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Celts In America
The modern soccer star’s passport might make even James Bond envious.

The modern soccer star’s passport might make even James Bond envious. For on the buff-coloured pages are stamped the visas and entry signs of nations right round the world.

These are the gateway to a look at the world which the average fan could only dream about from peeps at exotic brochures, and which would cost even wealthy tourists a fair slice of their fortunes.

A hop across the Atlantic on a giant jet is now a common summer jaunt for Britain’s top clubs, players can pick their way through the buzz and confusion of New York’s Kennedy Airport as easily as Glasgow’s Abbotsinch or London’s Heathrow.

Twice in three years Celtic have made the trip to America and Canada. Their stars have wandered down Broadway, gazed at Niagara Falls, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and found out for themselves about Mexico City’s much publicised altitude problem.

I suppose that the supporter back home reading stories of teams travelling to such spots as Miami, New York, Toronto, Mexico City, can only murmur with envy: ‘What a life . . . and just to play football.’

Well, it is a wonderful life. But behind the glamour and excitement of these tours and even the most experienced traveller can still get a thrill seeing again that wonderful New York sky-line - there is a double purpose.

These tours are usually a reward for a team’s work during the season, and that 1968 tour celebrated the neat double of three
successive League championships and League Cups.

Properly used the games can be a basis for plans a manager may 

have, but hesitates to try in the fierce combat of a normal season’s programme.

Sometimes it can even be useful to try a player out of his position. I don't know if every full-back fancies himself as a centre-forward, but I remember a try-out Tommy Gemmell had at centre in a match in Bermuda, on a pitch which had a cricket wicket down the centre.

It was almost a cricket score, too! Celtic won 10-1 and Tommy scored two goals. But the experiment has not been repeated. Despite that score-line he really is more effective getting the goals as a fullback and not a fully fledged forward.

However, I know from that trip in 1966 that the basis for the European Cup triumph, crowned by the victory against Inter-Milan in Lisbon, was laid on the strenuous, eleven-match, five-week tour of America, Canada and Bermuda.

The 1968 tour was designed a little differently. The players were given almost a week off in the luxury of Miami, one of America’s most famous holiday spots.

There were only three games, but all of them vital prestige matches. Two against the Italian champions, A.C. Milan in New York and Toronto and a top Mexican side, Nexaca.

Even in the midst of Miami’s many tourist attractions, skin-diving, shark-fishing, golfing with go-carts to save walking between holes, there was football work to be done.

At one of the training sessions there was an injury to left-winger John Hughes, and another to Tommy Gemmell which kept both out of the first fixture against Milan, and eventually Gemmell flew home from Toronto for treatment.

The urgency to keep the team lit became even more important when A.C. Milan added the European Cup-Winners Cup to their honours with a victory against Hamburg in the final in Rotterdam.

Obviously twin victories against Celtic would boost their prestige, especially in their home city, where their close-neighbours, Inter Milan, had failed a year before.

Matches with Italians can be dodgy in America. There is, of course, a strong Italian community who flock to get a nostalgic glimpse of their heroes of home.

Celtic were going back to play in the grandly named, but somewhat ramshackle Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York.

Two years before in the sort of downpour which I thought was only conceived on a Hollywood movie set, they had held another Italian Club, Bologna, to a 0-0 draw, in the same stadium.

It had ended in a fans’ riot as the supporters of the Italian side, incensed at their team’s failure to win, sent a hail of bottles and missiles on to the pitch.

And my lasting memory is of an all-American cop, baton drawn, gun strapped to his side, charging up the aisles of the stand after the offenders . . . on a horse!

So it was perhaps understandable that two years later even in the middle of the giddy New York sight-seeing round, including a visit to Madison Square Garden to see the World light-heavyweight fight between Dick Tiger and Bob Foster Stein took time to tell his players . . . ‘Keep cool, whatever happens.’

They needed to keep their heads cool! They did have to face another crowd problem, this time of too many people trying to get into the ground at the one time.

It was a scorching Sunday, but even these conditions can be turned

to advantage. It is a chance for a manager to see which players can overcome the conditions, for who knows when similar problems may come along in the European Cup...

However there was to be no quick appearance in the sun for the
teams. They had to stay in their dressing rooms for 45 minutes, until the crowd trouble had cleared.

Yet it was anything but boring for the fans already in the ground,
and those of us perched in the press-box above the stand . a side-show of our own...

The police control at the beginning was a bit slack. So hundreds of fans strolled on to the park, walked round the track, or simply sat down on the pitch.

Rival groups of supporters, waving their club banners, hurled
chants at each other and turned the whole scene into an organiser’s nightmare... 

Over the loudspeaker came the repeated pleadings of an anguished ltalian-American voice . . . ‘Leave da field, pliz, leava da field.’

He could have saved himself the effort and enjoyed a cool beer in the sunshine. The trouble outside had been because there was not enough turnstiles open, and those that were had run out of change.

Eventually to get the 23,000 crowd into the ground, clear them off the field and get the game started it took the combined efforts of twenty squad cars of police and the help of mounted police.

There was no real ugliness. Just a crowd who added a preliminary to the main show, and had a ball to themselves at the same time.

The Celtic team which was fielded that day was . . . Simpson; Cattenach, O’Neil; Clark, McNeill, Brogan; Chalmers, Murdoch, W allace, Gallagher, Lennox . . with second-half substitutes McBride for Gallagher and Quinn for Chalmers.

Milan were without some of their stars, including their ace forward Rivera, who were with the Italian team in the European Nations Cup.

But Celtic lacked Jimmy Johnstone. The right-winger had been allowed to stay at home because of the strenuous season he had been through, and his famous dislike for flying.

Still, I think the Italians half-expected to see Jock Stein usher the little red-head on to the park. It was only after two games without him they were really convinced he had stayed at home.

The match was watched by Dunfermline, who were also on a North American tour and stayed in the same New York hotel as Celtic.

What a shrinking soccer world. Only two weeks before the teams had met in Scotland’s last league game of the season, a clash between the Cup-winners and league champions at Dunfermline.

Willie Wallace put Celtic ahead in eleven minutes, but Milan equalised before half-time, and that’s the way the score stayed until the end. It was a good result, considering that the Scots had not played a competitive match for a fortnight, and the pitch is really laid out more for baseball than soccer.

Part of the schedule for these tours is a constant round of banquets, civic lunches, official receptions.

Even in America there are supporters’ club functions. After the Milan game Celtic were entertained by the Kearney branch. It’s the second time I’ve been there . . . and if there is a more enthusiastic fan club I would like to meet them.

Some of their members fly over for many of the big games in Scotland, they listen to the results on a Saturday on a short-wave

radio. and some even make the journey to New York every Sunday to keep right up to date with the British Sunday papers.

They made the long, tiring bus 'trip from New York to Toronto to support their side in the second game against Milan.

Like everyone else I reckoned they thought it was well worth while. That game, in the trim Canadian National Exhibition Stadium, was an epic.

It had a record crowd for a match in Canada of 30,121, a huge trophy and a 2,000 dollar prize to the winners . . . and a perfect result for Celtic.

It was also one of the few tour games I have watched in America and Canada which had the real atmosphere of a football match, not just the trimmings of a friendly game.

Maybe it was the stadium, situated only a couple of free-kicks away from the shores of Lake Ontario, and with a pitch suited for soccer, and not American football or baseball.

Maybe it was the crowd, fervent and knowledgeable drawn from the sizeable Scottish and Italian communities of Toronto (sometimes a little too fervent, there were a few arrests).

'Maybe it was the cold, grey drizzle to make the scene resemble home so much. But it all combined for a memorable match.

I remember the Italian coach, Nereo Rocco, with a red cap perched on top of his giant frame, leaping off his track-side bench to scream advice to his side.

But it was all in vain. This was a display of attacking football which has built Celtic their modern reputation.

Swift and incisive, they had been instructed to keep their crosses low and away from ’keeper Belli, who had gobbled up many of the cross-balls the previous Sunday.

Two minutes of the second-half had ticked away when Wallace put over a 'cross hardly head-high, the ’keeper blundered and Lennox blasted the ball home.

Then in sixty-four minutes came one of those great defence splitting runs of John Hughes, which ended with Charlie Gallagher slamming home a second.

Celtic had another Victory, another trophy, and the players a bit more spending money. And if the organisers had only hired an astrologist who could have predicted that the two teams would meet again in the European Cup, they could have really gone to town with the publicity they love so much over there.

It was a good victory especially as a reward for the Scottish exiles, who warmly descend on all visiting teams with loads of invitations.

Somehow, wherever you go there always seems to be more Scots turn up than English.

I remember one Spurs official on the 1966 tour when the London club had the same schedule for part of the trip, asking: “How do you Scots get all the bleedin’ invitations?’

But if the Canadian result was the most satisfying, the Mexican part of the tour was the most useful from the experimental point of view.

No modern Scottish side had played there, but twice Mexico would be the sports centre of the world, for the 1968 Olympic Games and the 1970 World Cup.

How would the altitude problem affect them? I think some of the players imagined we might have to strap on oxygen cylinders as soon as we landed after the long flight from Toronto.

Instead there were guitar-strumming musicians to welcome us, and a bus which almost burst at the seams as players, officials, press and all the luggage was piled in. . . .

It’s not always jet-style luxury on these tours. . . .

Celtic, like most teams away from home in another country, always try to train at the time of the kick-off of the actual match, and Mexico was no exception.

The players went through a rigorous training session, with stops for medical tests from the team doctor. Nobody seemed to be any the worse for it, but there was one flaw.

They had trained in a good, old-fashioned rain-storm (apart from Miami, that rain seemed to follow the tour), and perhaps the altitude effect had been minimised.

For the next night in the most impressive soccer stadium I have ever seen, the giant 105,000 seater Aztec Stadium, they learned all about it.

It had been a sultry day, turning the giant stadium into a concrete pressure-cooker, where the heat seemed to lie like a lid over the pitch.

Bang, Bang, Bang! Celtic were quickly three goals down, and nobody could remember when that had last happened. But worst of all, the team seemed listless, unable to mount their usual dashing raids or get back to help out in defence.

Right on half-time one of these so valuable goals of Billy McNeil gave them a lifebelt. And in the dressing-room at the interval they gratefully gulped down oxygen to aid them in the second-half.

Wallace pulled another back in the second-half, but the score stayed at 3-2 for Nexaca until the end. It was Celtic’s first tour defeat in over three years.

However it had been a vital lesson. It showed that European teams would probably have trouble in the World Cup, but they could be overcome. .

Every player had complained of some feeling of breathlessness, especially if they tried two fairly long runs in succession.

That Mexican match meant that Celtic were, as so often in recent seasons, the Scottish pace-makers for a problem which is bound to cause the biggest controversy of the 1970 World Cup.

Tours are fun (I hope they stay that way) . . . but the 90 minutes in the concrete canyon of the Aztec Stadium showed they can be valuable, too...

From Playing for Celtic no 1

By Rodger Baillie

Submitted By Lizardking Randalstown Hoops


Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 28 January 2020 - 09:53:40 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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