Cesar and Celtic: Part 2 – New Bhoys & floodlights…
Hard to believe it’s already 12 months since we said our final goodbyes to the man who pretty much epitomised Celtic for many of us supporters who grew up in the mid to late-1960s. In this short tribute series, we look back at the early career of the incomparable Billy McNeill.
Cesar and Celtic: Part 1 – Early Days | The Celtic Star https://t.co/FPstaqezX0
— The Celtic Star Editor (@CelticStarMag) April 22, 2020
Part 1 (see above) covered Billy’s debut season of 1958/59 at Celtic Park. We pick up the story from there.
The transitional phase continued at Celtic Park in the summer of 1959. Neither Sean Fallon nor Billy McPhail had managed a single game in the season just ended, due to injury, Sean then moving into a coaching role at the club. Charlie Tully’s contract had expired in July, the Irish genius choosing to retire two months later, whilst Sammy Wilson was one of a number of players released from Parkhead as the old guard moved on.
The new kids were progressing well, in particular Dunky MacKay and Billy McNeill. MacKay had made the Celtic right-back slot his own and had made his first international appearance for Scotland at Wembley in April 1959. He would now be pushed further forward into a wing-half role, meaning that McNeill opened the 1959/60 campaign at right-back. The first game in an unsuccessful League Cup section for the Hoops was a 2-1 defeat by Raith Rovers at Starks Park on Saturday, 8 August 1959.
Former Hearts star Alfie Conn senior scored what turned out to be the winning goal for the hosts on the stroke of half-time, debut-Bhoy Tommy Mackle on the scoresheet later for Celts. Mackle had replaced Bertie Auld on the left-wing, the Maryhill Bhoy still in disgrace with the hierarchy at Parkhead, having been sent off at the end of the previous season, whilst playing for Scotland against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
McGrory’s young team would continue to struggle in the section. A 2-1 home defeat by Partick Thistle in midweek, which soured winger Bobby Carroll’s debut, was followed by a 4-2 loss to Airdrieonians at Broomfield, where an early 2-0 lead was surrendered, leaving Celtic bottom of the group at the halfway stage. Airdrie striker Jim Storrie scored a hat-trick in that match. He would later join ex-Celt Bobby Collins at Leeds United, as Don Revie’s men won the English Second Division in 1964, before lining up with the Wee Barra at Wembley for the FA Cup Final the following season – a first for the Yorkshire club – against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.
A late Ian St John winner in extra-time took the trophy to Anfield for the first time, after Billy Bremner had equalised Roger Hunt’s opener for Liverpool. Jim Storrie would suffer further cup final heartbreak with Aberdeen, two years later, the now Celtic captain Billy McNeill taking a measure of revenge for that Broomfield defeat of 1959 as the Lisbon Lions beat the Dons 2-0 to win the 1967 Scottish Cup at Hampden. Jim would manage St Johnstone in the mid-1970s.
Celts finally tasted victory on Wednesday, 19 August 1959, as the League season opened with a 2-0 home victory over Kilmarnock, goals from Jim Conway and John Divers either side of the interval securing the points, Joe McBride featuring at centre-forward for the visitors. And they continued in the same vein three days later, as the League Cup resumed, Charlie Gallacher replacing the injured Divers to make his Celtic debut as a first-half MacFarlane own goal proved the only goal of the return fixture with Raith Rovers at Parkhead.
Bertie Auld finally made an appearance – appropriately enough at his local Firhill – in midweek, as a Mike Jackson double saw Celts move above Partick Thistle into third place, Raith Rovers 3-0 victory over Airdrieonians the same evening confirming their status as Group 1 winners. The dismal League Cup campaign came to an end on Saturday, 29 August 1959, with a 2-2 draw with Airdrieonians at Celtic Park, a result which meant the Parkhead club would finish beneath the Diamonds in third place. John Divers gave Celts a half-time lead before Auld beat Broomfield keeper Jock Wallace from the spot. Wallace would later find fame with Berwick Rangers in a major Scottish Cup upset in 1967, before managing the side he had eliminated, Rangers, following the retiral of Willie Waddell in 1972.
And Ibrox was the next venue for Celtic, on Saturday, 5 September 1959, the 28th anniversary of John Thomson’s death at the same venue. A weakened Hoops side succumbed to a 3-1 defeat in a brutal game, Mike Jackson’s goal a rare bright spot in a very forgettable afternoon.
There was a remarkable game the following Saturday, as Hearts came to town, the Gorgie side 3-0 up within 20 minutes, as the slow handclaps rang around Celtic Park. Back stormed the Hoops in the second half, goals from Auld, Divers and Conway tying things up at 3-3 with 20 minutes remaining. Tynecastle keeper Gordon Marshall was injured at the third goal, the Edinburgh side reduced to 10 men until his return in the closing stages. With the smart money on a Celtic winner, there was a sting in the tail as Blackwood beat Haffey with two minutes to play to steal the points for Hearts.
Celts returned to Kirkcaldy seven days later, scene of their opening-day League Cup defeat. Steve Chalmers returned from injury to make his second appearance in the Hoops, wide on the right flank, whilst Neil Mochan was up against his brother Denis, in the left-back role. Jim Baxter was at left-half for Raith rovers. Mike Jackson gave the Bhoys the lead on 20 minutes with a deflected shot, however, the day would belong to former Ashfield man, Chalmers. Six minutes into the second half, he opened his Celtic account with a blistering finish, having been sent clear by Jackson. And with 8 minutes remaining, he took advantage of a slip by home keeper Drummond to grab his second and Celtic’s third, sealing a 3-0 victory.
Injuries to Frank Haffey and Billy McNeill saw the introduction of 19-year-olds John Fallon and John Curran for their debuts in the home match with Clyde, on Saturday, 26 September 1959, with Tommy Mackle replacing a third wounded Celt, Bertie Auld, on the left flank. Mackle opened the scoring direct from a free-kick seconds before the interval. However, any hopes of a clean sheet for Fallon ended when he was beaten by Meek’s shot just before the hour, the game ending 1-1.
The following Saturday, 3 October 1959, saw an even more youthful debutant in the famous Hoops at Gayfield Park, Arbroath, as 18-year-old wing-half John Clark came into Celtic’s youngest-ever side at that time. Clark was one of six teenagers in the visiting side, Fallon, Curran, McNeill, Jim Divers and Jim Curran the others involved. With Bobby Evans and Bertie Peacock on international duty, this would be the first of many occasions that Billy McNeill and John Clark would play together in the Celtic side, Cesar making his first appearance of the season in the position he would make his own for the next 16 years.
Youth was clearly no disadvantage, as the Celts beat Arbroath 5-0 on the day. Steve Chalmers scored another double, his fourth goal in his first four games for the club, as did Mike Jackson, with Jim Conway notching the other. The promoted Red Lichties had caused a major surprise in September, beating Raith Rovers, the winners of Celtic’s League Cup section, in the quarter-final and they were due to meet Third Lanark in a last four clash in midweek. Arbroath would lose 3-0 to the Hi Hi, who, in turn, would be beaten 2-1 by Hearts in the Hampden final later that month. This would prove to be the last national cup final for Third Lanark, one of Scottish football’s most historic clubs, before their eventual liquidation in the summer of 1967.
The next Saturday saw Celtic host Aberdeen, Billy McNeill making way for the returning Evans whilst John Clark retained his spot at left-half. The Hoops took the lead midway through the first half through Conway, with a strong suspicion of hand ball causing the Aberdeen players to pursue referee Crossley for justice. That would be forthcoming, albeit later, when despite Celtic’s dominance on the day, Baird equalised for the Dons with 10 minutes remaining.
Two nights later, Monday, 12 October 1959, there was a landmark day in the history of the club, when the new Celtic Park floodlights were inaugurated by the visit of English champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 45,000 spectators cheered as Mrs Robert Kelly switched on the lights at the top of the four magnificent steel pylons, which would be an iconic sight and navigational aid for Celtic fans for the next three decades, if not the Luftwaffe! This would literally be the highlight of the night, as the young Celts were outclassed, goals from Peter Broadbent and Jimmy Murray securing a comfortable 2-0 win for Stan Cullis’ Midlands side.
Whilst the old stadium was continuing to take on a more modern look-and-feel, with the new covered Celtic End preceding the lights by two years, it was clear that much work remained to be done on the pitch before the Celts would be challenging for the major honours again.
Thanks, as always, to the folk behind the Celtic Wiki, a wonderful source of information.
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INVINCIBLE by Matt Corr
The Celtic Star’s very own Matt Corr – who you may also know as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park – publishes his first Celtic book, titled INVINCIBLE – early next month. This beautiful hardback book will be the definitive story of Celtic’s magical2016-17 season – it truly is wonderful, a real joy to read, and brilliantly written by Matt.
If you have been reading Matt’s regular contributions on The Celtic Star or indeed in the Matchday Programme or in the Celtic View you will know just how talented a Celtic writer he is. The book is published by The Celtic Star and you can pre-order below.
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