FIFTY-FOUR years ago Celtic were involved in three of the most infamous games in the club’s proud history.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the first encounter in the Parkhead club’s quest to conquer the world and win the first leg of the Intercontinental Cup Final against Argentina’s Racing Club of Buenos Aires.
There is something distinctly odd about having your breakfast and noticing a bloke with a machine gun walking past the dining room window. It’s amazing what you can get used to, though. It was all very surreal, but we were there to do a job for Celtic Football Club and our supporters.
It was an interesting ride to the Avellaneda Stadium. The ground is actually on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, which gave you the impression it was a lot more affluent than its near neighbour. Avellaneda is one of the poorer parts of the country and the Racing Club fans, with little in life without their football, were determined to do everything to put us out of our stride.
I looked out the coach window as we weaved our way to our destination. Some parts made Maryhill look like Miami. There were beggars on the street, ramshackle dwelling places and dogs everywhere. Some of them were even alive. I am a dog lover – I’ve got five at the moment – and it was distressing to see these impoverished animals roam the streets searching for a morsel of food. However, I had to push all these disturbing images to the back of my mind. I continued to cajole my team-mates and help them to concentrate on the game ahead.
They jumped in front of our coach and tried to get us to deviate from our route. The bus driver had obviously seen it all before. He simply steamed ahead and if a supporter was struck then that was his bad luck.
When we arrived I gasped – the riot police were out in force. They had cops on horses with massive sabres at the ready, armed policemen seemed to be swarming all over the place, they had cops with these leather lashes and they weren’t slow to use them if they thought some fans were getting too excited.
We were at the door of our destiny. The trip that had started back in Glasgow when we beat Zurich in the first leg of our first-ever European Cup-tie had taken us through Switzerland, France, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Portugal before leading us to Argentina. My old mate Willie O’Neill, one of the most underrated players in the club’s history, took my place in midfield as Big Jock selected this team: Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, O’Neill, Wallace, Chalmers and Lennox.
The referee was a Uruguayan, Esteban Marino, who, we were told beforehand, was ‘not strong’. Once again, the players realised they would be up against it. I took my seat in the stand beside the Celtic board and some of the other players who hadn’t been selected. I was sitting beside Joe McBride and Yogi when we felt what we thought was a faint rain. It was a sunny afternoon and we believed it might just be a passing shower. Then we both looked up at the tier on top of us and there were a pile of disgusting low-lifes urinating on us.
Spat on in Glasgow and peed on in Beunos Aires. I was beginning to agree with Sir Alf more and more.
Faither was no actor; if he was on the ground there was a good reason for it. To this day we still don’t know what struck him. It could have been a metal bar, as was widely suggested, a bottle or a brick. The object mysteriously disappeared in the midst of all the pandemonium.
Now, as I said, Sir Robert Kelly wasn’t too keen on even travelling to Argentina after Racing Club’s unforgiveable and unacceptable antics in Glasgow. Given half a chance at that particular moment he might just have ordered the Celtic players off the pitch and headed for the relative sanctuary of the dressing rooms.
God only knows what would have happened if that had been the case. I shudder to even contemplate such an action.
To be fair, ref Marino didn’t hesitate as he pointed to the spot. Up stepped Big Tommy Gemmell and, in his usual fashion, he clattered the ball beyond Augustin Cejas who was almost on the penalty spot when my mate struck his effort.
Our sweeper John Clark will be forever convinced Raffo was in an illegal position. Anyway, he got his head to the ball and sent it looping over the exposed Fallon. I had hardly had time to settle into my seat after the interval when Racing Club scored a second through Juan Carlos Cardenas. He was a lively little raider and his well-struck effort found the corner of the net leaving the unfortunate Fallon helpless once again.
That’s how it finished. There were all the usual cynical, irritating pushing and shoving from the Argentines to kill the game once they had nudged ahead and they played it tight until the end to make certain there was a third game. Now, if goals away had counted double in those days, that trophy would have been heading back to Glasgow with us. However, the games were actually decided on points.
That meant it was two points apiece and not 2-2 on aggregate as most people believed. Here’s another thought. What would have happened if Fallon had been injured during the game and had to go off?
At the time teams could only name one substitute, a goalkeeper. So, Celtic could have been left with only ten men and with TG playing in goal in one of the most important games in the club’s history.
* TOMORROW: BERTIE’S EXCLUSIVE VERDICT ON THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE.