THERE were times when what seemed to guide Jock Stein was his obsession with driving Rangers off the back pages and putting Celtic there in their place.
When he arrived at Parkhead on this day in March 1965, the Press and TV were far more Rangers dominated than they are even now. BBC TV, for example had Peter Thomson, a man nicknamed “Blue Peter” whose love of the Rangers was so ill-disguised that it was said that you knew instantly from his facial expression how Rangers had done that day before he even announced the results!
He also was infamous for mistakes and spoonerisms, so we often heard about teams “Lird Thanark” , “Stenhousehouse” and even a trip to Firhill so see how the “Pistle” were doing!
The Scottish Daily Express had John McKenzie, the portentously nicknamed “The Voice of Football”, who seldom strayed far from Ibrox, and “Waverley” in The Daily Record was similarly inclined.
Arguably the best journalist of the time was Rex Kingsley of The Sunday Mail, but when the chips were down, even Rex showed his true colours. Fairer minded journalists like Cyril Horne of The Glasgow Herald or John Rafferty of The Scotsman tended to write for newspapers where football was not the overwhelming obsession, and others like Tommy Gallacher, Patsy’s son and a distinctly Celtic-minded man, was in distant Dundee writing for The Courier where he had to sing the praises of the local sides.
The result was that Rangers were praised to the skies on a regular basis. Their money was crawled to, their prestige in world football was grossly exaggerated and their policy of religious discrimination was not mentioned.
All this helped to create the myth (and so many people connected with Celtic seemed to believe it) that Rangers were meant to rule Scottish football and could do no wrong in the same way as the Tories and the Queen were meant to rule Great Britain and even the world. Orange walks in the month of July were regularly described as “colourful” and “cheerful”; the hate that they peddled was eschewed.
Jock realised all this, and embarked on a major offensive.
The 1965 Scottish Cup Final triumph, of course, was enough in itself to fill a few reluctant back pages, but that was nothing to what happened in the summer.
Celtic “open days” were held, and Jock went out of his way to be nice to the Press, knowing when “quiet days” were, and earning their gratitude by giving a quote or two. Then just as the 1965/66 season started, four young Brazilians (two each on two separate occasions) arrived to train at Celtic Park.
This was little more than a publicity stunt, but it worked and was milked for months, such was the Scottish fascination, in football matters, with the word “Brazilian”.
Then he began to complain about the standard of floodlights at Ibrox before a League Cup Semi Final (and its replay) against Hibs. He persuaded Hibs to go along with his protest, getting their supporters to write to newspapers – and the net result was to make Rangers and Ibrox look cheap, as well as filling newspapers for weeks!
In the meantime, his own “The Celtic View” (the first newspaper of its kind in the world) had loads of good photographs, good news and conducted a very effective campaign against the hooliganism which had befouled Celtic’s name in the early 1960s.
It was of course the deeds on the field which did the loudest talking, and Lisbon was a triumph that was shared by most of Scotland (apart from the unreconstructed bigots) with old ladies in Mallaig, Fraserburgh, Forfar and Lockerbie all cheering at their TVs on that night of nights.
The reporting of the triumph was deliberately prolonged and milked by Stein to make sure that Rangers were sufficiently pressurised (by remarks from Celtic sources like “Wouldn’t it be nice for Scotland if Rangers could do the same…) and unsettled to lose their own Cup Winners Cup Final, and when the Arab-Israeli war broke out in early June, Celtic even managed to knock it off the newspapers by beating Real Madrid in Spain for di Stefano’s testimonial.
And even the Argentina fiasco in the autumn against Racing Club still meant that people were talking about Celtic, and Rangers were sufficiently upset to sack long term manager Scott Symon when they were at the top of the League!
After 1967, Stein had an unexpected ally in Willie Waddell.
Waddell had given up managing Kilmarnock and was now writing for The Daily Express. In what seems to have been a deliberate pact, Stein and Waddell (who did not really like each other) undermined Rangers young manager Davie White with Stein leaking all sorts of stories and Waddell printing them because his game plan was to get the Rangers job for himself!
Rangers came across repeatedly as shabby and mean and even desperate, for example, in 1969 when they tried to get the suspension of Colin Stein lifted so that he could play against Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final. To what extent, Rangers themselves were behind this foolishness, we do not know, but the story came from the arch-manipulator!
He had lost Jimmy Johnstone to a suspension as well, but did not moan about it – and Celtic won 4-0!
And then we had the strange business about Manchester United.
For years we had been told (or it had been hinted at) that Jock would soon leave to be Matt Busby’s successor at Old Trafford. Jock may or may not have started this story himself, but he certainly kept it going, so that throughout 1970 and 1971, the gullible were well and truly fooled until just before a key game at Aberdeen in April 1971, Stein denied it all.
This was enough to give Celtic another boost and to win another Championship.
From time to time, Jimmy Johnstone was meant to be on the verge of a transfer to whoever Stein decided, and John Hughes at least three times was about to sign for Newcastle United. Where did these stories emanate from? They certainly fulfilled Stein’s great desire – that people would talk about little other than Celtic.
The BBC now became little more than a mouthpiece for Celtic.
Peter Thomson was now discredited and long gone, whereas Archie McPherson was far more malleable, and even the English BBC man Kenneth Wolstenholme became a genuine fan of Celtic.
Jock could on occasion be less than gracious to both these men, but they were totally in awe of him.
When BBC London needed a Scottish viewpoint on anything, there were no prizes for guessing who did the needful – always gracious, fair and concise with an obvious and genuine contempt for some of the other pundits who talked a lot and said very little.
STV, appallingly primitive and amateurish in its coverage of games from other grounds (jokes were made about their programme being renamed “Spot The Ball”), were welcomed at Parkhead and given good facilities. They were traditionally the “Celtic” TV channel in the minds of some supporters.
This perception had to be encouraged and maintained. The bad times like summer 1970 and the Macari transfer of 1973 were minimised and moved quickly on from, while the good times were capitalised upon.
In 1971, the Lisbon Lions appeared for the last time and Stein made sure the cameras were there. In October of that year after the disgraceful League Cup Final against Partick Thistle, Dixie Deans was signed immediately afterwards in a successful attempt to show that we were now moving into a new era.
In 1973 after the League was won for the 8th year in a row, every player appeared with 8 on his pants. All this was for the benefit of the media who were now in awe of him.
His road accident in 1975 was reported in hushed tones as if he were royalty, and his recovery much tracked and followed by newspapers other than football ones.
And when he did come back, there was one brilliant piece of upstaging of Rangers. Their fans had rioted and they were under severe pressure to sign Roman Catholics with even their erstwhile friends in the media no longer justifying the unjustifiable with specious and vacuous rubbish like ” an organization has the right to determine who it will or will not employ” .
In the midst of all this, Stein signed ex-Ranger Alfie Conn from Spurs. This was good enough, but he also went to pains to tell the media that he had discussed the matter with Kenny Dalglish and Danny McGrain. He said no more, but discerning minds noticed that the three men concerned – Stein, Dalglish and McGrain all had something in common, as far as their religious background was concerned!
It was of course Dalglish who proved to be Stein’s downfall. Season 1977/78 was a disaster, and a feature was Stein’s inability to stop the bad news coming from Parkhead, and to keep the media happy with good news to cheer up the troops. it was because of this, one feels, that most of us felt it was time for Jock to move on.
You can order a SIGNED copy of JIM CRAIG – RIGHT BACK TO 67, THE LISBON LION DIARY from our new bookstore – www.thecelticstarbookstore.co.uk and there’s a great launch offer for our OBSESSED WITH CELTIC t-shirts which are available in three colours. Order yours and you will also receive a copy of In the Heat of Lisbon for free.