Following their disappointing debut defeat against Valencia and the glorious run to the Cup-Winners’ Cup Semi-final in 1964, then the inglorious surrender in Budapest, Celtic’s third Euro campaign was already over before Jock Stein’s feet were under the manager’s desk.
A third-place League finish in a sixth successive trophyless domestic season saw them once again compete in the Fairs Cup, pitched in the First Round with Portuguese side Leixoes. The away leg is best remembered for the closing five minutes, where the French referee decided to send three players off.
It all kicked off after Chalmers made an innocuous challenge on the Portuguese keeper, Rosas, who then rolled on the ground in agony, in a preview of events which would take place in Seville, four decades later.
For this, the Celtic striker walked, a decision described by Chairman and erstwhile team selector, Robert Kelly, as the worst he had seen in football.
Minutes later, full-back Young reacted to a head-butt from Leixoes forward, Oliviera, both then joining Chalmers for an early bath. What football was played on a dreadful surface with a strange ‘crimson-coloured’ ball was almost incidental, however, for the record, Esteves opened the scoring within six minutes with Murdoch forcing home a Hoops equaliser on the half-hour.
The disciplinary rules of the day meant that both Young and Chalmers could take their places in an unchanged line-up a fortnight later at Celtic Park, and this would prove significant, Steve involved in all of the game’s key moments.
Firstly, he headed a Johnstone cross home to give Celts the lead in the tie within fifteen minutes. Then, with Celts reduced to ten men in the second-half, this time due to a Gallacher injury, in these pre-substitution days, he was barged in the box to earn a penalty.
This was the cue for more Portuguese histrionics, the English referee jostled to the point of warning that the game would be abandoned. After a delay of several minutes, Murdoch’s poor spot kick was saved by our old friend, Rosas.
With seven minutes remaining, Chalmers scored a second, his shot deceiving the keeper, to create some breathing space for the Bhoys. And shortly before the end, he was again fouled in the area, this time Murdoch blasting the ball home, despite yet more Leixoes shenanigans.
There was a real step up in class in the Second Round, Celts paired with two-time winners, Barcelona, for the first of what would be many European contests over the years. Celtic headed to the Camp Nou on a poor run of domestic form, four defeats in five games, with recent signing from Hibernian, Simpson, replacing Fallon in the Celtic goals, for a baptism of fire.
Ronnie would be beaten twice within twenty minutes, as, firstly, striker Zaldua knocked a rebound home from close-range, then Peruvian Seminario headed home a cross from the same player. Hughes gave Celts some hope, scoring cleverly after Johnstone’s through ball had sent him clear but the depleted Hoops, with the injured Clark a virtual passenger on the wing for the entire second half, lost a vital third goal in the closing stages, Re heading home for the Catalan giants, to make the second-leg task so much more difficult.
Nevertheless, more than 43,000 rolled up to Celtic Park two weeks later, hoping for the unexpected. They would be disappointed, Barcelona comfortably containing the eager young Celts, thanks mainly to a masterclass from the legendary Hungarian veteran, Sandor Kocsis.
He was in the final season of a superb playing career, which included six years in the magnificent Honved side of the early ‘50s. There, he teamed up with fellow ‘Mighty Magyars’, Puskas, Czibor and Bozsik, to form the nucleus of the best club and international sides in world football.
He was the top goalscorer at the World Cup of 1954, when the Hungarians lost a two-goal lead and the Final to West Germany in Berne, the only game in which he failed to score. His scoring rate was akin to that of McGrory’s at Celtic, 153 in 145 games for Honved and 75 in 68 appearances for Hungary, more than a goal per game.
In November 1956, Kocsis and Honved were in Spain for a European Cup tie against Athletic Bilbao, as the uprising kicked off in Budapest. Many of the players refused to return to Hungary, the second leg going ahead in Brussels. But whilst Bozsik eventually returned to Honved, both Czibor and Kocsis moved to Barcelona, and Puskas found fame and Alfredo di Stefano, at the home of the new European Champions, Real Madrid.
Kocsics’ spell at the Camp Nou was successful, twice winning La Liga and the Copa del Generalisimo, plus the 1960 Fairs Cup, however, the two major prizes would elude him. In 1961, seven years after that World Cup Final defeat, he returned to Berne’s Wankdorf Stadium with Czibor and Barcelona, for the European Cup Final, having been part of the side which finally defeated the five-time winners Real Madrid in the First Round, then scoring the injury-time goal in Hamburg, which forced a Semi-final play-off.
But whilst he opened the scoring and Czibor added a second goal late on, Benfica managed three of their own in between, to become Real’s successors as European champions.
In Glasgow, December 1964, by now in the twilight of his career, Kocsis was ensuring that Celtic fans would have to wait a bit longer for their own taste of European glory.
The second-leg finished goalless, a disappointing and frustrating night summed up by the sight of Chalmers being stretchered off with a nasty ankle injury. It would be difficult to foresee how such a yawning chasm in class could be closed.
But the appointment of Stein was a game-changer, his young team developing at a tremendous rate.
The history-defining Scottish Cup Final triumph of April 1965, just weeks after Jock took the reins, gave Celtic an entry into the following season’s European Cup-Winners’ Cup.
First opponents for the Hoops were part-timers, Go-Ahead of Deventer, beaten in the Dutch Cup Final by double-winning Feyenoord. Stein’s first Celtic side to play in Europe featured eight of the men who would start in Lisbon, eighteen months later, Craig, Wallace and Auld the missing Lions.
Lennox helped himself to a hat-trick, as Celts won 6-0 in Holland, Hughes and a Johnstone double completing the rout. Craig did make his debut in the return, McBride heading an early opener as the 20,000 crowd, expecting an onslaught, voiced their displeasure, as no further goals were forthcoming, despite a 7-0 aggregate win.
It’s a funny old game!
Next up was a trip to Denmark, to face cup-holders AGF Aarhus, McBride again scoring the only goal with a header.
Two first-half strikes from McNeill and Johnstone saw off the Danish amateurs in the return, a game marked by the performance of their goalkeeper, Bent Martin. He was signed by Celtic three months later, in February ’66, but failed to displace the established keepers, Simpson and Fallon, moving to Dunfermline within the year, where he would win a Scottish Cup winners medal in 1968.
The first European tie of 1966 came early, a January Quarter-final meeting with Soviet Cup-winners, Dynamo Kiev. Celtic’s largest European attendance to date, 64,000, saw the Bhoys take the lead within the half hour, through a long-range Gemmell effort, which deceived keeper Bannikov.
During the interval, they were treated to a ‘keepy-uppy’ display from a teenage George Connelly, walking around the entire pitch without missing a beat. The second-half belonged to another legend, Bobby Murdoch, his two goals securing a valuable three-goal lead, after Hughes had blasted a spot kick over the bar.
The return was moved from snowbound Kiev to the southern city of Tbilisi, a gruelling 31-hour journey.
The 45,000 Georgians who packed the stadium were on their feet as Sabo scored a spectacular opener on twenty minutes, his shot screaming past Simpson to go in off the post. It took another long-range special from Gemmell, ten minutes later, to level the match, soothing Celtic nerves, and the second half was tailing off, before a late brawl saw both Craig and Khmelnitsky dismissed.
The return journey was another long, fraught affair, the team finally touching down late on the Friday night, then heading straight to Celtic Park for a training session. The following day, Celtic lost 3-2 at Tynecastle, Craig dropped ‘by the club’ for failing to apologise to Robert Kelly for his sending-off, replaced at full-back by Billy McNeill! This decision would cause an angry Jock to confront his chairman, following which all future matters of team selection would be decided by the manager.
There were no travel difficulties for Celtic in the Semi-final, drawn against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.
Like the Celts, the FA Cup holders were well on their way to securing a coveted domestic title and the April ‘Battle of Britain’, captured the imagination of supporters and media alike, over 76,000 packing into Parkhead to watch the sides face up.
Despite Celtic’s domination, they took only a single-goal lead to Anfield, courtesy of Lennox’s near-post flick, early in the second-half.
Liverpool had won all three of their home ties by a two-goal margin, seeing off Juventus, Standard Liege and Honved, and having beaten Herrera’s Inter 3-1 in the previous season’s European Cup Semi-final at Anfield, they were making confident noises ahead of the return leg, played just five days later.
Over 10,000 Celtic supporters made the journey to the home of the Beatles, on a dreadful night, the heavy pitch a factor, as Johnstone dropped out and Hughes came in. Despite a Chalmers effort hitting the bar, the impetus was with the home team for the most part. Notwithstanding that, there were two crucial decisions made by the referee, which meant the dream of a Hampden final was not to be.
On the hour, with the Celtic defence holding out bravely against a Red onslaught, Hughes was harshly judged to have committed a foul at the edge of the box. Up stepped Smith to crash a shot at the wall, the ball deflecting into the corner of the net, as Simpson looked on helplessly.
Five minutes later, the injured Strong leapt bravely to head a second goal for Liverpool, as the tie slipped away from Celtic.
However, there would be one final act of drama, in the dying seconds, McBride beating Yeats in the air to send in the onrushing Lennox, for the vital away goal. Cue bedlam in the Anfield Road terracing, as the Celtic support celebrated wildly, then, realising that the Belgian officials had incredibly given offside, showered a rain of bottles onto the pitch, as the night ended on a sour note.
Not for the first or last time, the pace of the Saltcoats-born legend had deceived officials into making an incorrect call.
So rather than Stein’s green-and-white army marching on Hampden the following month, for the second successive season the European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final would involve teams from England and West Germany, as would the World Cup Final in July.
Borussia Dortmund had eliminated West Ham United, the holders, in the last four and they would complete a double in Glasgow in front of 42,000, with a 2-1 win after extra-time, thanks to goals from their international duo, Held and Libuda.
As the Dortmund fans celebrated a first-ever European club success for Germany, there would be little time for those of a Celtic persuasion to lick their wounds.
Three days later, Lennox again scored in the last minute. This time there was no flag raised, as his Fir Park winner ensured that Celtic would be the champions of Scotland for the first time in twelve long years, since Stein captained the class of ’54.
Unlike then, now the title came with another prize, entry into the greatest club competition on Earth.
Thanks as always to the folk behind the Celtic Wiki on Kerrydale St., a fabulous source of information for these stories.
Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue
THE VALENCIA FILE – Parts 1, 2 and 3 are below…