Willie Wallace: “I see we’re now a British club – but if we’d lost we would still be Scottish,” Jock Stein in Prague

After the excitement of these two great victories, both over excellent opposition, it might come as a surprise that the next couple of matches during my “seventeen glorious days” were both 0–0 draws. Each game, though, in different ways was crucial; one being a league match against Aberdeen and the other the semi-final second leg of the European Cup against Dukla Prague.

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By the middle of April, 1967, Celtic had already picked up the League Cup and the Glasgow Cup, were still in contention for the Scottish and European cups and were ahead on the league table, just in front of Rangers. Every game now was a vital one and, only four days after the euphoria of Wembley, we ran out at Parkhead in front of a crowd of 33,000 to face Aberdeen.

The Dons were not only in third place on the table but, in 10 days’ time, would be our opponents in the Scottish Cup final. It proved a tense night for everyone, with neither side giving any quarter and defences slightly on top, so a scoreless draw was not an unexpected result. From our point of view, though, a point gained was better than two lost and we were reasonably happy with the 0–0 result. The match was of historical importance for another reason, as it was only the second time the team which would become known as the “Lisbon Lions” had taken to the field, the first having been in the 4–0 league win against St Johnstone at Muirton Park, Perth, on 14 January, 1967. As the Lions only played 11 matches in total, the Aberdeen match has gone into the record books.

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Four days later, a very confident Celtic party – comprising directors, management, players and supporters – left Glasgow airport by chartered jet for the return leg of our European semi-final against Dukla in Prague.

Arriving in the Czech capital, I was impressed by its old buildings and quaint streets. In appearance, it certainly lived up to the guidebooks’ descriptions of being steeped in history, one of the favourite places of the European royals in the 1700s and 1800s and a home of art and music. Much as we acknowledged the impressive architecture on our trip from the airport into the city, however, we were there on business – serious football business. For once, the laughing and joking were muted, the atmosphere among the players was quite serious, with little messing about.

We had grasped the importance of this game, which could take us on to be the first club in the history of British football to appear in a European Cup final. Even around our hotel, a fairly staid establishment, every player seemed to have his thoughts concentrated on the forthcoming match, the conversation at meal times unusually focused on football.

On the eve of the game, after dinner, we gathered in one of the hotel rooms for the team talk. This turned out to be one of the most surprising in all my years at Parkhead. The manager Jock Stein, otherwise known as “the Boss”, had decided on a dramatic change in our tactics for this game and this was the first time I ever heard him talk defensive.

He gave me the task of picking up Dukla’s star player and midfielder Josef Masopust, who had been the 1962 European Footballer of the Year. He had also decided to play five in midfield, with only one up front.

This was the first time in my career I had to play a defensive role but, on speaking with the Boss, he said he believed I would be up to the task. He told me: Just be where he is all the time and that will make it hard for his team-mates to use him.

Masopust was their main playmaker and was used to playing in space. It didn’t take long after the game had started for it to become clear to me that he was unhappy with me being close to him all the time. So, I thought, it’s working. After about fifteen minutes, as he received the ball in the middle of the field, I took a chance. I tackled him pretty hard from the side. I wouldn’t have called it a foul, of course, but the referee did. He gave me a warning but not a card.

But it worked in my favour, as now Masopust was looking for me every time the ball was passed to him and that meant he wasn’t concentrating on the play as much as he should have been. The Boss’s plan was working.

Our lone striker was Steve Chalmers and he was doing a fantastic job, making it difficult for Dukla to return the ball quickly and accurately. Stevie covered so much ground in that game, he must have felt he had run ten marathons.

Meanwhile, I was sticking close to Masopust, trying to keep him out of the game. To be truthful, Dukla could have scored at least once before half-time but for good goalkeeping and defending, plus a little help from Lady Luck. We continued to hold on in the second half and, the longer the game went, the more dejected the Dukla players became. In the last ten minutes, it felt to me like they had almost given up trying to score.

When the final whistle came, I was struck by two, conflicting emotions. There was the obvious delight that we had won our way through to the final. Then there was some disappointment when Josef Masopust refused to shake hands and exchange shirts. He even gave me a slap on the jaw as we walked off. I do recall having given him a few hard tackles during the match but I was stunned and saddened at that.

Then I started thinking that I must have done my job well for him to be so upset and joined the rest of the team, who were celebrating on the field. The cheering over, I approached the tunnel to head for the dressing rooms and found Masopust, standing waiting for me. He apologised for his behaviour and then exchanged shirts with me. I was relieved this happened as I had always admired him as a player. I could also understand his disappointment as he was reaching the end of his career and, most likely, this game had been his last chance of making a European Cup final.

As the dejected Czechs walked towards their own dressing room, we gave our small band of travelling supporters a wave. A photograph taken at that moment gives an idea of our feelings – everyone showing their delight – and when we made it back to the dressing room, the euphoria continued with all the boys on a high.

The Boss was also well pleased, although one comment showed his cynicism was never very far below the surface: “I see we’re now a British club – but if we’d lost we would still be Scottish!” Travelling back to Glasgow on the charter flight, we celebrated a bit more. Enjoyable though the champagne was, however, we still hadn’t won anything. The chance to do that would come quickly, though, as at the end of the same week, we had to play Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park.

Willie Wallace

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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