“Oh Harry, Harry…Oh Harry Hood”: Part 20: “Hello, hello, eight-in-a-row!”
Jock Stein made two changes from the remarkable draw at Methil for the tricky Scottish Cup-tie at Fir Park, Motherwell on Saturday, 24 February 1973. Davie Hay and Bobby Lennox came in with Harry Hood moving on to the bench and the injured Tom Callaghan dropping out of the squad. Quite remarkably, this was the first time Celts had been drawn away from home in the competition since the quarter-final clash at Tynecastle seven years earlier.
On a beautiful but cold afternoon, Celtic would be up for the task from the off, Kenny Dalglish curling an opener past Keith MacRae within six minutes. There was a certain inevitably after the four spot kicks at Methil the previous weekend that we would be talking about these again today, and so it proved, Billy McNeill penalised for handball after 15 minutes.
For once, though, this would result in a positive for Celts, Ally Hunter diving to his left to save in spectacular fashion from Peter Millar. This would prove the crucial moment in the tie. Dalglish and Dixie Deans had shared four goals in the defeat of East Fife at Celtic Park in the previous round, and they would combine brilliantly again, Kenny linking up with Danny McGrain to set his strike partner up for a five-minute double midway through the first half.
And having saved a penalty so early in his Parkhead career, goalkeeper Hunter now turned provider as his long clearance found Bobby Lennox running into the opposite box to lash the ball past MacRae for 4-0. Harry Hood would join the fray with 15 minutes remaining to give man-of-the-match Davie Hay a rest on his return from injury. All round it had been a great day for the Celtic.
March would bring a recall for Harry as Davie Hay found himself on the injured list once again following the 4-0 victory over St Johnstone at Celtic Park. The visitors to Glasgow’s east end on Saturday, 3 March 1973 were Aberdeen, a dress rehearsal for the quarter-final tie due at the same venue later that month. The returning Hood came closest to breaking the deadlock in a one-sided first half, his shot beating Scotland keeper Bobby Clark all ends up before crashing off his post. The match remained goalless for an hour until Dons centre-half Willie Young handled Jimmy Johnstone’s netbound effort on the line.
On the back of five successive failed attempts from the spot for Celtic, it would fall to Bobby Lennox to take his first-ever penalty in senior football and give the Bhoys the lead. With seven minutes remaining, Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish produced another example of the world-class talents they would become, the Quality Street graduates combining brilliantly for Dalglish to seal a 2-0 win.
The fickle nature of football was demonstrated again three nights later, as a Paul Wilson goal just before the interval gave Celts a 1-0 home victory over Morton, the two points secured by winning their game in hand over Rangers taking the Hoops back to the top of the League but insufficient to avoid the chorus of booing at the final whistle. And that was repeated after the weekend clash at Tannadice ended 2-2, the dropped point meaning that only goal difference now separated Celtic and the Ibrox men at the summit with just seven games remaining.
There was a break from League business on Saturday, 17 March 1973, quarter-final day in the Scottish Cup attracting 40,000 spectators to see a rematch of the 1970 final between Celtic and Aberdeen at Parkhead. The main character on the day would be referee R H Davidson of Airdrie, just as he had been on that dreadful day at Hampden.
He would rule out a Jimmy Johnstone goal within the first minute, having initially awarded it, then add insult to injury by sending the winger off on the hour, having consulted with his linesman in front of the Jungle, a decision with sparked a hail of missiles to be launched in his direction.
The St Patrick’s Day stalemate would see the circus travel north for a midweek replay at a packed Pittodrie, with Celtic’s hopes of back-to-back Doubles now seriously under threat on two fronts, however, yet again, when the chips were down, Jock Stein’s men found a way to win.
The reinstated Harry Hood was involved in most of the game’s key moments, hitting the post early on before going close with a spectacular, flying header. Then with just four minutes remaining, Harry’s corner found the flashing head of Billy McNeill to bring back memories of that wonderful winning goal in the final against Dunfermline Athletic in April 1965, the imperious Cesar rising above two Dons defenders to beat Bobby Clark and send Celtic through to the last four.
The stakes were high again as Jock Stein’s men travelled to Tynecastle on Saturday, 24 March 1973, a venue where they had failed to win a League match since October 1968. As Celts had faced off with Aberdeen in the midweek cup replay, Rangers had taken advantage by beating Airdrieonians 6-2 at Broomfield, meaning that the Bhoys were once again playing catch-up at the top of the table. A superb early strike from Dixie Deans set Celtic up for another valuable two points, Bobby Lennox sealing a 2-0 win on the hour following good work by Vic Davidson.
Controversial referee Bobby Davidson was back at Celtic Park on the last day of March, as the Hoops entertained Falkirk, however, even the Airdrie official was powerless to stop a Celtic side from romping to a 4-0 victory, with Harry Hood very much to the fore after the interval. Dixie Deans had once again opened the scoring with Bobby Lennox successfully converting his second penalty kick of the month.
Just before the hour, the lightning-fast Lisbon Lion took advantage of an exquisite Hood pass to make it 3-0, and within five minutes it was four, Harry combining beautifully with Davie Hay before shooting past Ally Donaldson in the Bairns goal for his first strike in more than three months. With the points in the bag, Hood then made way for young Brian McLaughlin to receive some game time.
April opened with a Tuesday evening rescheduled match at home to Motherwell, second-half goals from the deadly duo of Kenny Dalglish and Dixie Deans securing the two points which brought Celtic level at the summit with Rangers but now 11 goals better off than the Ibrox side, both teams now with four games remaining.
Harry Hood had enjoyed another fine match against the Steelmen, but he would then be struck by illness which ruled him out of the Scottish Cup semi-final with Dundee at Hampden on the Saturday, a goalless draw setting up an incredible seventh meeting of the sides that season the following midweek, the third at Hampden. The 90 minutes in the replay would again fail to produce a goal, Celts requiring extra-time before a Jimmy Johnstone double either side of a Kenny Dalglish strike sent the Hoops into an eighth Scottish Cup final in nine seasons.
Having recovered from illness, Harry Hood made a late cameo appearance from the bench to replace the injured Dixie Deans.
Rangers had once again taken advantage of Celtic’s Scottish Cup commitments to play and win a League match, a solitary John Greig goal enough to take the points against his boyhood team at Tynecastle. Thus, as Celtic travelled to face St Johnstone at Muirton Park on Saturday, 14 April 1973, they were back in second place in the table, two points behind with a game in hand. Jock Stein named the following men to maintain the push for the title.
Ally Hunter; Danny McGrain & Jim Brogan; Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill & George Connelly; Jimmy Johnstone, Harry Hood, Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay & Tom Callaghan.
Substitute; Bobby Lennox.
On a ground where Celts had often struggled and would do so again many times in the future, this was one of those afternoons when Stein’s machine clicked into place, Kenny Dalglish on hand to tap home Billy McNeill’s header midway through the first half to ease the pressure on the travelling Hoops.
The lead was doubled 10 minutes after the break, Jimmy Johnstone stealing in at the far post to convert a Tommy Callaghan cross and Dalglish sealed the points in the 66th minute, taking a Bobby Murdoch pass to beat Jim Donaldson at his near post. The only negative on the day was the late strike by Jim Pearson which finished the scoring at 3-1, the first goal Ally Hunter and his defence had conceded since the 2-2 draw at Tannadice, a most un-Celtic-like sequence of seven clean sheets in a row. Hopefully, that failure to complete the eighth was not an omen. Rangers beat Dundee United 2-1 at Ibrox on the same afternoon, Greig with a double as he maintained his one-man battle to steal Celtic’s crown.
Wednesday, 18 April 1973 became the latest critical date in the titanic struggle for the 1972/73 Scottish League Championship. Stein made one change to his starting line-up from Perth for the visit of Dumbarton, Dixie Deans returning with Harry Hood moving to the bench and Bobby Lennox dropping out.
The Celtic manager’s selection would be vindicated as Deans netted a hat-trick, Tom Callaghan and Kenny Dalglish making it a nap hand as the champions returned to the top of the table on goal difference. Jimmy Johnstone had again been at his mercurial best, withdrawn by Stein after 70 minutes at 4-0 after suffering an ankle injury, allowing Hood a late piece of the action. Enjoying a positive differential of 16 over their Ibrox rivals, Celtic now required only to match Rangers results in the final two fixtures to retain their title and extend their winning sequence to an unprecedented eight-in-a-row.
The title odds then finally tilted in Celtic’s favour three days later, as Arbroath travelled to Parkhead whilst Rangers faced the tricky trip to Pittodrie. Harry Hood retained his place at the expense of the injured Jimmy Johnstone, with Bobby Lennox returning to the bench.
It would have been difficult to predict the outcome at the interval as Celts struggled against an Arbroath side who had come back from 3-1 down to snatch a point at Hampden earlier in the season then taken the Hoops all the way before succumbing to a late defeat at Gayfield just before Christmas.
The sigh of relief from inside Celtic Park when Harry Hood headed the vital breakthrough goal eight minutes into the second half would have been heard at Pittodrie and we then had one of those incredible moments when the stadium erupts with nothing to justify that on the pitch, a thousand transistor radios advising that the Dons were now leading against Rangers.
There was still work to be done here, Hood and Tommy Callaghan switching flanks to great effect as goals from Davie Hay, Dixie Deans and Kenny Dalglish in the final 20 minutes had the champagne on ice.
As things stood, only a Celtic defeat at Easter Road and a 20-goal swing in favour of Rangers on the final day would prevent eight-in-a-row. With the celebrations in full swing, there was yet another twist in this extraordinary season. Back in January, Alfie Conn had turned one point into two with his last-minute headed winner against Celtic at Ibrox. He would now turn a defeat into a draw at Pittodrie in the final seconds, the point secured enough to halt the party at Parkhead.
Crucially, Celtic would still require a point in Leith to ensure the flag would be flying above the Jungle in the summer. Easter Road was a notoriously difficult place to secure a result. This title race would go right to the wire.
What is it they say about football history repeating itself?
On Saturday, 17 April 1954, a Celtic team including that immortal half-back line of Evans, Stein and Peacock and a forward line which featured legends Willie Fernie, Sean Fallon, Charlie Tully and Neil Mochan, had travelled to Easter Road requiring a point to claim a first title win in 16 years. They had done so, following a 3-0 victory, thanks to a Mochan brace then a late strike from John Higgins. Fallon would then score the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final seven days later, giving Jimmy McGrory’s Celtic a first League and Cup double in 40 years, the only one achieved by the great man as a player or manager in a wonderful career.
Seven days before the 1973 Scottish Cup final against Rangers, on Saturday, 28 April, Jock Stein, Sean Fallon and Neil Mochan would be in the Easter Road dugout as the following men sought to write another chapter in Celtic’s illustrious history.
Ally Hunter; Danny McGrain & Jim Brogan; Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill & George Connelly; Jimmy Johnstone, Dixie Deans, Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay & Tom Callaghan.
Substitute; Harry Hood.
Just as back in April 1954, there was a crowd of over 45,000 packed into the old Leith terraces, the vast majority hoping to see their Bhoys secure the title. Having witnessed five, six then seven-in-a-row being clinched, I was heartbroken to be told by my dad that the potential crushing at Easter Road meant that I would be listening to the match at home, rather than being part of one of the biggest Celtic travelling supports ever to attend a game. Sometimes it’s rubbish being 12. That would not be a concern for Stein’s men as they attacked down the famous slope, Billy McNeill almost adding to his collection of vital goals as his shot crashed back off Jim McArthur’s crossbar within seven minutes of kick-off.
The opening goal was merely delayed a further 15 minutes, Tom Callaghan’s angled drive blocked on the line by Derek Spalding only for Dixie Deans to gleefully hammer home the loose ball. Nerves inevitably would creep in, both on and off the park, as the two sides fought for that vital next goal. Ironically, perhaps, the mistake which made sure of Celtic’s victory was down to two Hibernian defenders, McArthur and Des Bremner getting into a horrible tangle, allowing Kenny Dalglish an open goal for 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining.
Now the party could really get underway, in Leith and Springburn, Deans putting the icing on the championship cake when he rose at the far post to head home Davie Hay’s superb cross. The little striker was, perhaps appropriately, wearing the number eight shorts on the day, his double securing the title just as Neil Mochan’s had done on the same ground back in 1954. At full-time, both men would embrace on the pitch as the players and management celebrated yet another unique achievement, in front of the massed ranks of the delirious Celtic support.
The soundtrack for the party would be provided by the 40,000-plus fans who had witnessed history. The chants began to ring out from the vast terracing opposite the main stand, firstly an acknowledgement of the manager who had recovered from a health scare in January to maintain his record of winning the title in every season he had kicked off as Celtic manager.
“Jock Stein! Jock Stein!”
Then the new favourite resounded from all four sides of the stadium, as the green-and-white scarves and banners were raised in triumph.
“Hello, hello, eight in a row! Eight in a row! Hello, hello, eight in a row! Eight in a row!”
As the celebrations continued, the man who had planned and delivered the Eight slipped quietly down the Easter Road tunnel, Jock Stein’s focus already on the next challenge. Seven days from now, his men would face a wounded Rangers at Hampden as they attempted to secure the Scottish Cup for a third successive year for the first time in the club’s history, whilst becoming the first side ever to win three consecutive League and Cup doubles.
Thanks, as always, to the wonderful Celtic Wiki.
Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue