The Start of an Era

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part 1

From Celtic’s ‘seven lean years’ to the appointment of Big Jock.

The Celts were failing miserably to mount any sort of challenge in the league season after season, cup success was proving elusive, good players were being allowed to leave and the fans were so frustrated that they were demonstrating outside the stand demanding the head of Kelly on a spike.

No, it wasn’t the Nineties, it was during the period which followed the 7:1 demolition of the then existant Rangers in the 1957 League Cup final. Little did supporters realise that once they’d sobered up from the party which followed in the wake of that particular eight goal thriller that they’d have to wait nearly a decade before they’d have another excuse for a hoolie.

The late Fifties and early Sixties were indeed a time of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for the Timmites. The 1957 team broke up following the untimely departure of Bobby Evans and a succession of injuries to key players such as Fernie, Fallon and McPhail.

Instead of replacing these established stalwarts with seasoned professionals – who might have cost money – the board of the time, under the benevolent tyranny of Bob Kelly, embarked on a strategy that was to become known as the infamous ‘youth policy’.
Sadly, the youngsters who were regularly pitchforked into struggling Celtic sides of the time were doubly handicapped by having few players of proven experience upon whom to rely for advice and by a chairman whose Corinthian ideals may have been worthy enough but who was rapidly finding out that they were becoming increasingly anachronistic within the context of an ever-changing game.

Kelly’s neglect of such mundane tasks as running the club efficiently or with organisation resulted in ‘Bob Kelly and the Easybeats’ being the cruel epithet attached to the hapless colts of the early Swinging Sixties.

Not that Celtic was a club entirely devoid of potential in those days. Players such as Billy McNeill, Dunky McKay, Bobby Murdoch, Pat Crerand and Jimmy Johnstone were all outstanding talents; but all too often the rest of the side would be comprised of raw youth, players in the twilight of their careers or obscure buys who arrived with dodgy reputations and departed back into obscurity soon afterwards – often in the dead of night with blankets over their heads.

The misery for the fans was compounded, as is so often the case when Celtic are in the doldrums, by the fact that Rangers were rampant.
The only blip in what was otherwise a relentless downward spiral was an extraordinary run in the Cup Winners’ Cup of 1963-64 which saw Celtic progress to the semi-final stage.

In the first leg, played at Celtic Park, the Hoops romped into a 3:0 lead against MTK Budapest and looked odds-on to reach the final.

Alas, it was all too much for them. Cool heads and a steady defence were all that were needed in the away leg in the Hungarian capital; neither showed up on the night. The heads overheated, the defence wobbled and the Celts slumped to a dismal 0:4 defeat.

At the start of the 1964-65 season Bob Kelly’s youth policy came to fruition when the club tried to sign Alfredo di Stefano from Real Madrid, by then a sprightly 38 year-old. Tom Campbell and Pat Woods describe the episode in ‘The Glory and the Dream’:

“Some of the transfers were induced through panic, and nowhere was this more apparent than in a fruitless scramble after Alfredo di Stefano in August 1964. The famed striker of Real Madrid had been released from his contract by the Spanish club, and Celtic embarked on a wild goose chase to land the South Ameri can superstar. The club phoned Spain, but the player was on holiday and the calls were not returned; the club senttelegrams but these were ignored, until a belated reply rejecting the offer finally arrived at Celtic Park.

Despite the player’s manifest lack of interest and unavailability (he had recently agreed a lucrative one year contract with Espanol) the club ordered Jimmy McGrory to make a hurried, undignified trip to spain, accompanied by  John Cushley, Celtic’s reserve centre-half and a graduate in languages from Glasgow University, in a futile bid to change his mind.

It was fortunate for Celtic that di Stefano dismissed the overtures. Magnificent player that he was, di stefano had an arrogant streak and ruled imperiously at Madrid for years. Well substantiated rumours were disconcerting; he insisted that passes be made directly to his feet and ignored others; he forced Didi, Brazil’s World Cup star, to quit Madrid because his vanity would not allow a newcomer to usurp his popularity; he accepted Puskas as a team mate only when the Hungarian wisely gave up a chance to score in order to lay on a goal for him, a goal that gained for di Stefano the Spanish leading scorer title.

At the age of 38 the proud Argentinian would not have welcomed the rigours of a Scottish winter to play alongside the apprentices, even at the princely £30,000 that Celtic offered him for less than one season. Thoughtful supporters had to wonder about the club’s sense of direction; for years the club had advocated a long-term policy based on young teams of traditional Celtic values. Surely the frantic chase after di Stefano contradicted this.”

The element of low farce which went along with this gallant bid was somehow in keeping with the general atmosphere surrounding the Celtic board at the time.

Back in the real (as opposed to the Real) world, by January 1965 it was business as usual for the long-suffering fans.

The League Cup final had been lost to Rangers in a 2:1 defeat the previous October in one of the great encounters between the two clubs and Celtic had been summarily despatched from the Fairs Cup by Barcelona.

In the league Celtic’s form had been erratic. Rangers had been gubbed 3:1 early in the season but defeats at the hands of Hearts, St.Johnstone, Kilmarnock, Dundee and Dunfermline saw the team languishing in fifth place in the table.

The Scottish Cup was all that was left to play for and frustration was forcing many of Celtic’s best players to consider continuing their careers away from Parkhead.

Then it happened.

Although he wasn’t due to take up the managerial reins for a few weeks, the board announced that Jock Stein was about to take over at Celtic Park.

Stein had been around a bit since leaving the job of reserve team coach at Parkhead, giving the town of Dunfermline the time of its life by steering the Pars to safety in the first division, winning the Scottish Cup by defeating Celtic then embarking on a series of European adventures which scared the pants off some very big names indeed.

He then went to Easter Road for a stint as manager there. Although his spell at Hibs lasted barely a year he made a big impression. Writing in When Saturday Comes about a famous 2:0 win over Di Stefano’s Real Madrid in a friendly, Mark Poole recalls:

His impact at Hibs was immediate, with his trademark combination of ruthlessness, professionalism and attention to detail. “He didn’t walk in; he blew in,” Pat Stanton later said. Stanton was just 19 when Stein arrived but would soon be renowned as a classy, elegant defender, and would play 400 games for Hibs.

Many players’ reputations bloomed under Stein, but none more than Willie Hamilton, who has since been largely forgotten, but who Stein later said was the best Scottish player he’d ever seen. Hamilton played on instinct and was hugely talented, but lacked discipline off the pitch and only Stein managed to draw on his full potential; potential that was clearest in front of the 32,000 fans at the Real Madrid match.

Securing a glamour friendly against Real Madrid summed up Stein’s ambition. Real had beaten Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden in perhaps the greatest ever European Cup final four years earlier. They’d won the last four La Liga titles, with Ferenc Puskas the top scorer in three of them. It cost £12,000 to get them to come to Edinburgh but that investment was repaid in prestige, as the home side dominated the match and won 2-0. The Glasgow Herald said: “Had the margin of victory been greater the home team would not have been flattered. Playing fast, open football, the Scots were superior in every phase of the game and man for man outshone the Spaniards.”

Eighteen-year-old Peter Cormack – who was later an integral part of Liverpool’s first dominant 1970s side – opened the scoring after 20 minutes. According to the Herald “the ease with which Hibernian found gaps in the Real defence was almost unbelievable”. Jim Scott hit the crossbar and José Araquistáin in the Real Madrid goal made outstanding saves from Neil Martin and Cormack, before Ignacio Zoco deflected a Pat Quinn free-kick into his own goal. The fans had come to see Puskas and Francisco Gento, but although Willie Wilson in the Hibs goal had to make two saves from the latter, it was Hamilton’s night. As the Herald concluded: “For skill, artistry and generalship, Puskas did not compare with Hamilton.”

That night convinced Hibs fans they could recapture their glory years from the 1950s, but on January 31, 1965 Stein announced he’d be leaving for Celtic. In Archie Macpherson’s Stein autobiography, Cormack said: “We were devastated. We had a great team and I think we could have won the double. But him leaving destroyed us.” At least they had that remarkable October evening to remember him by.

Jock’s parting shot as he left Easter Road was to ensure that Rangers would be taking no further part in that season’s Scottish Cup as his team administered a gubbing to the Ibrox side, something he was to make quite a habit of in the coming years.

Now he was coming home in a reshuffle which saw Jimmy McGrory take over as PR Officer and Sean Fallon appointed Assistant Manager.

The effect of that January announcement was almost instantaneous. Campbell and Woods described it thus: “The slide was halted on January 30th with a dazzling display on an icy Celtic Park when the players, visibly uplifted (as if sensing a wind of change), routed Aberdeen by 8:0. Less than 24 hours later the situation, with its gloom and fears, was to experience a transformation which began with the bustle of a press conference and was completed a few weeks later, by Bob Kelly’s firm handshake and the words, ‘It’s all yours now’”

Big Jock was to take up his post in an official capacity on March 10th 1965. It had been over a month since the announcement of his imminent takeover from Jimmy McGrory but he had to wait for Hibs to appoint Bill Shankley as his successor before leaving for Parkhead.

Almost immediately following his takeover at Celtic Park the papers tried to fuel controversy over the fact that Stein was Celtic’s first non-Catholic manager. Perhaps they had convinced themselves that Celtic supporters would rush round to the main stand entrance burning season tickets and effigies of Bob Kelly.

It wasn’t to be. The appointment of Stein was greeted with widespread approval. The only thing that was heating up rapidly was Scot Symon’s manager’s chair at Ibrox.

Stein’s first match in charge of Celtic was at Broomfield against Airdrie. His first selection was: Fallon, Young, Gemmell; Clark, McNeill, Brogan; Chalmers, Murdoch, Hughes, Lennox, Auld.

John Hughes and Bertie Auld (who netted five – two from the spot) were the scorers in a 6:0 romp.

Other than a 4:0 thrashing of his old charges Hibs and a single goal victory courtesy of an o.g. against Third Lanark it was to be a rare opportunity to celebrate two league points as Stein tried out most of the players in the first team pool before the end of the season.

Some of these line-ups were less than succesful, as maulings at Falkirk (2:6) and Dunfermline (1:5) would tend to suggest, but the new manager wanted everyone to get the opportunity to show what they could do.

Meanwhile, in the Scottish Cup the Celts had progressed to the semi-final of that season’s competition prior to the arrival of Stein, thanks to victories over St. Mirren (3:0), Queens Park (1:0) and Kilmarnock (3:2).

Motherwell were the opponents in the semi and at Hampden on March 27th the Fir Park side played to an extremely defensive plan, relying almost entirely on their lone striker to upset the Celtic defence. This he did to such effect that he almost caused our season to come to a shuddering halt. Motherwell twice took the lead but both times were pegged back, the goals coming from Lennox and Auld. The match finished 2:2 and a a replay was necessary.

In the second game Celtic tore Motherwell apart in a display full of aggression, power and speed, eventually running out comfortable winners by 3:0.

We hadn’t seen the last of the Motherwell striker, however. Joe McBride was to become Jock’s first signing the following July.

Celtic’s opposition in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final was to be provided by one of Stein’s former charges, Dunfermline. The Pars had finished third in the championship, some 12 points and five places above Celtic. They could field what was widely regarded as the best side in their history and had every right to believe that the cup would be heading back to Fife for the second time in five years.

178 65 66 spreads complete

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