‘PS, Happy Birthday, Celtic’

Many Celtic Supporters have had a soft spot for Dunfermline Athletic mostly due to the association with Jock Stein. And their fans did bring a Happy Birthday Celtic banner to a game at Celtic Park in our Centenary Season.

Dunfermline Athletic, after experiencing financial difficulties – the less said about that the better – have been outside the top division in Scotland for quite a while now. Here Mike Maher looks back to a time when things were very different for the Pars…


For fans of my age there are the memories of a time when the Pars were a major force in the game and when the fates often entwined them and Celtic.

The first Scottish team I saw win a trophy was Dunfermline Athletic when they won the Scottish Cup on 26 April 1961. I had started to follow the fortunes of Celtic in the latter part of 1960 and by the end of the season had been to Celtic Park on several occasions. I remember the first time I saw Dunfermline towards the end of March 1961. It was the first time I was in the main stand at Celtic Park. I cannot remember why we did go to the stand that day (possibly the weather?) but I do remember that the Pars led 1-0 at the break. I heard older supporters around me comment that Dunfermline had never won at Celtic Park and second half goals from Fernie and Byrne ensured that record was maintained.

The next time I saw Dunfermline was at Hampden the following month but my memories of that game are extremely hazy. To be honest I should not have gone at all. I had been struggling with a cold for a few days and woke up on the Saturday feeling worse. I should have spent the day in bed but there was no way I was going to miss my first Cup Final. My father had splashed out on Stand tickets for the princely sum of 6 shillings each for himself and my younger brother and me. Accompanying us on a family day would be my father’s older brother John and cousin Johnny.

Uncle John and my father had seen Celtic’s last Cup win against Aberdeen in 1954 and wanted their sons to witness this one. However that was not how things turned out.

As I said my memories of the day are vague. I recall walking up to the South Stand and seeing a bus with “the Pars” on the name board. I asked why that was Dunfermline’s nickname but no one knew. The game itself was just a hazy blur. Apart from a very vague recollection of a Celtic defender clearing the ball off the line – nothing. Then what seemed a very slow drive home to bed.

I was fully fit for the replay but would not be in attendance. No floodlights at Hampden meant an early evening kick off so my father would not be home from work in time to take us. So we listened to the commentary on the little wireless on the sideboard. It was almost endless Celtic pressure – Eddie Connachan in the Dunfermline goal was inspired and is almost inevitable in those circumstances the team under the cosh broke away and scored – a Thompson header giving the Pars the lead. Two minutes from the end Frank Haffey dropped the ball at the feet of Charlie Dickson and as the ball was put into the empty net the game was over. I lost my temper and punched the radio. My father reprimanded me and told me that “if you cannot take a defeat then you should not be following a football team”.


Shortly afterwards we watched the highlights on TV. And that was the first time I saw him – Jock Stein. Until then I don’t think I had heard the name but now there he was a big man in a white coat hugging his players.

Although disappointed I did enjoy watching the scenes of celebration at Hampden and later on at the Town Hall in Dunfermline. Wouldn’t it be great to support a team that won Cups!??

That win put Dunfermline into Europe and for the next few years we would watch highlights of their games on TV. This included a great win over Everton and an amazing game against Valencia where they overcame a 4-0 reversal in Spain to win 6-2 at East End Park before going out in a playoff.

Jock Stein left Dunfermline for Hibs in 1964 but by March 1965 he was manager at Parkhead. The following month his new team were in the Cup Final. As fate would have it the opponents were of course Dunfermline. By now I knew a lot more about Big Jock. His first match in charge of Dunfermline had been a 3-2 win against Celtic – a win that started the Pars on a relegation avoiding run. His first managerial trophy was for Dunfermline against Celtic and now his magic would work once more – this time with Celtic the beneficiaries. In those days the Cup Final was not accorded a day of its own on the calendar. It was merely fitted in on a normal league day at the end of the season. On that particular day in April 1965 not only was the Cup at stake. Across in Edinburgh the two top teams would battle for the Championship with Kilmarnock pipping Hearts on goal difference. It is worth recalling that not only did Dunfermline miss out in the Cup by the odd goal in 5 but they finished in 3rd spot in the league only 1 point behind the Champions.

They had drawn unexpectedly with St Johnstone I seem to recall a few weeks earlier. A win then and their superior goal average would have given them the title.

My first visit to East End Park came later that year (1966). A new grandstand had been built following their Cup success in 1961 but the rest of the ground was typical of the time with wooden sleepers on the terraces and a covered shed opposite the grandstand. Stevie Chalmers’ 2 goals gave Celtic a win and a victory at that venue showed that Celtic’s title challenge was genuine. It was against Dunfermline later in the season that the Championship hopes became real if not quite realised.

On a Wednesday night in May Celtic met Dunfermline in their penultimate game of the season. On the same night Rangers defeated Clyde in their final game. Alex Ferguson had given the visitors the lead but Bobby Lennox equalised and in the second half Jimmy Johnstone scored the winner. That meant that only a heavy defeat in the last game at Fir Park would prevent Celtic winning their first title in 12 years. There was a mini pitch invasion and the players stayed on for a while to wave to the fans. A Lennox goal against Motherwell 3 days later did mean that the title was won on points.

The following season was Celtic’s greatest and in a year of many highlights one of the best came in Fife.

Dunfermline led 3-2 at the interval and 4-2 with 18 minutes to go. However Celtic came roaring back and clinched an incredible 5-4 win in the 89th minute. Both teams were given a great ovation at the end.

Under Jock Stein Celtic did generally have the upper hand in the games between the clubs but in January 1968 second half goals from Hugh Robertson and Pat Gardner saw Dunfermline eliminate the Scottish Cup holders at Celtic Park in the first round of that season’s competition. The Pars went all the way to the Final where they met Hearts. The Edinburgh side had knocked out Rangers in a quarter final replay at Tynecastle. In those days there was virtually no live football or instant internet news so as usual we tuned into Scotsport after 10.00pm to see highlights and get the score.

The kick off at Tynecastle was delayed due to the size of the crowd and as the cameras panned round the stadium the commentator remarked that there “is a very thick crowd here tonight”. I remember my father’s riposte – “Aye he’s right there are a lot of thick people in that crowd all right!” A late Donald Ford goal ensured that for the first time since 1952 that neither Celtic nor Rangers had made the semi-finals.

While not exactly predicting “Armageddon” the press forecast that the Cup could now be a flop. To some extent they seemed right. Under 15,000 turned up at Tynecastle to watch Dunfermline draw with St Johnstone and little more than 22,000 were at Hampden for the Hearts v Morton encounter. For those who like coincidental trivia both games ended 1-1. The replays ended 2-1 after extra time with both the eventual losers opening the scoring. The winning goals in both games were scored in the 118th minute. I was at Hampden to see Hearts progress but it was also a good night for Celtic.

Although both of the Glasgow giants had been eliminated from the Cup they were sweeping all before them in the League. Rangers were undefeated and Celtic had lost only at Ibrox earlier in the season. That meant that Celtic were in effect 2 points behind and although they had a superior goal difference they required others to take points from Rangers. On that Wednesday night as well as the Cup replays Celtic were due to play at Pittodrie while Rangers were at Tannadice.

I had been despondent in the morning not because I was too worried about Celtic’s ability to win but that I would not be there to see them. Since Jock Stein had arrived I had rarely missed a game in Scotland and had a 100% attendance record that season. However there was great news at lunchtime when the “stop press” column in the early edition of the Evening Times announced that snow had postponed the Aberdeen game until the following week – by which time we would be on Easter Holiday. My delight was increased as I got back from Hampden to discover Rangers had drawn with United. Their lead was effectively down to 1 point.

Another draw for Rangers at Cappielow a few weeks later meant that on the last day of the scheduled season – which was also Cup Final day – Celtic led the League on goal difference. As in 1965 we were scheduled to play Dunfermline that day meaning our league game would not be played until the following midweek.

In an effort to boost the Hampden crowd Rangers were asked to postpone their home game that day against Aberdeen. Rangers though were not willing to do so. They knew that if they beat the Dons then the pressure would be on Celtic who would be faced with a must win game at East End Park.

In that week’s Celtic View Jock Stein made a plea to the fans to “follow us to Hampden”. He was critical of sections of the media who he felt had not given the Scottish Cup proper respect following the elimination of the Glasgow giants. He said he would be going to the game with the Celtic team and encouraged the Celtic fans to do likewise.

Along with a few schoolmates I took his advice and on the Saturday we made our way to Phil Cole’s pub in Coatbridge where the Supporters Club would be running a bus to Hampden. It was standing room only and although there a few Hearts and Dunfermline fans on board the majority were Celtic fans. There was no forced segregation in those days but most Hearts fans headed for the Mount Florida end while the Dunfermline supporters, their numbers boosted by many Celtic fans, predominated at the Kings Park end. We saw Dunfermline triumph 3-1 and had even better news when we got back to the bus. Amazingly Rangers had lost to Aberdeen. Celtic were still top of the League and only a defeat by 16 goals in their last game would deprive them of the title. The Evening Citizen headline that night summed it up – “Dunfermline’s Cup on Celtic Flag Day”.

There was now an almost unique game to look forward to. The last game of the season would feature the Champions V the Cup Winners. A game not to be missed I thought and I was not the only one.

On the following Tuesday I made what turned out to be a wise decision to head to Fife early. Most Supporters buses would leave at the usual time but Phil Cole’s would have several buses running and I decided to get the first one even though my usual companions had not arrived at that point. I did have the company of one school acquaintance – Willie Henry. He had a foot in both camps as his uncle, John Lunn played for the Pars. When we got to Kincardine Bridge I knew there was going to be a big crowd with buses and cars crawling from there to Dunfermline. At the ground it was clear the authorities had underestimated the appeal of this game. The Main Stand was already full and the crowds milling around the terracing turnstiles were growing by the minute. Quite simply it seemed as if more people were arriving to join the queue than were getting in at the turnstiles.

After a short while some of the entrance doors were closed. When the crowd saw this it surged forward and by sheer force prevented other gates from being shut. Willie and I pushed and wriggled our way forward. When I got to the turnstile I offered the operator my money. He told me not to bother as he could not release the turnstile which had broken due to the pressure of the crowd going through. I scrambled over followed by Willie.

East End Park had been upgraded since my first visit. The terraces were now concreted and an L shaped roof ran right behind one goal and down the side of the terracing opposite the main stand. A passage way ran around the back of the terracing meaning we had not too much difficulty getting round but we could not see the pitch from there so started to worm our way into an already packed terracing. Ibrox and Hillsborough were yet to happen and concerns over spectator safety were not as stringent then but on reflection it was lucky that there not a lot a more injuries that night. Having said that I did not feel unduly concerned. I had been in big crowds before and had learned a few tips. Keep your arms up from the elbows to help push people away if necessary, don’t get arms trapped at your side and if you lost a shoe don’t go down to look for it. In a packed terrace get in front of a crush barrier rather than behind it.

It was tight but things settled down as best as could be expected when the teams came out. Unusually for that time both sides came out together. As they came down the steps from the changing rooms in the main stand the two captains, Billy McNeill and Roy Barry embraced. The home side then did a lap of honour with the Cup. On the Saturday the police had denied them the chance to parade the trophy as laps of honour had been banned due to the behaviour of Rangers fans at the League Cup Final in 1965. It seemed unfair that other teams should suffer because of Rangers hooligans and although Dunfermline were wearing a blue change strip the Celtic fans gave them a cheer as they ran round the ground.

Possibly still on a high Dunfermline opened the scoring after 25 minutes but Bobby Lennox equalised just before half time. The game was stopped on a couple of occasions as the crowd swayed and spilled over the boundary fence. By now people were perched on the enclosure roof and the floodlight pylons. Despite the crush we had a reasonable view of the action and saw Bobby Lennox net the winner in the 72nd minute. The official attendance was given as 27,816 but Willie and I were not the only ones who got in without being counted. Later I spoke to friends who had come all the way to Fife and had not got in. Others told of scaling the walls while police at the top tried to beat them down with batons – it sounded like a medieval siege!

The following year Celtic got to the European Cup quarter finals where they lost narrowly to AC Milan who would go on to win the trophy. Dunfermline went one better. They reached the last four of the Cup Winners Cup eliminating West Bromwich Albion en route. In the Semi Final they lost 2-1 on aggregate to the eventual winners, Slovan Bratislava. The following season in the UEFA Cup they put out Bordeaux and Gwardia before losing on away goals to Anderlecht. After that however their power was on the wane.

I last saw Dunfermline “in the flesh” at the end of the 1987/88 season. By then I had been living in New Zealand for over 5 years. However I made sure I was back in Scotland from mid-March to mid-May to join in the centenary celebrations. The last home game with Dunfermline was meaningless in the sense that Celtic had already won the League and the Pars were already relegated. However there was a bit of a carnival atmosphere. The Dunfermline fans unfurled a banner with “Happy Birthday Celtic” on it. The Jungle responded by singing “there’s only one Jim Leishman” and chanting “you’ll be back” to the visiting fans.

Dunfermline did come back but never stayed. Our paths crossed again in two Scottish Cup Finals and one League Cup Final but unlike the occasions in the 1960’s there was never any real doubt about who would win.

One final thought. I was angry and upset when Celtic lost that Cup Final in 1961 but as the years went by I changed my mind. If Celtic had managed to win that night would Jock Stein’s reputation been as high? Would Bob Kelly have seen it as vindication of his method of running Celtic? Would Jock Stein have come back to Celtic when he did? Would he have come back at all?!? My father was right – sometimes you have to be able to accept defeat.

Mike Maher

If you would like to write for The Celtic Star – we prefer Celtic content rather than click bait – please email your contribution to editor@thecelticstar.co.uk and we’ll do the rest.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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