FIFTY-SIX 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 vicious 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.

The confrontation at Hampden descended into brutal chaos where “football went oot the windae,” according to Wee Jimmy Johnstone, who became the target for the ruthless opponents. A goal from skipper Billy McNeill gave Jock Stein’s team a 1-0 victory.

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 unforgettable Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld’s best-selling autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,’ co-authored by the writer, which was published in 2008.

OUR great South American adventure was about to begin. We arrived in Buenos Aires after a tiring 21-hour trip which saw us stop at Paris, Madrid and Rio before reaching our destination.

We were met at the airport by the St.Andrews Pipe Band and we were all handed flowers and garlands by a squad of local schoolchildren. We were all a wee bit surprised at this welcome.

Each and everyone of us was told it would be hostile. The Argentines still hadn’t forgiven the British for their national team’s failure to with the World Cup in England the previous year.

They had come up against Sir Alf Ramsey’s eventual winners in the quarter-final stage and had, of course, their influential skipper Antonio Rattin sent off in the first-half. It didn’t matter that we were Scottish. It was just unfortunate that we were the first club from the British Isles to land in the country since the World Cup.

We didn’t have time to give the Racing Club supporters refresher courses in history or geography. As far as they were concerned, we were as good – or as bad – as English.

WORLD OF A DIFFERENCE…Bertie Auld was amazed at what awaited Celtic in Buenos Aires.

They hadn’t forgotten that the England manager had attempted to prevent his players from swapping their shirts with their opponents after the game, won 1-0 by host nation. They weren’t impressed, either, that they had very publicly been branded by Ramsey as ‘animals’. Thanks, Sir Alf, it was always going to be tough enough.

We arrived at our HQ, the Hindu Club which was situated about thirty miles or so from the Buenos Aires city centre. It wasn’t quite Estoril, where we had enjoyed the countdown in Lisbon before the European Cup success over Inter Milan almost six months earlier. It was quite busy with local families using the facilites when our coach rolled in, but they dispersed as the day wore on.

We had a wee walk around the place and saw that it had a pool, tennis courts, golf course and even a cricket pitch. Oh, did I mention the policemen with machine guns? There were at least four armed cops and another twenty involved in a round-the-clock watch in the grounds. That doubled on the day of the game, November 1. What was this all about? We were there to play a football game, not start a revolution.

CALM BEFORE THE STORM…Billy McNeill leads out Celtic before the clash against Racing Club.

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.

STRICKEN…Ronnie Simpson is assisted by trainer Neil Mochan and team-mate Willie Wallace after being hit on the head by an object before kick-off.

Unfortunately, I had injured an ankle in our 5-3 League Cup Final victory over Dundee the day before we flew out for Argentina. I was desperate to play, but I also knew Big Jock wouldn’t take a risk on my fitness if I wasn’t 100 per cent. There would have been no point in pleading with the manager; I can’t recall too many occasions when he was swayed once he made up his mind.

In any case, it wouldn’t have been fair to my team-mates if I played and couldn’t give my best. I looked at his monstrous Oval-shaped grey-walled stadium as we got nearer and just wished I could be involved. This was a perfect setting for me. I also recall the supporters around the place seemed to have a death wish.

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.

GROGGY…assault victim Ronnie Simpson looks in distress as he is examined by officials before the game starts.

The supporters were screaming and snarling at us constantly. It was utter bedlam as their contorted gargoyle-like faces directed outright hatred at us. I’ve been in more comfortable surroundings, but I didn’t realise just how close we were to a full-blown riot. You could only have guessed at the havoc this baying mob could have wreaked if the game hadn’t got underway. And that situation wasn’t unimaginable.

Our keeper Ronnie Simpson – Faither to his colleagues – was struck on the head as he checked his nets before kick-off. There were massive wire fences behind both goals, so some idiot either had an incredibly good aim or was extremely lucky, but Faither took a dull one and went down immediately holding his head. There were more sinister thoughts that our goalkeeper could have been hit by a photographer or someone else standing behind his goal.

Security was remarkably relaxed as folk wandered around in areas where you would only expect someone with official passes. Either way, Faither was down and Neilly Mochan raced on to administer treatment. From my place in the stand, with all the accompanying cacophony of noise battering my eardrums and deranged, fired-up supporters leaping about all over the place, I was desperately trying to see what was going on.

SHOCKED AND CONCERNED…team-mates Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Wallace and Jim Craig along with trainer Neil Mochan tend to the injured Ronnie Simpson.

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.

I doubt if we would have got out of the Avellaneda unscathed. You don’t know, either, how the powers-that-be would have judged such behaviour. A lengthy suspension from European tournaments could have followed for the club. FIFA probably wouldn’t have been slow in slapping in a massive fine.

Would you believe there was no UEFA representative at any of the three games in Scotland, Argentina and Uruguay? Yet we were representing Europe in these confrontations and I believe they weren’t slow to take their cut of the gate at Hampden. Celtic were isolated and I have no doubt that officialdom would have come down heavily on us.

HERE WE GO…Billy McNeill shakes hands with his Racing Club counterpart before kick-off.

Anyway, the game eventually kicked off 15 minutes late with reserve John Fallon in goal and, astoundingly, we were awarded a penalty-kick in the twentieth minute. As you might expect, it was an absolute stonewaller and the Uruguayan referee couldn’t possibly ignore it.

Jinky got past his markers, raced into the box and was clearly knocked to the ground by the outrushing goalkeeper Cejas.

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.

HEAD FIRST…Racing Club keeper Augustin Cejas throws himself full-length at the feet of Jimmy Johnstone.

The lead, alas, was to last only thirteen minutes. Humberto Maschio, who had proved to be a tricky customer in their midfield at Hampden and was emulating that form in front of his own fans, picked out Nortberto Raffo all on his own in our penalty area. Honestly, he looked miles offside and if you see pictures of that goal you will not spot a single Celtic defender anywhere near him.

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.

AIR RAID…John Fallon is under pressure as Racing Club attack with Tommy Gemmell and Bobby Murdoch on hand.

MY BALL…John Fallon, assisted by skipper Billy McNeill, thwarts Racing Club with a clean catch.

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.

Remember, this was no bounce game in a public park. These were the organiser’s most prestigious matches of the entire season; the blue riband of all tournaments. Needless to say, it was descending into farce and that should never have been allowed to happen. To say we were becoming just a bit disenchanted would be a massive understatement.

And after a week or so in South America I guessed the mood of the camp was just to get things over and done with and return to Scotland.


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