“Charlie Gallagher? What a Player!” – It was a grim time for Celtic and Charlie Gallagher. Would it ever get better?

It didn’t seem to matter who won that semi-final for there seemed no stopping this Celtic team. Already however the seeds of destruction had been sown, for the players, young and impressionable, began to read what the newspapers said about them, and predictably, began to believe it.

Worse than that were the supporters. Celtic fans, and the 72,000 crowd told the world how many of them there were, are dreadfully fickle – more so, perhaps, than the supporters of other teams – and prone to generalise. A defeat, even a narrow one, or even a draw will be greeted with cries of “Terrible!” “I’m no’ coming back” “That manager has no idea” “The worst I’ve ever seen!” and so on.

Sadly, it can cut the other way too. A good run, particularly when there haven’t been too many good runs of late, is greeted with hyperbolic ecstasy with cries of “Brilliant” and “World beaters”. There is nothing wrong with euphoria, of course, but it must always be treated with caution, and there must be someone in the dressing room who can keep everyone’s feet on the ground. One imagines that Fernie and Peacock (even though Bertie was still out injured and indeed more or less at the end of his Celtic career) did their best, but it was difficult to keep a lid on things especially when on the Wednesday night, Dunfermline Athletic, who had never been to a Scottish Cup final before, won the replayed semi-final through an own goal! They did seem to be the weaker team to have to meet in the final. Optimism was cranked up a further notch.

That same night, a pitiful crowd failed to get excited in a 1-1 draw against St Johnstone played at Parkhead in heavy rain which highlighted the holes in the roof of the Jungle, and then over the weekend Celtic were twice in
Dundee. Both games were played before half-filled stadia, Celtic’s 1-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park being so dull that it took second place to the news that Aberdeen were beating Rangers 6-1 at Pittodrie that day, and the game at Tannadice did not even have that distraction as it petered out to a 1-1 draw that holiday Monday afternoon in front of a half-built curiously shaped Orwellian type stand which did not as yet have dressing rooms! It also turned a corner and did not stretch the length of the field!

It was like that of Raith Rovers, which at least had the excuse of having to fit the shape of the street. This one was bizarre, and not even, as yet, complete. But it was no worse than the football which was truly terrible. But no-one seemed to bother. The Scottish Cup final was 12 days away, and in between was the England v Scotland International at Wembley. If Charlie was nervous for his big Hampden date, he was in good company, but in the meantime, Jock Stein was giving the first indications of his managerial ability to win the propaganda war.

Dunfermline Athletic more or less took over The Dunfermline Press and appeared in the other newspapers, even the Glasgow based ones, at least as often as Celtic did, as the affable and genial Stein gave interviews and stories about his players. Jock even managed to book his players into Seamill Hydro, the normal haunt of Celtic for many decades. The Dunfermline players were compelled to visit ill supporters in the local hospital, were given smart blazers with the club badge and membership of various local golf courses and made to feel special, whereas such treatment from the far wealthier Celtic was conspicuously absent towards their players.

The character of Jock Stein was, as always, axiomatic to the outcome. Stein would say in later years that Celtic, although not his first love, were his strongest and longest-lasting, but he had a point to prove here. He would always express great and genuine affection for Bob Kelly and Jimmy McGrory, but here he had special reasons for doing them down. He would, in a TV interview many years later, give the impression that he was not given the Celtic Manager’s job in 1960 for reasons that were connected with his religion, although this did not prevent him from aspiring to the throne at a later stage. In that he was remarkably prescient, for Celtic would, in desperation, turn to him in 1965. Part of the desperation was brought about by the events of April 1961.

Had Celtic won the 1961 Scottish Cup, things would have been a great deal different. The International at Wembley was a dark day for Scotland as they went down to a 9-3 defeat. Celtic players Frank Haffey and Billy McNeill were in the side, and although McNeill played competently, Haffey is still to this day, in some quarters, held (unfairly) responsible for all 9 goals. The memory remains of the Rangers fans in the Scottish support who cheered the English goals going in past a Celtic goalkeeper! Aye, there are some things that a “fella cannot understand”, as Sam Weller might have said in the Pickwick Papers. No-body seems to have told these boneheads that the concession of 9 goals did not really say very much for the two Rangers full backs, Shearer and Caldow!

Charlie had already crossed swords with Bobby Shearer. Shearer was called “Captain Cutlass” because of his robust approach, and on one occasion he informed Gallagher that if Gallagher ever got past him, he (Shearer) would break his leg. Such badinage is by no means uncommon, but Charlie had the right reply. He said quietly and confidently “I don’t think that is going to happen”. When the angry Shearer asked “Why not?” Charlie replied quite simply “Look at the size of you” in a reference to Shearer’s girth! No-one broke anyone’s leg that day!

But as far as McNeill and Haffey were concerned, it is difficult to see how this 9-3 result could have in any way helped their confidence for the Scottish Cup final. For the rest of this young Celtic side, the game was eagerly looked forward to, but maybe an extra notch of tension was added when Rangers, having recovered from their bad run of form, beat Wolverhampton Wanderers in the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final on the Wednesday night. Rangers were on the point of winning the Scottish League as well – they had already won the League Cup – and this put an extra onus on Celtic to deliver the goods here.

For young Gallagher, this week was difficult, yet exciting. Every Celtic fan will be able to identify the feeling of enthusiasm yet apprehension as a big game approaches, and this one was bigger than most., This was in some ways what Charlie’s life had been all about so far, for he was now in the team which had the job of returning the Scottish Cup to Celtic Park after its longest absence this century. Great joy would accompany this event, if it happened, yet the consequences of failure would be felt keenly and bitterly by everyone in the Celtic community. Celtic did have the better players; it was generally agreed. McNeill and Crerand were superb players and some of the forward line, Gallagher included, were now beginning to make things tick. Confidence among the supporters remained high, and they were given a further boost with the unfortunate news that Dunfermline’s Tommy McDonald had to be rushed into the West Fife Hospital with appendicitis.

It was with a spring in their step that Celtic supporters donned their scarves and made their way to Hampden that spring day of 22 April 1961. Other items in the news like the Adolf Eichmann case in Israel or the silly half-hearted American invasion of Cuba in what became known as the Bay of Pigs fiasco or France similarly making an international fool of itself in Algeria all took second place to the very real possibility that for the first time since 19 October 1957 Celtic might be the holders of a major Scottish trophy. 17 times Celtic had lifted the trophy since 1892, as distinct from Rangers’ 15 and Queen’s Park’s 10. The Scottish Cup was traditionally looked upon as Celtic’s trophy.

Celtic would not divulge their team beforehand because there was a doubt about the veteran Bertie Peacock. Indeed, it was more than a doubt for he had not played since 11 March  but there was a possibility that he might yet be included for his experience. There was a capable deputy in the shape of young John Clark, however, and in the event it was Clark who ran out. He did not disgrace himself. Gallagher knew that his direct opponent would be Northern Ireland internationalist Willie Cunningham. He considered this to be a great compliment to his ability as clearly, Stein knew what Gallagher was capable of.

On paper, Celtic deserved to be the favourites and should have won. Haffey may have had the horrors at Wembley, but he had also saved a penalty kick for Scotland against England the previous year at Hampden, and he had not been made Scotland’s goalkeeper without cause. Full backs Dunky MacKay and Jim Kennedy had now settled down MacKay having already played 11 times for Scotland, and Kennedy a hard working, hard tackling, no-nonsense left back. Crerand was already being predicted for greatness with his passing ability and work rate, McNeill was a classy centre half, Clark had impressed in his short career. In the forward line, Charlie’s partner Willie Fernie, arguably a shade past his best admittedly, was still one of the best players of that era.

Centre forward John Hughes had burst on the Celtic scene at the start of the season. He had scored goals and attracted all sort of rave notices in the Press, but then he had stuttered for a while as the goals dried up. But
now they were coming back. He was big, powerful, athletic and questions were asked about whether he could be the personality goal scoring centre forward that Celtic craved. Steve Chalmers at inside left was speedy. He could also score goals, and had already played all over the forward line. A little weak in the tackle, perhaps, and perhaps without the mighty shoulder muscles that forwards needed, he was nevertheless a fine asset to the team with the crucial ability to score goals just when they were required, as for example in the quarter final against Hibs.

The left wing caused a few disputes among the support. There was little wrong with Alec Byrne – speedy, productive and an accurate crosser of a ball most of the time – but reluctant to go full time and an honest journey man rather than a star. He had been with Celtic since 1954 but it had only been recently that he had been given a run in the team. Many felt that Bertie Auld might have been better. Bertie was the stereotypical gallus Glaswegian from Maryhill, full of patter, aggression on occasion and general cheek – qualities that endeared him to the support, but had exactly the opposite effect on Chairman Bob Kelly. Frankly, Kelly did not like him and even as the Cup final was being played, Kelly had already set wheels in motion to transfer him to England.

The teams were:

Celtic: Haffey; MacKay and Kennedy; Crerand, McNeill and Clark; Gallagher, Fernie, Hughes, Chalmers and Byrne

Dunfermline: Connachan; Fraser and Cunningham; Mailer, Williamson and Miller; Peebles, Smith, Dickson, McAlindon and Melrose

Referee: H Phillips, Wishaw

It is often taken as read that a 0-0 draw is a bore, but the 113,618 who attended Hampden that day would not have agreed. There was disappointment, of course, from both sets of fans and the customary and perhaps predictable claims that it was all a fix for another big gate in the replay on Wednesday, but the general opinion was that the crowd were entertained. Both teams might have scored – Gallagher had his moment in the second half when he shot straight at Connachan – but a draw was a fair result. Cyril Horne in The Glasgow Herald singles out Celtic’s wingers Gallagher and Byrne as being “as reluctant to challenge as Dunfermline were eager”, and it was generally agreed that, although in Pat Crerand, Celtic had the best man on the field, some of the forwards were a little below form, having found the occasion a bit too much to handle, perhaps.

Particularly disappointing was the failure of the Celtic forwards to take advantage of the situation when the Pars centre half Jacky Williamson was stretchered off with 10 minutes to go. Dunfermline were given a deserved amount of praise, but it was generally agreed that that had now been their apogee, and that Celtic would get the better of them in the replay. Only in 1955 had Celtic lost a Scottish Cup replay, and older supporters recalled the events of 50 years ago when Celtic played out a boring 0-0 draw with Hamilton Academical in the 1911 Scottish Cup final, but won the replay fairly comfortably.

But then fate which had dealt Dunfermline a blow with Tommy McDonald’s appendicitis did the same (and, curiously enough, with the same illness) to Celtic. Left back Jim Kennedy was rushed to a Paisley hospital on the Tuesday night, and Celtic were forced to call upon a young debutant called Willie O’Neill to take over the left back position. In this context must be considered Celtic’s odd decision to allow Bertie Peacock, considered unfit for Saturday’s Scottish Cup final, to fly to Italy to play in a Friendly International for Northern Ireland on the Tuesday night.

By the time that Kennedy took ill, the Irish game was actually being played on the Tuesday night, and although Peacock might have been rushed back to play, it would have made no sense at all to fly him back and give him his
Celtic jersey an hour or two after landing at Abbotsinch Airport. For one thing, he had just recovered from injury and would have been exhausted, and for another, it was the wrong position. However, had Peacock not been allowed to go in the first place, it might have been a different matter. As it turned out, young O’Neill played at left back, thus further diluting the balance between youth and experience in the Celtic side. Peacock’s experience might have been vital, given the relative youth of John Clark and the loss of the slightly more experienced Jim Kennedy.

That said, O’Neill had a good game, and the reasons for Celtic’s painful defeat lie elsewhere. It is hard however not to feel that Peacock, fully fit and reported as “outstanding” in Italy for Northern Ireland would not have made a difference. Peacock at left half or even inside left (where he used to play a decade ago alongside Charlie Tully) would surely have pepped up the Celtic forward line which tried so hard but simply lacked a little sparkle. Apart from O’Neill for Kennedy, the Celtic team was unchanged, but Jock Stein brought in Sweeney and Thomson for Williamson and McAlindon.

Oh, what a catalogue of pain must now be recorded that dull, miserable night at Hampden on Wednesday April 26! The darkness reflected the mood of the Celtic supporters. Hampden Park had, as yet, no floodlights, and even at 6.15 pm when the game kicked off, the gloom betokened Celtic heartbreak, and by the time that the game finished at about 8.00pm, it did not seem possible that extra time could have been played, even if Celtic had managed to equalize and taken the game to the extra 30 minutes. 87,866 were there to see this debacle.

There were several components to Celtic’s 2-0 defeat. One was feckless finishing, another was inspired goalkeeping by Dunfermline’s Eddie Connachan in sharp contrast to Frank Haffey in the Celtic goal who was rightly castigated for losing the second goal, and yet another other factor was sheer bad luck. Yet “luck”, however real it may be, cannot really be used as any kind of an excuse. Jock Stein’s professional Dunfermline created their own luck; Celtic’s amateurish approach – as seen in the allowing of Peacock to go to Italy and the transfer of Bertie Auld to Birmingham City, the negotiations for which were actually going on at this time – brought its own reward. “The two Berties would have won it” was the cry of many supporters. They may have been right, but credit must also be given to Dunfermline Athletic and Jock Stein.

The more perceptive of the Celtic support said that “Jock would have won it for us”. It was frankly one of the worst nights in Celtic’s long list of historical disasters. Pat Crerand at right half showed that he was world class as he sprayed passes all over the field, but the forwards failed to capitalise. It would be the first time (but not the last) that Pat began to ask himself what he was doing playing for this team that he loved but which was going nowhere. The crowd had been noisy at the start of the game but had, noticeably, gone quiet after half-time when no goals came. When the Pars scored in the 67th minute their own fans celebrated noisily while the Celtic legions lapsed into dangerous introversion.

Full time came with the Pars now two ahead, and some youngsters on the running track trying to avoid the hail of bottles and stones hurled by the idiots further up on the terracing. Apologists have tried to justify or at least to explain this conduct by talking about “frustration”, but it simply will not do. The Hampden gloom was symbolically lit up by the white coat of Dunfermline’s Manager Jock Stein as he congratulated his players.

That of course would be Celtic’s future, but the present was almost too awful to endure. Some Celtic supporters even felt a little betrayed by Jock Stein “Fancy big Jock doing that to us!”

Charlie Gallagher, sporting as ever, shook hands with the Dunfermline players – indeed the whole Celtic team behaved with impeccable dignity – but Charlie must have felt that the world as he knew it was, if not coming
to an end, suffering irreparable damage. Slowly he trudged up the steps to receive the loser’s medal from, of all people, the wife of the Celtic Chairman! Bob Kelly was, of course, also the Chairman on the SFA at this moment in time, and he put a brave face on things too as he shook hands with Charlie and others, Gallagher having to force himself to remember that one had to shake hands with Kelly’s left hand, the Chairman’s right hand being withered and paralysed after a childhood illness.

Gallagher had not played well over the two games. He had had his moments – but in all newspaper reports, his name is hardly mentioned. He himself was honest enough to say that against the mighty Willie Cunningham, he “never got a kick”. This was not literally true, of course. There was the occasional cross and the occasional shot, but little more than that. Fernie similarly was disappointing in the Replay, and Hughes and Chalmers would both have better days in the future. In the mortuary atmosphere of the Celtic dressing room, phrases like “our day will come” “there’s always next year” and even “hard luck” failed to console anyone. The situation was beyond words. The desolation was total and all-pervasive, and would stay with Celtic and Gallagher for some considerable time.

This game also perhaps marked not the beginning of the end but perhaps the end of the beginning as far as Pat Crerand was concerned. It was this game, one feels, that began to show to the brilliant Crerand that the current
set-up at Celtic Park was dysfunctional and useless. Crerand had played brilliantly in both games, the replay in particular but the squandering of chances by the prodigal forwards had severely disappointed him, and an ill-concealed animosity between him and John Hughes began to take shape. At this stage, given Crerand’s (and Gallagher’s) background, throwing a tantrum and asking for a transfer was inconceivable, but he did, one suspects, begin to wonder.

The situation, of course, desperate though it might have been, did not however excuse the attitude of one former member of the Celtic playing staff who had now moved to another club. After the game, the players had gone to Willie Fernie’s house to lick their wounds and this man was invited as well. Speaking in a loud voice so that Charlie could not but overhear him, this former Kelly Kid roundly criticised Charlie’s performance and wondered why he was even given a game.

Charlie was very upset by this and was probably glad to find himself dropped for the next game against Motherwell. He did not play again for the first team, effectively, for well over a year. If there was any consolation in all this, it was that he was still young. He was only 20 and had a great deal to learn. Yet the fact that Celtic did not give him a free transfer at the end of the season or listen to offers from other teams showed that they still
believed that there was something there. Several times, the benign Jimmy McGrory would stress that Gallagher still featured in Celtic’s plans for the future.

Other than Rangers 4-1 defeat over two legs in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final by the Italian side, Fiorentina, there was little to cheer up Celtic supporters. In the last ever year of the Glasgow Charity Cup, Celtic drew with Clyde 1-1 in the final and they were declared joint winners. The summer was pleasant enough. Richie Benaud’s Australians beat England in the Ashes, and they at least wore green caps! But it was a grim time for Celtic and Charlie Gallagher. Would it ever get better?

David Potter

From David Potter’s Charlie Gallagher biography – Charlie Gallagher? What a Player! which I published in 2016.

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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