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The Birth Of An Era - The Swinging Sixties
The 1960s were golden years for Britain and, indeed, for Western Europe.

The 1960s were golden years for Britain and, indeed, for Western Europe. There was domestic political stability. This was the era of Canadian economist and Kennedy adviser, J. K. Galbraith’s, “Affluent Society”, and British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan’s, famous speech in which he informed the British public that they had, “Never had it so good…!” Dance halls throbbed to the sound of hits by pop stars such as Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and the Everly Brothers, and cinemas did a roaring trade showing the films of John Wayne, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The Clyde shipyards were in full production, and there was a new car plant at Linwood, in Renfrewshire. People had more leisure time, and more expendable income than ever before, but all was not well on the football front in the east end of Glasgow…

As the remnants of Hurricane Diana blew the sixties into Glasgow, Celtic were in the doldrums. The Board, under the iron chairmanship of Bob Kelly, persisted with a policy of nurturing their own young talent. Players like Billy McNeill, Pat Crerand, John Colrain, Johnny Divers and Mike Jackson became collectively known as the “Kelly Kids” - a pale imitation of the famous Manchester United “Busby Babes”, without any of the success of their English counterparts. The long-suffering Celtic support despaired of ever seeing a trophy-winning team grace The Hoops again; Celtic had begun the decade badly. Under the management of the placid Jimmy McGrory, they had steadily slithered down from the intoxicating heights of success in the 7-1 League Cup Final triumph over Rangers, in 1957, to the depths of despair, typified by routine, depressingly consistent defeats at the hands of Rangers, and, even worse, heartbreaking and frustrating losses in Scottish Cup Semis and Finals to St Mirren and Dunfermline, respectively. The Dunfermline side who shocked Celtic with an agonising Cup Final replay win, by 2-0 in 1961, were managed by former Celtic coach, Jock Stein, taking his first tentative steps in football management and showing himself to be a revolutionary talent…Things would, unfortunately, get worse before they got better!

Season, 1961-62, was moderately successful for Celtic; they finished third in the league behind Champions, Dundee, and runners-up, Rangers, but were knocked out of the Cup by St Mirren in the Semi-Final at Ibrox, by 3-1. Worse, the fans threw a hail of bottles onto the pitch in a blatant attempt to have the game abandoned. Bob Kelly immediately conceded the tie to St Mirren. The team failed to qualify from their League Cup section, finishing second behind St Johnstone, who would be relegated at the end of the season. In a curious match in March at Celtic Park, the Celts did their best to hand the title to Rangers, by scoring two late goals to beat Dundee, 2-1. This game was Bobby Lennox’s debut. Rangers could not take advantage of Celtic’s generosity, and Dundee (a marvellous side studded with Scottish internationalists such as right back, Alex Hamilton, centre-half, Ian Ure, and forwards, Alan Gilzean, Hugh Robertson and Gordon Smith - who became the first man to win league championships with three different clubs out-with Celtic and Rangers) duly took the title.

The following season, 1962-63, was an unmitigated disaster. The team selection varied from week to week, and it was common knowledge that Chairman, Bob Kelly, decided who played, and in which position. This was the winter of the ‘big freeze’, with no football from January 5th to March 2nd. The low point was the team’s 3-0 thrashing by Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final replay. Again, they failed to qualify from their League Cup section, finishing behind eventual winners, Hearts. The brightest note was the emergence of a future Celtic Legend – the 19-year-old Bobby Murdoch. The darkest moment came at half-time at Ibrox, when a heated exchange between Pat Crerand and coach, Sean Fallon, ended with Crerand being placed on the transfer list, and quickly being snapped up by Manchester United for £56,000 – a massive fee at the time. Celtic ended the season in 4th place in the league, behind Rangers, Kilmarnock, and Partick Thistle.

On the wider sporting front, although British winners at Wimbledon (at least in the men’s singles) and the major golf championships were non-existent, and Olympic medallists were scarce, British football was booming; the explosion of attendances which had begun in the years after the Second World War was still very much in evidence, both in England and Scotland. The Scottish and English international sides enjoyed differing degrees of success during the sixties. Scotland experienced the now-familiar glorious failure in the World Cup qualifying sections for both the 1962 and 1966 tournaments. In 1962, one of the most gifted Scots sides ever, with players like McNeill and Crerand from Celtic, along with Baxter, White, Mackay and Law, came within seven agonising minutes of qualifying for the 1962 tourney in Chile…they led eventual runners-up, Czechoslovakia, by 2-1, in a play-off in Brussels, before conceding an 83rd minute equaliser and going down, 4-2, in extra time. In the 1966 qualifiers, under the temporary (and part-time) stewardship of Jock Stein, they lost two disastrous goals in the last six minutes of their home tie with Poland, having done the hard work by holding the Poles to a 1-1 draw in Katowice, in the summer of ’65. Even then, they gave themselves a chance by beating Italy – bolstered by the Inter and AC Milan sides who had won the last three European Cups – by a last-minute John Greig goal at Hampden, before a makeshift side, scandalously deprived of players of the calibre of Crerand, Law and Bremner by their English league club managers, crashed, 3-0, in the return leg on a December Wednesday afternoon in Naples. The game was shown live on television – a rarity in those days – and record numbers of workmen and schoolboys (including your correspondent!) developed cold symptoms and had to stay at home! England of course won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966…

Scottish club sides performed consistently well in the European tournaments, Rangers reaching the European Cup-Winners Cup Final in 1961, losing 4-1 on aggregate to Fiorentina. Through the decade, Celtic, Dundee and Rangers reached the European Cup Semi-Finals and, in addition, Hibs, Dundee, Kilmarnock and Dunfermline had extended runs in the other Euro competitions.

Even though McGrory’s young Celtic side enjoyed an exhilarating run to the European Cup-Winners Cup Semi-Finals in 1963-64 season, a tournament for which they qualified as beaten Cup Finalists in 1962-63, Rangers having won the League and Cup double, they contrived to surrender a 3-0 lead gained in the home leg to Hungarian side, MTK Budapest, in Hungary. MTK threw everything into attack, and scored early in the game. Celtic then suffered the double disappointment of having two goals disallowed for offside before half time, then MTK came out and blitzed them with three more goals in the second half to win the tie, 4-3, on aggregate.

Meanwhile, back at home, Celtic’s league performance had improved considerably on the previous season’s effort, albeit they still finished third, eight points behind Rangers and two behind Kilmarnock. However, encouragingly, they had a better goal difference (but not goal average), and scored more goals than both Rangers and Killie. Celtic’s improved form was largely due to the consistency of selection throughout the season; they fielded a regular eleven for the first time in years - Fallon, Young and Gemmell; Clark, McNeill and Kennedy; Johnstone, Murdoch, Chalmers, Gallagher (or Divers) and Hughes. It didn’t last, and 1964-65 saw a return to the chopping and changing which had characterised the dismal campaigns of the early 1960s. As the team slumped to 5th place in the table by Christmas (incredibly, still ahead of Rangers!), crisis point had been reached. On January 30th, Celtic blew Aberdeen away, 8-0, at Celtic Park. It was as if Harold Macmillan’s famous “wind of change” was in the air. The following day, the Club announced that Jock Stein would take over as Manager, with Sean Fallon as his Assistant. Jimmy McGrory became the Club’s Public Relations Officer. The Seekers topped the charts at the time with, “I’ll Never Find Another You”. The first line of the song was: “There’s a new world somewhere, they call the Promised Land”…

Stein had been hugely successful both at Dunfermline and Hibs, and Celtic supporters ached with anticipation of their new talisman leading them out of the wilderness of mediocrity and into their own Promised Land. Their optimism was to be justified in a way they could hardly have imagined…Stein’s last act as Hibernian boss was to dismiss Rangers from the Scottish Cup in a Quarter-Final at Easter Road on Saturday, March 6th, while Celtic won their last match under McGrory in another Quarter-Final, beating Kilmarnock, 3-2, at home. On Monday, March 8th, 1965, Jock Stein walked through the door of Celtic Park as Manager for the first time, and things would never be the same again. Within weeks, he had guided Celtic to their first trophy in eight years when they beat Dunfermline, 3-2, on April 24th 1965 at Hampden to lift the Scottish Cup.

A New Era Had Begun (Season 1965-66)

Rangers, for so long the dominant force in Scottish football, had followed up a very indifferent season for them in 1964-65, when they finished as low as fifth (their lowest league placing since the war), with a much more determined effort in 1965-66, and for long spells it looked as though they would regain the title from the reigning Champions, Kilmarnock, despite Celtic’s emergence in Jock Stein’s first full season in charge as a very powerful force indeed.

Stein had completely overhauled Celtic’s methodology and, more importantly, had instilled a winning attitude. No longer would they meekly submit to the inevitable hammering from Rangers; the first tangible evidence of this new mental strength came when Celtic overpowered their old rivals in a rough-house of a League Cup Final at Hampden in October 1965. The Celtic of the later McGrory years would have fought, certainly, but they would have been disorganised and undisciplined, and they would have lost. Not Stein’s team! They hit Rangers hard and early, and set their stall out. They would not be pushed around, and they were 2-0 ahead after half-an-hour. They held Rangers off till only six minutes from the end, when John Greig’s shot deflected off Ian Young and left Ronnie Simpson helpless. But, it was too little, too late, and Celtic held on comfortably to record their first significant victory over their Old Firm rivals in eight long years.

This victory was underlined by a huge win for Celtic in the New Year league fixture on January 3, 1966 – the first time the game had been moved from its traditional Ne’erday slot in an attempt by the Scottish League and the Glasgow Constabulary to dilute the drink-fuelled mayhem that so often marred the event. Although Rangers grabbed the lead in the second minute, and held it till half-time, Celtic were clearly in command on the frost-bound surface, and came out with all guns blazing in the second half. A Steve Chalmers hat-trick of sharply-taken goals inside the six-yard box was supplemented by glorious thunderbolts from Murdoch and Gallagher. Big John Hughes was unstoppable in his rubber-soled trainers down the left flank as Rangers crumbled.

Then, no sooner had Celtic grasped the initiative in this fascinating campaign, than they relinquished it with three away defeats on the bounce, to Aberdeen, Hearts and Stirling Albion. This allowed Rangers to draw level on points and lead on goal average. Goal difference was still in the future – ask any Hearts fan! Celtic went undefeated from then until the end of the season, dropping only two more points in draws with Partick Thistle and Hibs, and The Hoops clinched their first championship since 1954 with a 1-0 win at Fir Park; Bobby Lennox scoring the goal in the last minute on a day on which Celtic could have afforded to lose by 4-0 and still take the title.

Although the Scottish Cup Final had been lost to Rangers in a Hampden replay, the tide had well and truly turned. Celtic dominated the replay for long spells, but just could not break down Rangers’ stuffy rearguard. Then with twenty minutes left, a determined Rangers raid saw two fizzing shots cannon off Celtic bodies in the goalmouth and. when it seemed the danger had passed, Danish full back, Kaj Johansen, appeared from nowhere to latch onto the rebound and strike the winning goal from twenty yards out. For Rangers, this would be the last hurrah.

Celtic spent the month of May 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 of 1966-67.

To Be Continued…


Posted by voc1967 on Monday 26 August 2019 - 10:48:14 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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