Note: We reserve this feature for those incidents that under normal circumstances you only ever see in the primary school playground. The ones that have you rubbing your eyes in disbelief and later questioning whether it actually happened at all.
To paraphrase a scene from Blackadder, season 1977-78 began badly for Celtic, went downhill somewhere in the middle and collapsed completely towards the end. August saw the sale of our best player, the irreplaceable Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool for £440,000, and this devastating blow was soon followed by long-term injuries to members of the squad who had been stalwarts during the previous double winning campaign.
The goalless league opener against Dundee Utd saw the loss of both Pat Stanton – who never played another first team game in the Hoops – and Alfie Conn, who did eventually return but who was plagued with knee trouble throughout the season.
If that was not enough then the one true world-class player at the club, Danny McGrain, was injured in the game against Hibernian on the 1st October and he too was out for the whole of the season. We wouldn’t see him in the first team again until March 1979. McGrain and Dalglish especially were players that Celtic could not do without.
The players that were brought in were honest enough pros but were simply not good enough to make up our losses.
Others who were already at Celtic Park didn’t have the capacity to step up and take responsibility when it was needed. That sinking feeling had well and truly sunk after the first match of what was to be a dreadful campaign.
The league title had been relinquished by the end of October following a run of results that included away defeats against not just Rangers and Aberdeen but Ayr United, and Partick Thistle. To cap it all, Scotland international Frank Munro had been signed to steady things at the back and was made captain on his debut at home to St. Mirren, during which he scored an own goal which helped the Buds to a 2:1 victory.
November ended with a somewhat ominous 1:1 draw at Clydebank in a match which was abandoned at half-time because of a frozen pitch.This heralded a bleak midwinter that featured a draw at St. Mirren and defeat at Ayr (again).
Motherwell’s win at Celtic Park on January 3rd 1978 merely underlined that the best we could hope for the following week in the game at Ibrox was to restore some pride and perhaps do something to help Aberdeen prevent Rangers winning the league.
Hope was in pretty short supply when the long-term injury list was supplemented with the addition of John Doyle, Alfie Conn and Tommy Burns.
The teams on January 7th lined up as follows:
Kennedy Jardine Greig Forsyth Jackson MacDonald McLean (Parlane) Russell Johnstone Smith Cooper (Miller)
Latchford, Filippi, Lynch, Aitken, MacDonald, Munro, Glavin, Edvaldsson, Craig, McAdam, Wilson. Subs: G McCluskey, Dowie.
The match official for that afternoon’s encounter was one of Lodge Park Gardens’ finest at the time, Mr JRP Gordon (Newport on Tay). A name, as Franklin Roosevelt might have said had he ever followed Celtic, that will live in infamy.
John Gordon was a Celtic-hater who was remarkable in that he stood out amongst his peers – no mean feat at the time – when it came to decisions that disadvantaged the Hoops. The ‘J’ stood for John, but it wasn’t long before we worked out that ‘RP’ was not ‘Robertson Proudfoot’ but ‘Reverend Paisley’.
Gordon distinguished himself in 1978 when he wrote his way into “A Potted Guide to Corruption in Football” by Keir Radnedge following a UEFA Cup tie which he was allocated between AC Milan and Levski Sofia. Milan had drawn the first leg 1-1 in Bulgaria and needed a home win. Gordon Thompson takes up the story in his book ‘The Men in Black’:
Although it is widely – and correctly – accepted. that British referees are more partial to a book full of names than a pocket full of dirty money, the offer of the odd sneaky back-hander is thought to have tempted a few.
This is UEFA’s Directive for Referees concerning standards of behaviour: “Referees and linesmen must refuse firmly but politely any exaggerated and too generous form of hospitality. Acceptances of valuables is strictly forbidden.”
In 1978 Scottish referee- John Gordon and linesman David McCartney fell foul of the small print. They were suspended for their part in AC Milan’s UEFA Cup second round match with Levski Spartak of Sofia, though their crime was stupidity more than anything else.
While on a shopping trip in Milan prior to the game, Gordon and McCartney popped into a fashionable menswear shop to check out the latest Gucci gear. Unfortunately the tight-fisted duo landed themsellves in hot water when the Milan officials accompanying them stepped in to pick up the bill for £800. Very generous.
AC Milan were fined £8,000 and offered a rather feeble explanation of the events,
alleging that the shop wouldn’t accept pounds and that the Scots didn’t have any lire with them at the time. The club’s sports director Sandro Vitali later added: “We didn’t ask for the money back later because we wouldn’t dream of behaving that way to any guests of ours.”
Milan’s president, Felice Columbo, was more honest in his interpretation of the incident. “It was a naive gesture of courtesy,” he said. “UEFA fined us, I think, recognising our good faith but meaning to tell us that we must not have this kind of relationship with officials.”
John Gordon should have known better. He had been a registered FIFA ref since 1967, but then Italian clothes can do strange things to a man.
Milan won 3:0 but the officials were subsequently suspended later that year by the Scottish FA for improper behaviour after the whole tawdry affair came to light. JRP couldn’t go on his World Cup jolly thanks to his suspension. Shame.
All of which lay in the future for this paragon of refereeing virtue as he slicked back his hair with Brylcreem in a style reminiscent of Josef Goebbels and donned his apron and sash in preparation for an afternoon of fun and frolics at Ibrox.
Despite the injuries and the poor form, Celtic opened the match well. The Hoops dominated the early stages and would have had a comfortable lead but for ‘keeper Kennedy, whose saves from Aitken, Wilson, McAdam and Edvaldsson kept the scoresheet blank. Typically at the time, Celtic then conceded the opening goal in the 35th minute, the scorer Gordon Smith.
Two minutes later, with Celtic once again laying siege to the Rangers goal, it was time for JRP to take centre stage.
Celtic striker Joe Craig was about to get on the end of a cross inside the six yard line when he was pushed to the ground by Colin Jackson. Even Staunchy McStaunch in the home end could see that it was penalty. Not so Gordon, who signalled for a goal kick.
Immediately the referee was set upon by almost everyone in the Celtic side, irate that they hadn’t been awarded the spot kick and imploring with the ref to consult his linesman. But Gordon was made of stern stuff and had a mind that was implacable – especially when it came to thwarting the men in green and white.
Not only that, as he pushed his way through the melee of protesting Celts he quickly realised that Rangers had already taken the goal kick and John Greig was haring towards Latchford’s goal with four of his team mates in hot pursuit. Only Frank Munro stood between the rampaging Huns and the Celtic net.
The result was inevitable.
Captain Cutlass himself administered the coup de grace after the ball had taken a deflection off the hapless Celtic sweeper and left him an empty net. Even big Ham n Egg couldn’t miss from three yards out.
It was the cue for one of the infamous Bottle Parties to commence, once such a feature of Glasgow derbies, this time at the Celtic End, the end where the goal had been scored. A fusillade of lethal screwtaps fizzed over – or on top of – the fans at the front in a scene reminiscent of the archers at Agincourt laying into the French.
Meanwhile, on the pitch the Celtic players were continuing their protests towards Gordon. Three times the ball was placed on the centre spot and three times it was kicked away by one of the Celtic men as it became clear that they had no intention of continuing the game. Eventually Neilly Mochan came on the pitch to tell them to get on with it as Jock Stein bellowed a similar instruction from the touchline.
The above incident in itself would have been enough for inclusion in this particular series of articles, but there was more to come in the second half.
Incredibly, Celtic had once again found the fortitude to force their way back into the game and in the 62nd minute Roy Aitken, the best Celtic player on the pitch, worked an opening for himself before hammering a right foot shot towards goal. He was only thwarted by a fine left handed save on the goal line.
Not from Kennedy. From Alex McDonald.
As far as penalties went, this was clearer than the first one. As far as decisions went, Gordon’s logic seemed to be, well, if I can get away with that first one then I can get away with anything.
We did manage to score three minutes later to make it 2:1, then Aitken hit the post, but the fight had gone and Parlane rubbed it in with a couple of minutes to go to make the final score 3:1.
The post-match reaction of the respective managers to the referee’s performance was telling. “I have nothing to say. You saw it all,” was Jock Stein’s only comment.
Jock Wallace said, “I thought our three goals were well taken…”
Yes, he included the one from Greig from three yards out while nine Celtic players were chasing the referee around the middle of the pitch.
The following Monday’s Glasgow Herald featured a match report by none other than Jabba himself which was headlined ‘Five questions for Old Firm referee’.
Why was what looked like a legitimate penalty claim turned down in the first place?
Why did the referee give everyone the impression that he was running to the touchline to consult the linesman then change his mind when he saw Rangers breaking towards the Celtic goal?
Why did he allow the goal kick to be taken with several Celtic players still inside the penalty area?
Why, if he was convinced he had made the correct decision, did he not send off the Celtic players who pushed and jostled him and refused to restart the game?
Why did he not caution Neil Mochan who had no right to be on the field without permission?
I think we all know the answers to those, don’t we readers? In fact it’s probably the same answer to every question.
As usual when such refereeing performances come along it caused a fuss for a day or two before the wagons were circled and everybody got on with it as if nothing had happened.
Alan Herron finished his back page piece in the Sunday Mail with the following observation: “Referee Gordon… is expected to be Scotland’s World Cup representative in Argentina in June.”