On the eve of their European semi-final against Leeds Celtic played a friendly in Fraserburgh in aid of a recent lifeboat disaster. Derek Knox takes up the story.
In April 1970 Sydney Reid worked as the head barman at the Royal Hotel at the edge of the harbour in Fraserburgh in the North East of Scotland. You would find him there most days and nights. Except on Saturday afternoons.
Every second Saturday you would find him two hundred yards along the road playing outside right for Fraserburgh FC in the Highland League at the Bellslea Park, in front of several hundred loud and partisan supporters, one of the best supported teams in the North. They like their football in “the Broch”, the locals name for Fraserburgh and also the nickname for the football team.
One day Sydney answered the phone at the Royal Hotel.
“Hello, can I speak to Andra?”
Andrew Beattie was the owner of the Royal Hotel at the time. The speaker had a Lanarkshire accent. Sydney knew he should recognise it but couldn’t right place who it was.
“Certainly Sir,” he said, “and can I tell him who is calling?”
“It’s Jock Stein,” came the reply
Sydney took the phone through to Mr. Beattie.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Jock Stein.”
Straight faced Andrew Beattie took the phone. “Hello Jock, it’s Andra…”
Sydney smiled and withdrew, wondering what the outcome would be.
If it was a hoaxer, he was a good hoaxer, sounding just like the great man and why was he phoning the Royal Hotel? A wind-up? A scam?
If it really was Jock Stein then why was he phoning the Royal Hotel?
Jock Stein was the legendary manager of Glasgow Celtic. When he took over as manager of Celtic a few years earlier the club hadn’t won anything for twelve years. He soon changed that by winning the league in his first full season and, incredibly, the European Cup the year after in 1967.
Celtic become serial trophy winners and were again in the final of the European Cup in just a couple of weeks time. That was after beating the English Champions, Don Revie’s mighty Leeds United (Billy Bremner, Jackie Charlton, Johnny Giles, Norman Hunter and all) home and away in the semi-finals just a few days before.
“That was Jock Stein,” Andrew Beattie said as he returned the phone. “He’s taking Celtic up to play your team.”
Andrew anticipated Sydney’s next question. “Next Week. It’s for the Lifeboat.”
NEXT WEEK!!! Celtic were playing a Dutch team in Milan in the European Cup Final in TWO weeks. And they were coming to Fraserburgh to play at the BELLSLEA next week.
Andrew Beattie had been old friends with Jock Stein and they had a conversation just after the Fraserburgh Lifeboat had capsized in January 1970 with the loss of five of the crew.
The commitment of the lifeboat men and the disaster had had a big effect on Jock, as it had the whole nation.
“Andra, if there’s anything we can do to help…”
“Well, maybe if…” Andrew then put his suggestion to Jock about Celtic playing a benefit game for the families of the Lifeboat victims.
“Leave it with me Andra. We’re heavily committed, going for all the trophies again, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Celtic’s season in Scotland had just finished on the 18th. They’d won the League again but had surprisingly been beaten in the Scottish Cup Final by Aberdeen a couple of Saturday’s before.
There would be two and a half weeks before their next competitive game, the big one, the European Cup Final on May 6th at the San Siro Stadium, shared home of AC and Inter Milan in Italy against Feyenord of Holland.
Several of the Celtic players were away for a week playing for Scotland, and Jock wanted to keep the whole team fit and active but relaxed and thought that a couple of friendly matches against lower opposition would be the ideal preparation for the European Cup Final.
And so it was that Glasgow Celtic played Fraserburgh FC at the Bellslea Park on the 28th of April 1970 in front of around 7,000 supporters in aid of the 1970 Fraserburgh Lifeboat Disaster Fund. Eight days before they played in the European Cup Final. With all their stars, all time legends of Scottish Football.
The date of the match, ironically, the 28th April, fell on the 51st anniversary of the first Fraserburgh Lifeboat Disaster in 1919 when two Lifeboat men had died.
Playing for Fraserburgh in the 1970 match was Jimmy Noble whose father had been a victim along with five other crewmen who lost their lives in the second Fraserburgh Lifeboat disaster in 1953.
Sydney Reid played the first half against Celtic before being replaced, not because he was having a bad game, and not for tactical reasons.
It was because he was the head barman at the Royal and he had to get changed quickly and get himself over to the hotel double-quick to get things ready, it was going to be a busy night.
The town council had organised a civic reception for Celtic after the match there and for Sydney it was one of the busiest nights of his career.
Jock Stein said in a televised interview that they came up to Fraserburgh to play the game for the Lifeboat, because, “These are very important people”.
Sydney’s nephew Norman Reid was one of the organisers of the annual Celtic supporters v Rangers supporters charity games in Fraserburgh which have raised thousands of pounds for the lifeboat and other local charities.
The games are played in memory of James Sutherland a long time Celtic supporter whose family have had a long connection with Fraserburgh Lifeboat.