Tears in Argentina

If you read our post on the Celtic v Racing Club match, here’s a review of Tom Campbell’s book on the subject.

We Celtic supporters are not narrow-minded. No, sir! Insularity and bigotry may exist elsewhere, but we pride ourselves on our broad-mindedness, magnanimity and vision. We are interested in all sorts of things, aren’t we? Even painful ones? 

Well, that is an excellent reason for buying Tom Campbell’s latest book ‘Tears In Argentina’, nominally about the three games that Celtic played against Racing Club in the autumn of 1967 for the World Club Championship, an expedition that did indeed end in tears.

This book, however, is about a great deal more than that. Tom uses this opportunity to tell us a great deal about South American football, and indeed his own adventures in places like Brazil , Argentina and El Salvador in the extensive research that he did for this book. There are many anecdotes and quirky asides. For example, on the day before the deciding game on November 4th 1967 , the President of Uruguay challenged his former foreign minister to a duel!

On that same day, the Uruguayan authorities warned the Celtic Directors and Jock Stein that prostitutes might be employed to lure the Celtic players into a scandal. So special measures were to be taken to protect the players – but not, of course the Directors or the Manager who could, er, indulge, if they wished to! 

Tom met the great midfielder of Racing Club in 1967. This was Humberto Maschio who has a “warm smile and a strong handshake” and is upset to hear that Bobby Murdoch is no longer with us.

Tom was also commissioned to buy a tango skirt for his “partner’s son’s ex-girlfriend”, and the man in the shop seems to think that this is somewhat corny, and that the relationship between Tom and the would-be tango dancer is, er, somewhat closer. That is until Tom’s image as a “sophisticated roue” collapses when he asks if the skirt can be bought in any colour other than black!

Clearly Tom has spent too much of his life at places like Parkhead to the detriment of his knowledge of tango dancing. Everyone knows that you simply don’t get green and white tango skirts, Tom! 

Stories like this abound in the book. The main purpose is of course the football, and what a catalogue of infamy Tom gives us in all three games! He does not shirk from blaming Celtic players if necessary. John Hughes, for example, justifiably sent off for kicking the goalkeeper, tried to tell Jock Stein that he didn’t think anyone would notice! Tommy Gemmell admits graphically that he did no good at all for that Argentinean’s prospects of a happily married life when he took what he thought was a little private vengeance – “private” as in “private parts”! But not private as distinct from public, because the BBC and Kenneth Wolstenholme enjoyed showing it in what seems to be a deliberate attempt to get at Celtic. 

Tom talked to quite a few Celtic and other sources – Jim Farrell, John Fallon, Bertie Auld, Sir Alex Ferguson (fortunately before Artur Boruc saved yon penalty!) and the result is a splendid book which anyone with any interest in Celtic FC really should possess. 

The whole episode is a distressing one, and many of us would prefer to think that it didn’t happen. But it did, and Tom gives us a graphic and detailed account of these dreadful and shameful events.

David Potter

Tears in Argentina

Author Tom Campbell spoke to us at the time of the book’s publication about the games and his impressions of Racing Club forty years later.

NTV: The World Club Championship was undoubtedly seriously tarnished as a result of the Racing Club v Celtic match. Had there been any hints before 1967 that this was a fixture that was prone to such volatility?

Tom Campbell: The competition was originally proposed by Real Madrid after they had won the first five European Cups. I suppose, like Alexander the Great, they wanted new worlds to conquer. Trouble was never far away from these events, mainly due to the different football cultures and temperaments involved. And, of course, it should have been the most important club match ever possible. History, Geography and national pride made trouble inevitable with the situation being complicated by a home and home format. Inter Milan – even with Helenio Herrera, an Argentine himself as coach – had bottles thrown at them in Buenos Aires.

NTV: Alf Ramsay’s remarks about the Argentine national team in 1966 wouldn’t have helped much. I suspect that most ordinary Argentinians wouldn’t have distinguished between and Englishman and a Scot?

TC: Alf Ramsay described the Argentina national team as ‘Animals!’ after the infamous quarter final against England in 1966 when Rattin their captain was sent off and took about 14 minutes to do so. This description is bitterly resented even today in Argentina, as I was reminded several times by Racing players, and sports journalists. They did have a case, as Bobby Charlton has pointed out that the German referee that day gave more fouls against England than Argentina. They don’t quite distinguish between the Scots and the English – and Celtic paid dearly for that. The founder of Argentinian football was born in Edinburgh, educated at Edinburgh University, became Headmaster of the St. Andrew’s Scottish School in Buenos Aires and yet the Argentinians have always considered him ‘English’.

John Clark was pictured squaring up to a Racing Club player with his fists raised, and the caption in the Buenos Aires newspaper read: ‘English Gentleman Introduces Himself to Animal’.

NTV: As someone who was at Hampden for the first match, what was the general feeling at the time among the supporters; was everybody treating it like another ‘European’ tie or was it regarded as something extra special? Were there any particular forebodings about the second game given the behaviour of Racing Club at Hampden?

TC: Racing Club at Hampden Park were the most cynical outfit Celtic had ever come across. They were capable of playing good football but attempted to disrupt the match at Hampden from the opening minutes by time-wasting, arguing with the referee, obstructing Celtic players and tackling viciously, Jimmy Johnstone in particular. Several Celtic players complained about spitting by the Argentinians. I have been told by Racing officials that they were afraid of being humiliated by Celtic running up a big score – as Penarol, the then World Club Champions, had assured them ‘Celtic are unbeatable!’ Accordingly, Racing opted for disruptive tactics at Hampden. Bob Kelly, for one, was unwilling to have Celtic travel to South America and invited the SFA President and Secretary to accompany the club as observers. He should have asked for a UN Peacekeeping Force instead.

The week after the Hampden match the film ‘The Dirty Dozen’ was released in Glasgow; most Celtic supporters assumed it was about the Racing Club. 

NTV: The impression given of the Racing Club fans in Gerry McNee’s book was that basically they were all nutters, half naked with bandanas round their heads brandishing giant flags and letting off Roman Candles all over the place. Can you give us a bit of background to this team, their supports and their status in Argentine football. Who would you compare them to here? I know, for example, that they’re known as ‘La Academia’. (Does that mean ‘Borstal’ in Spanish? Or Asylum??)

TC: Racing are based in Avellaneda, a ‘city’ similar to Paisley’s relationship to Buenos Aires. In 1967 its population was about35,000 and it was a working-class district – and in Argentina that simply means ‘ a depressed area, with poor housing and squalor in places.

Racing are considered one of ‘the five great clubs of Argentina’, being one of the original members of the League. They have a fanatical and loyal support, even by Argentinian standards and support for the club runs in families from grandfather to father to son. A bit like Celtic in some respects, that loyalty.

I met one journalist whose first words to me were, ‘I should tell you that I am a Racing supporter, as was my father and grandfather. My son, who will be born in January, will be one too. The greatest day in my father’s life was the 4th November 1967 when they beat Celtic.’

NTV: When it came to the first

game in South America, what did Celtic represent to them? Was this their chance to put one over on the Europeans? Was the pressure on them to fly the flag for the whole of South America? By anybody’s standards, Racing were putting themselves about in all three games. Even Jinky gave his opponent Rulli (should that be ‘Unrulli’?) a special mention as the most brutal opponent he ever played against. Yet they could also play football when they wanted to. Was it just fear that made them adopt this style or was there more to it than that?

TC: Argentina prides itself on being the most sophisticated of all the South American countries and this feeling comes in part from being largely European in background – mainly Italian and Spanish immigrants. In Buenos Aires they point out there are more psychiatrists there than in the whole of the rest of South America!

Celtic, as European champions, would have been regarded with some awe but, as Scots, would have been a totally unknown factor. Nationalism, after the World Cup of 1966, was a factor; apparently, all of the Argentine football population – about 99% of the overall population – were rooting for Racing Club. They represented Argentina, and no Argentine club had ever won this trophy.

NTV: After the Buenos Aires match, was there ever a realistic prospect of Celtic forfeiting the tie and coming home with their dignity more or less still intact?

TC: A lot of doubt about Celtic going to Montevideo for the third and deciding game. Bob Kelly was dead set against it, Jock Stein felt that in a neutral country like Uruguay, Racing would be forced to concentrate on football and that Celtic could beat them, Desmond White was probably just as interested in getting a bumper gate for Celtic while Jimmy Farrell felt that Celtic would get a lot of support from the Uruguayans who look on Argentina the way the Scots regard England. Celtic asked UEFA to  send representatives, but this was ignored. The players were in two minds, being sickened at some of the tactics used by Racing Club, but most were convinced that, if it was a football match played on a level playing field, they could beat the Argentinians.

NTV: Did the people you spoke to from Racing Club acknowledge their guilt in this whole affair? Did you feel any sense that they were embarrassed or ashamed of their part in dragging Celtic’s name through the mire?

TC: I was made very welcome at the Racing Club, and visited it every day for a week for several hours each day. I spoke to the club’s historian Pacho Vera who did seem a little bit defensive at first but he tried toexplain that Racing were deeply embarrassed when Ronnie Simpson was felled by a missile thrown from the terracingbehind the goal during his warm-up.

He introduced me to some of the players who had played against Celtic in 1967 and two in particular I was able to talk to at length: Humberto Maschio, their veteran playmaker, and Juan Carlos Cardenas, who scored the winning goals against Celtic in the Avellaneda and in Montevideo. The latter was highly amused when he learned that I had – jokingly described him as ‘Cardenas? Ah, el bastardo!’ I’m glad he thought I was just kidding. I got invited to the last match of the season – which they had to win against San Lorenzo in order to qualify for the following season’s Copa Libertadores – and I was given a police escort into the ground. I thought they were most gracious and hospitable, but suspicious about any’gringo’ wanting to know more about the World Club Championship of 1967.

NTV: Despite everything, were there any funny anecdotes that came about as a result of this clash?

TC: Humberto Maschio told me the Racing party had travelled up from London to Troon to prepare for the match, and had met Sean Connery on the train, spending a couple of hours with him. I told him that Sean had been a Celtic supporter at that time, and Maschio laughed: ‘Maybe, he should have shot us then, 007.’ He also remembered it had rained in Scotland for the first couple of days, and the players having breakfast in the Troon Marina were amazed at the golfers trudging by: ‘Old men, and women. Rain, wind perhaps snow – and they were walking about playing at golf. We thought they were mad – or Supermen!’

NTV: When the dust had settled, I understand FIFA took a closer interest in this competition. Yet it just went from bad to worse after this didn’t it? Eventually the European sides were refusing to take part (although I’m not sure any South American teams bottled out of it… too macho??).

TC: The Celtic-Racing series – at least the third game in which six players were sent off by the referee – was the most notorious. Remember that Celtic were the first British winners of the European Cup, and British teams have always had a physical edge to their game. South Americans objected to tackling, especially from behind and shoulder-charging; Britons hated the South American diving, shirt-pulling and above all the spitting. Trouble was inevitable, and Manchester United were involved up to their necks against Estudiantes from Buenos Aires the next year. I was assured – but I found it hard to believe – that, compared to Estudiantes, ‘Racing were like nuns’. The Dutch clubs, Feyenoord and Ajax simply refused to play South American opponents, and the competition was in danger of disappearing altogether until FIFA tightened it up by, among other things, having only one match to decide it and staging it in Japan.

NTV: Celtic recovered from their experience pretty quickly. What became of Racing Club?

TC: I was able to speak to £1 Presidente in the club’s Hall of Fame after the match I saw, and I gave a wonderful Oscar-winning performance as I listened: ‘Ah, Signor Tom, things have not gone well with us since 1967. We have been relegated more than once, we have been made bankrupt, we have been in administration for some years now, we cannot buy pIayers, we have had about thirty managers since 1967 – and many of them are still suing us for breach of contract …’ He looked so sad, but I just wondered if God might very well have watched their games against Celtic after all. By the way, they lost to San Lorenzo that night by 1-0, and thus did not qualify for the Copa Libertadores. What a pity!

NTV: During your trip to Argentina, was there anything that took you by surprise about Racing Club in particular or the country in general?

TC: I have loathed some teams, like many Celtic supporters, and Racing Club were always top of my hate list – along with Atletico Madrid and Rapid Vienna. But I was astonished at how much I liked the people there, the supporters and players… I wasn’t fooled; overwhelmingly, Racing were the villains of the piece back in 1967 and I know that. One player impressed me in particular- Humberto Maschio. He remembered Bobby Murdoch: ‘A gentleman, and a great player. So strong, and so clean …’ 

When I told him that Bobby had died a few years ago, he went very quiet, made the sign of the Cross and said, ‘Perhaps you could tell his family, I will pray for him, among the others I pray for.’

NTV: A documentary on the game – This Was War – was aired on Celtic TV recently. I got the impression that it was an episode the players weren’t relishing talking about, certainly not to outsiders. What did you find when you were interviewing them for the book?

TC: It’s always easier to remember and talk about the triumphs, but I have always been impressed by the way Celtic supporters talk about Milan in 1970 as well as Lisbon in 1967. The players I spoke to – Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox, Billy McNeill, John Clark, Charlie Gallagher, John Fallon, Bertie Auld, Jim Craig and Tommy Gemmell – warmed  to the task after a little prompting. You are right about this; they clearly did not recall the series with relish but their memories came flooding in. There was an honesty about them that was very refreshing. Just remember that Celtic were within a whisker of being declared officially the best team in the world – and I think you could say that they were conned out of that honour.

NTV: Is there any interest in Celtic in Argentina these days?

TC: The journalists were frank about that. ‘We are not very interested in the Scottish League because there are only two sides in it. It doesn’t have the same appeal for us except when Celtic play Rangers. That is always an interesting confrontation.’

NTV: There’s an obvious song to have as the soundtrack to. this chapter in Celtic’s history, but I’m sure you could think of a better one?

TC: Perhaps the theme from ‘The Dirty Dozen’?

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