In truth he was not all that late. He certainly could have stripped and played, but Mr Kelly was a stickler for things like that and John found himself replaced by Charlie Gallagher. There was no official suspension or anything like that – merely a statement that lateness would not be tolerated, nor was John’s name mentioned in the statement. The 42,000 crowd were of course unaware of all this, but were very impressed by young Murdoch who scored in the 6th minute and Gallagher who scored with a fine drive early in the second half in what was generally a good 3-1 victory over Hearts in typical Glasgow summer weather of hot sunshine punctuated by heavy showers.
This was a good start to the season, but then followed a trip to Dens Park, Dundee to take on the League Champions. Dundee had lost to their local rivals United at Tannadice on the Saturday. Dundee provocatively decided to unfurl the League flag on that occasion and got what they deserved in terms of audience reaction with the laughable spectacle of Dundee’s Lord Provost Mr McManus, ironically himself a crypto-Celtic supporter but frequently suspected of some dodgy deals of the kind for which Dundee City Council became infamous, going red in the face trying to make himself heard over “Sure It’s A Grand Old Team To Play For”. Mr Kelly, as Chairman of the SFA was in the platform party and hung his head in embarrassment – but there always is something hilarious about officialdom making a fool of itself. Clearly Dundee had chosen the wrong game to unfurl their flag.
The game itself was a cracker of the type for which Dundee v Celtic games enjoyed a good reputation. Two good attacking teams, two rivals for the Scotland centre half spot in Billy McNeill and Ian Ure, two Yogi Bears (for Ian Ure shared John Hughes’ nickname) entertained the 20,000 crowd but it was Dundee who edged it 1-0. Gallagher had a great game teaming up well with Pat Crerand, and had real hard luck with several shots which hit the bar or went past the post. Dundee’s goal was scored by Gordon Smith, a man who had now won three Scottish League medals with three separate clubs – Hibs, Hearts and Dundee – and now in the veteran stage of a great career. He took advantage of a Jim Kennedy slip up to score half way through the second half, and then spent the rest of the game defending desperately against waves and waves of Celtic attacks which lacked only luck, as was the way of things in those days.
This was a disappointment but not a disaster and most Celtic fans left Dens Park optimistic about what the future could bring to Celtic this year, for Celtic had clearly been the better team. The Evening Times the following night singled out Gallagher saying that “Charlie was the darling” of the Celtic support, but admitted that Ian Ure got the better of John Hughes and that Lennox and Murdoch were a little out of their depth. However, as Hearts beat Dundee United at Tynecastle that night, the section was all square and still very open.
In the meantime, Dundee FC made the sort of decision that would guarantee their repeated bankruptcies in future years. The pitch had been invaded by youngsters (mainly Celtic ones) at the end but it was merely enthusiasm and no harm was intended. Rather than simply tightening up their policing and stewarding or erect a fence – these things cost money! – Dundee used this as an excuse to close the Boys Gate which gave admission at half price! This compelled, for example, youngsters who supported Hearts to pay the full price for admission at the next game on the Saturday, and alienated their own boys as well. It fooled no-one either.
Dundee were simply trying to cash in on their success, and although public pressure eventually compelled them to rescind their decision, it was typical of Dundee’s thinking at the time of going for short-term financial gain without thinking of the long term effect on their supporters. It would become a great deal more obvious in future years with the transferring of their star players, as Dundee FC’s prolonged suicide began. For Celtic, there then followed a strange game at Parkhead against Dundee United.
The continued exclusion of Divers was raising a few eyebrows although the club were at pains to stress that he was not suspended. It was just that Gallagher and Murdoch were playing so well in the inside positions that John was going to have to play for his place. Divers was a player who aroused strong emotions. Some thought that he was a crafty inside man with a keen positional sense and an eye for goal. Others thought him slow and even lazy and compared him unfavourably with his father, John Divers senior, who had of course played in the Empire Exhibition team of 1938. In fact John suffered from a rare blood disorder which often made him give the impression that he has not trying as hard as he could. But he was a talented player.
The forward line saw only one change – Chalmers for Lennox – for this game on a pleasantly warm day at Celtic Park before a crowd of around 35,000. The team won 4-0, but there were undeniable sounds of booing, a half-hearted slow hand clap and chants of “Divers! Divers!” in the first half before Celtic scored on the stroke of half time. Much of this was because of a good chance missed by John Hughes, and it was only the goal scored by the same player on the stroke of half time which defused the protests.
In truth there was little for even the most inveterate of Celtic moaners to be unhappy about. In the second half Celtic took command against a Dundee United team who in the past and in the future would tend to freeze at Celtic Park, however well they could play at Tannadice. Pat Crerand scored a penalty, the much maligned John Hughes scored a marvellous goal and then Charlie Gallagher headed home a Byrne corner.
Those who had been vocal in their criticism of their team in the first half departed homewards convinced that, Divers or no Divers, this was a great Celtic team. Such was the fickleness of those who wore the green and white colours. But as Hearts had beaten Dundee at Dens that day, it was clear that next Saturday’s game at Tynecastle was going to be a very important one indeed.
But before that could happen there was a midweek League match to be played at Brockville, Falkirk. There was a very poor crowd here with Celtic fans staging some kind of half-hearted boycott in protest at the way they had been treated by Falkirk FC and Falkirk Police in the past.