Memories View – Celtic’s bitter sweet 1979-80 season ends with ‘shameful scenes’ at Hampden

The close-season of 1979 was a great time to be a Celtic supporter, as we basked in the glory of the 4-2 game, the night when Ten Men Won the League. It was a time of big change for me personally, at eighteen years-old I was offered and accepted the job of Treasurer of my supporters club, the Cairn CSC, our bus running from Springburn in the north of Glasgow. Little did I know then that a series of lifetime Celtic adventures and friendships had just kicked off.

Cesar’s champions kicked off their competitive season with a 3-2 win against Morton at Celtic Park, Mrs. Cesar unfurling the flag as the Bhoys started where they had left off in May. The following week saw another real test of resolve, as for the second successive derby fixture, Celtic had to come from behind against Rangers with ten men.

This time Roy Aitken was the Bhoy to walk, ten minutes from half-time, the task then seemingly insurmountable as the home side took a two-goal lead early in the second period. However, the newly-opened Copland Road Stand was silenced in the closing minutes, as first Alan Sneddon, with his only goal for Celtic, then Tom McAdam rescued an unlikely point for the Celts, to the delight of the small section of Hoops fans around me in the Main Stand.

September brought another two competitions into Celtic’s focus. In the League Cup, there was a first, nostalgic visit to Brockville since Kenny’s goal secured THE nine-in-a row some five years earlier. A fabulous strike from on-form Davie Provan won the first-leg, a late second-half onslaught at Celtic Park then securing a comfortable 6-2 aggregate win three days later. A fairly low-key progression against Falkirk’s local rivals, second-tier Stirling Albion, then set Celtic up for a quarter-final tie with Aberdeen later in the year.

Celtic’s return to the European Cup involved one of our more bizarre encounters, as we were drawn to play Albanian champions Partizan Tirana. The lead-up to the first game was unusual to say the least, dominated by visa issues and a request for Danny McGrain to shave his beard!

Those of us within the 51,000 Celts in the ground that night briefly feared the worst, before the headed goals started raining in at the right end. Four strikes by half-time finished the match and one of the strangest European ties in our long history.

In the meantime, progress was steady in the race to retain the championship. Celts recovered from the concession of early goals to record valuable wins at Easter Road and Pittodrie, the latter yet again with ten men, as the late Tommy Burns saw red for a late tackle on his future Parkhead colleague Gordon Strachan.

Only two further points were dropped, at home to Dundee United and away to Partick Thistle, as the first round of nine games was completed, Celts leading Morton by three points, with Ferguson’s Dons a further point adrift in third. The next fixture would involve a top-two battle at Cappielow and turned in ten first-half minutes, Murdo MacLeod blasting his spot-kick over the bar before Bobby Thomson hit the only goal of the game, to bring the Greenock side back to within a point of the defending champions.

This was a night which would mark the last first-team appearance of 1977 Cup Final penalty hero, Andy Lynch. Signed as a winger from Hearts by Jock Stein in 1973, Hoops-mad ‘Kipper’ moved to left-back two years later, where he provided great service to Celtic for the next four seasons, including a spell as interim captain, in what had long been a problem position.

Two weeks later, I joined the early morning posse in Tollcross, for my first European away game. If my memory serves me correctly, £29 bought an overnight trip with Cross Travel, so together with some of the Cairn Bishopbriggs Division, we headed south for the Irish ferry. In the height of the troubles, the requests to be quiet as we drove through Belfast met with a predictable response, pure bedlam as the full Wolfe Tones repertoire got its scariest-ever rendition. We did eventually make it to Dundalk for the game, my new-found taste for Guinness then discovering a very different version of God’s Drink from that served in Glasgow.

The match itself was a bit surreal, the cement at the front of our Oriel Park terracing was still being dried off as we arrived at the ground. A packed house of 18,000 saw a real, old-fashioned cup-tie, with Celtic dominating but time-after-time being frustrated by an offside trap or the wonderfully-named Dundalk goalkeeper, Ritchie Blackmore. A Roddie MacDonald ‘goal’ was ruled out before the Irish missed one final, glorious chance in the dying minutes, the ball flying across Latchford’s goal but mercifully with no takers. We dragged our cement-stained feet back to the hotel for the inquest and more Guinness, thankfully still in January’s quarter-final draw after a long, tense night.

On the last Saturday of October, we had witnessed more change, this time with the Hoops themselves, Celtic wearing a new V-neck shirt for the first time, and in midfield, as new signing Dom Sullivan made his debut for the home clash with Rangers.

From the Celtic stronghold of the Garngad, I remember as a young boy watching the teenage Sullivan play in the famous ‘Candy Roch’ green at Petershill Park against Larkhall Thistle, perhaps a decade earlier. Now, signed the previous day from Aberdeen, having played under Billy both there and with Clyde, he had the start of Celtic fan dreams, nut-megging Alex MacDonald in the opening seconds. Roddie MacDonald’s late header did count this time, the only goal of the game in front of 56,000, enabling Celts to maintain a slender lead at the top.

Sullivan was cup-tied for the next match, the midweek League Cup Quarter-Final first leg at Pittodrie, however it was another of Cesar’s old Shawfield boys, Steve Archibald, who did the damage, with the classic hat-trick of right foot, left foot and header. Edvaldsson had opened the scoring in the opening seconds before Archibald struck, with another sensational Provan free-kick then making it 3-2 and keeping the tie alive.

There would be no League Cup glory for the champions again this season, as for the second time in just eight months, Ferguson’s Dons came to Celtic Park to end our interest in a major domestic cup competition. Having beaten Rangers 5-1 in the previous round, the team built by Cesar to challenge at the summit of Scottish football was now developing the steel and belief under his old adversary to make the next step, winning regularly in Glasgow.

However, there was now a different threat to be addressed by those with sights on a trophy haul in Scotland. Jim McLean’s Dundee United, having gone so close to the title that spring, finally won their first top-flight honour by beating Aberdeen 3-0 in the League Cup Final replay at Dens Park, following a goalless draw at Hampden.

In the meantime, there was work to be done to stay in the race for the title.

Kilmarnock had burst the Celtic bubble from the October derby victory, by winning 2-0 at Rugby Park the following week. Then, despite a single-goal victory at Tannadice on our return from Dundalk, thanks to a late header from ‘Big Shuggy’ Edvaldsson, there was a third defeat in four away games, 2-1 at Love Street, in early December.

By contrast, home league form was excellent, comfortable victories over bottom-dogs Hibernian, Bertie Auld’s Partick Thistle then closest challengers Morton, making it seventeen points from a possible eighteen since August.

The weekend after the sub-zero clash with Morton would see the final game of the Seventies, a second visit to an under-construction Ibrox. Only 34,000 were present, yours truly in the Centenary Stand for the one and only time, to watch evergreen-skelper Lennox equalise a Johnstone header within a minute, late in the match.

It was a vital point, ending a miserable run of away defeats and ensuring the hard-fought advantage over Morton was stretched to three points, following their surprise home loss to Thistle. Despite being in third place, it was now looking unlikely that the title challenge would come from Rangers, six points behind having played two games more. Aberdeen and Dundee United hovered just below, the Dons in particular looking menacing, carrying three critical games-in-hand into the new decade.

The following Saturday, we headed through to Easter Road to witness George Best’s first competitive appearance against Celtic. Ally MacLeod (no, not that one!) had hit the bar with a penalty kick in the opening minutes before the Irish genius put the bottom side ahead within half an hour,  a shot which Latchford should surely have stopped. An Aitken header brought Celts level ten minutes later and the scoring ended there.

ten clear of Aberdeen

February witnessed one of the most memorable Scottish Cup ties of that period – and perhaps Johnny Doyle’s finest hour – as Celtic were paired with St Mirren in the fourth round. There were over 30,000 fans inside Celtic Park when Hoops fan and scourge Frank McDougall gave the Buddies a first-half lead with a trademark header.

There was a certain irony in the goal, McDougall having been a signing target for Billy McNeill whilst at Clydebank, Celtic’s £100,000 offer then bizarrely being trumped by St Mirren, who paid an additional £80,000 to get their man. We would try again some time later to get him from Paisley,  this time losing out to Alex Ferguson, who secured him for Aberdeen.

We would pay for this prudence (or biscuit-tin mentality?) many times over the years. I remember coming back from Pittodrie after yet another defeat, this time McDougall scoring four goals against us.

As we trudged into the Celtic Social Club in Springburn, there’s the bold Frank standing at the bar in the poolroom, resplendent in his Aberdeen tracksuit, sinking a pint and chewing the fat with his Celtic mates! Talk about twisting the knife? However, on this occasion, Billy’s big signings would save the day for Celtic, Davie Provan setting up Murdo MacLeod for a last-minute headed equaliser.

The following midweek, I witnessed the biggest crowd I ever saw at Love Street, for the replay.

We were still queuing outside the ground, as first Latchford let a Bone header slip through his fingers then McAdam saw red, after a tussle with the aforementioned McDougall. The Saints striker was then stretchered off, following a Danny McGrain tackle, before Johnny Doyle ran through to equalise on the half-hour.

Over 27,000 crushed into the old ground to watch yet another heroic 10-man performance from Celtic, who suffered a further body-blow as the Buddies were awarded the softest of penalties on the hour mark. Despite a brave save from Latchford, Doug Somner followed up to make it 2-1 Saints. With twenty minutes to play, star man Doyle drew a Weir foul in the box and Bobby Lennox confidently brought Celts level.

So to extra-time, Johnny then winning the tie for Celtic in the first minute with a classic goal, beating defenders then goalkeeper Thomson from the tightest of angles. Nearly forty years on, I remember that night so well, a real throwback to the cup-tie occasions of my childhood.

March commenced with a vital win in the top-of-the-table clash at a packed Cappielow, on Cesar’s 40th birthday, a quick piece of thinking by the veteran Lennox setting up Doyle for an early winner and a degree of revenge for the October defeat at the same venue.

The first half went much as predicted, Real’s star man, Englishman Laurie Cunningham causing problems and going close, however at the interval the game was still goalless. The second period saw a transformation in Celtic, who spied an opportunity and went for it. The unlikely hero was right-back Alan Sneddon, new to the team but already oft-maligned by supporters, careering down the stand side to set up both goals.

The first came in the early minutes, as Sneddon saw his fierce shot parried by the goalkeeper, only for George McCluskey to knock the rebound home and send Celtic Park into a frenzy. With fifteen minutes remaining, he then threw a high cross into the box and we watched in disbelief as the diminutive Doyle timed his run and jump to perfection to double Celtic’s lead.

Whilst there were other opportunities, the general consensus was that a two-goal lead without the concession of an away goal was a fabulous outcome and more than we had dared hope prior to kick-off. Of course, it was also acknowledged that Real on their own ground, venue for that season’s European Cup Final, would be a completely different proposition and would present the ultimate challenge for Billy’s young team.

So it proved a fortnight later in Madrid, in front of 120,000 baying fans. Two players survived from the previous clash in the Bernabeu in June 1967, in what was the great Alfredo di Stefano’s last-ever appearance. For Celtic, Bobby Lennox, scorer of the only goal that night in what was his great friend Jinky’s masterclass, facing legendary Real captain Jose Martinez Sanchez, better known as Pirri.

Both players had served their clubs with great distinction for many years, with double-digit title wins and a European Cup winners medal, providing mirror-image careers. This European campaign would be the last for both fine servants and, sadly, Lemon’s would end tonight in tears.

A glorious chance passed up in the opening minutes by George McCluskey would come back to haunt Celts just before half-time, as Latchford missed Cunningham’s corner and Santillana forced the ball home. With the crowd now behind them, Real stepped through the gears after the break.

A fantastic move ended with the German Stielike lashing the ball past Latchford and the tie was level within the hour. McNeill’s young team fought bravely, however, there was a certain inevitability about the winning goal, which came in the last ten minutes from a Juanito header.

In the Bernabeu museum a few years ago, I was forced to relive the agony of that night, as I came across a display dedicated to that match. I suppose there was a certain comfort that in a club with such a spectacular history, they still regarded that comeback as one of their own special nights.

I felt very differently in 1980!

With the European dream over, there was still a title to be won. To bolster the attack, Billy had finally managed to sign a striker, Frank McGarvey joining from Liverpool for a club record fee of £250,000. He made his debut the following night against his old club St Mirren at Celtic Park, a game where Celts continued the worrying trend of throwing away a winning lead, this time two late goals from McGarvey’s Love Street replacement, Doug Somner, salvaging an unlikely point for the visitors.

Following the defeat in Madrid, the Bhoys finally got back to winning ways, with home victories over Hibernian and Rangers. Four second-half goals, including a first strike for Frank McGarvey, put paid to a poor Hibs side, heading for the drop even with the great George Best.

The following Wednesday, McGarvey was on target again, his late header from an Aitken cross being the decisive moment, as Celts surged seven points clear of Aberdeen, with Morton and St Mirren a further point behind. The Dons did have a game in hand of Celtic and would be the next visitors to Parkhead that coming Saturday, surely the last-chance saloon for them.

There were 40,000 fans in the old ground for what would prove a pivotal day in the title race. Aberdeen struck first, through Jarvie, Doyle heading Celtic level within minutes. The winning goal came on the hour, McGhee taking advantage of a kind break in the box to fire home. Substitute Bobby Lennox, who had replaced the concussed McAdam in the first half, had a glorious chance to level the match on 68 minutes, however his weak spot kick was easily saved by Clark and the Dons were back in business, five points behind having played one game less.

There was some respite the following midweek, as goals in the first minute of each half gave Celtic a badly-needed win at home to Kilmarnock. The same night, Aberdeen dropped a point at home to lowly Hibernian, enabling the Bhoys’ lead to stretch to four points.

However, both joy and the lead would be short-lived. On the Saturday, Celts travelled to Dens Park, an early Aitken goal giving us the perfect start. Then the roof caved in, as Dundee, who would be relegated the next week, responded with five on a sickening day for the large Celtic support in the ground. Another penalty miss, this time from Murdo MacLeod, merely added to the misery, an Aberdeen win at Kilmarnock bringing them to within two points of Celtic, still with that precious game in hand and a second Parkhead visit in April to come that midweek.

A virtual title-decider brought a near-50,000 crowd to Celtic Park on the Wednesday night. The majority were silenced early on, as Archibald struck again for the Dons with a close-range finish. Two minutes later, Celtic levelled through a penalty, earned and scored by McCluskey. Latchford then saved a Strachan spot kick before the game’s key moment, a free header for McGhee in first-half stoppage time and Celtic were on the ropes.

The game was over on the hour mark, as Strachan made up for his earlier miss by capitalising on a Latchford error, the big Englishman dropping a cross at his feet for 3-1. A fourth defeat in five games saw Aberdeen finally go top on goal difference, as the title won so spectacularly against the odds the previous May was being conceded with a whimper.

There would be a final act of defiance from Cesar’s Champions, with back-to-back wins against Partick Thistle and Dundee edging them a single point ahead with just one fixture remaining.

However, with an additional match to play, Aberdeen had the title to lose and a hunger and momentum which suggested that this would not be the outcome. On the Saturday it was all over, Celts drawing a blank at Love Street whilst Ferguson’s Dons went nap at Easter Road, securing a first title in twenty-five years and ensuring that the Championship would reside outside Glasgow for the first time since Waddell’s Kilmarnock pipped Hearts at Tynecastle, back in April 1965.

For McNeill’s Celtic, the season would be defined by the following week’s Scottish Cup Final. The sensational replay victory against St Mirren had been followed by a more straightforward win over Morton in the Quarter-final, a few days after the euphoria of beating Real Madrid. That set up a Semi-final tie with Hibernian at Hampden in April, a most untypical semi as Celts hit five without reply against the doomed Leith side.

The only goal came in the second period of extra-time, man-of-the-match Danny McGrain’s shot flicked into the opposite corner of the Rangers net by George McCluskey, leaving McCloy stranded. A nervous few minutes ensued before the final whistle created the famous black ash cloud at the Kings Park end of Hampden, as the vast Celtic support celebrated winning ‘our cup’ once again, after a two-year hiatus.

The shameful scenes which followed have been well-documented and diverted focus from a brave effort from a weakened Celtic side, still suffering the hangovers from European and League defeats. Also, sadly, the final game of his Celtic career for that fabulous servant, Lisbon Lion Bobby Lennox, after eighteen superb years, a medal collection to die for and more goals than anyone other than McGrory, is often overlooked in favour of less savoury headlines.

Following the loss of the title at Love Street, Bobby’s fellow Lion, manager Billy McNeill, had vowed to win the Cup and the next season’s title as a gesture of thanks and appreciation to the Celtic support, who had stuck with the team through a difficult second half of that season. Now, as a new era beckoned in Scottish football with the threat from the North-East, Cesar had delivered on the first part of that promise. There would be interesting times ahead.

Hail Hail,

Matt Corr

Click on the image above to shop


The Celtic Star’s Father’s Day Promotion has been so successful, with hundreds of books at great prices being posted to Celtic fans all over the world, that we’ve decided to continue with the sale until the end of July. We’ve reduced all six books currently available from their usual retail price of £20 and prices are as low as £6 (see below).

All books are high quality hardback, with some signed by the author. And it’s also worth noting that you only pay postage on one book, so it’s free for the second, third and so on. ORDER HERE or click on The Celtic Star image above…this is how it feels to be Celtic!

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.

Comments are closed.