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The Battle Of Montivideo - A Dark Day For The Beautiful Game
For some people, Jock Stein could never do any wrong.

For some people, Jock Stein could never do any wrong. Perhaps this game showed that he was as human as the rest of us and this game is an illustration of an instance where he put pride and ambition above all else. He was correct to believe that we could take on Racing and beat them but didn’t take the environment risk into account. Uruguay may have been more “neutral” territory compared to Argentina, but it wasn’t the solution. The previous two legs hadn’t been football. Bob Kelly was against our playing the game and Jock Stein in retrospect is likely to have regretted going ahead with this game.

he rules had stated that in the event that the ties weren’t decided after the two games (no away goals rule in those days) that there was to be a play-off match on neutral territory. Chairman Bob Kelly, after the displays from Racing in both Glasgow and Buenos Aires was against the team playing and for heading straight home. Manager Jock Stein was of the opinion that Celtic could and would win, though he clearly for the sake of the players did not want to go on immediately to Montevideo. Desmond White (a future Celtic chairman) whinged that we couldn’t stop without the replay as we had spent so much money on this trip so far. Celtic demanded guarantees for their security and a change of referee; in retrospect, even these conditions were too little.

It was finally decided that the third game would go ahead after only three days later, in Montevideo the capital of Uruguay. Whilst not Argentina, whether this was “neutral” given the fact that the countries border each other is a matter of opinion. The close proximity to Argentina allowed a large contingent from Argentina to travel over (30,000), a number of whom decided to congregate outside of Celtic’s hotel at 2:00 in the morning to keep the players awake.

Prior to the game Jock Stein reported to have said: “I cannot send my team into this game, with one hand behind their backs.”

The match kicked off with a referee from Paraguay - changed from the Uruguyan Marinho of the second leg - but still a South American. Immediately the match went into freefall. From the start, the referee was simply out of his depth, the cynicism and violence shown by the Argentinians carried straight on from their behaviour in the first and second legs, and fisticuffs were the order of the day. The referee had to call the captains together in the middle of the first half to try to control the behaviour of both sides and to attempt to regain his own sense of security and office. It didn’t work, and in retaliation against the abuse the Celtic players suffered, they fought back, and to the chagrin of all the Celtic players ended up being the ones who were punished! and seen as the perpetrators. There were 30 fouls given against Celtic and 21 against Racing. For anyone who had seen Celtic play over the past year or so, they knew Celtic were not a dirty side. Yet the Celtic team were being hounded to death in this cauldron both during the match and in the subsequent furore.

In total, six players were sent off - four Celts and two Racing. However, it really ended up being three Celts as Bertie Auld on being red carded refused to leave the pitch and the referee, being as incompetent as he was, allowed him to remain on the pitch. The whole game rapidly descended into a farce. All four of the Celtic players were forwards: Lennox in the first half, then Johnstone, Hughes and Auld in the second. For a neutral’s review of Jinky’s sending off, experienced journalist Francis Thébaud (Mirroir de Football) wrote the following clearly describing the whole charade:

“Johnstone, in the middle of the pitch slid the ball to Wallace and got free to receive the return. Martín without bothering about the ball, threw himself at Johnstone’s waist. Both fell and Johnstone struggled and Martín rolled on the ground as if he had been the victim of a blow. Without hesitating, Peréz [the incompetent referee]... sent Johnstone off! Thus he who had been the constant target of all the aggression since the beginning of the match... became the victim of a man whose aim was to protect the footballer against the fakers and the foulers. For my part, I have never seen such a staggering decision.”

Ten minutes after half-time Racing scored a goal but that was the least of the problems in this match for Celtic. Surviving the game was paramount. Ironically, Ruilli was sent off for Racing for what was likely their lightest foul of the match. The match finished with no further goals and no honour for anyone.

It wasn’t just Celtic who were unimpressed by what had happened. The Uruguayan spectators felt sympathy for Celtic, and as Racing tried to do a lap of honour, they were showered with just about anything the Uruguayan supporters could throw at them. Some of the Racing players ran to the centre of the pitch to obtain some refuge from the anger around the ground against them. Police had to be called in to clear away the Uruguayans who had crowed around the place (including outside the Racing dressing room).

A sad day for football and for the Lisbon Lions. If there had been away goals rules this last farce of a game wouldn’t have happened, and Celtic would have been the World Club Champions and for the sake of football that would have meant all for the good.

The aftermath

So how did others see it:

In Buenos Aires not surprisingly: “Racing have recovered the glory days of our football!” (La Racon);
In Uruguay: “Racing win the World War” (El Día); “This was no football, it was a disgrace... The match was a farce and a fraud.

It was all too much.

On the trip home, Jock Stein is said to have had his head down. What more could he do in these circumstances? It wasn’t football, it was thuggery from the Argentinians.

So what did the Celtic board do? Sympathise and help? Of course not, the players were all fined £250 each which they found out about through the media. One of the players not involved in the any of the ramifications, ended up himself in a "heated conversation" with the club chairman. As for the Racing players? They all got a bonus of £2000 (approximately £37,000 at today's equivalent) plus a new car.

This match should never have happened. It blackened football but more importantly it shattered the hearts of the good genuine fans from Scotland and Ireland who travelled to South America to see another landmark but were rather treated to the disturbing set of violence and mayhem that was South American football.

A dark day for the beautiful game, but there's one great moment from the whole mess that should be recalled and retold:

In an interview with a Racing player years later, his comments showed a side to then Celtic captain Billy McNeill's character that depicted him as a giant above all other men. The player saw Billy McNeill approach at the final whistle and expected an assault after what had transpired in the previous 90 mins. Instead, Billy McNeill graciously and humbly held out his hand and they shook hands followed by an exchanging of jerseys.

The player was so taken by the gesture in the strained circumstances that he grasped McNeill's jersey tight and ran back to the dressing rooms so as to ensure no one could take it from him. He stated that after all that happened he was humbled by Billy McNeill and hoped they might play again in the World Cup 1970 (which Scotland sadly didn't make and neither did Argentina who also failed to qualify).

It was the mark of the man that McNeill was able to still be a gentleman even in the face of so much tension and havoc.

After everything, this if little else from these games this last tale should make us proud to be Celtic fans.

Posted by voc1967 on Sunday 11 August 2019 - 19:01:49 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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