Marmaduke Bagelhole recalls the events of October and November 1967.
If Celtic’s triumph over Inter in Lisbon was the pinnacle of the cub’s achievements thus far, the events that followed in its wake were to be seriously traumatic, for players and fans alike.
As European Champions the Hoops were to play Racing Club of Argentina in the World Club Championship, but by the time the first leg was scheduled to be played at Hampden Park on October 18th 1967, Celtic had already been relieved of their title as a result of a shock knockout by Dynamo Kiev in the first round of the 67-68 tournament.
As it happened, Racing Club were facing an even bigger crisis of their own at the time. Having won the Copa de Libertadores a few months before, they were languishing in second bottom place in their domestic league. Consequently, they were desperate to restore some much needed credibility in their homeland. Just how desperate quickly became apparent that October evening as they lined up against the following Celtic team:
Simpson; Craig, Gemmell; Murdoch, McNeill, Clark; Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace, Auld, Hughes.
The Racing Club tactics were quite simple both in theory and in execution: if it moves kick it and if it doesn’t move, kick it until it starts moving.
With a defence packed tighter than Mark McGhee’s football shorts, they put on a show of clogging that made Airdrie look like St. Pansy’s Primary, and, just to add to the night’s exhibition of the Beautiful Game they had perfected a neat sideline in punching and slapping. They were also adept at gobbing on opponents at ranges that would have done credit to the gunners on the Bismarck.
Jimmy Johnstone laid out again by another cynical Argentinian defender. The game at Hampden was just the warm up however…
Despite the fact that the Spanish referee selected for the showpiece occasion was clearly running away with the evening’s star prize for the best impersonation of an ostrich, Celtic’s commitment to attacking football eventually prevailed when Billy McNeill rose majestically to head home a John Hughes corner, copping a beauty of a right hook from the Racing Club goalie for his effort.
Celtic emerged from the game with a deserved 1:0 victory, as well as some undeserved serious bruising, but afterwards there was a feeling among some of the fans similar to that which prevailed following the Rapid Vienna tie at Celtic Park. Most observers thought that the club shouldn’t undertake the journey to South America, the reasoning being that if that was how Racing behaved in Glasgow, what on earth would they be like in their own back yard?
Despite making appropriate noises, the Celtic board of the time decided to go ahead with the trip to Argentina, and so began one of the saddest chapters in the club’s history.
On November 1st 1967 the Avelleneda Stadium in Buenos Aires was packed with 120,000 belligerent Racing Club fans creating what Chick Young would undoubtedly have called ‘a cauldron of hate’.
By way of a contrast, the 106 Celtic fans in attendance were keeping their gobs firmly shut while attempting to pass themselves off as a party of chronic laryngitis sufferers on an outing from the local sanitorium.
Billy McNeill leads the team out at the Avallaneda.
Whatever was going on in the stands, the players were being given a hearty welcome of their own, firstly by the heavily armed guards escorting them to the stadium in the company of their snarling Alsatians, and later by the Racing Club fans, who felled Ronnie Simpson with a piece of metal during the warm up. Such was the extent of his injury that suspicion was rife that the object in question might have been hurled from on – or very near – the pitch. The resultant wound required several stitches.
When the bedlam in the goalmouth finally subsided, reserve goalie John Fallon was invited to take over between the sticks. He must have wished he had the Brian Lara gear on rather than his Celtic strip.
The Lions team that was fed to the Christians that day was (eventually): Fallon; Craig, Gemmell; Murdoch, McNeill, Clark; Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, O’Neill, Lennox.
The match was refereed by a certain Senor Marinho from Uruguay, who proved to be an even bigger turd than Ostrich Man from the first leg – a kind of Andrew Dallas in excelsis.
Not for the first time in his career – nor indeed the last – Jimmy Johnstone was singled out for some major thuggery by brutal opponents who set about their attempts at rearranging his limbs under the benign gaze of the match officials. In the 22nd minute Jinky was once again chopped to the ground, this time inside the penalty box. He was battered for a while with a hammer then given a good rub down with sandpaper. Relishing the prospect about as much as a young horse looks forward to being neutered, the man in black had no choice but to award a penalty kick in front of the incandescent home supporters, which Tommy Gemmell duly despatched into the net.
Thereafter, Marinho did whatever he could to ensure he would get out of Buenos Aires in one piece by ingratiating himself to the home side and their volcanic supporters (Sid, Doris and the extended Bonkers family).
Racing duly scored two goals against a Celtic side whose priorities were reduced to grimly defending their goal and emerging from the stadium relatively unscathed – but not necessarily in that order.
With away goals not counting double (it was two points for a win and one for a draw) it meant that there would have to be a deciding third match, to be played in Uruguay if the championship was to be settled.
As the Racing Club fans dispersed – pausing only for a quick pitched battle against some Uruguayans who had made the short trip across the River Plate to support the away side (actually more to have a go at the Argentinians) – the Celtic directors were already debating the advisability of playing Racing again in view of their behaviour in the previous two matches. Sir Robert Kelly wanted to bring the players home, but Jimmy Farrell, Desmond White and Jock Stein wanted to beat the South Americans and thought that Celtic could do it in neutral Montevldeo,
The die was cast and the final sorry chapter was about to unfold.
In 1939 Montevideo had been the setting for the Battle of the River Plate. The events of November 4th made that particular wee set-to look like tea and scones at the Chapel House.
In front of 75,000 spectators – bringing the total attendance for the three games to an astonishing 285,000 Jock Stein fielded the same team as in Buenos Aires with one change; Auld replaced O’Neill in midfield, a clear sign of Celtic’s attacking intent.
Racing had some previous in Uruguay, having slugged it out with local heroes Nacional – and what a heavyweight contest that must have been – so anti-Argentine feelings were running high. Celtic had the benefit of the home fans on their side, but despite big Jock’s intention to beat Racing at football, the players appeared to be preoccupied with understandable thoughts of taking revenge for the constant provocation of the first two games.
And yet it could all still have been avoid had FIFA not appointed the world’s worst referee to handle proceedings, Doctor Perez Orsorio from Paraguay.
The first 25 minutes passed off relatively peacefully. But then Jinky was hammered yet again, this time by a waist-high lunge that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Bruce Lee movie.
As the players squared up to one another once more, the police moved in to restore order, wielding sticks designed for cracking open the skulls of left wing students and slackening the leads on the attack dogs.
Behind their backs the Racing goalie, Cejas, had come halfway up the pitch to land a few well aimed kicks at the prostrate Johnstone.
While all this was going on Doctor Orsorio was collapsing in a fit of incompetent senile despair. Had he taken action against the Argentinians for their latest outburst of brutality the resultant mayhem might have been avoided. Instead, he lost all credibility when he sent the Celtic winger off a few minutes later. Jinky’s crime was trying to extricate himself from a half-nelson by elbowing his would-be assailant in the teeth.
It was the last straw.
Lennox was next to get his marching orders following an incident that took place some forty metres away from where the good Doctor was standing, and as the Celts lost the plot along with the referee, John Hughes and Bertie Auld soon followed their team mates into the tunnel, although wee Bertie was still on the pitch at the end of the game.
Two of the Racing players were dismissed as well.
To add to the general misery, Tommy Gemmell was involved in an incident broadcast all over Britain on the BBC national news the following evening. He was captured by the cameras going berserk and sneaking up behind a Racing player before delivering one of his size tens to the guy’s goolies, along with a warning to the Argentinian’s future conduct.
Racing eventually won by 1:0, but they had robbed Celtic of its dignity in the process, and that was harder to take than a mere defeat. In the process they had reduced this particular competition to the status of a violent pantomime.
In the aftermath of the Battle of Montivideo, the Celtic board, who in their infinite wisdom had decided that the players should face Racing for a third time, fined everyone involved including John Fallon – who had done little more than watch from his ringside seat – £250, to be deducted from win bonuses due. In a fine display of tact (pun intended) the team found out about the decision when they read about it in the papers.
In 1968 Manchester United were involved in another bruising clogfest against Estudiantes, by which time UEFA were taking more than a passing interest in the world club championship in an attempt to ensure there would be no repeat of what happened in ‘67.