So just who were the Class of ‘55? Matt McVittie’s Celtic Story

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Matt was back in action 24 hours later as an unchanged Celtic team travelled to Hampden to face bottom dogs Queen’s Park. Jimmy McGrory’s men had the strangest League record that season, having won all seven of their away games but just one of eight home matches, three of those drawn. They extended that sequence on the road to eight with a comfortable 3-0 victory over the struggling amateurs. Sammy Wilson struck twice in the first half with McVittie adding his third goal for the club with 13 minutes remaining.

Following his demob from the army, Matt would enjoy his best run in the first team to date, commencing Wednesday, 19 March 1958 with a home match against Hibernian, which kicked off at 5pm. A Sammy Wilson hat-trick and a goal from Billy McPhail secured a 4-0 win. He would then gain his first winner’s medal as a Celt 48 hours later, as the Hoops secured the Scottish Second XI Cup with a 5-1 victory over Rangers at Ibrox. Jim Conway was the star of the show with a hat-trick, with John Divers and John Colrain also on target. That completed a comprehensive 8-2 aggregate win for Jock Stein’s youngsters following the 3-1 first-leg victory at Celtic Park six days earlier. The team at Ibrox makes interesting reading and was as follows.

Frank Haffey; Frank Meechan & Neil Mochan; Dunky MacKay, John Jack & Mike Conroy;

Matt McVittie, John Colrain, Jim Conway, John Divers & Bertie Auld.

Matt was the only one of that winning team included in the side which hosted Airdrieonians at Celtic Park the following afternoon, Saturday, 22 March 1958. The Hoops were already 4-1 up on the hour mark when future Rangers defender and Sunday Post columnist Doug Baillie chopped McVittie down, earning a booking for his trouble. Another future Ibrox stalwart Jock Wallace was in the visiting goal in what would turn out to be the great Sean Fallon’s final match for Celtic after eight years of incredible service. March ended on a low note with a 5-3 defeat at Dens Park, albeit Matt scored his fourth goal for the club to square things off at 2-2 in the first half.

April opened with the saddest of news as Willie Maley passed away just a few weeks short of his 90th birthday. Celts would honour their legendary manager with a 1-0 victory at Pittodrie on the first Saturday, thanks to a late goal from Alec Byrne, then a 5-1 home win over bottom club Queen’s Park 48 hours later, with McVittie scoring Celtic’s third on the hour mark. Matt was then on target again as Celtic beat Scottish Cup finalists Clyde 6-2 on the Wednesday evening at Parkhead, to record their third victory in just five days. A perfect start to the month was rounded off with a single-goal victory at Firhill on Saturday, 12 April 1958, Bobby Collins netting the winner 20 minutes from time.

Four days later, a Celtic side minus the international duo of Bobby Evans and Bertie Peacock lost to Queen of the South by the odd goal in seven at Palmerston. There was mixed news for two youngsters who would join Celtic later that year, Charlie Gallagher losing his place in the Scotland Youth team to meet Wales at Swansea the following week whilst centre-forward Ian Lochhead was included in a side managed by Celtic’s 1930s trainer Jack Qusklay, now working at Queen’s College in his native Dundee. And holders Real Madrid qualified for their third successive European Cup final despite a 2-0 defeat by Vasas in Budapest.

They would now meet either AC Milan or Manchester United in the final, the English champions cruelly robbed of so many of their young stars after the tragedy at Munich Airport two months earlier on their return from a quarter-final tie in Belgrade. One of the survivors of that crash, Bobby Charlton, made his England debut three days later at Hampden and was on target in a 4-0 win which upset Scotland’s preparations for that summer’s World Cup finals in Sweden.

Matt McVittie lost out to John Colrain for the 2-2 home draw with Motherwell on Monday, 21 April 1958 but he was restored to the team for the final League match of the season, the visit of Third Lanark on the last day of the month. With Colrain and Dick Beattie on duty with Scotland’s Under 23’s in Amsterdam, Matt played on the left wing of a reshuffled attack and there was a debut for teenage keeper Frank Haffey. Celts ended the campaign with a 4-1 win to secure third place in the table behind Rangers and runaway winners Hearts and ahead of Scottish Cup-winners Clyde. The Shawfield club would now wait to hear if proposals to hold a competition for national cup-winners across the continent would come to fruition.

Matt was on the list of 29 players retained by Celtic issued the following day, the big news being the release of Coronation Cup hero John Bonnar. The three other Celts freed were Peter Goldie, Frank Whyte and Mike Haughney, although the latter had already emigrated to the USA having retired the previous summer. Amongst the youngsters called up from the juniors were Billy McNeill and Pat Crerand, as the glorious future at Celtic Park began to take shape.

There was still first-team action for Matt before he could relax over the summer, beginning with a Glasgow Charity Cup semi-final with Rangers at Ibrox on Thursday, 8 May 1958. Bertie Peacock’s second-half equaliser saw the match end 1-1, Celts losing out on a final place on the toss of a coin. Six days later, Matt played for Celtic against a Bohemians Select in Dublin, the first mention of Billy McNeill in the senior side with Bobby Evans, Bobby Collins and Willie Fernie all missing the short tour due to Scotland commitments.

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Mike Jackson and Bertie Auld were on target as the sides shared four goals, Rangers striker Don Kichenbrand also on the scoresheet as a guest for the Irishmen. Dick Beattie suffered a tendon injury which would require an operation and the season also ended in pain for Matt McVittie, who broke his left arm in the final game, a 7-0 win over Derry City at the Brandywell on Saturday, 17 May 1958.

That would keep Matt out of first-team action until November but would not prevent him doubling his appearances to 22 in that 1958/59 campaign. Celtic had experienced a difficult start to the season, losing their two-year grip on the League Cup and stars Billy McPhail to injury and Bobby Collins to Everton. On the flip side, young players were continuing to come through, Dunky Mackay, Billy McNeill and Pat Crerand all making competitive debuts whilst Ian Lochhead, Charlie Gallagher and John Clark were all called up from the juniors. McVittie started November in the reserves but returned to the first team in place of Sammy Wilson on the eighth of that month as the Hoops lost 1-0 to promoted Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park. Despite suffering a knock to his arm in that comeback game. he would remain a fixture in the team until the end of the calendar year.


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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.

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