Gallagher at 80 – The wait was over. Celtic were the Champions

Charlie & The Bhoys: Gallagher at 80

Part 8 – Say hello to one-in-a-row

Charlie Gallagher celebrated his 25th birthday in Denmark, on Wednesday, 3 November 1965, as Celtic continued their European Cup Winners’ Cup challenge with a 1-0 victory over Aarhus, Danish goalkeeper Bent Martin stopping everything except a bullet header from Joe McBride. He would repeat his heroics in Glasgow two weeks later, despite Celts securing a quarter final spot with a 2-0 win, a performance which would earn him a move to Glasgow in the new year.

Charlie would retain his place in a virtually unchanged Celtic team through November as they continued to rack up the goals and points, the elegant midfielder finally dropping out as champions Kilmarnock were beaten at an icy Parkhead on the last Saturday of the month. The only League points dropped so far in this campaign had been the two at Ibrox in September and a recent home draw with Partick Thistle. That would leave Stein’s men three behind leaders Rangers with a game in hand, as they chased their first title since he had captained Celtic to a League and Scottish Cup double back in April 1954. The chasing pack included his two former clubs, Hibernian and Dunfermline Athletic, and both were beaten by his current charges as Gallagher returned to the team in December, a surprise 2-2 draw for Rangers at Shawfield narrowing the gap at the top to just two points as the festive period approached.

Charlie in action on Christmas Day 1965

Christmas Day would bring tidings of great comfort and joy to those of a Hoops persuasion, as the Celts beat Morton 8-1 at Parkhead, Joe McBride hitting another hat-trick as the return of Jim Kennedy to his old stomping ground after his recent transfer mirrored that of his old boss Jimmy McGrory, whose Kilmarnock side had suffered a similar fate in his first game as a manager on the same day in 1937. Indeed, Celts were 7-0 ahead at the interval before easing off, where surely a record scoreline was on the cards. I never understand why teams do that.

Equally important, was a 3-2 win for Dunfermline over Rangers, their first-ever at Ibrox, which allowed the Hoops to join them at the summit with a game in hand. Advantage Celtic, finally, and that was pressed home on a freezing cold but very memorable afternoon nine days later.

Monday, 3 January 1966 is another highly significant day in Celtic’s history, as the Hoops took a major step towards a first Scottish title in 12 years by beating fierce rivals Rangers 5-1 at Celtic Park. With John Cushley continuing to deputise for the injured Billy McNeill, the defence got off to the worst possible start when Davie Wilson scored within two minutes, a lead the visitors held until the break.

The second half would be a different story entirely, Stevie Chalmers equalising within five minutes then putting Celts ahead on the hour, heading home from Charlie Gallagher’s corner kick. Charlie’s own moment of glory would quickly follow, a fabulous shot crashing home off the underside of the bar to leave Billy Ritchie helpless and give Celts a 3-1 lead. With 10 minutes remaining, the Bhoys scored a fourth, courtesy of a rare Tiny Wharton assist, the portly referee smartly dummying a short free-kick from Gallagher, allowing Bobby Murdoch to score with another superb long-range shot. And the icing on the cake was served in the dying seconds as Chalmers forced the ball home for his hat-trick.

Despite the glory years to follow and the raft of wonderful strikers to wear the Hoops over the best part of five decades, Stevie would go down in history as the last Celt to score a League hat-trick against Rangers before their eventual liquidation in 2012.

Charlie Gallagher would make it two goals in two games with the only score in the home game with Dundee United five days later, and he would remain in the team in midweek as Dinamo Kiev became the first Russian side to play Celtic, the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final first leg tie drawing over 64,000 to Glasgow’s east end.

Tommy Gemmell would give Celts the lead on the half-hour with a shot from fully 35 yards, a lead they would hold at the interval, at which point the huge crowd were treated to a ‘keepy-uppy’ masterclass from 16-year-old youth prospect George Connelly. We would hear much more about him in due course, however, it was a current Parkhead superstar who would make the difference in the second half, Bobby Murdoch netting a double and only the crossbar preventing a hat-trick as Celts put one foot in the semi-final, despite a missed penalty from John Hughes. The long unbeaten run would finally be brought to a halt at a snowy Pittodrie on the Saturday, Aberdeen recovering from an early Joe McBride header to beat the League leaders 3-1.

The return leg with Dynamo Kiev proved problematic from start to finish, tortuous journeys either side of a torrid 1-1 draw in Tbilisi seeing the Celts arrive back in Glasgow late on the Friday night, ahead of the game at Tynecastle the following day. Jock Stein then decided to take the team straight to Parkhead for a training session, witnessed by around 500 hardy supporters, before sending the players home shortly after midnight. There was also a rare show of Bob Kelly’s continuing influence in team matters, as Jock Stein dropped Jim Craig – the young defender having been sent off in Georgia in midweek – forcing the manager to field Billy McNeill at right-back. It would be no great surprise, therefore, when Hearts beat the Hoops 3-2 that afternoon in front of an incredible 46,000 spectators, Willie Wallace inflicting most of the damage with a double. A second consecutive away defeat thus allowed Rangers to join Celtic at the top of the table, the Ibrox club enjoying a fractionally better goal average as the lead Celts had worked so hard to build up had evaporated in just two weeks.

February 1966 would kick-off with the defence of the Scottish Cup. Charlie had set up two of the goals as Celts won the trophy the previous April and he would open our account for this campaign, blasting home after eight minutes against Second Division Stranraer at Celtic Park. Further goals from Bobby Murdoch, Joe McBride and Bobby Lennox would seal a very comfortable 4-0 passage into the next round, where Celts would face and beat Dundee 2-0 at Dens Park, however, the month ended with a third away League defeat in succession, this time at Annfield against struggling Stirling Albion, as the cherished flag threatened to flutter harmlessly away. The form on the road was in complete contrast to that at Parkhead, Stein’s men hammering Dundee 5-0 in a League game two nights later to make it 15 goals scored with none conceded in three home games, a result that saw the Hoops again level with Rangers at the top of the table, now with the same games played.

The first Saturday in March saw Celts face a treacherous trip to Tynecastle in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup, having lost there just five weeks earlier. Another astonishing attendance of 46,000 would witness a titanic tie, the Bhoys twice coming from behind to finally settle for a 3-3 draw, on a day when spectator encroachment would see the teams head off the pitch for 10 minutes in the first half. There would be 72,000 crammed into Parkhead for the replay four days later, a midweek attendance record for the ground, and this time the Hoops would be on the front foot, Charlie’s beautiful through ball releasing Jimmy Johnstone to give them the lead within 10 minutes. Further strikes from Bobby Murdoch and Stevie Chalmers saw the Bhoys three goals ahead before Willie Wallace grabbed a late consolation for the visitors, his fourth goal in three games against Celtic. Jock Stein would no doubt be taking note. A good night then became a great one as news came through that Rangers had lost their League match at Brockville by 3-2.

An injury sustained against Hearts would force Charlie back onto the sidelines as the month progressed with Celtic still chasing success on three fronts, edging steadily ahead of Rangers in the title race as the Govan club dropped points then qualifying to meet them at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final after beating Dunfermline Athletic 2-0 at Ibrox in the last four, a repeat of the previous season’s finale. Bertie Auld was once again on target, as he had been twice in April 1965, this time beating Bent Martin in the Dunfermline goal, the big Dane having moved to Fife following a brief spell at Parkhead.

Charlie Gallagher would return to action on Saturday, 9 April 1966, a full month after his injury in the Scottish Cup quarter-final replay with Hearts, replacing Bobby Lennox at inside-left. He would waste no time, scoring the opening goal as Celts beat St Mirren 5-0, a tally which took them over the 100-goals mark after 30 League matches and five points clear at the top, albeit Rangers still had one game in hand.

As the big games kept on coming, Charlie would no doubt have been disappointed to step aside again in favour of Lennox, as Bill Shankly’s Liverpool became Celtic’s first English opponents in European football when they arrived in Glasgow for the first leg of the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final on Thursday, 14 April 1966. Almost 77,000 spectators crammed into Celtic Park to see that man Lennox score the only goal of the game, early in the second half.

Having beaten the elder Shankly brother, Jock Stein failed to repeat the trick against Bob’s Hibernian, two days later, the goalless stalemate at Easter Road allowing Rangers to creep within two points of Celtic with just three League games remaining. And the second European Cup Winners’ Cup journey would end for the Bhoys just as the first one had, with a single-goal aggregate defeat in the semi-final. The slender lead from Glasgow was overturned in a five-minute second-half spell at Anfield, with the cruellest blow saved for the last minute, as Bobby Lennox sped past a defender to score the away goal which would have given Celtic a European final at Hampden, 12 months before Lisbon. Incredibly, the Belgian official disallowed the goal for offside, sparking fury on the terracing behind the goal. It was a sad end to a sad night.

There would be no time for moping with the Scottish Cup final taking place at Hampden five days later, Saturday, 23 April 1966. An injury to Bobby Lennox and the suspension of Bertie Auld saw Charlie Gallagher and Jimmy Johnstone restored to the Celtic line-up, as Jock Stein went with the following team, in front of almost 127,000 spectators.

Ronnie Simpson;
Ian Young & Tommy Gemmell;
Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill & John Clark;
Jimmy Johnstone, Joe McBride, Stevie Chalmers, Charlie Gallagher & John Hughes.

Charlie would come closest to ending Celtic’s recent goal drought in a tense first half when his effort shaved the crossbar, Billy McNeill going even closer immediately after the restart when his header crashed back of the woodwork with Rangers keeper Billy Ritchie well-beaten, denying the Hoops captain a second successive Scottish Cup final goal. He would not be a stranger to doing that in future showpieces. At the other end, Ronnie Simpson’s brave save to foil Willie Johnston saw the first occurrence of what would prove to be many shoulder injuries over the years. These would eventually end the great man’s career in his 40th year. With the match ending goalless, the teams would do it all again the following Wednesday.

Jock Stein made two changes for the replay, Charlie Gallagher making way for the return of Bertie Auld whilst Jim Craig replaced Ian Young at right-back. Celtic would again have the better of the chances, however, the lean spell in front of goal continued with another blank and frustrating night, Rangers Danish defender Kai Johansen scoring the only goal of the final to allow the Ibrox club to take the cup and give Jock Stein his first Hampden defeat as Celtic manager.

All attention at Celtic Park now focused on securing a first League title in 12 long years. The Hampden hangover cure began three days later with a 2-0 win in Greenock, Charlie restored to the side as Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox scored in the dying embers of each half to relegate Morton. On the same day, it was announced that John Divers was being released. He had not featured since the defeat at Ibrox back in September. The man who had made his debut just after Hampden in the Sun and who had scored the first League goal of this campaign – and the club’s historic run as it turned out – would move on after almost 250 games and 110 goals in the Hoops. It was another sign of the changing times at Celtic.

Whilst history will record that Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row titles at Motherwell, the flag was effectively clinched at Parkhead on the night of Wednesday, 4 May 1966. There was a certain irony in that Dunfermline Athletic, who had featured so prominently in the stories of both Jock Stein and Celtic this decade to date, were the opposition as an unchanged Hoops team went behind to an Alex Ferguson strike after half an hour’s play on the last official matchday of the League campaign.

The remaining hour would now be season-defining. Defeat for Celts twinned with a Rangers victory at home to Clyde would have forced Celtic to win at Motherwell on the Saturday and then take their chances on goal average. Within five minutes, the shattered nerves of the 30,000 supporters were somewhat eased, as Charlie set up Bobby Lennox for a crucial equaliser. And 15 minutes into the second period, Jimmy Johnstone won the match, and to all intents and purposes the Championship, with a shot past Eric Martin. The final whistle brought a surge of relief and fans onto the pitch as the long wait was over, unless, of course, you are Jock Stein, who quickly pointed out that a 4-0 defeat at Fir Park would hand the title to Rangers, following their victory by the same scoreline at Ibrox.

One can scarcely imagine the excitement of those Celtic supporters who headed through to Motherwell on the afternoon of Saturday, 7 May 1966, to witness their club seek to finally win a League title for the first time in 12 years and, incredibly, only the third since 1936! For many of those with Celtic flowing through their veins, it would be the first time ever. Those fans who chewed their nails against St Johnstone on an unforgettable day 32 years later would perhaps be able to understand those feelings of anticipation tinged with just a bit of dread. You may recall that Hearts had only needed to avoid a 2-0 defeat at home to Kilmarnock on the final day of last season to secure the Championship, and had failed to do so and lost out.

Jock Stein named an unchanged Celtic line-up for the third successive game as the following men looked to take their place in the history.

Ronnie Simpson;
Jim Craig & Tommy Gemmell;
Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill & John Clark;
Jimmy Johnstone, Charlie Gallagher, Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox & Bertie Auld.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that 10 of those players would have climbed out of that tunnel into the heat of Lisbon 12 months later to make another kind of history, only Charlie missing out in favour of Willie Wallace. That outcome would be dependent on Celts avoiding a collapse similar to the defeat in Budapest, two years earlier.

That scenario would never be likely in the Lanarkshire sunshine, the ground packed with the massed legions of Celtic supporters as the Bhoys dominated proceedings from the outset. In fact, the only surprise was that the game appeared to be fizzling out in another of the stalemates that Stein’s men had unusually been involved in through the spring.

But history is not made by such results, Celtic history in any case. Last-minute drama and glory is inevitably required for the stories to be passed down through the generations, and today would be no different. With the referee looking at his watch, and the chants of triumph erupting in all four sides of Fir Park, on the terracings and on the rooftops lined with jubilant supporters, there would be one final act in season 1965/66. Jim Craig again drove down the right flank and crossed, and this time the darting figure of Bobby Lennox was on hand to deflect the ball past Peter McCloy and win the title the Celtic way.

The wait was over. Celtic were the Champions.

There are emotional scenes on and off the pitch, the veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson held aloft on the shoulders on his younger teammates, as he wins the first Championship of a 20-year playing career. There will be many more, Faither, together with greater glories. For Charlie Gallagher and most of the Bhoys, the domestic set of major medals has been clinched within the past 12 months, after years of ‘might have beens’ and ‘also rans’. They will now take their place in the European Cup – the European Champions Cup – for the first time ever.

It is a great day for the Celtic.

Hail Hail,

Matt Corr

Thanks, as always, to the folk behind the Celtic Wiki, a wonderful source of information, and to David Potter, author of Charlie’s biography, Charlie Gallagher? What a Player!

Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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