NineteenSixtyHeaven: Football and Music in Perfect Harmony
In the summer of 1967, San Francisco was the centre of the Summer of Love, a seemingly never-ending hippie festival which promised free love and a peaceful counter-culture revolution of Western society. The Beatles and their era-defining album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were at the musical forefront of the Summer of Love.
In Scotland, it was a heavenly summer for Celtic fans and many more for a very different reason. Yet these two cultural happenings were linked and had their origins the summer before … in San Francisco itself.
On 1st and 8th June 1966, Jock Stein’s Celtic recorded two significant results against Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, adjoining the Haight-Ashbury district, which would soon earn fame as the home of hippiedom. These games were part of a momentous month-long tour of Bermuda and North America, which included 11 games and was later credited by the 17-strong Celtic squad as cementing the famous team spirit which was to lead them all the way to Lisbon.
Bertie Auld recalled: ‘We were close before we stepped on that plane to take off on our great adventure. We had completely bonded by the time we got home’.
The tour also allowed for some important tactical fine-tuning of the newly crowned Scottish champions by manager Jock Stein, as described in the book Dreams And Songs To Sing: ‘The manager viewed the trip as both a deserved reward and as an opportunity for some sensible experimentation, the establishing of the Murdoch-Auld axis in midfield being the most notable outcome.’
The tour cleared the way for Stein’s men to get season 1966-7 off to a flier. The season kicked off with a League Cup campaign that saw Celtic go undefeated all the way through to the final where they overcame Rangers 1-0 on 29th October 1966. The team were also unbeaten in seven league games by the end of October and had made an impressive debut in the European Cup, beating FC Zurich 5-0 on aggregate.
In stark contrast to the good vibrations which the Celtic team left San Francisco with that summer, when The Beatles played in the city’s Candlestick Park on 29th August the atmosphere was one of foreboding. Their third American tour was ending in frustration and dischord. Paul McCartney had to admit defeat to his bandmates who were determined to stop touring. Candlestick Park was to prove The Beatles’ last ever live concert before a paying audience. Worse was to come when, on the plane back to London after the gig, George Harrison announced: ‘Well that’s it, I’m not a Beatle anymore’.
The most popular music group on the planet were at a crossroads. They had honed their art playing extensive live sets in Hamburg at the start of the Sixties. Playing before audiences was their great thrill but the experience had been ruined by the very people who adored them, as Ringo Starr explained: ‘We got in a rut, going round the world. It was a different audience each day, but we were doing the same things. There was no satisfaction in it. Nobody could hear . . . It was wrecking our playing . . . The noise of the people just drowned out everything.’
A more sinister element had come to the fore. The band felt threatened by the crowd reaction after a gig was cancelled due to torrential rain in Cincinatti with 35,000 fans already in the stadium; they had watched at close quarters as police attacked fans using batons in Los Angeles after their limo came under siege post-gig. In addition there had been demonstrations and death threats in the southern states after John Lennon had declared earlier in 1966 that they ‘were more popular than Jesus’. It had all got too much and the very existence of the group was now threatened.
It was fortunate that there was a clearing in their schedule (due to an abandoned movie project) that allowed The Beatles some much-needed time apart through to November. Lennon took up an acting role in Richard Lester’s war parody How I Won the War, which was being filmed in Spain (where the villa he rented reminded him of a Salvation Army children’s home back in Liverpool called Strawberry Field). Harrison went to India to study the sitar with Ravi Shankar and meet Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a transcendental meditation guru, while McCartney had his first experience of the drug LSD with his friend, the Guinness heir, Tara Browne. Perhaps the most significant thing to happen to the band before their return to the studio in late November was the first ever meeting, on 9th November 1966 at the Indica Gallery in London, of John Lennon and artist Yoko Ono.
That same November and December, Jock Stein’s men continued to progress at home and abroad. In ten league games they scored 32 goals, conceding only 16 in return. Points were dropped in only three of those ten games as their lead at the top of Scottish Division One over Rangers was stretched. The tenacity of this squad was illustrated against Dunfermline on 19th November 1966 when they came from 3-1 down to win 5-4 with a last minute penalty from Joe McBride.
Eyes were still firmly on the main prize though: the Second Round of the Champions Cup (as it truly was in that era). Drawn away in the first leg to French champions Nantes, Celtic recorded an impressive 3-1 win – and Jimmy Johnstone’s delightful performance earned him the nickname La Puce Volante (The Flying Flea) from the French press. At Celtic Park on 7th December the Celts eased their way to another 3-1 victory. In their four games in this first assault on the European Cup they’d scored 12 goals and lost only 2. The style of attacking football that Stein advocated was winning Celtic new admirers on the continent.
On Thursday 24th November, producer George Martin assembled The Beatles at Abbey Road for the first recording sessions which would ultimately lead to the Sgt. Pepper album. Now that touring was no longer a consideration, Martin and the group enjoyed the freedom to spend as much time – and money – as they wanted in the studio. Incredibly, the first four weeks were taken up with the creation of just one song: but what a song. Strawberry Fields Forever was a defining moment in psychedelic rock music involving the use of sixteen different instruments and an unprecedented fifty-five hours of studio time to hark back to Lennon’s childhood in Woolton. In between the marathon sessions for Strawberry Fields the band recorded a McCartney song, which he called ‘a parody of Northern life’, inspired by his ageing father. When I’m Sixty-Four was a simple and sparse song with an endearing sentiment which indicated the diverse approaches the final album would take.
On Friday 30th December, The Beatles had their last studio session of 1966. Starting at 7pm and going on until 3am, they laid down the foundations of Penny Lane, which was McCartney’s turn to dive into childhood nostalgia revisiting the street where he and his brother went to the barber. In these early stages the plan for the as yet unnamed album was an autobiographical traipse around the Liverpudlian landmarks of their youth. This was a band back on track and in harmony.
For Celtic, 1966 was to end on a bum note. Later that day, and despite goals from Lennox and Wallace, they lost 3-2 at Tannadice, their first League defeat of the season – and an undefeated record of 49 matches was gone. They remained at the top of the league – four points clear of Rangers who had a game in hand. Hopes remained high – but no-one could have predicted the dizzy heights the club would reach as 1967 dawned over Celtic Park.
In EMI Studios No.2 at Abbey Road, The Beatles and George Martin got the new year off to a slow start, spending the early part of January finishing Penny Lane before creating the fourteen minute free-form Carnival of Light, which still hasn’t been heard outside The Beatles’ inner circle. Towards the end of the month the band would start work on what was to become the most influential song of the Sgt. Pepper album, A Day in the Life. Lennon had started writing the lyrics earlier that week, taking his cue from Daily Mail reports on the inquest into Tara Browne’s death – McCartney’s friend had died in a high-speed London car crash the month before – and the number of pot-holes in the roads in Blackburn, Lancashire. The LSD-influence on the song was crystallised by McCartney who contributed the memorable line ‘I’d love to turn you on’. This was the basis on which the BBC banned the song from the airwaves for five years due to the lyrics encouraging ‘a permissive attitude to drug-taking’. The impact of the absurd ban was minimal. A Day In The Life remains, in the words of Beatles scholar Ian MacDonald, ‘among the most penetrating and innovative artistic reflections of its era’.
Celtic’s start to 1967 was anything but sluggish. The goals flowed throughout January and February in the League (five each against Dundee, Clyde and Ayr) after the all-important Ne’erday Derby at Ibrox had been postponed due to rain. The first two rounds of the Scottish Cup saw Arbroath and Elgin City despatched for 11 goals without reply. The well-oiled machine was getting set to move up a gear. A friendly against Dinamo Zagreb at Celtic Park on 7th February was lost by a single goal but the purpose was to familiarise the players with how Eastern European teams set themselves up: Celtic were due to go behind the Iron Curtain in the European Cup Quarter Final.
On 1st March 1967, Celtic travelled to Novi Sad in northern Yugoslavia to play Vojvodina, conquerors of Atletico Madrid in the previous round. The Slavs were considered one of the best teams in the tournament and Stein’s men struggled to assert themselves. A defensive error let in left winger, Stanic to claim the winner twenty minutes from the end. A one-goal deficit was not considered a great handicap to this Celtic team but come half-time in the home leg the Yugoslavian lead was still intact and impressive keeper, Pantelic had helped silence the 70,000-strong crowd. Stein’s orders were to maintain the high-speed attacks to expose cracks in the Vojvodina defence.
With just over an hour gone, a Tommy Gemmell cross troubled Pantelic and Stevie Chalmers pounced to knock the ball home. Breakthrough. The momentum had shifted in Celtic’s favour. The attacks were now relentless, with Johnstone and Hughes on either flank bringing pressure to bear: ‘The Vojvodina defence suddenly found itself like a nut between the crackers’, wrote The Times match correspondent. But this was a nut that, over the next half-hour, refused to crack and a play-off in Rotterdam for a semi-final place loomed ominously. Then, in the dying seconds, Celtic were awarded a corner. Charlie Gallagher swept the ball over and Billy McNeill rose from a ruck of players to head over Pantelic and under the bar. The whistle blew as soon as the Slavs re-started the game. Celtic, in their first European Cup campaign, were now only two games away from the final.
Back at Abbey Road, George Martin encouraged The Beatles to pick up the pace and they responded positively in terms of workload and creativity throughout February. McCartney’s idea of an alter ego band to hide behind, first cultivated on the American tour, began to take shape. The song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was started in early February and tied up a month later. The album now had its identity and starting point: a fictional band playing an imaginary concert. As McCartney later explained: ‘It liberated you – you could do anything when you got to the mic or on your guitar, because it wasn’t you’. Lennon’s rollicking Good Morning Good Morning was started on 8th February and McCartney’s wistful Fixing A Hole the day after. Later in the week, George Harrison’s discordant Only A Northern Song was recorded but didn’t make the album’s final cut. It lacked the music hall appeal of Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, which fitted perfectly into the Sgt. Pepper concept, taking inspiration from a Victorian circus poster that Lennon had picked up in a Kent antique shop only a few weeks earlier. Three days on and it was the turn of Lovely Rita to take shape in the studio, depicting McCartney’s memorable encounter with a female traffic warden.
The month of March saw The Beatles hit top gear in production terms with the pieces of the Sgt. Pepper jigsaw starting to fall into place. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, inspired by a painting by Lennon’s 4-year-old son, Julian was done and dusted in just two days. McCartney and Lennon worked closely on Getting Better, using language from the hippy culture (‘Man I was mean but I’m changing my scene’) and the slight Indian-tinge to the sound of that song was then developed in the sitar-infused Within You Without You, Harrison’s gentle assault of Eastern spiritualism on the prevailing materialism which was to be placed at the half-way mark in the final album: ‘A vital mediation break in the middle of the jubilant indulgence’, according to Rolling Stone magazine. The poignant and classic She’s Leaving Home was completed in just two studio sessions, the idea again borrowed from a contemporary news story highlighting the generation gap of the era.
The last few days of March saw the final song to make it from the sessions on to Sgt. Pepper take shape. Ringo Starr was the surprise lead vocalist in With A Little Help From My Friend, assuming the guise of Billy Shears, the band leader of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was one of the last true Lennon-McCartney collaborations and a genuine team effort from the band. Starr had to be cajoled to stay on until after daybreak to complete his vocal, the other three standing around him at the microphone lending moral support. A few hours later that day they re-assembled at artist Peter Blake’s studio on the King’s Road for the photo session that formed the centrepiece of Blake’s ground-breaking cover art for the album. Labelled ‘a countercultural totem’ by Ian MacDonald, the song became indelibly associated with the 60s after being performed by Joe Cocker at the famous Woodstock festival two years after Sgt. Pepper’s release. The hard work was done, all that was required now was some fine-tuning.
March and April had also proven a purple patch for Celtic and their various bids for domestic and European glory. As the pressure increased the squad responded magnificently to the challenge. They continued their unbeaten run in the league, started back in January, subjecting opponents to a torrent of goals. They advanced to the final of the Scottish Cup by beating Glasgow rivals Queen’s Park and Clyde before the Czechoslovakian champions, Dukla Prague arrived at Celtic Park on 12th April for the first leg of the semi-final. The cool evening saw 75,000 fans crammed into the old park and they were raising the rafters when Jimmy Johnstone, lobbing himself and the ball over the keeper, gave Celtic the lead mid-way through the first half. But the tactically shrewd Czechs, led by the masterful 36-year-old midfield maestro, Josef Masopust, were not overawed. They remained focused on securing the crucial away goal and Celtic Park fell silent when they equalised just before half-time, Strunc taking advantage of defensive errors. The lure of Lisbon, where the final was to be held, wasn’t just being felt by the Scottish players.
A six-minute spell in the second half ultimately settled the tie. Willie Wallace was making his debut in the competition that night. On the hour mark he latched on to a huge clearance from Gemmell to slip through the Dukla defence and clip the ball past keeper Victor with his right foot. The ‘impossible dream’ referred to by captain Billy McNeill was alive again. Celtic attacked relentlessly. Foul after foul was conceded by the Czechs in ever more dangerous positions. It was from one such foul, in the 65th minute, that Bertie Auld deceived the defensive wall, side-footing the ball to his right instead of his left where, after just two short steps, Wallace slammed it into the net from almost 30 yards out with the keeper left bewildered. He was denied his hat-trick by the woodwork on the 80th minute but Celtic had a two goal lead to take to Prague to help secure their passage to the final.
On the afternoon of 25th April, Jock Stein’s instructions to the Celtic players in the Stadion Juliska were out of the ordinary: the emphasis was on defending the two goal lead. Only Chalmers would be played as an out-an-out striker, Willie Wallace was an extra right-back and it was left to the Celtic defence to demonstrate their worth. Three crucial saves by Ronnie Simpson from Strunc in the first half and commanding centre-half performances from McNeill and Clark kept Dukla at bay. Celtic harried and stood up to the Czechs at every opportunity, the home team ran out of ideas and a draw was secured without Simpson’s goal being breached. Stein’s instructions had been followed to the letter and the reward for the team’s discipline and dig was a trip to Lisbon four weeks later.
First things first though – the Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen awaited the team’s return from Czechoslovakia. Normal attacking business was resumed as two goals again from Willie Wallace – either side of half-time – saw the majority of the 126,102 crowd celebrate Celtic’s 19th success in the grand old competition. It was a momentous week for Celtic. Four days after the cup final, Dundee United were the visitors to Celtic Park in the league. Only a point was needed to clinch the Championship. But despite leading twice, Stein’s team suffered a 3-2 defeat. United were the only Scottish team to beat Celtic that season and they did it twice, home and away.
Celtic now had to go to Ibrox to secure the flag against a Rangers team who had just beaten Slavia Sofia to reach the final of the Cup Winners Cup. On 6th May, before a crowd of 78,000, which included Inter manager, Helenio Herrera, Celtic supporters witnessed one of the best and most important goals in the club’s history. Having already equalised Sandy Jardine’s opener, Jimmy Johnstone received a throw-in from Stevie Chalmers with no danger imminent. The Sunday Mail report described what happened next:
The wee man didn’t hesitate. He swerved to the right with the ball glued to his toe-cap and raced straight for the Rangers goal. Johnstone made a slight detour across the front of the 18 yard box, and then unleased a tremendous left-foot drive. Martin would have needed telescopic arms to reach the ball as it flew into the top-right hand corner of the net. A brilliant goal from the smartest player on the field.
Despite a late equaliser, Jinky’s wonder strike secured the Treble for Celtic the first time ever. At Ibrox. This was already a season like no other.
A domestic clean-sweep having been achieved, Stein and his players could now focus exclusively on Portugal and the challenge of the formidable La Grande Inter, European Champions in two of the previous three years.
On that glorious, unforgettable late afternoon in Lisbon, Jock Stein’s Celtic team struck down the negative system of catennacio with an incredible display of attacking play that heralded a new age in football. The leading French newspaper L’Équipe proclaimed: ‘A glowing tribute must be paid to Celtic. The Scottish club has reasserted the basic values of moral and physical fitness, of spirit de corps, of adventurousness and of the sheer pleasure in playing the game. They have injected a breath of fresh air into our game.’ Jock Stein himself summed it up best of all: ‘We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football.’
The day after the triumph at Lisbon’s Estadio Nacional, on 26th May 1967, The Beatles’ ground-breaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was rush-released into UK record stores to meet unprecedented demand. For Celtic fans waking up from their hangovers or returning on planes from Portugal, the party was only just beginning.
Writing in The Times renowned critic Kenneth Tynan referred to it as: ‘A decisive moment in Western civilisation’. It is not known whether he was in Lisbon itself or watched the game on the telly.
© The Shamrock 2017
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