By the time of our next shot at this tournament (see part 1 here) Jimmy McGrory had been moved upstairs and Big Jock was in charge of the team (with Robert Kelly firmly instructed by the new manager to keep his nose out of team matters – a crucial step).
Celtic qualified as cup winners after our dramatic final win over Dunfermline in 1965. The importance of that cup win can be gauged by the fact that the largest framed photograph in Jock Stein’s office at Celtic park was of the team celebrating this victory carrying Billy McNeill shoulder high in triumph. This was where it all started.
The incentive to win the Cup Winners’ Cup in season 65-66 came not only from a desire to put right what had happened in Budapest but also because Hampden would stage the final; reach that and it would be like a home game.
Our campaign started with a tie against the marvellously named Dutch team Go-Ahead Deventer. A 6-0 win in Holland, thanks to a Bobby Lennox hat-trick, added to a 1-0 home win saw us progress to the second round with a degree of comfort.
There, we were paired us with Danish side AGF Aarhus. Again our progress through was fairly comfortable as we won both games, 2-0 at home and 1-0 away.
But the quarter final, which saw Celtic journey for the first time to the Soviet Union to face Dynamo Kiev, was an altogether more complicated affair. Whilst the home game was a comfortable 3-0 voctory (Bobby Murdoch scoring twice, Tommy Gemmell got the other) the return leg developed in to a real pantomime. January in the Ukraine is a time of harsh weather. Just ask Napoleon and Hitler if you don’t believe me. Temperatures plummet and football is simply not possible. The league is normally shut down during this time and given these conditions Dynamo approached Celtic and asked if they objected to the game being moved to the more temperate location of Tblisi. Celtic agreed, despite the fact that Tblisi is even further east than Kiev, only 150 km from the Turkish border.
But that was when the fun began. The Soviet authorities objected not only to Celtic’s choice of airline (Aer Lingus, the personal choice of Bob Kelly) but also made the bizarre request that any flight be routed through Moscow.
The journey out went well enough – the team even posed for a photograph in the snow during the stopover in Moscow – and the game certainly enhanced our growing reputation as Celtic finished with a well deserved 1-1 draw, despite the sending off of Jim Craig, Gemmell scoring the goal.
However the return journey became a nightmare: catering mix ups, weather problems and technical faults all conspired to delay the team’s return, the result being that the full journey took 48 hours. The final leg of the trip was made on a replacement plane that Aer Lingus had to divert from one of their scheduled flights to collect the team from Sweden!
But the resulting discomfort following the Kiev trip was nothing compared to the sense of frustration felt after the next round.
The semi final was a ‘Battle of Britain’ affair which saw Jock Stein’s Celtic take on Bill Shankly’s Liverpool. The first leg at Celtic Park finished 1-0 to the home team in front of an official record attendance for a midweek match at Celtic Park of 80,000, Bobby Lennox bagging the goal. But the return leg was to end on a controversial note.
Liverpool were leading 2-0 going into the last minute when Lennox again scored only to have his effort ruled out for offside. The official in question later confessed that he simply hadn’t believed that a player could be as quick as Lennox, but having seen the goal again on television he admitted that it was a legitimate strike.
Lennox himself remembered the tie for Graham McColl in his book ‘Celtic in Europe’:
“We played really well in Glasgow and made quite a few chances. We should have put it beyond them that night and didn’t. It was a nice night in Glasgow; the park was quite hard but quite firm. Down there it was the complete opposite. The pitch was heavy and they probably played better against us. They got their two goals within a few minutes of each other early in the second half. The first goal was a free-kick which just took a deflection – it clipped the inside of the wall.”
That 60th minute Tommy Smith strike was followed by a scoring header five minutes later by Geoff Strong. It remained 2-0 to Liverpool when, close to full-time, Bobby Lennox darted on to the ball and, sharp as ever, turned it into the Liverpool net. That would have levelled the tie at 2-2 and forced a play-off but referee Josef Hannet of Belgium disallowed it for offside.
“We were all raging,” recalls Lennox of that incident. “Loads of bottles came on to the field from the Celtic supporters and the referee stopped the game for a while. There was also a load of shouting a bawling in the tunnel at full-time, handbags and things like that – it was just emotions running high. We got the ‘goal’ late on, which everybody remembers. We should have been in the final really. We should also have beaten them convincingly in Glasgow so we were unlucky not to be in the final.”
It was a frustrating and ugly way to finish what had been a superb European run, although better things were just over the horizon.
As for the Cup Winners Cup, it would be a full 10 years before we took part in it again.