In retrospect one can see clearly that the semi-final replay was Gallagher’s career changing moment. It did not necessarily look that way at the time, but the way that Celtic played on that Wednesday night made quite a few journalists and certainly all the supporters purr with pleasure. Murdoch in midfield was superb, a hint at great things to come, and that fact the Gallagher was also playing well in the inside right position made Jock Stein think that he had now possibly hit on the best combination to bring back the much coveted and desired Scottish Cup.
The fact that Charlie had played in the semi-final replay and played well did not, of course, necessarily guarantee him a place in the Cup final line up. Four fairly irrelevant Scottish League games remained to be played before Scottish Cup final day on 24 April. They were irrelevant from the point of view of Celtic doing anything in the League but they were vital for Stein to decide what his best line up was to be.
On the Saturday after Celtic reached the Scottish Cup final, they were given an exultant reception by a small but animated Celtic crowd when they ran out to play the Third Lanark team who were now doomed to relegation, and eventually extinction. It would be the last time that Thirds ever appeared at Celtic Park, for even at this stage, some two years before their demise, rumours were circulating about their financial problems. The reception that Celtic got at the start was in direct contrast to what they got at the end, for the boos indicated a truly terrible performance, for although Celtic won 1-0, the only goal of the game was an own goal scored, ironically enough, by ex-Celtic captain Dunky MacKay! Stein was furious and everyone got a deserved round of the guns for letting the fans down like this.
The roasting seems to have worked, for on the Wednesday night, the performance was like chalk and cheese, and this time it was in a game that mattered, at least for the opposition. Hibs, it will be recalled had beaten Celtic 4-2 at Parkhead a couple of weeks previously without Charlie. This time at Easter Road, with Charlie in the team, Celtic thrashed them 4-0, thereby more or less killing what chance Hibs had of winning the Scottish League. Indeed, it could have been a great deal more and some newspapers would use words like “invincible” to describe Celtic’s performance that night. Other sources like the Celtic Supporters Handbook for the following season merely say that they were “attuning for the Scottish Cup final”.
It would of course be facile to suggest that Gallagher’s presence made all the difference, but there was an element of truth in it. More likely would be the role of Bobby Murdoch at right half now, plus the basic fact that the team were beginning to understand each other. After the Parkhead game, when the players had expected Stein to go mad at them, all he had done was to say quite calmly that the way Hibs played that night was the way he wanted Celtic to play. Hibs were, of course, to all intents and purposes still his team. He did not really expect a revolution in only 16 days between the two games between Celtic and Hibs, but he wished Celtic to play the way that Hibs had. There was still a lack of consistency, but basically some of the new Celtic team were beginning to grow together and to understand each other.
It is incidentally quite interesting to reflect on what effect this result had on Hibs. Two weeks previously, they could have won a League and Cup double. Now they were more or less out of both. The League had not yet gone, but the blow to their confidence was a heavy one. They were now destined for the next few years to play good football, but to win nothing, whereas if Jock Stein had stayed with them, it might have been a different story altogether.
Maybe Stein did this deliberately to fool Willie Cunningham of Dunfermline, but Celtic changed the team for the next two games – and they were bad – 2-6 at Falkirk on a Wednesday night to allow for the Scotland v England game at Wembley on the Saturday, and then the week before the Cup final, a horrible 1-2 defeat to Partick Thistle. Perceptive supporters noticed however a propos of the Partick Thistle game in which Gallagher was not playing, that although Celtic were poor, they did not need to win that game, whereas on the other hand, on that same day, Dunfermline would still have had a chance of the Scottish League if they could beat St Johnstone – but failed to do so. They could only draw. Celtic could afford to play around with their team selection, and although a win would have been a confidence boost of sorts, everyone knew that next Saturday, and only next Saturday, was the day that mattered.
In truth, these League games did not matter, and Stein had already made up his mind about who he was to pick for the Cup Final. His only real problem was whether to play Steve Chalmers or Jimmy Johnstone on the right wing. He may have had some reservations about Charlie Gallagher and Bertie Auld playing in the same team when they were such similar players – indeed he said this publicly – but decided to stick with the two of them with Gallagher on the right and Auld on the left in a fairly traditional Scottish team formation of two inside forwards being the “fetch and carry” men who would supply the ammunition for John Hughes, and the two wingers.
He did decide on Chalmers rather than Johnstone on the right wing, possibly preferring Stevie’s speed and maybe feeling that Johnstone’s emotional insecurity might let him down on the big occasion. In addition he had cause for thinking that Gallagher and Chalmers was a better combination than Gallagher and Johnstone. Stein was not yet Manager of Celtic on New Year’s Day 1965, but he was very aware of howRangers had goaded Jimmy to a violent reaction and an early bath. From his own personal experience, he knew that Dunfermline had a few players who could do just that as well.
The players were told who was in the team as early as the Tuesday before the game, and although the Press and the supporters were not officially told, they were able to guess. Essentially, it was the side which had performed so well in Celtic’s two good recent performances – namely against Motherwell in the Scottish Cup semi-final replay, and the defeat of Hibs at Easter Road. Sadly, it was the end of the line for men like Jim Kennedy, Hugh Maxwell and John Divers. Divers would stay around for a while yet but he had now clearly lost out to Charlie Gallagher and Bertie Auld. He had been a good player, but crucially lacked pace and often gave the impression of being none too bothered about what was going on. He also suffered from being compared unfavourably to his father, John Divers senior, who had of course played in the great Empire Exhibition Trophy win of 1938. Jim Kennedy still had a year or two left in him with Greenock Morton, whereas Hugh Maxwell, who had looked a desperate buy in November, moved on to St Johnstone.
So Fallon, Young and Gemmell; Murdoch, McNeill and Clark; Chalmers, Gallagher, Hughes, Lennox and Auld were the men charged with bringing home the silverware on what historians like to called Celtic’s Day of Destiny. This was no exaggeration, for 11 long years had passed since Celtic last won the Scottish Cup in 1954, during which time there had been 4 unhappy Cup finals, 3 of which had been made worse by going to replays, and a factor in all of them had been a crazy team selection by Mr Kelly. Mr Kelly had now however been supplanted by a man who knew his football. In fact, Mr Kelly would claim the credit for what was to come, and to a certain extent he deserves a little praise in that he knew when to step aside. He was “wise in confessing his own ignorance”. What a pity he did not do so sooner!
What was not acceptable was Mr Kelly’s implication that all this was part of a grand plan, whereby Stein would be, as it were, leased to Dunfermline so that he could learn the trade and return and win the European Cup with the fruits of the “Kelly Kids” policy of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was in fact what happened, but to claim that it was all done deliberately is a gross distortion of the truth.
For those of a historical inclination, the wilderness years had allowed something terrible to happen to the Scottish Cup. This trophy, so often looked upon as Celtic’s own special one – which Celtic youngster had not been told of Jimmy Quinn’s hat trick in 1904, Patsy Gallacher’s somersault and McGrory’s equaliser in 1925, and the comeback from the dead in 1931? – had now seen Rangers overtake Celtic in times of victories. That awful night of 1963 had seen Rangers equal Celtic’s total of 17, 1964 when Rangers beat Dundee took them to 18, so Celtic had to win today to level the score.
The Scottish League had similarly not been won since 1954, and if we ignore the Glasgow Cup, Celtic’s last major trophy was in fact the Scottish League Cup of blessed memory – the 7-1 defeat of Rangers. Little wonder the fans kept on about “seven, seven, seven”. There had been little else to be happy about. It was therefore with a thrill of anticipation but also with a dread of yet another heartbreak that Celtic supporters made their way from all over the British Isles and beyond to Hampden Park to form part of the 108,000 crowd.
To be concluded shortly only on The Celtic Star…
*Extract from David Potter’s wonderful book Charlie Gallagher? What a Player!