This could be Rotterdam or anywhere – Matt Corr’s Champions League Diary – The Prequel, 41 years earlier…
Less than three months after Chicken George and the Blessed Tommy had lit up Celtic Park to deliver the 81/82 League Championship, there was great excitement at Cairn CSC HQ, as we prepared for our first-ever European Vacation as a club, a trip to Rotterdam to watch Celtic defend the Feyenoord tournament won the previous season.
Clark W. Griswald and his dysfunctional family had nothing on some of the characters on our Crazy Gang, as Joe Nolan dragged his old Grangeburn coach down the motorway to Sheerness in Kent, to catch the overnight ferry to Vlissingen. From there we drove to Rotterdam and our base in Florisstraat, the imaginatively-named Hotel Floris.
The 1981 tournament had seen Celtic beat old European foes Feyenoord and Dukla Prague to lift the trophy. This year, our first opponents were Austria Vienna on the Friday night and there was a healthy Hoops support in the De Kuip Stadion to watch the double-header, the hosts up against Arsenal in the later kick-off.
Celtic were tremendous on the night, goals from the aforementioned McCluskey and Burns bookended by a McGarvey double in a 4-0 victory. We stayed on to watch the second match, as the Dutch side easily beat the Gunners 2-0 to set up a rematch of last year’s final, and a rather more important final in Milan some eleven years earlier.
Saturday was a Celtic day off and so the Cairn ran a cultural trip to Amsterdam, another first for most of us. In charge of proceedings that day was our secretary, Gerry Leonard. Gerry was a fierce union man and worked with me for many years in SSEB/ScottishPower, however he should have been a lawyer, such was his ability to negotiate and debate.
His skills came in handy that day, as he bargained with the owner and agreed a discount deal which enabled the entire bus to stay together in one of the city’s clubs for the evening. That has to be the most memorable Celtic singsong ever, given the context of the entertainment. I laugh and cringe even now, thirty-something years later, thinking of some of the shenanigans from Amsterdam. God bless you Gerry.
It was never straightforward travelling with the Cairn and that night was to be no exception. We arrived at the main railway station to discover we had just missed the last train to Rotterdam. It’s a similar distance to Glasgow-Edinburgh, so not exactly an ideal taxi ride. However, needs must and so we piled into some waiting cabs with the immortal line, “Rotterdam, mate!” As we arrived back in the port, stopped at traffic lights, we noticed Jimmy Kelly and a few of the boys having a beer in a pavement bar. “This’ll do us here, driver.” And so the evening continued.
On the Sunday morning, I awoke to find the world’s largest flagpole, complete with Dutch tricolour, on the floor at the foot of my bed. How it got there from its normal position, flying proudly from the front of the hotel, remains a mystery to this day. We were at the top of a tall, narrow building not dissimilar to Ann Frank House. Tight, steep stairs. There were several of us sharing a room but no-one owned up to this feat of engineering and logistical genius. Not surprisingly, the owner wasn’t best pleased and poor Gerry’s communication skills were once again in demand to smooth things over.
With Flag-gate resolved, it was back to the serious matters in hand, the final of the Feyenoord tournament. There was a cracking atmosphere in De Kuip as the teams ran out, the 1500-strong Celtic army in full voice.
There was one survivor from San Siro 1970, the wonderful Wim van Hanegem, however, it was a player at the other end of a brilliant career who opened the scoring, a young Ruud Gullit tapping home from close-range to give the hosts the lead on seven minutes. But Celts hit back with two goals in ten minutes just after the half hour, McCluskey blasting home a fierce shot before a classic Burns run and chip put us in front.
There was time for a moment of real controversy before the break, the Belgian officials presumably being the only folk in the stadium who felt Housman was onside as he made it 2-2.
The second half was more of the same glorious fare. Vermeulen made it 3-2 early on, for once getting the better of McGrain to beat Bonner. Then Burns went down following a challenge and referee Charles Corver atoned for his earlier mistake by awarding a penalty, which Mark Reid dispatched with aplomb for 3-3.
The Dutch then had their own chance from the spot, twenty minutes from time, when that man Houtman was felled in the box, however, Bonner saved the weak effort from Dutch defender Valke. As play raged from end to end, it looked more and more like one more goal would decide it. And so it did, sadly it was Feyenoord who stole it with just four minutes remaining, Bulgarian striker Andrej Jeliazkov volleying home from a cross to send the bulk of the 40,000 crowd wild.
Despite the defeat, it had been a positive few days for Celtic. The brand of football on show was of a high standard and it was played the Celtic way, based on attack and flair. In Tommy Burns, we had the player of the tournament. I always felt this period saw Tommy at his peak, a fabulously-gifted footballer with Celtic in his heart, a wonderful combination in any player.
There was much to look forward to as we contemplated the season ahead on the long journey home to Glasgow.
Dedicated to the memory of Gerry Leonard, a wonderful friend and mentor.