get any better when their player, Cardenas, rifled in a long-range effort for the only goal of the game in the fifty-sixth minute. Big Jock later blamed Fallon for not saving the 35-yard effort, but, to be fair to our keeper, I don’t think he had much of a chance. The ball swerved and dipped before it flew past him and thudded into the net.
Believe me, like our manager, I was a serial critic of goalkeepers. I used to say that most of Celtic’s keepers thought the net behind them was there to stop the ball. That was before Faither, of course. But I didn’t believe Fallon was culpable on that occasion.
HELPLESS…John Fallon can’t stop the swerving drive from Cardenas that finally settled the brutal three-game episode.
Racing had something to defend and they weren’t about to give up anything without a fight. Literally. They continued to provoke us to the extent we couldn’t take any more. The referee offered us no protection whatsoever and the game descended into anarachy.
Yogi was next to be ordered off and I can smile now at his explanation of his dismissal. He followed a ball into the Racing Club penalty area and their theatrical goalkeeper Cejas came out to pick it up.
Wasting time, he collapsed on the ball. My colleague didn’t stop in his pursuit of the backpass and, astonishingly, appeared to kick the ball while it was in the keeper’s hands. Cejas deserved a Hollywood Oscar nomination for his acting ability as he rolled around. The referee didn’t hesitate as he signalled it was the end of the game for Yogi.
I asked him afterwards what he was thinking off. Yogi, as honest as ever, told me: ‘I didn’t think anyone was looking’.
Only the rest of the world!
OFF…John Hughes protests his innocence but referee Rodolfo Cordesal is adamant as he points to the tunnel.
It was around about that time that Tommy Gemmell decided to take the law into his own hands after yet another melee had stopped the game. TG, still one of my best mates, had a kick at Raffo off the ball and the Argentine screamed in pain before hitting the deck. The referee didn’t see it as our cavalier defender retreated to a neutral spot.
Again, like the rest of us, he had had enough of our opponents dishing out abuse and decided to do something about it. There is no way you can condone such actions, of course, but if you had been out on that pitch you might have understood how an individual could have been driven to such retribution.
Rulli was next to go and his sending-off was long overdue. He had kicked us all over the place and the only remarkable thing was that it took him until five minutes from the end of the third game to be dismissed. A few minutes later the referee decided it would be a good idea to send yours truly packing. Naturally enough, I didn’t agree. I clattered into one of their defenders and, as you would expect, he went down as though mortally wounded.
I don’t suppose too many players in his domestic league refused to be sent off when he was pointing to the dressing room. Well, there’s a first time for everything and I simply refused to go off.
What happened next even surprised me – he restarted the game with a free-kick to Celtic! That just about summed up all three games for the biggest and most glittering prize in club football. And I can also tell you that in the referee’s official report afterwards he stated Bobby Murdoch had been sent off. There was no mention of John Hughes. The guy couldn’t get anything right.
There was a picture of Bobby, nicknamed Chopper, looking as though he had a Racing Club player in some sort of wrestling hold. The guy was on the ground and Chopper had him by the legs. It looked like my midfield partner was trying to get his opponent in a Boston Crab, I think it’s called.
The photograph did no-one any favours, but, in fact, my midfield partner was merely dragging the Argentine, clearly feigning injury, off the field in an effort to get on with the game.
It was a bit drastic, but, in the middle of all that was going on, it wasn’t completely out of place. Like England a year before, there would be no swapping of shirts with our opponents. As I recall, there were no handshakes, either, between the players. It would have been pointless and we weren’t going to be hypocritical.
We hated the sight of these guys for what they had done and it was unforgiveable. If we had had the opportunity to get out of that ground and immediately step onto a plane, still in our football strips and boots, and head back to Scotland, we would have taken it.
* TOMORROW: BIG JOCK’S RAGE