The 7-1 defeat of Rangers on 19 October 1957 is a matter of legend, much recalled and dwelt upon by the now sadly diminishing number of those who were there and those who followed it on the radio or “could remember what they were doing that day” – in my case, a Saturday matinee performance at the cinema.
One of the strange things about the game however is the slightly poor attendance of 82,293. This was, after all, the boom days of the 1950s, and earlier that year Celtic had attracted a six figure attendance to see them play Kilmarnock in a Scottish Cup semi-final.
Not only that but when Celtic and Rangers played again in a League Cup final in October 1965, they attracted a record League Cup attendance of 107,609.
So why did this game have such a low attendance? Believe it or not, a flu epidemic!
Newspapers of the time mention that west central Scotland was in the grip of a flu germ but the difference between 1957 and 2020 was that there was no hysteria. No mention of panic buying, or lack of toilet rolls, self isolation or anything like that.
And football, cinemas and dance halls all stayed open. (This was Glasgow in the 1950s!) Simply, a slight fever, a couple of days in bed and back to work quite soon after. The nation survived!
There were a few who wondered about whether the Russians sending a satellite into space had anything to do with it, and there were, as always, a few religious cranks who thought that God was punishing the world for too much drink and sex. More realistic assessments of the situation involved an analysis of Glasgow’s pollution levels, and although there was a certain amount of “it may have come from abroad”, there was a distinct lack of real xenophobia about it.
People, in any case, got over it and survived.
One says that there was no hysteria. There was on that King’s Park terracing, as the goals went it. Hugging, kissing – all sorts of bodily contact, which might have appalled some health experts – but if it is true that flu and flu symptoms are all in the mind (a suggestion by no means to be dismissed out of hand), then Celtic supporters gave certain evidence to that suggestion.
Everyone was in school and at work on Monday, talking about little other than Beattie, Donnelly and Fallon; Fernie, Evans and Peacock; Tully, Collins, McPhail, Wilson and Mochan. They even hit the woodwork on four occasions, as well as scoring seven, so it could very easily have been double figures!
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