“Charlie Gallagher? What a Player” – The Rangers End emptied as the second half wore on

But the big match appearing on the horizon for Celtic was the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final against the Hungarian side MTK Budapest. It was the last chance for an honour, but it would have meant a great deal to the club and to Scotland as well if they could only win that trophy. When MTK arrived, Scottish football was on a high, for Scotland had beaten England 1-0 at Hampden the previous Saturday, the goal being scored by Dundee’s Alan Gilzean while Celtic’s Billy McNeill and Jim Kennedy had played admirably.

51,000 were at Celtic Park on Wednesday 15 April to see Celtic play some marvellous football and in fact the Hungarians were lucky to get off with a 3-0 defeat. And these men were Hungarians who still had some sort of mythical status! People still associated them with their great teams of Puskas and Hidegkuti of the early 1950s before their country was crushed by the Russians!

The first half was mundane until Jimmy Johnstone squeezed a goal home, and then in the second half, with Celtic attacking the Rangers end of the ground, came two goals from Steve Chalmers, one a speculative shot which took everyone by surprise, the other a header. It was very impressive stuff, and the euphoria was justified. Gallagher’s role at inside left in all this had been less spectacular than some, but none the less effective for all that. The BBC highlights programme that night showed something like a Celtic performance which had been missing for so long.

Celtic and their supporters were now on a high, a dangerous high. Everyone started talking about going to the Final. It would be in Brussels on 13 May, and might just be within the price range of supporters in the economic boom time of 1964. The players themselves were not immune to such optimism. 3-0 would surely be enough, and the precedent was noted of the game against Dinamo Zagreb last December where Celtic won 3-0 at Parkhead and then held on to win the tie in Zagreb.

And in Bratislava, against Slovan they had actually won the game away from home! Such was the talk among the supporters as they assembled to see the last two home games of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hearts and a similar score in a friendly against Chelsea which was stopped prematurely because of heavy rain. Celtic however fell into a trap. The fault was sheer naivety. The great performance at Parkhead went to their heads, and Bob Kelly announced that Celtic would attack in Budapest, conned by the MTK Chairman’s admiration for Jimmy Johnstone and his statement that people in Budapest would love the little redhead and the great Celtic forward line.

The Scottish Press played its part in all this as well, and Celtic marched gaily to their doom. A few sensible people urged caution and pointed to the precedent of Manchester United in the same tournament. They too had had a similar lead and had lost it. Scotland’s International teams had always been impressive at Hampden, but had found foreign travel not quite so easy. It might be a better idea to put out a slightly more defensive team, or at least to deploy the players in a more defensive set up but such wiser counsel did not prevail. Hungary may well have been noted for its great football team in the early 1950s, but it was still on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

Indeed, it was very much under the control of the grim tyranny of the Soviet Union, for only eight years previously in 1956, a rebellion against the Soviets had been put down with brutal and murderous severity. It was as well that there were no Celtic supporters (or certainly very few) there, for it was one of the worst Celtic performances of all time.

They lost 4-0. They complained about the referee, but the fault lay in Celtic expecting anything other than a “homer” of a referee. In-fact they were out-thought and out-played and the sense of disappointment was total. They took the field with the same personnel and exactly the same formation as they had deployed at Parkhead. The Hungarian press singled out Jimmy Johnstone and mentioned Charlie Gallagher as having a few nice touches and passes, but they were as amazed as anyone that Celtic had collapsed so totally. It was, effectively, the last game of the season, and there were no repercussions at managerial level, but quite a few people supporters and players, like Gallagher, now began to despair of Celtic.

But Gallagher had little to reproach himself for. He had been out of the side for most of the season, but when the chance presented itself towards the end he had seized it. He could realistically hope to be a first team regular next season, but this particular summer, he had other things on his mind. He had a life outside of football as well.

On 13 June 1964, he married Mary Rose MacKay on June 13 1964 at St Anne’s RC Church in Whitevale Street just off Duke Street and not very far from Celtic Park. It would be a very successful marriage with three children – Paul born in 1967, Kieran in 1971 and Claire in 1972.

They now have 8 grandchildren. Their reception was in Rutherglen, and they then went off on honeymoon to the Channel Islands. By an amazing coincidence, when they were there, they met Bobby and Kathleen Murdoch who had been married the week before! Bobby and Kathleen became great friends of the Gallaghers, – Bobby and Mary were great swimmers, while Charlie and Kathleen were less so – and indeed the men had so much in common. Both were supremely talented, both loved Celtic, but neither were getting a fair deal at the club.

Yet their moments of glory were not far away. Back home in Glasgow, the Gallaghers settled in Wellshot Road to the east of Celtic Park. They lived happily in this flat, blissfully unaware (until later) that a previous inhabitant had committed suicide there! Mary would become in time, a very successful Estate Agent

On the footballing front, hope sprang eternal yet again, and the 1964/65 season actually began quite well for the team and outstandingly well for Gallagher. Admittedly the opening game against Partick Thistle was a dreadful 0-0 draw, but after that, the team rallied and, playing some bright attractive football, reached the quarter finals of the Scottish League Cup for the first time since season 1958/59. Gallagher was well to the fore in all this and now seemed to be the permanent inside left at the expense of John Divers.

The League Cup section was by no means an easy one of Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock and Hearts but Celtic emerged triumphant. Gallagher was the driving force behind all this. In the game against Kilmarnock, a 4-1 victory at Celtic Park, for example, he broke down the stubborn Killie defence by his ability to release Jimmy Johnstone and Steve Chalmers on numerous occasions, and he even headed two goals himself. (He also missed a penalty, but no-one blamed him for that in the context of the fine 4-1 win).

The Sunday Post sings his praises “Two goal Gallagher was the outstanding forward afield. He collected full marks for opportunism, position play and behind-the-full-back passes that were a delight…”

He was hugely instrumental in a 5-1 victory in a game against Partick Thsitle at Firhill where Celtic were described as “sizzling”. Charlie scored a pile-driver which The Evening Times labelled “unsaveable”, and Jack Harkness of The Sunday Post describes it thus. “He (Gallagher) took the ball on the drop and it had high in the net before anyone knew anything about it”. Against Hearts at Parkhead, in the game which saw Celtic qualify, he scored twice in the 6-1 rout of the Tynecastle men, one of them a brilliant piece of inter-passing with Stevie Chalmers followed by a dash for goal then another “unsaveable” shot.

This particular goal triggered off a pitch invasion by enthusiastic but misguided youngsters whom James Sanderson in the Scottish Daily Mail describes as “frenzied”. He goes on to say “They rushed on to the field past a cordon of policemen as Gallagher hit one of the finest goals seen at Parkhead for years. Chalmers and Gallagher combined in a move reminiscent of the twin-spearhead attack by the great di Stefano and Puskas …a move that saw Gallagher run 40 yards, beat four men and slam the ball past Hearts goalkeeper Cruickshanks. I have seen many goals all over the world but this one ranks with the best”.

Hearts goal that night was scored by Willie Wallace. He was also involved that night in an incident with Gallagher. Willie, of course, was not without his aggressive side when he later joined Celtic, and on this occasion, Charlie claims that he was on the wrong end of Wallace’s boot. Wallace said that he was told by his Manager to do and say various things on the grounds that it might upset and unsettle the Celtic players. If Tommy Walker (Hearts Manager) did say that, it was an astonishingly unsuccessful piece of advice!

The trigger to this Celtic form which had all the scribes using words like “brilliant” and “phenomenal” seemed to be a bizarre and, in the end, embarrassing attempt to sign Alfredo di Stefano from Real Madrid!

It was never likely to happen, but it did provide interesting headlines in the newspapers and it sent out the message that Celtic did, apparently, mean business. It was also, of course, a threat to the position of some players, but the players responded brilliantly, Gallagher in particular relishing in being given a steady place at inside left in the team. His “play anywhere” role now seemed to be in the past.

There was a down side to all this, and it tended to centre on Kilmarnock. In the first game at Parkhead, Gallagher “picked up a knock to his ankle” (as the papers tactfully put it – it was more like a deliberate attempt to crock him) causing him to miss the League game at Motherwell, but that was nothing compared to the game at Rugby Park. The section was over by that time, but Killie were out for revenge. McNeill and Murdoch were carried off, and at one point the referee called the Killie captain and Celtic’s acting captain Jim Kennedy together, and told them that he was considering the extreme step of abandoning the game if everyone did not settle down.

The game duly finished, Kilmarnock won 2-0, but of course Celtic had won the section in any case. This meant that Celtic would have to face their first big game of the season against Rangers on 5 September without McNeill and Murdoch. John Clark was also missing, and Celtic had to throw together a side by bringing in John Cushley, Jim Brogan and playing John Divers at inside right while Charlie Gallagher was at inside left. In some ways this was the acid test for Celtic, for five defeats last season meant that there was a credibility problem as far as Rangers were concerned.

All the good work so far this season would count for very little if Celtic could not beat Rangers. But how well did Gallagher and Celtic rise to the test!

The game was played in incessant, Biblical rain, but it was Celtic’s finest performance against Rangers since the 7-1. Yet in the early stages with Celtic attacking the goal at the Rangers end of the ground, it looked as if the fates were once again conspiring against us. John Hughes ran the length of the Rangers half to score a brilliant goal which had the Celtic End in raptures until referee Hugh Phillips called him back for some obscure infringement on the half way line.

Then Celtic were awarded a penalty kick when Jimmy Johnstone was brought down. Up stepped Charlie Gallagher to take it, knowing that the rest of Celtic’s season possibly depended on it. Were Celtic once again to wilt against Rangers when they had the game for the winning? Charlie looked confident as goalkeeper Billy Ritchie crouched low ready to dive. In the event Ritchie guessed correctly and dived to his right but was nowhere near the ball. But to the chagrin of the distant Celtic End and the soaked inhabitants of the Jungle, the ball hit the post and bounced out of play on the main stand side of the ground.

This was heart breaking stuff but it was to the eternal credit of Gallagher and his team mates that Celtic rallied, shook off their disappointment and ran out 3-1 winners with Chalmers and Hughes scoring the goals, as the Celtic End went delirious with joy. In the second half, Celtic were well on top and Gallagher and Divers sprayed passes at will to Jimmy Johnstone and John Hughes. Rangers scored a late consolation goal, but it was great to see men like Willie Henderson and Jim Baxter having to realise that there was now a team that could stand up to them.

It was even better to see the Rangers End crumbling like a cake as the second half wore on. The key thing about this performance was that Celtic overcame early disasters and came back to win. This required character. It also required good football players, and this Celtic now at last seemed to have grasped with the deployment of Charlie Gallagher.

David Potter

To be continued…

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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