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The Birth Of An Era - The Swinging Sixties - Part Two
Jock Stein's Celtic had spent the month of May 1966 touring the USA and building team spirit.

Jock Stein's Celtic had spent the month of May 1966 touring the USA and building team spirit.

They remained undefeated in 13 games, including two fixtures with Tottenham and one with Bayern Munich. They returned home battle-hardened and ready for the challenges at home and abroad in the coming season…

SEASON 1966-67

….”I want to spend my life with a girl like you,

Ba-ba-ba-ba-bam, ba-ba-ba-bam…”

The distinctive nasal whine of Reg Presley, vocalist with the Troggs, drifted out from thousands of Bush transistor radios across Scotland on the morning of Saturday 6 th August 1966 . It was a warm, sunny day in the west of Scotland , a typical Scottish summer's day, and across the country, football supporters looked forward with relish to the start of the new football season.

Officially, the season was due to kick off the following Saturday with, as always, the League Cup sectional games, but this Saturday was the day for two glamour friendlies in Glasgow – the pipe openers between Rangers and Arsenal at Ibrox, and Celtic and Manchester United at Celtic Park.

Just the previous Saturday, England had won the World Cup by beating West Germany, 4-2, at Wembley; now three of their heroes, winger John Connelly (who had played in the early games before Alf Ramsey decided to dispense with wingers), Nobby Stiles and the great Bobby Charlton, would face Celtic in a mouth-watering match. United also featured the towering talents of George Best and Denis Law, both of whom, together with Charlton, formed one of the greatest triumvirates in sporting history. To add even more spice to the mix, United would field former Celtic favourite, Pat Crerand, making his first appearance at his beloved Parkhead since his reluctant transfer to United in January 1963.

In the event, Celtic whipped United, 4-1, utterly dominating the side which would go on to win the English Championship by a distance.

Over on the south-west side of Glasgow , Rangers disposed of Arsenal by 2-0 with an efficient, if unspectacular, performance. Arsenal were going through a fallow period in their history at the time; they had not won a major trophy since the Championship of 1952-53 and had just sprung a major surprise by promoting their PHYSIOTHERAPIST, Bertie Mee, to manager in place of former playing legend, Billy Wright. This was an astonishing move by the Gunners, in that Mee had absolutely no football management experience whatsoever! Someone at Highbury must have been impressed by Mee's military bearing and man-management skills, and an inspired appointment was made. Mee promptly hired two of the best coaches available in England at the time, Dave Sexton and Don Howe, and Arsenal's fortunes were transformed. They became well acquainted with Wembley stadium and, within five years of Mee's appointment, had won the coveted League and Cup double – at last matching the feat achieved by their great rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, in 1961.

Celtic had no doubts about their manager's pedigree – in May, Jock Stein had been named Westclox British Manager of the Year for season 1965-66. This award was indicative of the much higher esteem in which the Scottish game was held in England in the sixties; not surprising, as Scotland had beaten England in three of the previous four Home International Championship matches.

The Scottish league was healthily competitive, with Hearts, Hibs, Dunfermline , Kilmarnock and Dundee all more than capable of taking points from the “big two”, and almost all the top English sides had a healthy sprinkling of Scots. Apart from Crerand, Law and Herd at Manchester United, there was burly goalkeeper, Tommy Lawrence, known to the Liverpool Kop as “The Flying Pig”, plus of course Billy Stevenson and Ian St John at Liverpool, Jimmy Gabriel, Alex Scott and Alex Young, romantically referred to as “The Golden Vision” at Goodison, and Bremner, Lorimer, and full back, Willie Bell, at Leeds.

Adding further credence to Stein's recognition was the fact that the legendary Bill Shankly had led Liverpool to the English title and the European Cup-Winners Cup Final the previous season, beating Celtic en route to the Hampden Final by dint of a terrible refereeing decision which robbed Celtic of a decisive away goal in the last minute of the semi-final, second leg match at Anfield.

So, it was with high hopes and expectations that Celtic journeyed to Edinburgh on Saturday, August 13 th 1966 to open the season proper with a League Cup sectional match against Hearts at Tynecastle. The grim Gorgie fortress had not been a happy hunting ground for Celtic the previous season; Hearts having won the league encounter, 3-2, in a match which the Scottish League ordered Celtic to play only hours after their Aer Lingus jet had touched down in Glasgow, following an arduous journey back from Tblisi, Georgia, where Celtic had drawn 1-1 with Dynamo Kiev to win their ECWC quarter-final, 4-1, on aggregate – the match was played in Georgia due to severe winter conditions in the Ukraine.

Celtic reluctantly fulfilled the league fixture; ridiculously, the team stumbled straight from the airport to Parkhead for a limbering-up session at 3am before heading on to Tynecastle, where they performed heroically before going down, unsurprisingly, by 3-2.

Such harsh treatment by the authorities of a Club that had just raised Scotland 's profile to new heights, by reaching a European semi-final, was scandalous, and could easily have cost Celtic the league championship that season. If it had, and it was a close run thing in the final few weeks, then Lisbon would never have happened!

Now, though, Celts were kicking off the new season as Champions, and they duly underlined their position by beating Hearts, 2-0, with both goals from last season's leading scorer, Joe McBride – the clincher coming only two minutes from the end. From that day on, Celtic embarked on a goals rampage in the League Cup, winning all their sectional games - taking 6 off Clyde , 8 off St Mirren and a further 3 off Hearts in the process.

They tanned Dunfermline , 9-4, on aggregate in the quarter-final, and bested a stuffy, and typically physical, Airdrie side, by 2-0, in the semi to set up a third consecutive Old Firm League Cup Final.

Rangers had won the 1964-5 match, 2-1. Celtic had taken the 1965-6 match by the same score.

Celtic went into the League Cup Final on October 29 th 1966 as hot favourites, having already beaten Rangers twice in the season; firstly, 4-0 at Ibrox in August in the Glasgow Cup, with Bobby Lennox scoring a hat-trick in front of a crowd of 72,000. This was not a meaningless encounter between shadow squads of youngsters; both sides fielded their first-choice elevens, and were determined to win. Celtic also won the first league meeting of the season at Celtic Park , by 2-0, with goals in the first and fourth minutes from Auld and Murdoch settling the issue before Rangers had warmed up!

The League Cup Final of 1966 was played before 90,000 spectators at Hampden on a blustery autumn day; the Rangers fans took advantage of the stiff breeze blowing from their Mount Florida end down to the King's Park (Celtic) end by letting red, white, and blue balloons drift downfield toward the Celtic goal. One blue balloon bounced lazily dead on target, to a growing crescendo from the blue hordes. When it was only yards away from the goal, a young lad dashed out from the terracing and, evading the police, ran onto the field just in time to boot the balloon round the post for a “corner”, to a massive roar of approval from the Celtic fans!

This little cameo was uncannily mirrored during the game itself; with Celtic leading, 1-0, deep into the second half, Rangers' new inside forward, Alex Smith, signed for a Scottish record fee of £60,000 in the close season from Dunfermline , found himself racing Ronnie Simpson to a through ball. Smith got there first and toe-ended the ball toward the same goal which the balloon had headed for just over an hour previously; Smith and Simpson, both sprawled on the ground, turned to watch the outcome…everyone else seemed transfixed except that unsung hero, Willie O'Neill. O'Neill had kept Jim Craig out of the side since the beginning of the season, having seized his chance on the American tour, while Jim stayed home to sit his University Dentistry exams, and was playing the best football of his career. Now, he alone reacted. Breaking the spell, O'Neill raced the ball to the line and cleared it round the same post for a corner!

Celtic had begun the game in confident fashion, and scored a peach of a goal in 18 minutes; Bertie Auld fired a long raking cross from far out on the left flank, forty yards out, to beyond the far post, where Joe McBride had ghosted in on Ronnie McKinnon's blind side. Joe climbed high to nod the ball into the path of the inrushing Lennox; from ten yards, the “Buzz-Bomb” drove an unstoppable shot past Norrie Martin in the Rangers goal. From then on, however, Rangers rolled up their sleeves and subjected Celtic to a torrid 70 minutes. They had the ball in the net from a Bobby Watson shot, but referee Wharton decreed that Simpson had been fouled in the build-up. It was a clear let-off.

Rangers took the game to Celtic in a way that few teams would manage that season, and Celtic did not have another attack of consequence throughout the match. Stein replaced the ineffectual Hughes with Chalmers in the second half, thereby making history by making Stevie the first substitute in a major British Cup Final.

The unpredictable “Yogi” had run amok in the previous season's League Cup Final against Rangers, and repeated the dose with a virtuoso performance in the 5-1 League game at frost-bound Celtic Park in January. The big fellow had looked sadly out of sorts so far this season.

Late in the game, the enigmatic “Big Dandy”, George McLean, whom Rangers had beaten Celtic off to sign from St Mirren in 1963, squandered a glorious chance to equalise – blazing the ball over the bar from six yards after Henderson had laid the chance on a plate for him.

Finally, it was over, Celtic had defeated their archrivals, 1-0, and the first piece of Celtic's impossible jigsaw was in place.

The League Cup of season 1966-67 was in the Celtic Park trophy room. The silverware would not become ‘lonely'!

To be continued………


Posted by voc1967 on Wednesday 28 August 2019 - 19:23:26 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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