The football history books show that the Scottish Cup was won on Saturday.
The football history books show that the Scottish Cup was won on Saturday. May 6, 1972, when Celtic beat Hibs 6-1. But I know it was really won two days after a not-so-happy occasion for Celtic , the European Cup semi-final defeat by Inter-Milan at Parkhead.
It was then. on the Friday after that match, that our manager , Jock Stein. gathered his players together for a team talk. We must have been Britain’s most dejected bunch of footballers . . . and l was the guy at the top of the list.
I don't need to remind you that we had lost the game to Inter-Milan by 5-4 on penalties at the end of extra time , and I was the chief sinner. For I had missed the vital first penalty, and cost us the chance of that European Cup Final. I know there has been some criticism that I, as the least experienced player in the side as regards European football, was asked to take the kick.
But it was purely because at all the training sessions before the game, when we had practised penalty kicks, i had come tops . . . I had even been so confident I had been sending our goalkeepers the wrong way! . . I was not a stranger to taking penalties. During my spell with Neilston juniors I took all their spot-kicks, and never missed one of them. Yet I have to admit that I only once took a penalty for Motherwell, and hit it over the bar.
That’s what happened against Inter. It would be easy now to make excuses, so I am not going to do that. But in my defence I must point out that Inter ’keeper Vieri moved well before the kick was taken. He admitted this later himself, and the television film of the incident clearly shows it. I did not feel nervous when I knew I would have to take the first penalty , but i began to get the jitters as i walked up towards the penalty spot .
The referee had already placed the ball for me. But I went up to lift it, and replace it myself. I can’t explain why, it’s just one of those odd little superstitions that players like to put the ball on the penalty spot themselves. I think what really unnerved me was the almost total silence which had fallen over the ground.
From a frenzied crowd of 80,000 cheering on their team they had suddenly become so silent. Inter skipper Sandro Mazzola had already scored with his team’s first penalty, and just at the worst possible moment the realisation of what was at stake hit me.
As I ran up to hit the ball I saw the ’keeper start to move to the side I intended to put the ball, so I changed my mind and tried to play for safety by hitting the ball over him. Alas, it went sailing high over the bar, and a newspaper cartoonist depicted two astronauts walking on the moon and one saying to ground control. . . ‘Tell Dixie we’ve found the ball’. Even my little son reminds me about that cartoon, he thinks it’s a great joke! Of course, I was miserable after it. But I don‘t wear my heart on a sleeve, and I’m not going to launch into a soccer sob-story. However I feel this is the perfect chance, now that the fuss and furore has died down, to say simply ‘thank you’ to all the people who took the trouble to write to me and say how sorry they were.
I received hundreds of letters, not only from all over Britain but from many parts of the world . Fans had taken the trouble to write to tell me not to let this penalty miss affect me. There were even letters from Rangers fans, who had watched the end of the game on television the same night as their own side had beaten Bayern Munich to reach the final of the European Cup-Winners Cup.
Everyone helped, but I knew myself I had to shrug off the whole thing quickly, and that’s where the manager’s team-talk came into the picture. He stressed to us all that the season was by no means over. We still had the Scottish Cup Final to play, and now it had taken on even more importance. And to me in particular he said that the responsibility was not mine alone, it was Celtic Football Club’s.
These talks by Mr. Stein are a soccer education-I’ve never heard anything like them before--and I walked out of that one ten feet tall. Strangely enough the next league game after the Inter match was against my old team, Motherwell. I still have a lot of good mates in the Fir Park side, but there can be no sentiment in football.
And I was delighted to score two goals against them . . .and delighted at the welcome the Parkhead fans gave me. I never felt more proud to be a Celtic player than that day. We had just lost the chance of making a third European Cup Final. .but the fans were marvellous. I had been a bit doubtful about the way they would receive me, but i had hardly run on to the pitch before all my fears were swept away.
They chanted my name, they gave me every encouragement just at the time when I needed it most. I’ve sometimes read that one of the reasons put forward by Rangers for their refusal to sign a Catholic is what would happen to the player if he missed a penalty for them in a vital match.
I’m not going to enter into that controversy. But I will just say that as a Protestant who missed a vital penalty for Celtic I know how I was received, with all the help and encouragement in the world not just inside the club, but from the men who stand on the terracing. I am sure that paved the way to my success in the Cup Final, when I scored a hat-trick-my first-ever for Celtic-against Hibs.
I know Celtic players have been at Hampden for Cup Finals so often I am surprised they don‘t get it mixed up with Parkhead some times.
I had played at Hampden for Motherwell against Queens Park in Second Division matches, and I once reached a League Cup semi-final with the Fir Park side when we were beaten by St. Johnstone. But until the Scottish Cup Final, my only other experience of the ground was in the Cup semi-fmal against Kilmarnock.
So it was my first Hampden Cup Final occasion . . . and I did not know I was playing until thirty minutes before the start. That was when Mr. Stein finally unwrapped the team, and I knew I was in as a double spearhead with Lou Macari.
I know people must have been saying it since the game started, but football is a funny game, and there can be no better example than my own. Three weeks before I had just wanted the ground to open up at Celtic Park and let me disappear into it after the Inter game. Yet I bounced off Hampden at the end of that Cup Final as if I was ten feet tall and had springs in my boots.
Let me give you an action replay of my three goals in the game, and the one I consider the best of all. This may surprise many of the fans, but my own personal rating goes to the first goal, and not to the second one where I found myself taking on most of the Hibs defence singlehanded.
Before my first goal the game was tied at 1-1. and Bobby Murdoch took a free kick from the right side of the park.
There is no one in the business better than Bobby at placing the ball just where you want it. So as he went to place it I signalled for the ball and as he hit it i started my run which took me past four or five players to meet it with my head right inside the penalty box. It was only later that I discovered some of my team-mates had worried that I had reached the ball too soon. and would perhaps mis-time my jump and hit it too soon and so put the ball over the bar.
Fortunately I did not, and it’s the kind of goal that gives any professional player a lot of pleasure, for it’s the pay off for a lot of work in training.
The second goal was maybe more spectacular, but it’s certainly not the kind of score for which you could ever plan. It came about when Lou Macari put out a long ball to the left, which was slightly deflected by a defender on to me . Keeper Jim Herriot came out of his box to try to cut out the danger, but I managed to get round him. Then I had to face right-back John Brownlie who forced me to the bye-line before I beat him.
That was the one flash where I thought l would lose the ball, for as I looked up I realised there was no Celtic plaver beside me, and by this time Herriet had recovered to get back into his goal. I decided quickly , as two other Hibs players were desperately scrambling back to guard the goal-line that the only thing I could do was have a shot ,b so I worked myself into position and banged the ball past them all into the net. I've read since that at the third goal there was suspicion of offside by some people. And I have to admit that when I pulled down the through pass from Tom Callaghan I thought myself I might have been offside.
Then I wheeled round and I saw a Hibs defender behind me so I knew it was all right to go on, and claim my third goal.
As I went to collect my Cup medal I could not help thinking how my own football fortunes had dramatically zig-zagged in one season. I had started the season with Motherwell, and there had been a lengthy suspension from the S.F.A. which resulted in some talk that I might quit Scottish football and go to South Africa.
I had wanted away from Motherwell for a couple of seasons, and the latest and longest suspension had brought matters to a head. But, unlike some players and their relations with their former clubs, I will always have a good word to say about Motherwell. After all they eventually let me move to another Scottish club, and that’s something that many First Division clubs in Scotland put a ban on to stop their players moving to the ‘Old Firm’.
Although I could not look back on any major honours with them , apart from the Second Division Championship, we did have some memorable moments, notably the first season of the Texaco Cup when we beat Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur.
I remember particularly the game against Spurs, when we beat them at Fir Park and I was fortunate enough to play a good game against their centre-half Mike England.
That game had everything going for us, a big crowd, the right atmosphere . . . and the right result. I find that this business of atmosphere is the major difference playing with Celtic. It is something that is always there, the big crowds help to create it, whereas with Motherwell we were lucky if we got these sort of conditions five times a year.
I honestly believe that without their fans even Celtic, good team as they are, would not be so powerful if they had to play to an average gate of only 4,000 every match. When Celtic signed me I was told that this was a chance for me to shrug aside my old image as the man who kept the referees busy.
I have certainly done my best to live up to the opportunity Celtic have given me. In fact, most of my trouble was for chirping at the refs . . . I don’t think I have nodded to one since I went to Parkhead, never mind held a conversation.
I know Celtic would not stand any nonsense of the kind which got me into trouble on the field before. I realise how much I owe them, and the best way I can repay it is by popping the ball into the back of the net. It’s not a role I would have believed possible at one time, or as a kid I had leanings towards supporting Rangers. But I know I am with one of the most respected clubs in Europe, and what professional player would not jump at the chance to join them. I don’t believe there’s one player in the Scottish First Division who would not be happy to be part of the Celtic set-up. The fact that they are such a big club was brought home to me when we had an end of season holiday in Bermuda, and what other club would do that in such style to take their players to the millionaires’ holiday island.
There are many players in Scotland who cherish thoughts that one day they will end up in England’s First Division. Count me out. I almost had the chance once, for the day after I joined Motherwell from Neilson Juniors an offer came too late from Newcastle United.
I was bursting to get on in the game against Inter. I was sitting on the bench workin g out ways of getting through their defence, but it was a different story on the park. I ran into their brick wall defence, and soon found out the difference from just watching from the sidelines.
Still I am sure it will help me for other European games, and in case you are wondering . . . . yes, I would even take a penalty again.
Playing for Celtic no4 By Rodger Baillie
Posted by voc1967 on Thursday 03 September 2020 - 10:25:39 | Comments (0) |
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