“The fall out was horrendous. The newspapers went mad. Rangers were always bad losers.”

LAST night on The Celtic Star we featured the latest instalment of Supporting Celtic from Near and Far by DidsburyCelt. This week we cover season 1969-70 which of course ended in Milan and the disappointment of losing the European Cup Final – read the full article HERE.

There was one incident from early in that season, involving Rangers behaviour when they didn’t get their own way, that is perhaps worthy of a separate feature as it looks very much like the same sort of behaviour that the current Rangers are indulging in at the moment with the Scottish football authorities…

In the League Cup of 1969-70 Section 1 was to create one of the most controversial and distasteful situations imaginable. The mini-league comprised of Airdrieonians, Celtic, Raith Rovers and Rangers.

In the second series of matches Celtic had lost 1-2 at Ibrox and so on 20 August 1969 it was vital to win the return tie at Celtic Park.

One of my friends at the time Gerry Traynor a huge Celtic supporter had a policy of not attending Old F*rm games. Against his better judgement I badgered him to come. We were the dominant team then and despite the loss away I was very confident of success.

Eventually he relented. For home matches there were four or five of us who met at the Pie Stall, then situated in the “Celtic End” at its meeting point with “The Jungle”, before taking our places about half way up the terracing just before we reached the half way line. A great vantage point in the maelstrom of passion and noise! Gerry was with us and braced himself for the fray.

It was a towsey affair; goal-less at halftime. Early in the second half after the ball had gone Willie Johnston clashed with John Hughes behind the referee’s back but the stand side linesman (assistant in today’s terminology) had seen the incident and raised his flag. At least, Johnston should have been cautioned but after a long talk with his linesman the referee approached Hughes alone.

Clearly Johnston would suffer no sanction. The tension was palpable and the Rangers fans were ecstatic because Hughes had been cautioned in the first half and so the automatic assumption had to be that he would be sent off. After lecturing Hughes for what seemed an eternity the referee Jim Callaghan allowed Big Yogi to remain on the field and restarted play.

Consternation at the Rangers end: huge relief and joy at the Celtic end. Mid-way through the second period following a corner where the Rangers goalkeeper lost control of the ball Tommy Gemmell reacted first and headed what turned out to be the winner into the Rangers net.

For several days afterwards Gerry was still complaining that I had deafened him with the roar of delight that I had released at the goal. (Nearly fifty years on Jean my wife still has to nudge me from time to time because I am speaking too loudly!) The celebrations at the final whistle were long, loud and joyous. It was virtually certain that we would win the section which we duly did. In fact we went on to retain the trophy.

The fall out was horrendous. The newspapers went mad. Rangers were always bad losers. On this occasion their feelings of resentment were understandable but no excuse for their reaction which was unprecedented.

There used to be an unwritten rule which said that the referee is right even when he is wrong. In other words the referee’s decision had to be accepted otherwise we would have anarchy. Every team in the world can relate an incident when they were hard done by and/or felt cheated by a match official’s decision but at the end of the game the result was known and that was that.

Everyone had to accept the situation. Sadly on this occasion not Rangers. There seemed to be a general view that Jim Callaghan was a Catholic. I suppose that I subscribed to it but I had always believed that he was fair. I am certain that the “Catholic angle” played a part in the post match reaction and then in what followed.

In those days after each match the clubs sent an assessment of the referee to the competition organisers. A similar system will exist now. I feel sure that from time to time a quiet word must have been exchanged between club officials and competition authorities in these situations. In any event reports were collated and at the end of the season and based on these the referees were retained on the list or informed that their services were no longer required.

The decent thing would have been to deal with the matter as appropriate at the season’s end when all the evidence was available. Sadly Rangers wrote a formal letter of complaint and let it be known that they had done so. This fanned the flames.

The newspapers were having a field day.

At the time James Callaghan was Scotland’s best referee but his treatment by Rangers and totally unjustified two month suspension by the SFA were humiliating. (Humiliating simply for how he was treated but equally so bearing in mind how at least one similar incident albeit 20 or so years previously had been handled by the SFA. The notorious “Tully/Cox situation” at Ibrox.) To his great credit he returned and continued to officiate at the top level for several years.

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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