This one perhaps fell under the radar at the end of last week, so it’s well worth a catch-up as Matt Corr, with the valuable assistance of Celtic historian Pat Woods, provides us with a fascinating insight into the groundwork from Jock Stein – carried out before he was appointed as manager of Celtic – that led to that glorious triumph against Inter Milan in the European Cup Final in Lisbon on 25 May 1967.
Catch up here before continuing if you’ve missed these brilliant Celtic articles…highly recommended, high quality Celtic content right here…
Enjoyed that? Then read part two which is even better!
Now let’s continue the story…
Meanwhile, back in Scotland…
Jock Stein’s assertion in Milan that the prevailing attitude in Scottish football was that the big Glasgow clubs ‘were best’ would be put to the test within a few days of his return from Italy, his Dunfermline Athletic team hosting League leaders Rangers that weekend, whilst Willie Waddell’s second-placed Kilmarnock side would visit Celtic Park.
There would be a global event which would put football into some perspective before those matches kicked off, but meantime it was also interesting to read that not everyone thought that visit would produce dramatic results. In The Evening Times of Monday, 18 November 1963, Peter Hendry wrote:
“Senor Herrera, the Inter Milan coach, may show managers Jock Stein (Dunfermline) and Willie Waddell (Kilmarnock) some new coaching techniques during their visit to Italy this week – but he can’t tell him much about getting real team spirit from their players. Right now, both Dunfermline and Kilmarnock are well endowed with that quality. Kilmarnock showed that in 90 rip-roaring minutes – when they fought out a 1-1 draw with Rangers at Rugby Park on Saturday. Now Rangers go to Dunfermline on Saturday.
“Will Jock Stein learn anything in Milan that can help Athletic give Rangers their first defeat by a Scottish club this season? I wonder? Indeed, I wonder whether the journeys of Willie Waddell and Jock Stein are really necessary?
“Within seven days last week, I was bored to tears watching the slow-motion football of Russia and Italy on TV and then thrilled at Firhill and Rugby Park watching Partick Thistle and Celtic and Rangers and Kilmarnock. Thousands of satisfied paying customers at each ground enjoyed every minute. Let others follow their lead and the worry about falling gates will disappear.”
Whilst his colleague Shearer Borthwick added:
“Continental football? You can keep it! That was the verdict of many of the lucky 25,000 spectators who thrilled to that 1-1 draw at Easter Road between Hibs and Celtic. This was a real spectacle of goalmouth thrills, outfield spills and fast, clever football with no quarter asked or given.
“Yes, it was he-man stuff, relieved by the silkiest of touches from home stars Pat Quinn and Willie Hamilton, while the deceptive jaunts of Celtic’s wee Jimmy Johnstone and the equally dangerous gallops of man-mountain John Hughes all added up to scintillating fare. A bouquet to every man on the field, including referee Paterson, for demonstrating once again that Scottish football at its best is the very best in the world.”
As an aside, it would appear that Jimmy McGrory was not amongst the ‘lucky 25,000’ that afternoon, as the Celtic manager was reported to have been at the Reserve League clash between Dundee and St Johnstone at Dens Park, running his eye over home keeper Pat Liney. Paisley-born Liney had been an ever-present in Dundee’s march to the Scottish title the previous season but had found himself out of favour following the arrival from Liverpool of Bert Slater. He would join boyhood club St Mirren before the end of the calendar year.
Partick Thistle were first to put Shearer Borthwick’s assertions about Scottish football to the test, Willie Thornton’s men entertaining Czech outfit Spartak ZJS Brno in the first leg of their second-round Inter-Cities Fairs Cup tie at Firhill on Monday, 18 November 1963.
Spartak had managed a respectable mid-table finish in their first season back in the top-flight after a 12-year absence, level on points with Slovan Bratislava who retained the Czechoslovak Cup with a 9-0 rout of relegated Dynamo Prague and who would provide the quarter-final opposition for Celtic in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup in the new year.
The national champions were once again Dukla Prague, the army side, in the midst of a four-in-a-row title run and boasting the bulk of the Czech team which had reached the World Cup final the previous summer, with Ballon d’Or winner Josef Masopust the jewel in that particular crown. The Jags looked to have sealed a place in the next round, Martin Ferguson’s goal putting them 3-0 up and coasting early in the second half, before that old unpredictability tag came back to haunt them. As Thistle missed chance after chance to put the tie out of sight, the Czechs snatched two goals in the closing half-hour to set up a potentially difficult night in Brno the following midweek.
Next to be put to the test would be the Scottish national side, who hosted Wales at Hampden on Wednesday, 20 November 1963, the day after the initial meeting between Jock Stein, Helenio Herrera and Willie Waddell in Milan.
Two Celts were on parade, skipper Billy McNeill making a welcome return to the international scene after injury whilst Jim Kennedy made his Scotland debut at left-back. Teenage Leeds United goalkeeper Gary Sprake also took his bow at that level at Hampden, and he would be beaten by John White and Denis Law strikes either side of the interval as the Scots won 2-1 in a bruising encounter to set up a potential Home International Championship decider with England at the same venue in the spring of 1964.
Friday, 22 November 1963 is a date which will sadly live forever in history, but those Scottish football supporters scrutinising their evening newspapers for news of their clubs ahead of a blockbuster Saturday of fixtures, which saw the top six teams in the First Division all face off, would be blissfully unaware of the tragedy about to unfold halfway across the world. At around 6.30pm Glasgow time, US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
There is an iconic but sombre photograph taken at Celtic Park ahead of kick-off the following afternoon, as Willie Waddell brought his Kilmarnock team to Glasgow’s east end, players from both sides wearing black armbands and standing to attention as a minute’s silence is observed as a token of respect for the late US President.
Sadly, reports suggest that show of respect would not be replicated at East End Park, Dunfermline, where Rangers were the visitors. Pat Woods reminded me that a 22-year-old JFK had once travelled to Glasgow as the representative of his father, Joe Kennedy, at that time the US Ambassador in London, to speak with American survivors following the sinking of the passenger liner SS Athenia by a German U-Boat in the North Atlantic, just hours after war was declared on 3 September 1939.
With the formal proceedings concluded, the Shamrock-kit-clad Celts continued their excellent recent form by scoring five times without reply against Kilmarnock, taking their League tally to 43 in just 13 games, far and away the best in the First Division.
John Hughes became the latest Celt to notch a hat-trick, the fifth achieved in just five League matches stretching back to that 9-0 mauling of Airdrieonians at the end of October. Yogi’s treble was bookended by strikes from John Divers and Jimmy Johnstone, the last goal perhaps a source of some satisfaction for Jinky, who had endured a 6-0 defeat against the same opposition in his Hoops debut just eight months earlier.
Celtic’s win combined with victories on the road for both Rangers and Dundee saw a reshuffle of the top six places, the Dark Blues joining Killie on the 20-point mark, three behind leaders Rangers, whilst Celts edged above Hearts into fifth spot, Jimmy McGrory’s men now just one point behind Jock Stein’s Dunfermline. As a final comment on that weekend, the Celtic line-up would be immortalised in song, as follows:
There’s Fallon, Young and Gemmell, who proudly wear the green.
There’s Clark, McNeill and Kennedy, the best you’ve ever seen.
Jim Johnstone, Murdoch, Chalmers, John Divers and John Hughes.
And 60,000 Celtic fans who proudly sing the news.
More on this series this evening…
Matt Corr, with thanks to Pat Woods for provision of the original article and his insights on it.