March 10th 1965: A Club Reborn

The Celts were failing miserably to mount any sort of challenge in the league season after season, cup success was proving elusive, good players were being allowed to leave and the fans were so frustrated that they were demonstrating outside the stand demanding the head of Kelly on a spike.

No, it wasn’t the Nineties, it was during the period which followed the 7:1 demolition of the then existant Rangers in the 1957 League Cup final. Little did supporters realise that once they’d sobered up from the party which followed in the wake of that particular eight goal thriller that they’d have to wait nearly a decade before they’d have another excuse for a hoolie.

The late Fifties and early Sixties were indeed a time of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth for the Timmites. The 1957 team broke up following the untimely departure of Bobby and Evans and a succession of injuries to key players such as Fernie, Fallon and McPhail.

Instead of replacing these established stalwarts with seasoned professionals – who might have cost money – the board of the time, under the benevolent tyranny of Bob Kelly, embarked on a strategy that was to become known as the infamous ‘youth policy’.

Sadly, the youngsters who were regularly pitchforked into struggling Celtic sides of the time were doubly handicapped by having few players of proven experience upon whom to rely for advice and by a chairman whose Corinthian ideals may have been worthy enough but who was rapidly finding out that they were becoming increasingly anachronistic within the context of an ever-changing game.

Kelly’s neglect of such mundane tasks as running the club efficiently or with organisation resulted in ‘Bob Kelly and the Easybeats’ being the cruel epithet attached to the hapless colts of the early Swinging Sixties.

Not that Celtic was a club entirely devoid of potential in those days. Players such as Billy McNeill, Dunky McKay, Bobby Murdoch, Pat Crerand and Jimmy Johnstone were all outstanding talents; but all too often the rest of the side would be comprised of raw youth, players in the twilight of their careers or obscure buys who arrived with dodgy reputations and departed back into obscurity soon afterwards – often in the dead of night with blankets over their heads.

The misery for the fans was compounded, as is so often the case when Celtic are in the doldrums, by the fact that Rangers were rampant.

The only blip in what was otherwise a relentless downward spiral was an extraordinary run in the Cup Winners’ Cup of 1963-64 which saw Celtic progress to the semi-final stage.

In the first leg, played at Celtic Park, the Hoops romped into a 3:0 lead against MTK Budapest and looked odds-on to reach the final.

Alas, it was all too much for them. Cool heads and a steady defence were all that were needed in the away leg in the Hungarian capital; neither showed up on the night. The heads overheated, the defence wobbled and the Celts slumped to a dismal 0:4 defeat.

At the start of the 1964-65 season Bob Kelly’s youth policy came to fruition when the club tried to sign Alfredo di Stefano from Real Madrid, by then a sprightly 38 year-old. Tom Campbell and Pat Woods describe the episode in ‘The Glory and the Dream’:

“Some of the transfers were induced through panic, and nowhere was this more apparent than in a fruitless scramble after Alfredo di Stefano in August 1964. The famed striker of Real Madrid had been released from his contract by the Spanish club, and Celtic embarked on a wild goose chase to land the South Ameri can superstar. The club phoned Spain, but the player was on holiday and the calls were not returned; the club senttelegrams but these were ignored, until a belated reply rejecting the offer finally arrived at Celtic Park.

Despite the player’s manifest lack of interest and unavailability (he had recently agreed a lucrative one year contract with Espanol) the club ordered Jimmy McGrory to make a hurried, undignified trip to spain, accompanied by John Cushley, Celtic’s reserve centre-half and a graduate in languages from Glasgow University, in a futile bid to change his mind.

It was fortunate for Celtic that di Stefano dismissed the overtures. Magnificent player that he was, di Stefano had an arrogant streak and ruled imperiously at Madrid for years. Well substantiated rumours were disconcerting; he insisted that passes be made directly to his feet and ignored others; he forced Didi, Brazil’s World Cup star, to quit Madrid because his vanity would not allow a newcomer to usurp his popularity; he accepted Puskas as a team mate only when the Hungarian wisely gave up a chance to score in order to lay on a goal for him, a goal that gained for di Stefano the Spanish leading scorer title.

At the age of 38 the proud Argentinian would not have welcomed the rigours of a Scottish winter to play alongside the apprentices, even at the princely £30,000 that Celtic offered him for less than one season. Thoughtful supporters had to wonder about the club’s sense of direction; for years the club had advocated a long-term policy based on young teams of traditional Celtic values. Surely the frantic chase after di Stefano contradicted this.”

The element of low farce which went along with this gallant bid was somehow in keeping with the general atmosphere surrounding the Celtic board at the time.

Back in the real (as opposed to the Real) world, by January 1965 it was business as usual for the long-suffering fans.

The League Cup final had been lost to Rangers in a 2:1 defeat the previous October in one of the great encounters between the two clubs and Celtic had been summarily despatched from the Fairs Cup by Barcelona.

In the league Celtic’s form had been erratic. Rangers had been gubbed 3:1 early in the season but defeats from Hearts, St.Johnstone, Kilmarnock, Dundee and Dunfermline saw the team languishing in fifth place in the table.

The Scottish Cup was all that was left to play for and frustration was forcing many of Celtic’s best players to consider continuing their careers away from Parkhead.

Then it happened.

Although he wasn’t due to take up the managerial reins for a few weeks, the board announced that Jock Stein was about to take over at Celtic Park.

Stein had been around a bit since leaving the job of reserve team coach at Parkhead, giving the town of Dunfermline the time of its life by steering the Pars to safety in the first division, winning the Scottish Cup by defeating Celtic then embarking on a series of European adventures which scared the pants off some very big names indeed.

He then went to Easter Road for a stint as manager there. Although his spell at Hibs lasted barely a year he made a big impression. Writing in When Saturday Comes about a famous 2:0 win over Di Stefano’s Real Madrid in a friendly, Mark Poole recalls:

His impact at Hibs was immediate, with his trademark combination of ruthlessness, professionalism and attention to detail. “He didn’t walk in; he blew in,” Pat Stanton later said. Stanton was just 19 when Stein arrived but would soon be renowned as a classy, elegant defender, and would play 400 games for Hibs.

Many players’ reputations bloomed under Stein, but none more than Willie Hamilton, who has since been largely forgotten, but who Stein later said was the best Scottish player he’d ever seen. Hamilton played on instinct and was hugely talented, but lacked discipline off the pitch and only Stein managed to draw on his full potential; potential that was clearest in front of the 32,000 fans at the Real Madrid match.

Securing a glamour friendly against Real Madrid summed up Stein’s ambition. Real had beaten Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden in perhaps the greatest ever European Cup final four years earlier. They’d won the last four La Liga titles, with Ferenc Puskas the top scorer in three of them. It cost £12,000 to get them to come to Edinburgh but that investment was repaid in prestige, as the home side dominated the match and won 2-0. The Glasgow Herald said: “Had the margin of victory been greater the home team would not have been flattered. Playing fast, open football, the Scots were superior in every phase of the game and man for man outshone the Spaniards.”

Eighteen-year-old Peter Cormack – who was later an integral part of Liverpool’s first dominant 1970s side – opened the scoring after 20 minutes. According to the Herald “the ease with which Hibernian found gaps in the Real defence was almost unbelievable”. Jim Scott hit the crossbar and José Araquistáin in the Real Madrid goal made outstanding saves from Neil Martin and Cormack, before Ignacio Zoco deflected a Pat Quinn free-kick into his own goal. The fans had come to see Puskas and Francisco Gento, but although Willie Wilson in the Hibs goal had to make two saves from the latter, it was Hamilton’s night. As the Herald concluded: “For skill, artistry and generalship, Puskas did not compare with Hamilton.”

That night convinced Hibs fans they could recapture their glory years from the 1950s, but on January 31, 1965 Stein announced he’d be leaving for Celtic. In Archie Macpherson’s Stein autobiography, Cormack said: “We were devastated. We had a great team and I think we could have won the double. But him leaving destroyed us.” At least they had that remarkable October evening to remember him by.

Jock’s parting shot as he left Easter Road was to ensure that Rangers would be taking no further part in that season’s Scottish Cup as his team administered a gubbing to the Ibrox side, something he was to make quite a habit of in the coming years.

Now he was coming home in a reshuffle which saw Jimmy McGrory take over as PR Officer and Sean Fallon appointed Assistant Manager.

The effect of that January announcement was almost instantaneous. Campbell and Woods described it thus: “The slide was halted on january 30th with a dazzling display on an icy Celtic Park when the players visibly uplifted (as if sensing a wind of change) routed Aberdeen by 8:0. Less than 24 hours later the situation, with its gloom and fears, was to experience a transformation which began with the bustle of a press conference and was completed a few weeks later, by Bob Kelly’s firm handshake and the words, ‘It’s all yours now’”

Big Jock was to take up his post in an official capacity on March 10th 1965. It had been over a month since the announcement of his imminent takeover from Jimmy McGrory but he had to wait for Hibs to appoint Bill Shankley as his successor before leaving for Parkhead.

Almost immediately following his takeover at Celtic Park the papers tried to fuel controversy over the fact that Stein was Celtic’s first non-Catholic manager. Perhaps they had convinced themselves that Celtic supporters would rush round to the main stand entrance burning season tickets and effigies of Bob Kelly.

It wasn’t to be. The appointment of Stein was greeted with widespread approval. The only thing that was heating up rapidly was Scot Symon’s manager’s chair at Ibrox.

Stein’s first match in charge of Celtic was at Broomfield against Airdrie. His first selection was: Fallon, Young, Gemmell; Clark, McNeill, Brogan; Chalmers, Murdoch, Hughes, Lennox, Auld.

John Hughes and Bertie Auld (who netted five – two from the spot) were the scorers in a 6:0 romp.

Other than a 4:0 thrashing of his old charges Hibs and a single goal victory courtesy of an o.g. against Third Lanark it was to be a rare opportunity to celebrate two league points as Stein tried out most of the players in the first team pool before the end of the season.

Some of these line-ups were less than successful, as maulings at Falkirk (2:6) and Dunfermline (1:5) would tend to suggest, but the new manager wanted everyone to get the opportunity to show what they could do.

Meanwhile, in the Scottish Cup the Celts had progressed to the semi-final of that season’s competition prior to the arrival of Stein, thanks to victories over St. Mirren (3:0), Queens Park (1:0) and Kilmarnock (3:2).

Motherwell were the opponents in the semi and at Hampden on March 27th the Fir Park side played to an extremely defensive plan, relying almost entirely on their lone striker to upset the Celtic defence. This he did to such effect that he almost caused our season to come to a shuddering halt. Motherwell twice took the lead but both times were pegged back, the goals coming from Lennox and Auld. The match finished 2:2 and a a replay was necessary.

In the second game Celtic tore Motherwell apart in a display full of aggression, power and speed, eventually running out comfortable winners by 3:0.

We hadn’t seen the last of the Motherwell striker, however. Joe McBride was to become Jock’s first signing the following July.

Celtic’s opposition in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final was to be provided by one of Stein’s former charges, Dunfermline. The Pars had finished third in the championship, some 12 points and five places above Celtic. They could field what was widely regarded as the best side in their history and had every right to believe that the cup would be heading back to Fife for the second time in five years.

David Potter describes events in his book ‘Our Bhoys Have Won The Cup’ in a chapter entitled The Dawn of the Free:

This was a particularly ironic pairing for it inevitably brought back memories of 1961, and that particular result which seemed to symbolise all the suffering of the lean years. The sheer power of Pat Crerand had made Celtic seem world beaters in every respect bar one, and it was the vital one of goalscoring. Feckless finishing and lucky goalkeeping had made that night one of the most frustrating of anybody’s life, and the Pars had run up and scored two goals, both well taken but at least one gifted by sloppy goalkeeping, to make it Dunfermline’s greatest ever night, but Celtic’s worst. 

But now we had Stein. 

This would make the vital difference, we were told, but it did not seem that way as League form continued to be deplorable. Falkirk hammered Celtic 6-2, admittedly a weakened Celtic without McNeill and Clark, and then on the Saturday before the Final, when no excuses were possible on the grounds of injury or anything else, Partick Thistle beat Celtic 2-1 at an ominously silent Celtic Park. 

Yet on that same day, Dunfermline also lost in a game which mattered and which probably cost them the League Championship, a point raised by the more perspicacious of Celtic optimists before the Final. 

The day of the Final also contained a dramatic finish to the Scottish League Championship. It all boiled down to Hearts and Kilmarnock. Dunfermline had lost it the previous week; Hibs and Rangers had fallen by the wayside, and unless Hearts lost by 2-0 at Tynecastle to Kilmarnock, they would be League Champions. Hearts would in the event live up to their tradition of blowing it on the last day by doing just that – losing 2-0 to Kilmarnock. 

All this however was of precious little concern to those 108,000 people who gathered at Hampden Park to watch the following two teams take the field: 

Celtic: Fallon, Young, Gemmell; Murdoch, McNeill, Clark; Chalmers, Gallagher, Hughes, Lennox, Auld. 

Dunfermline Athletic: Herriot, W. Callaghan, Lunn; Thomson, McLean, T. Callaghan; Edwards, Smith, McLaughlin, Melrose, Sinclair. 

‘We’ll forgive every thin, Cel-lic, every thin, if ye’s jist win the dae’ screamed a desperate Glasgow voice in my ear as referee Hugh Phillips of Wishaw started the game. 

Celtic were playing towards their own supporters, although in truth, there were enough of them at the other end as well, and green and white favours seemed to outnumber black and white ones by about 20 to 1. The weather was fine – a bright spring day with more than a hint of a breeze. 

The Pars drew first blood as Melrose hooked a ball from the edge of the penalty area after the Celtic defence had failed to mop up a throw in and goalkeeper Fallon had been caught off his line. Time 15 minutes and then Celtic began to surge forward, playing the sort of football that would become their hallmark in years to come. 

On the half hour mark, inside forward Charlie Gallagher picked up a loose ball and shot from about 25 yards. The ball hit the bar, and the cries of frustration from the packed Celtic end were strangled when it was seen that the ball, caught in a capricious gust of wind, did not fly over the bar, nor bounce back into play, but shot straight up in the air. The bar was still shaking with the vehemence of the shot as the ball came down, and the ever alert Bertie Auld kept his eye on it and headed in from about six inches out. 

It was one of the strangest goals ever seen at Hampden Park, but totally deserved, you felt, before about thirty strangers of all ages and sexes jumped on your back in ecstasy. 

1-1, but then just at half time a cemetery silence descended once again on the Celtic End amid the odd call for the sacking of Queen’s Park’s public address system man. 

It was bizarre the way Dunfermline went ahead again. A soft free kick had been conceded outside the box. Melrose shaped to take it, but instead tapped the ball to McLaughlin. At that very instant the P.A. system announced a message that nobody heard but might well have gone down in infamy. The Celtic defence’s concentration fatally wilted, and everybody hesitated as McLaughlin hammered a great goal past Fallon. 

The half time whistle went soon afterwards, and everybody felt that this was rough justice. Celtic had played better football, had had more possession of the ball, and yet these two Dunfermline goals had given them a 2-1 lead. 

Half time was spent in a curious state of introverted pessimism and everybody was wishing they hadn’t come and that they’d never heard of football or Celtic, for there was that sickening promise of another disappointment, one that would be hard to handle psychologically. 

But this was a different-Celtic team. This one had passion as well as skill. The days of the cavings-in had gone, and within five minutes of the restart, they were level again. It was that left wing pair of Lennox and Auld again! Auld had released Lennox, then had charged into the penalty area to receive the return pass, to hammer home a low shot at the very instant of being tackled. 

It was now that we began to have our alternate dream and nightmare scenario, as both teams served up what would be described by all the papers as a great game of football. 

If anything, Dunfermline upped a gear once they got over the shock of the equaliser, and on at least two occasions Celtic were indebted to John Fallon for saving them. He may have been partly to blame for the first goal, but he made up for it now as first Edwards, then McLaughlin shot for him-to save brilliantly. Then Celtic began to take command for a spell, as the feeling began to grow once we were in the last quarter of an hour that the next goal would be the winner.

Nine minutes remained as Lennox’s speed won Celtic a corner on the left at the Mount Florida end. Charlie Gallagher took it, sent over a perfect ball and Billy McNeill appeared from nowhere to head home, taking radio and TV commentators as much by surprise as he did the Dunfermline defence. 

This was indeed story book, B(h)oys Own stuff, full of romance and joy with plucky winners and gallant losers. 

But journalists and historians have tended to ignore the truth when they talk about Celtic’s meeting with destiny and so on. The truth was that we had nine undignified minutes to live through. Nine minutes of sweating, praying, pleading, bowel churning, bladder bursting, promising to attend Church every Sunday for the rest of our life, agony to live through. 

Fortunately the players on the park were calmer than we were at the top of Gangway 25 as Bertie Auld pretended to trip over and stand on the pile of policemen’s coats as he shaped to take a corner kick. 

Hugh Phillips eventually gave way to the pressure of 100,000 hysterical voices and pointed to the dressing room. Now we could talk of Captain Courageous, of the old Celtic Cup Magic, heroes of the hour, and the glorious uplands of our august destiny.

Why, somebody even said we could maybe win the European Cup – ‘maybe no’ next year, but the year efter that’, and we all slapped him on the back as we shared his unfettered joy. We cried as they ran towards the Celtic End with the trophy, some whose childhoods had been flawed and underpriviliged but whose young manhood would now be rich with the joys of triumph. Introverted, sad children suddenly became alert, cheerful, confident young people, and life would never be the same agaln.

There was an appointment with history in one sense. Rangers’ victory over Dundee in the 1964 Scottish Cup had meant that for the first time since 1922 Celtic had slipped behind in the table of Cup winners. Now we were back level again, for we had won the Scottish Cup for the eighteenth time. The pendulum had swung back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s