Harry Hood remained on the first-team periphery as November 1974 ended with another tricky away fixture, this time against Morton at Cappielow. Steve Murray’s goal on the stroke of half-time, following good work from the newlywed Kenny Dalglish, was the only counter as Celtic and Rangers continued to vie for supremacy at the top of the table, the Ibrox club now ahead only on the basis of goals scored after a 4-2 win over Dundee United at Ibrox.
Both sides would record 2-1 victories seven days later, on Saturday, 7 December 1974, Rangers at Pittodrie and Celts at home to Dunfermline Athletic. Harry had not featured in the first-team since the arrival of Ronnie Glavin the previous month, but he returned to the bench before having the final say of the afternoon. With Jimmy Johnstone and Dixie Deans still recovering from injury, Jock Stein could have done without losing Pat McCluskey to a chest knock within 15 minutes, the powerful defender’s final contribution being to inadvertently set up an opening goal for Graham Shaw.
With youngster Frank Welsh now in central defence, transfer-listed Jimmy Bone – only in the team due to the absence of Deans – immediately equalised with his one and only goal for Celtic. Billy McNeill and Harry had managed a few between them, and they would combine in the dying seconds to secure a precious point for the Hoops, Harry having replaced Bone just after the hour. Kenny Dalglish had created the first goal for Bone, and he would now claim a second assist, his curling corner-kick met by the head of Cesar, who knocked it into the danger area, Harry spinning to slam the ball past Dunfermline keeper Geir Karlsen and win the match for Celtic, his first goal since netting against Ayr United in late September.
I mentioned earlier about football throwing up co-incidences and there was yet another example of that in midweek, Wednesday, 11 December 1974, as Benfica arrived at Celtic Park for a charity match in aid of UNICEF. The former European champion clubs had clashed once before, in the second round of the European Cup in November 1969. On that occasion, both sides had won their respective home legs by 3-0, with Billy McNeill twice guessing correctly in the coin toss lottery which sent Celts through to a quarter-final match with Fiorentina, and, eventually, to a second European Cup final in May 1970. Sadly, the great Eusebio would miss out on a second appearance at Celtic Park through injury, as would Johan Cruyff, the Barcelona star having previously agreed to play as a guest.
Portuguese keeper Jose Henrique had lost three goals at Parkhead that night in 1969 and he would do so once more, whilst McNeill would again decide the issue, albeit not in the way he would have liked. Benfica had started on the front foot to open up a two-goal lead within 10 minutes, thanks to striker Vitor Moia’s double, before Celtic, who included George Connelly for the first time since his walkout in September, fought back superbly.
Paul Wilson won a penalty, Pat McCluskey beating Henrique, then the returning Connelly picked out Jimmy Johnstone expertly for the winger to level things at 2-2. When Ronnie Glavin and Harry weaved magic through the Benfica defence to allow the former Partick Thistle midfielder to edge the Hoops in front, it looked like that fightback had produced the desired outcome, but within minutes it was 3-3, thanks to a goal from legendary Portuguese striker Nene. Celts went close to winning the match with 10 minutes remaining, Harry crashing a shot off the crossbar with Henrique beaten, before a penalty shootout was required to decide the outcome.
Celts successfully converted all first four kicks, Pat McCluskey followed by Paul Wilson, Tommy Callaghan and Jimmy Johnstone, Benfica doing likewise, to create a sudden-death situation. Despite the presence of dead-ball experts George Connelly, Ronnie Glavin, Harry and Kenny Dalglish on the pitch, perhaps it was fate who chose Billy McNeill to take the final kick, the Celtic skipper playing his part in the drama as he stroked the ball past the post, allowing Toni to seal the victory. The real winners would be the children’s charity though, a 30,000 attendance on the night producing a £20,000 windfall for UNICEF.
Three days later, I witnessed perhaps the last great Celtic performance of the Jock Stein era as the Bhoys travelled to Dens Park on the winter’s afternoon of Saturday, 14 December 1974. Those of us privileged to be there that day will never forget it, including Rod Stewart, sitting nearby in the main stand, the first time I can recall him being at a Celtic match. His love for the Scottish national team had presumably triggered a friendship with Jimmy Johnstone and Kenny Dalglish, and if that were the case then he chose his fixture well.
The pair were simply sublime that day, although the game got off to a difficult beginning as Harry laid claim to be the earliest-ever Celtic substitution when he replaced the injured Ronnie Glavin in the first minute. Within five minutes, Jinky had taken advantage of a Thomson Allan error to give the Bhoys the lead, the keeper making another faux pas on the half-hour to let Johnstone in for his second. Between those strikes, King Kenny had served notice of what was to follow from him, finishing off a great team move to beat the Dundee keeper for 2-0.
The Scotland star then turned provider, robbing former Parkhead target Iain Phillip to set up Paul Wilson for a lethal strike which saw the Hoops head down the tunnel at the interval with a four-goal cushion. The highlight of the day arrived in front of us in – appropriately enough – the 67th minute, Dalglish beating Dundee defender George Stewart with a sublime dummy before clipping the ball over Allan for the most wonderful goal.
As the old Dens Park stand shook to the sound of a delirious Hoops support, Kenny then delivered the coup de grace, taking Steve Murray’s pass to waltz around the shellshocked Dundee keeper to make it 6-0, sending the Bhoys three goals clear of Rangers at the top of the table. A few weeks earlier, Scottish pop band Pilot had created a huge chart hit with their single “Magic,” the song quickly adapted and adopted by the Hoops support, declaring our belief that the mythical 10-in-a-row was on its way. That performance raised supporter hopes of The Ten to new levels, whilst sending out a chilling message to the challengers that Jock Stein’s champions were now back in the groove.
I have written previously that I believe this is the day Rod Stewart fell in love with Celtic.
We had been there for a while before him, and days like this were part of the reason why.
It was indeed magical.
*An extract from Harry Hood: Twice As Good, the official biography by Matt Corr