For the football fans and players who believe in omens and which of us doesn’t even if it’s only slightly?
For the football fans and players who believe in omens and which of us doesn’t even if it’s only slightly? the rearranged European Cup draw was a good sign. It put Celtic against the current kings of French football, St. Etienne, instead of Ferencvaros, the Hungarian team they had been supposed to play.
The successful European Cup campaign of 1967 had included a victory against the then reigning French champions, Nantes . . . was soccer history going to repeat itself ?
But the signs were soon to go wrong! Yet again the new campaign started with an outward show of normality, those inevitable spy trips that are now so much of the soccer scene before the actual games.
Jock Stein hurried off to F rance to watch St. Etienne play and sent his assistant manager, Sean Fallon to Dublin to watch the Scottish League with six Celtic players take on the League of Ireland at Dalymount Park.
And it was in Dublin in one of those almost meaningless fixtures which still clutter the calendar, that the first disaster struck.
Bobby Murdoch, possibly the most indispensable member of the Celtic first-team pool, was injured in the 0-0 draw in Dublin.
Carefully he was carried off between the trainer Tom McNiven and
Tom Callaghan, soon to be his team-mate, just before half-time with damaged ligaments. There were still two weeks to go to the first game against St.Etienne in France, and the race was on to get Murdoch fit . . . but it was a race he was to lose. St. Etienne then sent off their spy to Parkhead, a tall, pipe-smoking, Maigret-style Frenchman, Pierre Garonnaire, right-hand man of coach Albert Batteaux.
In those dim days a decade ago when the European Cup, and the other Continental competitions, were only soccer infants still struggling for a permanent place on the football calendar, the spy trips were kept secret.
But now they are more likely to be made with a flock of reporters accompanying the spy, and an official of the opposition team waiting at the airport. Garonnaire saw two Celtic matches, and if he had stayed all season it’s doubtful if he would have watched a greater contrast.
The first was a goal-scoring romp, a 10-0 crushing of helpless Second Division Hamilton Acas in the first leg of the League Cup quarter-final at Parkhead. His second game was the Parkhead league fixture with Rangers, the third time the teams had met in less than two months, With two League Cup victories to Celtic.
But the script was changed for this one. True, Celtic had an extremely doubtful decision given against them when a Bobby Lennox equaliser was disallowed for offside when they were trailing 2-1. It was a sad day for Celtic.
Their manager, Jock Stein, was later rapped and fined by the S.F.A. for making remarks to a linesman at the end of the match. Rangers won 4-2, and produced some of their best football for a long time, and at the end of the match the Frenchman puffed on his pipe and said. . . ‘Our players can do as well as Rangers.’ Maybe even he was surprised at how near the truth he was to be proved.
Celtic flew out in warm autumn sunshine on the following Monday, anxious to shrug off the shattering impact which a defeat in an ‘Old Firm’ game can sometimes have on the losing team. But there was a casualty list which did not make their task any easier.
As well as Murdoch they left Tommy Gemmell at home, an injury victim from the previous Saturday. Few Continental nations can resist the temptation to boost their prices for a European Cup game, and the French were no exception. They cashed in on Celtic’s fame by simply doubling the admission charges for the 35,000 crowd, with a top price of £4.
The trim little St. Etienne ground had been improved in recent seasons, but the main stand still had an old-fashioned look about it . . . the air of a provincial club that seemed a little surprised to be in the front-line of a European campaign.
The banners and flags of the few hundred faithful fans who had flown over for the game welcomed the Celtic players as they trooped out of the team bus at the ground.
A heartening sight for players when they are abroad to see their own fans. But the same banners were soon drooping in near despair.
Celtic started the match as if they would disdainfully brush aside the French, but then slowly St. Etienne began to gain control.
And then in stepped a new star on the European stage . . . a thin, inside-forward called Salif Keita.
St. Etienne moved swiftly on ‘the break. Keita slammed in the first goal for the French after shots had been blocked from a freekick, and in 37 minutes centre-forward Ravelli snapped a second in a goal-mouth mix-up after Ronnie Simpson seemed to have been impeded.
Celtic tried hard to get at least one goal back in the second-half, but their biggest worry came only minutes from the end.
Keita carved his way through the Celtic defence and fired a shot just past. That was dangerous enough, but a pass to his onrushing mates might have brought a third goal.
Stein Stood in a somewhat quiet Celtic dressing-room and delivered a quick verdict. . . . ‘We are still in , although we were lucky after our shocking first-half performance. But i have not given up hope.’
Unlike most British clubs, almost all the Continentals allow reporters and photographers to flood into their dressing-rooms after a match.
And it was a mob, as determined as any F 0rench rugby scrum, who swept in to crowd round a new European star in the home dressing room.
Keita peeled off a sweat-stained green shirt, looked like Eusebio's kid brother, acknowledged all the congratulations, and said with magnificent simplicity :
‘I do not want to be the new Eusebio or the new Pele. I am the first Keita.’
So Celtic faced again a one-round knock-out from the European Cup, an unenviable and unhappy position after the glory of Lisbon.
But one factor had got overlooked in that black week for Celtic - they lost to Rangers and St. Etienne and drew with Dunfermline the players’ own anger at their performance in France .
It was reflected as they sipped beers at the after-the-match banquet, it was the buzz of conversation as they flew home.
But most of all, it was reflected in ninety, heart-stopping minutes in the return game at Parkhead.
For me, this was the greatest of the six European Cup matches which capsuled so much triumph and tragedy.
I know thousands of fans will vote for the Red Star game at Parkhead , and that amazing score-line which finished with a 5-1 Victory.
But I believe that any team who has to pull back a deficit, even if it is only one goal, has achieved one of the great peaks of modern soccer. And that October night, by any standards, was a peak performance.
There had been a pre-match scare about an injured Celtic player,
Celtic started with typical fury, but Keita and his colleagues could be dangerous on the break, and it seemed their defence would at least hold out until the respite at half-time.
Then suddenly, far out on the right-wing, Joe McBride, making one of his last appearances in the big-time he relished before his transfer to Hibs, moved towards the goal, was fouled by left-back Camerini, and the referee gave a penalty.
If Britain had suddenly been allowed entry into the Common Market there could not have been a bigger fuss.
The angry French side crowded round Czech referee Zdenek Vales, they hurled lumps of mud to distract Tommy Gemmell as he
Jock Stein confessed later that even for him the tension had been too much . . . he had been on his way up the tunnel to the dressing-room for half-time when the award was given, and had carried on.
The distractions might have put off any other player but Gemmell, the player whose self-confidence is never in doubt.
He stepped up, hammered the ball home, and there was no time even to centre the ball. It was a blow to the solar plexus for the French, the haven of the dressing-room which only minutes before had seemed near now became an anxious discussion point about how they could hold on to their one-goal aggregate lead. However, even that soon went, with a copy-book piece of overlapping from Jim Craig, and just as everyone - forwards and defenders lined up for the cross be slammed the ball into the net.
Chalmers was next to put them in the lead. It was at this point that Stein told me later: ‘I suddenly realised that with away goals counting double, although we were leading 3-0, one snap goal from the French could still knock us out on aggregate.’
But his fears were soothed. Joe McBride got a fourth goal to seal one of the most memorable victories I have ever seen in the European Cup.
So there was no repeat of that chilling early exit from the European Cup of the previous season, and Celtic’s name was back in the silver champagne bucket in the Geneva Hotel where the draw was made the next day. This time it brought Celtic out against stern opposition, the rugged, no-nonsense Yugoslav Champions, Red Star of Belgrade. A tough assignment. Name any of the Central European countries and they produce good top teams . . . physical sides, difficult to beat, always evenly balanced with robust players and skilful, scheming attackers. But in the five weeks between the draw and the first match at Parkhead the paying customers were able to sit back, relax, and watch a side-show . . . the Jimmy Johnstone affair.
It started, like so many soccer storms, on the day when everyone who makes up the world of football public, players, officials and Press least expected it.
Celtic were cruising along on a 1-0 lead in a perfectly, ordinary league game against Dundee United at Parkhead . . . three days after the St. Etienne match. 'Then with 12 minutes to go the signal from the home dug-out came for Johnstone to go off, and young George Connelly to take over as substitute.
Before Johnstone disappeared up the tunnel to the dressing-room, he stopped and seemed to say something to the officials in the dug out. The fans who had taken their eyes off the field saw the amazing sight of manager Stein racing up after him.
The sequel was swift. At a board meeting just after the game, which Celtic won 2-0, the decision was taken to suspend the little right-winger for a week because of his behaviour to the club.
The sad little episode was tactfully cooled by Johnstone himself when he said the next day: ‘It was a stupid thing to do and I have apologised.’However, the next week he snapped back into the headlines when he told me: ‘I do not want to play for Scotland.
‘I would prefer at the moment to completely concentrate on Celtic. I feel I owe them that, after all that has happened.’Eventually that, too, was smoothed over and Johnstone, the unpredictable genius of Parkhead, did play for Scotland in the next international, a World Cup qualifying game against Austria.
Stand by now, for episode three. The customers must have been as bewildered as I suppose Jimmy was at the way his name popped consistently into the headlines.
But episode three was the strangest of them all. For three days before the Red Star match manager Stein revealed in his Sunday newspaper column of the strange bargain he had struck with the little winger , . . because of Johnstone’s fear of flying.
When johnstone had gone to his manager before the game with the routine business of handing in his passport he had talked again about his dislike of travelling by plane.
It’s not something new. He had made long tedious trips to Spain, once by car, once by train, to avoid fying even on holiday.
Certainly Celtic knew they had to get goals, but by the unwritten rules of the European competitions so does every team who play their first leg at home.
Stein had warned bluntly on the eve of the match: ‘We need more than two goals. We need as many as we can possibly get. If we get two, I want to see us keep on scoring.’
Later he was to confess: ‘I would have settled for a two-goal lead.
I would have been over the moon with three. Now that Celtic are four ahead, I’ve caught a cold with shouting and can hardly speak.’ Yet at half-time on that November night, even the most fervent partisan Celtic fan in the 67,000 crowd could hardly have hoped for the final score.
Certainly it had looked at the start as if Celtic were going to cruise through the match. As the Red Star players anxiously tried to get the feel of the ground, adjust to the lung-bursting sound of the crowd and tiptoe their way through the first nervous minutes they found themselves in the position any team dreads in an away fixture in the European Cup.
They were a goal down. It had been executed quickly and brilliantly. A free-kick from Murdoch to Johnstone, the right-half ran on, got the ball back, and lashed the ball into the net, a copy-book tactical goal.
But slowly Red Star shrugged off the almost paralysing shock that goal had on them, gradually they began to show glimpses of the high quality of their ability.
Six minutes before half-time their come-back was completed when they equalised. Skipper Acimovic was their hero as he worked his way down the left, evaded tackles and crossed for centre Lazarevic to put the ball away from John Fallon, who was deputising for Ronnie Simpson injured playing for Scotland against Austria the week before. The Yugoslavs were happy as they trooped off the Parkhead pitch at the interval.
Away goals still counted double in this round, their 1-1 score was almost as good as a lead to them. But all their hopes were to be blasted away in a wonderful spell at the start of the second-half by . . . well, I did say it was the Jimmy Johnstone show.
Like a boxer who has gone groggy to his corner at the end of a bad round, then been miraculously revived, Celtic raced out as if they had heard the bell sound.
Quickly the German referee, Herr Alfred Ott, gave a free-kick for Celtic after a foul on John Hughes. And when a defender failed to clear Johnstone stepped in to flash the ball into the net.
Red Star were down, not yet out, but the count had begun and the process was speeded up three minutes later when Johnstone crossed for his great buddy Bobby Lennox to score. .
Willie Wallace scored a fourth and when just before the end Johnstone crowned possibly his greatest-ever Celtic performance with another wonderful goal, I don’t believe the Parkhead fans would have swapped a pools in for such a second-half display.
The winger’s amazing tally at the end of the game was two goals, and three assists. The off-the-field Johnstone who had made all these controversial stories, had been swept away on the best place for any footballer . , . on the park!
Still, he did not travel to Belgrade. Despite the fact that his manager wanted him to go, and some of his team-mates, possibly no keener on long trips, I suspect, thought he should have gone.
The Belgrade game was as great a contrast to the Parkhead match as two leg home and away ties can provide. Celtic did a cool, competent job to hold onto that lead, for even a four-goal start can suddenly appear dangerously thin if the opposition can pull back one or two quickly on their own ground.
The Yugoslav crowd who barely half-filled the still incomplete Maracana Stadium on a bitterly cold Belgrade afternoon, willed their side to try to get those goals.
But Celtic, controlled under pressure with a 4-3-3 formation, held on and when in 70 minutes Wallace substituted for Chalmers he celebrated by slamming his side into the lead.
For teams such as Celtic and Rangers, used to the support of massive fan fervour in every game, the effect of scoring a goal abroad must be a completely strange experience.
I remember watching Ronnie McKinnon head a last-minute aggregate equaliser for Rangers in the same stadium three years previously, to give them a play-off against Red Star.
The result was the same. Stunned and total silence, with far down from the heights of the press-box the only action off the field coming from manager Scot Symon, his training staff and reserves leaping up and down.
This time it was Jock Stein and his squad, and on the terracing a splash of green and white from the loyal, but few, Celtic fans in the 40,000 crowd who had journeyed across Europe to support their side.
Red Star did equalise in the closing minutes with a goal from Ostojic. I was impressed at the obvious annoyance the Celtic players showed even after the game about only drawing, although on the aggregate score it made only the slightest dent.
We flew home that night. Players, officials and press, and jetted back to Prestwick in less time than it takes to come by train from Aberdeen to Glasgow for a normal league fixture.
The thought was forming again in the players’ minds, and their manager’s, that the European Cup could again be brought back to Scotland. Jock Stein said he would like to get Benfica, last season’s finalists, in the quarter-finals, because they were an attacking team, but he had no strong preference. However, the draw gave them Italian Champions, AC. Milan .
but that’s another chapter!
To Be Continued
The Jimmy Johnstone show
Posted by voc1967 on Monday 16 September 2019 - 19:15:07 | Comments (1) |
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Oh what a beautiful sunday
PintsMcL did you bring me a bar of rock ?
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