1966-67 – Celtic’s annus mirabilis

Here is the next part of my story for The Celtic Star: “Supporting Celtic from Near and Far.”


Like it was yesterday I remember a beautifully sunny and warm 6 August 1966 and battling through a huge crowd into a turnstile at Paradise. I lifted a kid over the barrier as I paid my money to watch the friendly against Manchester United. We tore them apart! Bobby Murdoch was, well, Bobby Murdoch! A superb all-round performance produced a well deserved 4-1 win. I had a good feeling about this season.

This was it. A glorious day in our history and the start of our annus mirabilis.

So far, I have made no mention of The Glasgow Cup (which Celtic won on many occasions) but for this season and next it would be highly significant.

As usual we started with The League Cup section. Six matches: six wins, 23 scored: 3 conceded! We overcame Dunfermline 9-4 on aggregate and then disposed of Airdrie 2-0 in the semi to set up a final against Rangers. The normal tense encounter was sealed by a goal from Bobby Lennox. How I celebrated.

We started the league programme brilliantly winning 3-0 at Shawfield and 2-0 at home to Rangers. Two early goals secured that second win with Bobby Murdoch putting us in front and Bertie Auld adding the other when the ball came to him following a fresh air shot by Joe McBride. A fine reaction!

We were totally in control after that. Another six victories took us to the game following that League Cup Final success and then a stutter. At Celtic Park we drew 1-1 against St. Mirren in one of those frustrating matches where we did not play too well and to compound the situation the match officials … well …

Towards the end with frustrations and emotions running high there was a tussle for the ball in which Bobby Murdoch was involved on the touchline in front of The Jungle. The ball went out of play and as we were desperate for possession everyone screamed for the throw in. I was in what was my usual position in those days which was in the Rangers end on The Jungle side almost looking straight down that line. To be honest I had no clear view but, needless to say Saints were awarded the throw.

Yet more frustration and anger! A few seconds later the game was over with the screams of anguish and the catcalls directed at the officials echoing round the ground. Billy McNeill approached the referee to protest. Presumably, he was given short shrift. As the whistler moved away Billy applauded him in an ironic fashion and was booked for his trouble. Time to just calm down and regroup!

On the European front we had eased past Zurich (2-0 home, 3-0 away) and had Nantes to come. Before reaching that hurdle, we had three good wins, Falkirk (3-0 away), an amazing match at Dunfermline and Hearts (3-0 home).

The fixture at East End Park was one of the most unbelievable and memorable ever. The Fifers lead 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2. The Celtic players hammered away and dragged it back to 4-4. There was no giving up now as the excitement reached a crescendo and they pressed on relentlessly with time running out quickly. They seemed to have scored the winner with a headed goal. It was one of those situations when the ball is bulleted goalward from virtually no distance and so must end up in the net. Everyone had been straining to see the inevitable outcome and we were cheering our heads off before we had actually seen the ball cross the line but that did not matter until we realised that referee “Tiny” Wharton had awarded us a corner.

Complete disbelief and stupefaction! It had had to have been a goal!! (Later slow-motion television replays showed that a Dunfermline defender had punched the ball over the bar but in the melee the ref had not spotted it.)

The Celtic players went crazy protesting to Mr. Wharton. The linesman was standing right in front of us and one or two players had come over to him. By now it was bedlam! The players who had come to the touchline ran back to the referee and the next thing is that several Celtic players are almost bodily carrying “Tiny” to the linesman to force a consultation. A few words were exchanged and then the ref is pointing to the spot.

Now we would win. I had no doubt. Joe McBride placed the ball on the spot. Stepped back. Hitched up his shorts. Stepped forward and smashed it into the net. Ecstasy! What a drive home that night!

Celtic players returning from Nantes after a 3-1 win

Now for Nantes! Two 3-1 victories bookended a goalless league game at Kilmarnock. That second leg was a fine disciplined performance. Those matches were followed by two comfortable victories at home to Motherwell and Partick Thistle. Then a stutter! A 1-1 stalemate at Aberdeen (only our third draw of the season) (one of the few matches that I missed that season: interestingly the only time I went to Aberdeen was for a pre-season Dryborough Cup Tie which we lost) and a 2-3 reverse at Dundee United (our first defeat in any competition) (and another match that I missed) took a little gloss off proceedings but we were still four points clear of Rangers who had a game in hand (2 points for a win).

Joe McBride was badly injured at Pittodrie on Christmas Eve 1966.

That draw at Pittodrie on Christmas Eve was particularly painful for me because Joe McBride was badly injured in the game and did not play again that season. In fact he never re-established his place in the Celtic team. His goal scoring record had been phenomenal, and he carried it on at other clubs, but I missed the special joy that a Joe McBride goal held for me.

Now we were due at Ibrox for the Ne’er Day fixture and then had the other traditional New Year’s match against Clyde to follow but the weather had its, say and both were postponed. Following that we had four league wins in January (one being the re-arranged match at home to Clyde) scoring 16 and conceding 2. Clearly, we were still scoring goals for fun.

On 28 January 1967 we started our Scottish Cup campaign at home to Arbroath kicking off at 3pm. Rangers were at Berwick Rangers, at the time a club without floodlights and so that match had started earlier. Eventually the news went round that Berwick had won. The terracings were in ecstasy.

Unusually I was standing at the main stand side of the Celtic end near the floodlight pylon. I looked into the stand and spotted my pal John sitting with his dad Pat. They gave me the thumbs up presumably on the basis that they had had confirmation.

Anyway a chorus of “We want the score” started to echo round the stadium and continued until an announcement was made which went along the lines of “Attention please, attention please, here is a result which might interest you. Berwick 1 Rangers 0.” Bedlam interspersed with utter disbelief and uncontrollable happiness!

The Celtic end sang, “The Gers are out the cup, the Gers are out the cup, ee aye addio the Gers are out the cup.” We had a comfortable 4-0 win. (It might not have been ‘Gers’ in the lyrics to that particular chant).

February saw two straightforward league wins and a 7-0 thrashing of Elgin City in the Cup. Then it was back down to earth with a 1-1 draw at Stirling. By this stage, our league matches played compared to Rangers had been squared up at 24 and we held a two point lead. This was sure to be tight, but I was still confident.

Now it was crunch time. Ten games to go in the league, three Scottish Cup ties to negotiate and of course the not insignificant matter of the European Cup.

First the big one: Vojvodina of Novi Sad, Yugoslavia. Few of us had ever heard of them but they were an excellent team. By all accounts we played well in the first leg but mainly in defensive mode for the first half. The second was more even until a defensive lapse cost us the match and had us under pressure from then on.

Nonetheless, surely 0-1 was retrievable. Celtic Park was jumping for the return leg. Both teams went at it and Vojvodina had a great chance early on. We started to turn the screw and the tension rose in the stadium.

Half time arrived with no breakthrough. These guys could play a bit and were happy to show it. Almost an hour gone and starting to become twitchy! Tommy Gemmell swung in a cross from the left and Pantelic, normally so reliable dropped it. Stevie Chalmers was on it in a flash and drove in the equaliser.

Everything to play for now! We pounded them but they refused to yield and Pantelic was making up for his lapse. Still we pressed and unusually for me, and despite my earlier twitchiness, I had lost track of time.

Normally in those circumstances I am checking my watch, checking my watch, checking my watch but not that night. I had no idea how long was left when we mounted yet another attack; the one that proved not only to be the last but the decisive effort.

Jinky ran at them again as they defended the goal at the Rangers End and won a corner. Charlie Gallagher went to the right wing corner flag and sent over a superb cross. Who was flying through the air past a mass of bodies but Billy McNeill? He thumped it into the net. The 1965 Scottish Cup Final again but this time from the other side of the field. Paradise erupted! Utterly sensational!

At the time I was working in the Labour Exchange in Parkhead. I was one of only two or three Celtic supporters in the office. The following morning the atmosphere was subdued to say the least.

Conveniently on the back page the Daily Record had printed a huge photograph of Big Billy as he planted his head on the ball for the winner. I took enormous pleasure in holding up the picture and saying, “Here you are boys. Look at this.” Deathly silence all round! Joy!

Back to Scottish Cup business and a victory by 5-3 over Queen’s Park put us in the semi-final. Four league victories scoring 15 for the loss of 3 continued the momentum.

A slight hiccough on April Fool’s Day saw a 0-0 draw against Clyde in the cup in a match where we played badly.

Despite that I have another fine memory from the match. As usual I was in The Celtic End and to my amazement there was a guy handing out song sheets. Astonishingly it was The European Cup Winning Song sung to the tune of Roddy McCorley.

It was on the 25th of May in far off Lisbon town.
The stage was set, the teams were out, and all the chips were down.
The whole world said it was Inter’s cup because they were so strong
But the boys from The Paradise were there to prove that they were wrong.

We had Simpson, Craig and Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill and Clark.
A better defence than these famous six never played on any park.
We had Johnstone and Charlie Gallagher and Stevie Boy was there
To lend a hand to Bertie auld to help to Feed The Bear.

Jock Stein’s men proved them wrong indeed and all our cheers went up
For we won that day and we bore away The European Cup.
They will know us when we meet again to sing our battle hymns
For the boys who wear the green and white, The Glasgow Celts, The Hims.

Hardly Rabbie Burns or William Shakespeare but wonderful, nonetheless.

Even at the time I was struck by the sheer optimism and yet glorious certainty. Here we were struggling against Clyde for a place in the cup final, nip and tuck with Rangers for The League Championship and a tough European cup tie against Dukla Prague, one of the finest teams on The Continent, to negotiate.

Sure we had The Scottish League Cup in the bag, and I would have been happy with that but clearly, I was not the only one with big hopes and ambitions. On the Wednesday night we completed the job 2-0 and on the Saturday beat Motherwell by the same score at Fir Park in the league.

The European games kept coming and they were more and more difficult. Dukla Prague, complete with Josef Masopust among others would be no pushover. Once again Celtic Park was a maelstrom of noise.

Jinky put us in front just before the half-hour but Strunc equalised close to half time. Two second half goals from Willie Wallace, one where Bertie Auld taking a free kick bent down as if to touch the ball before playing it a couple of yards wide to the scorer which presumably confused the defenders, put us in a very strong position.

We followed that with a goalless draw at Pittodrie and much more significantly achieved the same result in the second leg in Prague. No live broadcasts in those days. We just had to sweat until the result came through. I feel sure that if we had been able to watch we would have sweated even more.

Clearly Dukla would throw everything at us and we had to survive that initial onslaught. The reports indicate that having weathered that initial storm with Masopust pulling the strings we did not proceed to mount too many attacks which was unusual, but we survived the constant pressure to reach the final.

Sunshine on 29 April for the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen! The first of two end of season mysteries! Why was I in the “Rangers end” at Hampden that day? With a crowd of 126,000 perhaps having travelled by train from Glasgow Central my instinct had been to enter at Mount Florida to ensure a place rather than, as normal, walk to the King’s Park (Aikenhead Road) end and risk disappointment. With so many people milling round a good move! It was a fine game especially for Celtic supporters and two well taken goals by Willie Wallace brought the trophy home to Paradise.

On the same day, the title seemed to move even closer to Celtic Park as Rangers went to Dundee and drew 1-1 again: one point in front but two games in hand. Of course football has a way of biting us on the backside and now the bite arrived. On 3 May Dundee United came to Celtic Park and beat us 2-3. They had done the double over us in the only two domestic matches that we lost that season. Stunned! We still had to fight for the championship.

Now to Ibrox where one point will seal the title and the second great mystery of that season unfolded. I rank it alongside The Marie Celeste! I had missed very few games all season, but I simply cannot recall being at Ibrox. I have watched the highlights (goals) on YouTube and elsewhere time after time and wracked my brain but in all conscience cannot claim to have been present yet cannot imagine why I might have missed it.

I have even asked my mate John Woods if he can remember whether I was there or not, we went to most games together in those days, and although he can recall going and has told me of one or two things that he could only know if he was there he cannot say if I was with him. Football, it will always surprise us.

The game was played in torrents of rain on a heavy pitch which made Wee Jimmy’s second goal so amazing and very special. Just before the break and a minute after Rangers had taken the lead he had equalised when a Bobby Lennox shot came back off the post and he pounced to push it over the line. In 74 minutes he dragged the ball across the edge of the box and with his left foot fired it high into the net. With nine minutes left Roger Hynd equalised with a toe poke but the point was enough. Champions!

A week on the Monday we beat Kilmarnock 2-0 at Celtic Park to wrap up the domestic season and have a three points advantage at the top of the table.

Now our thoughts turned to Lisbon and Football Club Internazionale (during 1967 “Milano” was added to the official name)! I think everyone knows what happened on Thursday 25 May 1967. The greatest day in our history!

I will simply add two cameos to amuse and enlighten you. At home we were crowded round the television agog with excitement and anticipation. Stephen, the youngest, was sitting on my dad’s knee. A goal down and peppering goalkeeper Sarti with shots while he plays a blinder but at least the equalise must come.

Once again, we attack, and Jim Craig looks to us as if he has mistimed or misdirected his pass which is on its way to Tommy Gemmell. In his desperation my dad screams, “That’s right make a mess of … WHAT A GOAL!” as the ball screams into the net. Release of uncontrollable delight and relief!

Steve was propelled into the air as I grabbed my dad to hug him and he just managed to catch Steve before the little fellow suffered an injury. We were in the early days of action replays and as we danced round the living room the goal was re-run. Suddenly my mum was shouting, “They’ve scored again! They’ve scored again!” She was a little disappointed when we explained the situation, but we all sat down and tried to be calm as we waited for the winner. When it came the noise in the house was deafening and the joy unconfined.

Shortly afterwards I had to go to St Paul’s in Shettleston to represent the family as my great aunt’s remains were brought into church prior to her funeral the following day. Having attended to that duty I went across the road to the pub to meet some friends for a few celebratory drinks. At closing time, just a tiny bit the worse for wear, I walked home to Barlanark singing a few Celtic songs as I went. As luck would have it, there were two big Glasgow Polis coming in the opposite direction. They issued a few admonishing words as I shut up when we were passing each other.

I didn’t care. My team was at the top in Europe and I was on top of the world. As was befitting such a momentous happening the celebrations lasted several days including the joy of being at Celtic Park on the evening following the triumph when the team in a lorry bedecked in green and white and preceded by an accordion band playing Celtic songs paraded the trophy in the stadium.

Just to round it all off and add a fifth trophy, out of five for which we competed, we had already beaten Partick Thistle 4-0 in the final of The Glasgow Cup. Five competitions entered; five competitions won.

Now comes the great accolade. Alfredo Di Stefano was one of the greatest players around at that time and one of the finest ever. Real Madrid had awarded him a testimonial and he had invited Celtic to be the opposition. In a wonderful exhibition of football Celtic triumphed 1-0. Jinky ran riot and set up Bobby Lennox for the goal. By the end, the Spanish fans were calling, “Ole” every time the Wee Man touched the ball. A glorious end to an unbelievable season.


About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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