‘Dukla were a very fine side but Willie Wallace made the difference,’ Archie Macpherson

When I went to Celtic Park for the first-leg of that European Cup semi-final on 12 April 1967 it was for a radio commentary, with George Davidson my colleague on the television platform.

I felt that I had experienced one of the finest finishes ever seen at Celtic Park in the tie before when I did the television commentary and tried to lift my voice above the clamour in the old Jungle as Billy McNeill scored the winning goal in the last seconds of the game against Vojvodina. Could this one against Dukla be any more dramatic than that? Willie Wallace helped provide the answer.

His two goals in the second half are as indelibly fixed in the mind as that Vojvodina winner. Dukla were strong and organised but twice caught out by Willie’s alertness. The first one came at 1-1 in the 59th minute.

I can still see Tommy Gemmell trying to emulate American football’s Hail Mary pass by a long, speculative punt, high into the dark skies, and it falling just beside one of the Dukla defenders, just inside the box, who was utterly surprised by Willie’s one touch goal, the ball slipping off the side of his foot passed a stunned goalkeeper.

He was even more stunned 6 minutes later and had to stand rooted to the spot after Bertie Auld cutely sent a quick, short square-pass from a free-kick to Willie just outside the box and again with one touch he swept it past the surprised and unmoving keeper into the net. That did it, 3-1.

But his contribution in the second-leg had an unusual aspect. A myth developed after this match played two weeks later. It was based on the fact that Jock Stein allowed a theory to be developed amongst the press that he had ordered his team to defend.

That simply was not the case. As Bobby Lennox reported accurately to me, as well as others, but put succinctly by him, ‘If big Jock asked us to defend then I must have missed the team talk.’

What in fact had happened was that Dukla, a very fine side, had played well and the Celtic defending was outstanding, with Billy McNeill playing probably his finest match. Celtic had been forced on to the back-foot and in that respect football instinct took over and it was every man to the pumps, including Willie, who proved in that match what a team player he was.

For here was an attacker, if ever there was one, deciding to shadow one of Europe’s finest midfield players Masopust, the Dukla captain and effectively negating his famous forward thrusts. He was everywhere with him, as I recollect and Celtic were now on the cusp of a famous achievement on the back of the 0-0 draw.

He had more than paid his way to Lisbon and was now part of that proud line of players on 25 May 1967 walking into the Estadio Nacional, burnished both by the sun and the optimistic hordes in green and white.

The game, the skills employed, the superiority of Celtic, the fight-back, the running qualities of everybody involved and the tumult of victory at the end have been well-documented both by me and many others.

But a strange legacy developed for Willie Wallace personally. Somehow or other he did not seem to flourish in the limelight. He was a modest man, whose nickname Wispy not only described his soft-spoken manner but also was a reflection of his quiet personality. Others became spokesmen for the team and seemed naturals for the job, in particular the captain Billy McNeill and the irrepressible Bertie Auld. Willie was not cut out for such a role.

It was only natural that he lapped up the adulation like the others, but seemed, all the time to me, to be quite content to let the others sum up the emotions of that fateful day. As a result of that feeling of staying in the background and of course ultimately going off to Australia to live a major part of his life he is not identified with the Lisbon triumph as readily as some of the others, perhaps also because he made a late entry into the European campaign.

But that is only to the general public. To the avid lovers of Celtic he is as treasured and revered as any of the others. Nobody deserved that special place in the sun any more than Willie Wallace.

Archie Macpherson

Extract from Willie Wallace – Heart of a Lion

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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