On a wing and a prayer – the 1931 Scottish Cup Final

Cup Final fever is here again.  If this Saturday’s encounter is anything like the 1931 Scottish Cup Final, fought by the same teams and considered one of the most exciting and dramatic in the history of the tournament, Hampden will see cheers and tears aplenty.

In 1931 Celtic were hoping to win the oldest trophy in world football for the thirteenth time.  For Motherwell, two years older than their Glasgow counterparts, it was their first-ever major cup final appearance – and their fans turned out in great numbers to support them.  40 special trains as well as 237 trams and 79 buses per hour delivered a crowd of 104,803 to Hampden on what the Motherwell Times described as “a glorious spring day” with the only drawback being “a stiff wind blowing from end to end.”


Celtic 1930 to 31

Motherwell team 1930s

 Bhoys against (Steel)Men – the 1931 squads


There was well-founded optimism amongst the Lanarkshire contingent.  While Celtic, still managed by the grand old man Willie Maley, enjoyed “a tradition of invincibility” over Motherwell in the Scottish Cup, Maley’s good friend and counterpart John ‘Sailor’ Hunter had put together the best Fir Park side to date.  They presented a real challenge to both Celtic and Rangers in the Scottish League:  from 1927 through to 1934 they would secure a top 3 finish each season, often splitting the Glasgow teams.


John Sailor Hunter and Willie Maley Cup Final Managers

Old Pals Act:  Willie Maley and Sailor Hunter


While Celtic had the great Jimmy McGrory up front, the brave and dependable Johnny Thomson in goal and craftsmen like Charlie Napier, Alec Thomson and Bertie Thomson available to turn on the style, this team of Steelmen played a brand of football that had attracted a lot of admirers.  The focus was on the forward line spearheaded by Willie MacFadyen, a strong and mobile centre-forward who could rival McGrory in the goal-scoring stakes (the following season MacFadyen would score 52 goals in the League – a Scottish record that still stands).  On the right wing there was the dependable John Murdoch who was ably supported by John McMenemy – son of the Celtic legend ‘Napoleon’ and an ex-Celt himself who had picked up a winner’s medal in the 1927 final.


Jimmy McGrory cig card 2

‘Send for McGrory!’ – Celtic’s famed centre-forward


The left-wing was the real danger area for Celtic though.  George Stevenson and Bobby Ferrier were known as the ‘Rolls and Royce of Scottish football’ for good reason: they were “a species of perfection which captivated they eyes, and transfixed the full-backs, of a generation.” They were not only incredibly skilful individuals, they combined with deadly effect to net a total of 424 goals between them in their Motherwell careers.  It was unusual for any non-centre forward to strike up such a rate of goals.


Bob Ferrier cig card

Bobby Ferrier, a Motherwell legend


The huge terraces at Hampden were a feast of colour that Saturday afternoon.  The Celtic contingent had turned up in considerable numbers for the club’s 21st cup final appearance (having won 12): “At the West terracing a dense column of green handkerchiefs greeted the eyes.” The distinct claret and amber of the Motherwell fans (the club had recently adopted these colours in favour of blue) was very much in evidence too:

As against the waving of the green there was the display of the “Knowetop Laddies” with their block letters, standing out in bold relief on the crowded slopes, the letters forming the word M O T H E R W E L L.  From hundreds of voices there came the shout “Motherwell” the chorus of the “Knowetop Laddies” as they completed their display.

We are familiar with fan displays inside stadia in the modern era but this was an unusual sight in grounds in the 1930s (although brake club banners were often taken into games back then).  Knowetop Primary School still sits directly behind the East Stand at Fir Park, opposite the main stand.  This is the area of the ground occupied by their ultras group, the Motherwell Bois.

It was Motherwell, playing with the wind behind them, who settled into the game first and their fans who were the first to cheer.  A mere 6 minutes had passed when a “swift grounder” from Stevenson deflected off the foot of Celtic captain Jimmy McStay to beat a despairing Johnny Thomson, whose fingers reached the ball but couldn’t stop it crossing the line.  “A thundering cheer rent the air” above the Mount Florida end of Hampden while the Celtic support looked on in silence.


A section of the crowd in 1931 final

Some of the crowd in the Main Stand at the 1931 Cup Final at Hampden


If you weren’t at the game itself, you stood little chance of knowing the score.  As well as no mobile phones or television in the 1930s, the cup final was not broadcast live on the radio (the BBC had a 15-minute report on the game which would only be read out at 6pm).  Back in Motherwell a large crowd had gathered outside the office of the Motherwell Times in the town centre where regular notices were being put up in the window thanks to telephone calls from a reporter at Hampden Park.  The crowd grew to thousands as the game progressed.

There was a touch of ingenuity on show:  one group of Motherwell fans had brought a basket full of pigeons with them to Hampden.  This was in an age when pigeon-fancying was all the rage:  it’s more likely that you’d get a bag of smoke bombs and flares past Police Scotland into Saturday’s final then a basket full of doos. It had been agreed before the game that if Celtic scored then a black pigeon would be released into the air to return to Lanarkshire; and if the Fir Park team scored it was white pigeon that would be sent home to convey the good news.  Celtic were now a white pigeon and a goal down.

The Celtic team tried to get a foothold in the game but it was Motherwell who maintained the pressure.  MacFadyen missed an open goal and Thomson was called to save from both Murdoch and Stevenson.  In the 20th minute a shot from McMenemy would likely have been saved by the Celtic ‘keeper also if it wasn’t for the unfortunate intervention – yet again – of Jimmy McStay, whose left leg sent it away from the Fifer and into the Celtic net.  Two deflected goals, two-nil to Motherwell – and only twenty minutes played on the Hampden Park clock.  Another white pigeon went up in the air and over the city . . .


John Thomson saves v Mwell

Motherwell attack – but Johnny Thomson saves on this occasion


Celtic were now trying desperately to bring McGrory into the game to help pull a goal back.  He was being marked closely by Motherwell’s central defender, Alan Craig, and a personal battle was developing between them.  It was reported that Craig’s “bottling” of McGrory was not relished by the Celtic man whose fouls in response led to McGrory being “booed” by Motherwell fans in the main stand.  When Craig appeared to handle the ball in the box, it was the Celtic fans who were venting their spleen as no penalty was awarded.  Things were getting heated, Celtic were clawing their way back into the game – and then MacFadyen had a chance to put Motherwell three goals ahead but his header floated just over the crossbar.  Celtic survived until half-time.

Once again, the M O T H E R W E L L boards were raised aloft during the interval as the Lanarkshire fans realised their team had one solid hand on the famous trophy.  They were forty-five minutes away from glory.

Celtic started the second half at a frantic pace.  Bertie Thomson was the most impressive of the front players, creating chances and helping pin the Motherwell defence back.  McGrory was only being fed scraps though.  ‘Sailor’ Hunter changed his team’s tactics, drawing back Stevenson, McMenemy and Ferrier to help fend off Celtic, leaving only McFadyen and noted poacher Murdoch up high on the pitch to grab a third goal if the chance arose.

McGrory was being effectively marshalled by Craig.  Celtic kept the pressure up but clear-cut chances were limited.   As the minutes ticked away on the clock on the Main Stand (this was destroyed in a fire in 1945) the urgings of the Celtic support grew quieter.  Then there was another claim for a penalty – another Motherwell player hand-balled in the box – but once again Referee Craigmyle said no, awarding a corner instead, to the fury of the Celtic players and support.  Both Peter Scarff and Bertie Thomson chased the referee around the goalposts (and there were claims of man-handling by the Celts) but he stood his ground.


McGrory v Craig hand ball 1931

Hand-ball?  No penalty, says ref Craigmyle


Into the last 10 minutes and the Motherwell defenders were now clearing the ball at every opportunity, the neat build-up play of the first half abandoned.  Goalkeeper McClory helped run down the clock by deliberately taking his time over bye-kicks.  A large group of jubilant Motherwell fans left Hampden (bizarrely!) to head for Kings Park station be the first to arrive back in the town to spread word of their famous victory.

They were not alone in assuming that the Celts were done:  one Glasgow newspaper editor, desperate to get the jump on his rivals, gave the order to print the front page declaring that Motherwell had won the cup.  Matters appeared settled.

There were seven minutes left to play when another handball by Craig, outside the box this time, saw Celtic awarded a free-kick.  Charlie Napier, known to all as ‘Happy Feet’, stepped up to take it.  He had recently scored direct from a similar position against Dundee United.  Motherwell accordingly massed a large defensive wall in front of him.  This was a crucial mistake.  “The cunning Napier then rolled the ball wide of that labour-intensive structure” for McGrory to burst into the space behind – finally free of the constraints of Craig.  The Garngad man lunged at the ball, managing to get a toe on to it which “turned it astutely into the net in a twinkling.”  It was 2-1.

There was no time for celebrations as McGrory grabbed the ball from the net and raced back to the centre – pointing to the Hampden clock.  Seven minutes left.  The message to his team-mates and the Celtic support was unmissable:  we can save the day.  The King’s Park end of the old ground was alive with green flags and handkerchiefs being waved fervently in the air.


Hampden Park 1930s

Hampden from the air – in the 1930s


The minutes passed and still Celtic kept coming.  “Six times in the last five minutes the Celts were beaten back.”  It was like trench warfare and Motherwell kept coming out on top, holding their line firmly.  And then the Hampden clock moved into the last minute of the game.

Despite their best efforts, Celtic had apparently failed.  The Motherwell directors were receiving warm congratulations from their Celtic counterparts on their first Scottish Cup success.  Newspaper reporters closed over their notebooks in the press box.  A white pigeon was released from the Mount Florida terracing in the direction of the famous steel town.  The Knowetop Laddies raised the boards again, one after the other, in celebration:  M O T H E R W E

As the first L was being raised, there was a pause.  Bertie Thomson had sent over a high ball from the touchline.  McGrory saw a chance.  A cry went up near him of “Go for it Alan!”  There were two Alans in the vicinity: defender Craig and goalkeeper McClory.  Both went for the ball.  In 1976, Jimmy McGrory still remembered clearly what happened next: “It was en route for my head when Craig intercepted . . . the ball skimmed off his head and exploded in the back of the net behind ‘keeper McClory who was beaten to the world.”

In the dying seconds, Craig’s own goal had presented the equaliser Celtic craved.  The final tie was deadlocked at 2-2.  There would be a replay.

The Glasgow Observer columnist ‘Man In the Know’, Celtic’s greatest media cheerleader, described the scene a few days later in the weekly paper:

“The Celtic players dashed towards Bert Thomson who was simply overwhelmed under an avalanche of hysterical congratulations.  The great little Celt was seized, hugged, patted, kissed – and I don’t know what, while the Motherwell players, astounded, incredulous, made their way heavily to midfield.  Three seconds remained for play . . . But, if the incidents on the field of play were remarkable, how shall I describe the scenes on the terracing?  It would take Dante or Milton to do justice to the unforgettable spectacle.  I never witnessed anything remotely approaching the scene and probably never shall.  Talk about earthquakes, landslides, tidal wavs, and what not!  The upheaval on the terracing suggested the sudden, furious awakening of a slumbering mammoth . . . The crowd went made.  The air was black with upflung hats and caps.  Men, utter strangers, seized each other, thumped each other, wrestled, danced, shook hands, shouted, laughed, cried, cheered and, in a word, went plumb crazy with joy.”

There was one image, among the bedlam, which remained with the great McGrory: “As I ran upfield I stole a glance back and saw a picture of dejection which lives me to this day – some 45 years later.  Craig was lying on the ground in front of goal pounding the turf with his fists.  He was still there seconds later as the referee signalled the end of the match.  Poor Alan.  He was so near a Cup medal.”

Stop the clocks.  Celtic lived to fight another day.



THE REPLAY was held four days later on Wednesday 15th April at 5pm (there were no floodlights at Hampden at the time).  Celtic had never lost a Scottish Cup replay before.  Two goals each from McGrory and Bertie Thomson saw the Bhoys run out 4-2 winners.  This meant Celtic could take the coveted Scottish Cup with them on the club’s first ever tour of the United States and Canada a few weeks later.



The 1931 Scottish Cup winners




SUCCESS WAS MERELY DELAYED for Motherwell though as the following season was to prove the greatest in the club’s history, winning the Scottish League Championship for the first and (to date) only time.  The Fir Parkers were the only team between 1904 and 1947 to beat either Glasgow giant to the flag.  They did so in some style too, five points clear of Rangers and eighteen ahead of Celtic.  In the 1930s Motherwell were to appear in three Scottish Cup Finals – and lose them all.  They finally got their hands on the cup in 1952 for the first time.


A CUNNING PLAN was hatched by Motherwell’s defence to ensure there was no repeat of the confusion that led to Celtic’s equaliser at Hampden, as the Motherwell Times reported in the week after the final: “To avoid a mistake of that kind occurring in the future it is proposed to call the goalkeeper ‘Jock’.”


TRIUMPH TURNED TO TEARS for Celtic in the years that followed the 1931 Cup Final.  Before the decade was over, three of Celtic’s cup winning team had tragically died, all in their twenties.  Best known is John Thomson who died following an accidental collision later that year at Ibrox.  Two years on, following a long illness, 25-year-old Peter Scarff passed away after contracting tuberculosis.  In 1937, Bertie Thomson died in his mother’s arms due to heart failure.  Their names are still revered in Celtic circles.


Bertie Thomson headstone (2)

BERTIE, OF CELTIC FC – Bertie Thomson’s headstone 


PORCELAIN MODELS of the Scottish Cup were gifted to each of the Celtic players who took part in the 1931 success.  The one presented to Peter Scarff remains a proud possession of his family in Linwood where the local Celtic Supporters Club is still named after him.


Peter Scarff mini trophy 1     Peter Scarff mini trophy 2


LUCKY WHITE HEATHER as Motherwell fans tried a number of tricks and treats to ensure success in the cup final replay:

Black cats, spiders and pigeons



MUCH A’DOO ABOUT NOTHING as the final word about this famous final goes to the Motherwell Times: ‘In the soup today:- The pigeon that set off with the glad tidings for Motherwell two minutes before the end.”


Celtic with SC on US tour

Jimmy McGrory and team-mates show off the world’s oldest football trophy in the USA during the 1931 summer tour




One Hundred Years of Scottish Football – John Rafferty

A Lifetime in Paradise – The Jimmy McGrory Story

100 Cups – The Story of the Scottish Cup – Hugh Keevins & Kevin McCarra

Rhapsody In Green – Great Celtic Moments – Tom Campbell & Pat Woods



Read more about the record-breaking Jimmy McGrory here . . .

Header Ritchie




CPSouth-Stand-Tram-Border No floodlights


It was my Uncle Peter (Galvin) who took me to my first ever Celtic game.  I was aged 8 at the time and we lived in Govan although, as my Uncle Peter liked to point out, we didn’t support our local team!

It was 1937 and the season hadn’t long started.  We had been on holiday in Girvan but my Uncle Peter was anxious to return to take me to Celtic Park for the first time.  We got the bus from Govan to Argyle Street.  Then we jumped on the no.9 tram to Auchenshuggle, which stopped on London Road, dropping us in front of Celtic Park.

It was a League Division 1 game v Hamilton Academicals.  Celtic had a great team at the time.  The world-famous Jimmy McGrory was still playing in the Hoops – it would prove his last season.  Celtic greats including Jimmy Delaney, Willie Buchan, Malcolm MacDonald, Willie Lyon and Bobby Hogg were all in the team that day.  This Celtic team would go on to win the title and also the Empire Exhibition Cup that season, laying claim to being the best team in Britain at the time.  Willie Maley, who had played in Celtic’s first ever game 49 years earlier, was still the manager.


Celtic 1938 Empire Exhibition trophy winners


Celtic Park looked huge.  This was before I’d been to Hampden.  The Jungle, across the pitch from me, had holes in the roof and wooden crush barriers.  There were no floodlights at Celtic Park at this time (and not until 1959) so there were no evening matches then.  In the war years, if it was foggy the games would start early.  You could hear goods trains running past on the railway line which at that time ran behind the Celtic End (West Terracing).

I was in the enclosure down at the front of the Main Stand, next to the tunnel.   My Uncle Peter had lifted me up on to the wall and I had my feet on the track just a few feet away from the pitch.  When the police walked along the track they’d tell you to move your feet. And then you’d just move them back on to the track after they’d walked on!

I remember the strong smell of embrocation oil in the air – used by athletes to rub on their body to relieve pain/sprains – coming from the tunnel.  There was no public address system at Celtic Park and the players didn’t do any warm up on the pitch pre-match.  That meant that you didn’t know who was playing until the teams emerged from the tunnel.  And even then it could take time to identify the players as they didn’t have numbers on their shirts or shorts in the 1930s.

Celtic Park 1929 onwards New South Stand from pitch

The Main Stand at Celtic Park – erected in 1929 


There was no Jimmy McGrory that day, who was replaced by Joe Carruth.  My Uncle Peter idolised McGrory.  Joe Carruth was to prove a popular Celt with the fans.  He stepped into the void left when, after McGrory retired in October, Willie Buchan was sold to Blackpool in November.  The Celtic support were up in arms about that.

McGrory played in the 3rd and 4th Celtic games that I saw.  The 4th was to prove his last-ever game for Celtic in October 1937, fourteen years on from his debut.  I only knew that McGrory was appearing that day when my excited uncle shouted out “McGrory’s playing!” as the players ran out from the tunnel on to the pitch.  Jimmy McGrory remains the record top-flight scorer in the history of British football.

Malky MacDonald, regarded by many as the most skilful Celtic player ever, replaced the injured Chic Geatons.  It was a young Celtic team who raced into a quick lead after Joe Carruth scored twice in the first ten minutes.  Hamilton scored half-way through the half though and then equalised just a minute before the interval.


Joe Carruth


It wasn’t long into the second half when Carruth was fouled in the box and Willie Buchan converted the penalty to give Celts the lead again.  About ten minutes later Frank Murphy set up Carruth to score again, making it a hat-trick for him.

The Celtic support realised that, although McGrory was on his way out, it looked as though there was a ready-made replacement waiting to fill his boots in the shape of Joe Carruth.   The Carruth family were already well-known in Glasgow as they ran a Catholic gift shop called ‘Carruth’s Grotto’ which was next door to St Mungo’s Church on Parson Street before it later moved down to the High Street, near Glasgow Cross.


Carruth Grotto


That was my first visit to Paradise but I’ve kept returning every year since.  I am now 88 years old and still a season-ticket holder.  My seat in the Main Stand at Celtic Park is not too far from where I sat on the wall next to the tunnel watching one of the greatest Celtic teams ever come running out over 80 years ago.  It was the start of a beautiful friendship.



The Jungle Cowshed 1949

The Jungle (aka the Hayshed) viewed from the Main Stand in the late 1930s



Frank’s first game was Celtic v Hamilton Accies at Celtic Park on 6th September 1937. 


Celtic won 4-2 (Goalscorers: Carruth (3), Buchan)         Attendance: 14,000


The Celtic team was: Kennaway, Hogg, Morrison, MacDonald, Lyon, Paterson, Delaney, Buchan, Carruth, Crum, Murphy



Willie Maley, Willie Lyons and the Empire Exhibition trophy

Celtic Captain Willie Lyon and manager Willie Maley at the end of season 1937-8 with the Empire Exhibition Trophy




Read about other supporters’ first Celtic experience here.

If you’d like to contribute with memories of your Celtic debut, please email us at theshamrock@outlook.com.

This Is How It Feels To Be Celtic (BOOK)

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Dreams and Songs with the Invincibles

This is one supporter’s account of Celtic FC’s incredible ‘Invincible’ season of 2016-17 when the arrival of new manager Brendan Rodgers saw Celtic win every major domestic trophy – without losing a single game.
The songs, the chants, the stories, the jokes and all the drama of an unforgettable season are recounted in monthly review chapters with special additional features on Kieran Tierney, The North Curve standing area, Brendan Rodgers and the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Lisbon Lions. 
Every single game is recalled, including one incredible afternoon in Motherwell …

Motherwell away Say hello 10 in a row


This is a thrilling and humorous look back at the best Celtic season in a lifetime – and a celebration of the players and fans who made it so memorable.

‘We Are Invincible, We Are Invincible . . .’



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The Curse of Racing Club

‘World triumph in three games.  The achievement of Racing, which will never be repeated in similar circumstances, will stay in history as a unique and unforgettable feat.  World Club Champions!’

(El Grafico, Argentinian sports paper, special edition -1967)


Racing 1967 World Champions


Campeon del Mundo – Champions of the World.  The Argentinian media gleefully celebrated the victory of Racing Club over Celtic in the 1967 Inter-Continental Cup Final, a competition in which the European champions played off against the champions of South America for the world crown.  It was the first time in the tournament’s eight-year history that an Argentinian team had triumphed and media, pundits and politicians alike in Buenos Aires rushed to heap praise on the team from the capital’s port district of Avellaneda.  It was the country’s greatest football success to date.  Yet one national newspaper, Clarin, expressed unease at the way that Racing had won the title: ‘Racing took the illicit road to victory.  They brought back the cup, but that was all.’


Newspaper front page

From Blantyre to Buenos Aires:  John Fallon makes front page news


Argentinian football did not enjoy a positive reputation in Europe at the time.  At the previous year’s World Cup, England manager Alf Ramsay had branded the Argentinian national team ‘Animals’ following a violent quarter-final encounter – and he refused to allow his players to swap jerseys at the game’s end.  The tactics deployed by Racing over the course of the three games against Celtic (with a deciding tie being held in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo) generated tremendous controversy at the time.


The tone was set in the first game at Hampden before an attendance of 83,437.  Spitting, flailing elbows, hair pulls, play-acting, studs being dragged down the back of opponents’ legs and outrageous tackles largely formed Racing’s armoury.  A double-challenge on Jimmy Johnstone (the second came in as he was already grounded from the first tackle) still causes the viewer to wince today.


In Buenos Aires, in front of a mammoth 115,000 spectators, Celtic goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson was struck with a missile on the head before the game had even started and had to be replaced. Racing engaged in the same intimidatory tactics as the first game and a number of Celtic players left the pitch carrying injuries after a 2-1 defeat.  (Jimmy Johnstone had to take a shower at half time to wash all the spit from his hair that his markers had kindly donated).  There were serious misgivings among Celtic directors about the wisdom of taking part in a play-off game to decide a winner.   Chairman Robert Kelly wanted the team to return home but he was over-ruled.  Everyone associated with Celtic was to rue that decision:  the deciding tie is widely referred to as ‘The Battle of Montevideo.’


In the play-off tie the Celtic players had clearly had enough of their Argentinian opponents and decided to take their revenge.  Jock Stein, although outraged at the outcome, had some sympathy for his team: ‘Even the Archangel Gabriel would have retaliated.’  The upshot was four red cards for Celtic (although Bertie Auld ignored the referee’s dismissal and played on!) and two for Racing.  One Uruguayan newspaper headline read: ‘A WAR IN MONTEVIDEO:  NO WINNERS, ONLY SURVIVORS!’


Celtic Racing Club Cartoon

The Scottish view of Celtic v Racing


Celtic’s hard-earned reputation for sporting play was in tatters – and the title of World Champions was lost.  Racing won in Montevideo by a single goal (a wonder strike from Juan Carolos Cardenas which gave substitute goalie John Fallon no chance).  Every member of the Celtic team was subsequently fined by the club for their misconduct.  Five decades on, surviving Celtic players remain embittered about their trip to South America and Racing’s tactics:

‘They were more than sleekit.  It was just badness.  Sheer evil.  Argentina were robust at Wembley the year before, but that was nothing compared to Racing Club.  They would have been happier to play without a ball.’ –  Bertie Auld


106 Celtic fans took a chartered flight to Argentina for the 14,000-mile round journey at a cost of £200 each (almost £3,500 in today’s money).   They – and the thousands of supporters back home who had to make do with delayed TV and newspaper reports to find out the score – felt cheated.  All sorts of oaths and curses were uttered in anger at Racing Club, known throughout Argentina as La Academia (The Academy).  Yet there was one curse in particular which was to prove enduring and damaging in equal measure . . .




The port of Avellaneda, with a population of over 320,000, is home to two of Argentinian football’s Cinco Grandes (the Big Five) football clubs.  While the classico derby between Racing and Independiente is not as well-known as that of Boca Juniors and River Plate, it is generally considered to be more intense, atmospheric and violent.  One of the reasons for this is the closeness of their two grounds – Racing’s El Cilindro (‘The Cylinder’ or Estadio Presidente Peron to give it its official name) lies only two hundred metres from Independiente’s Libertadores de America.


Stadia El Cilindro and Independiente grounds


It is believed that, in world football, only Dundee has two senior professional clubs in closer proximity to each other. It’s fair to say that Dens Park and Tannadice have nothing on these two temples of football.


The two stadia 300 metres apart


The rivalry between the two Avellaneda teams has been keen since 1915 when a 2-1 win for Independiente was over-turned by football authorities – a decision which handed Racing the League title.   Tensions between the clubs reached fever pitch in the 1960s as each achieved greater success.  In 1964, Independiente became the first Argentinian side to win the much coveted ‘Copa Libertadores’ – the club champions of South America – and then won it again the following year for good measure.  When Racing won the Argentinian league in 1966 they went on to beat Nacional of Uruguay in the Copa Libertadores final, paving the way for the Intercontinental Cup Final against Celtic.  The play-off victory in Montevideo meant Racing had gone one better than Independiente:  not just the best team in Argentina or South America but the best in the world.


It was too much for one of ground of Independiente fans.  With the connivance of a Racing groundsman, they entered El Cilindro on the night of their rival’s greatest triumph – and proceeded to bury seven dead black cats under one of the goalmouths on Racing’s pitch.  (Black cats are considered bearers of bad luck in South America).  Their aim was to bring a curse on Racing and deny them any future success.  As fans of La Academia celebrated in Montevideo and the streets of Avellaneda, the ‘Curse of El Cilindro’ (or the Seven Cats) was born.


Racing fans scoffed at the suggestion of a curse based on dead cats being put on them by their envious rivals.  Initially.  Prior to 1967, Racing had won Argentina’s top league on 15 occasions while Independiente had only 7 titles to boast of.  On the last day of the 1967 season, Independiente beat Racing 4-0 at home to claim an eighth title.  Perhaps there was something in the talk of a curse after all?


The following season, Racing lost a three-way play-off for the title.  A year later they sacked coach Juan Jose Pizzuti, who had guided them to victory over Celtic, and in 1970 went through four different coaches in one season.  Things were not going well in El Cilindro.  In 1972 Racing came second in the League but this resurgence was short-lived – in 1975 they suffered a momentous 10-0 defeat to Rosario Central and in 1976 they finished second bottom of the league, just avoiding relegation.  The decade after Montevideo had been a cruel one for Celtic’s victors with no silverware secured.


Toads in The Cylinder



When Juan Carlos ‘Toto’ Lorenzo, was appointed Racing coach in 1980 he decided to tackle the curse head on.  He persuaded the club to try and lift the curse by finding and removing the remains of the dead cats.  This meant that the pitch had to be dug up.  When it was, six cat skeletons were found.  The legend had always suggested seven cats had been buried but only six skeletons were discovered.  To end the hex, Toto then instructed that six dead toads be buried where each of the cat skeletons had been. (It is doubted that there is an Argentinian equivalent to the RSPCA).  His orders were followed, the toads laid to rest and the pitch re-laid.


Could half-a-dozen toads bring an end to the bad luck that the felines had apparently caused Racing?  In the last game of the season in 1983, Racing made the short journey to the Libertadores and their great rivals knowing that defeat would mean relegation – for the first time in the club’s history.  To make matters worse, a victory for Independiente would hand them the championship.  The Racing fans watched on in agony as a 2-0 win for the home team again proved, in the eyes of many, that La Academia were truly cursed.  It would be two long, drawn-out seasons before they returned to the top division – much to the amusement of Independiente supporters.


The 1990s were to prove even more painful for Racing and their fans.  In 1997, the 30th anniversary of Celtic’s vanquishing also meant that three decades had now passed and not a single League flag had flown over El Cilindro in the intervening years.  By contrast, Celtic had won 29 trophies since that defeat in Montevideo.  Racing had fallen badly, from one of Argentina’s most successful clubs to perpetual also-rans (although the commitment and passion of their support remained as strong as ever, as reflected in continuing high attendances).  What made matters worse for them was the fact that, from 1968 onwards, Argentina’s football season consisted of two separate League championships:  the Metropolitano and the Nacional.  This meant that Racing had missed out on two League titles each season since their win in 1966 – remarkable under-performance for a club of their size and standing.


Ticker tape at La Cilindra

Happier times in El Cilindro


Thoughts turned again to The Curse.  That seventh dead cat had never been recovered, people recalled.  Was the damned curse still intact?  What of the toads – why hadn’t they reversed Racing’s fortunes?  It was time to call in the big guns and, in South America, they don’t come much bigger than the Catholic Church.


On the evening of 4th February 1998 massive crowds gathered outside the majestic Santa Iglesia Cathedral in Avellaneda for a torchlight procession to El Cilindro.  Some estimates suggest that more than 100,000 followed the procession, led by Father Horatio Della Barca and 500 torches.  On arrival at Racing’s ground the priest said Mass and sprinkled holy water on both goalmouths.  The mass was followed by a concert by the band Vox Dei (presumably an off-shoot of Opus Dei) and a friendly match between Racing and Colón de Santa Fe.  A banner hung in the ground read:  “God is a Racing fan. The devil is not.”  Time would tell whether that bold proclamation was true or not.


Racing fans and priests holy statue march to exorcism 1998

The huge procession from Santa Iglesia Cathedral to Racing’s stadium


Racing’s president, Daniel Lalín, played down suggestions that an exorcism had been performed to rid the club of its curse: “This is not an exorcism but an act of faith.  The same faith displayed by the fans who stoically go to the stadium every Sunday.  We are uniting Roman Catholicism with Racingism.”  That faith was quickly put to the test in a way not previously considered imaginable in Argentinian football.


Mass on pitch photo

The goalmouths get the holy water treatment 


Racing had been dogged by financial problems for a number of years yet their fans were still stunned when, in July 1998, the club started a bankruptcy process.  Multi-million dollar debts had been run up and, as the country itself was in dire financial straits, there were no government handouts available as there had been in the past to the big clubs.  Legal proceedings rumbled on for months until, on 4th March 1999, Racing were formally declared bankrupt, prompting the court-appointed accountant to issue a statement with the words ‘Racing Club has ceased to exist.’  The new league was due to start that Sunday however Racing were formally suspended and the game against Talleres de Córdoba was cancelled. The Racing fans were having none of that:  over 30,000 Racing fans turned up at the ground regardless, hung out their banners and sang in protest at the club’s imminent demise for a full ninety minutes.  No teams appeared.  The Curse of the Seven Cats was turning into the worst nightmare imaginable.


Racing’s fans did not give up though.  The 4th of March was to prove an opening salvo in their war to stave off liquidation and preserve the club’s history.  They fought legal battles, protested outside Parliament and government buildings and even occupied Racing’s headquarters to prevent administrators from taking physical control of the club’s property, bringing them into direct confrontation with the police.  (In one unpleasant public encounter, Racing President Lalín received a nasty cut to the head when the club’s ultras threw one of their large drums at him while speaking to the media.)


Ultimately, in a way that should have proven an invaluable lesson to other historic rivals of Celtic, the fans succeeded in halting the club’s liquidation and demise.  An appeal court ordered that Racing continue but would be run by a private corporation for a period of 10 years to pay off the club’s debts.  It was far from an ideal situation but, crucially, Racing still existed – thanks to its fans. The curse had not killed the club.


It was now a new millennium.  The frustrations of Racings fans at the ongoing trophy drought were summed up well by Cardenas, the man who scored the sumptuous winner in Montevideo: ‘It took so many years to win something again, that people started to tell me that if all Racing fans kept watching my goal, there was a risk that the shot would finally hit the post.’


Racing Club priest 2

Sacred Heart of Racing:  Father Juan Gabriel Arias, a Buenos Aires priest, shows his true colours.  No red, the Independiente colour, is allowed anywhere in his church.  


Reinaldo Merlo, known throughout Argentina by his nickname of ‘Mostaza’ (Mustard) due to his distinctive hair-colouring, did not carry much in the way of expectation when he was appointed Coach of cash-strapped Racing in late 2000.  Merlo was famed as much for his superstitions as his coaching ability.  Whenever opponents launched an attack on his team’s goal, he would make a hand gesture to bring his team luck and ward off the opposition (presumably not the hand gesture made infamous by Barry Ferguson and Alan McGregor!).  He considered flowers to be especially unlucky and associated them with death.  Naturally, opposition fans would shower him with flowers at every opportunity.


The new coach knew all about Racing’s curse.  He believed that the club was never likely to win the league again unless the seventh cat could be found and removed.  He persuaded the board to start a new search which would go further than before:  as well as excavating the pitch it was decided to dig up the concrete moat which surrounded it also.  This was to prove a masterstroke – a cat skeleton, believed to be the seventh cat buried 34 years earlier, was discovered among the rubble of the moat and finally removed from El Cilindro.    Surely now this meant the end of the curse . . .


My old lady gave me life, Racing heart

Racing fans proclaim:  ‘My old lady gave me life, bur Racing gave me heart!’


Although Merlo was credited for ridding Racing of the last cat, the reality was he’d inherited a team that had finished 6th in the Apertura (Opening) championship and 18th in the Clausura (Closing) championship of the previous season.  Hopes of a League challenge were not high.  After some good early results though, Merlo advocated a cautious ‘paso a paso’ (step by step) approach to fans and reporters alike as Racing kept check with the league leaders.  Expectations rose.  Racing were not playing with flair – their top scorer only hit the net seven times that campaign – but they were increasingly playing without fear and were clear at the top of the league.  A magnificent strike from Gerardo Bedoya kept closest rivals River Plate at bay in El Cilindro (the fireworks display during the game’s final stages is a thing to behold!).  It would all come down to the final game of the campaign, away to Velez Sarsfield: a win would secure Racing’s first League title in 35 years.  Then, as the final hurdle approached, the curse came in to play again.


Argentina was in turmoil– a financial crisis led to the government freezing the bank accounts of citizens for 12 months and limiting the amount of withdrawals.  This sparked wide-scale protests and then riots resulting in a state of emergency being declared.  Top league football was suspended.  There was talk of the league being held up for months – or abandoned altogether, to help keep people off the streets.  Racing and other clubs protested and, after a week’s delay, it was announced that the final round of games would be played between Christmas and New Year on 27th December.


River Plate ran out 6-1 winners at home.  The title would belong to them if Racing lost at Velez.  A 1-1 draw was enough to spark scenes of unbridled jubilation at both the Jose Emiliano Stadium and also twelve miles across the city at El Cililndro, where over 40,000 Racing fans had gathered to watch the game on a giant screen.


Merlo celebrates 2001

Merlo greets the jubilating fans away at Velez as the title is won – at last


It had taken more than three decades, but the curse was at last defeated.

As they celebrated these Racing fans held up a banner which said:  ‘What ghosts?  No ghosts.  Merlo already said:  Racing are Champions!‘   The ghost cats of 1967 had now been exorcised, at long last.


What ghosts 2001 banner


Since then, Racing have won the league title only once more, in 2014.  This year (2017) is the Golden Anniversary of their defeat of Celtic and coronation as World Club Champions.  It remains Racing’s greatest achievement.  Yet, two Argentinian championships in the intervening fifty years is a poor return for this once-great club and is over-shadowed by the twenty-six League titles Celtic have secured in the same period.


Celtic fans might be forgiven for thinking that a little divine intervention has helped shape the fortunes of both clubs since the smoke cleared at football’s infamous Battle of Montevideo.


 Merlo and his statue

 Merlo the Magician – Racing Club had a statue built to honour the coach who brought an end to their curse




Celtic’s tussles with Racing in the World Club Championship are remembered with good humour in this song which can be heard in the North Curve at Celtic Park and various supporter buses:





If you enjoyed this piece you might, just might, enjoy our wee magazine . . .

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Oh Harry, Harry!

Harry Hood pose black and white hoops


In the early 1970s the popular Celtic striker Harry Hood had a number of terrace chants in his honour.  Whether with or without moustache or sideburns, Harry had a swashbuckling style about him and knew the way to goal better than most.

In 312 Celtic games Harry notched 123 goals – a tremendous return.  Until Moussa Dembele came along in 2016, Harry was acclaimed as the last Celtic player to score a hat-trick against a team called Rangers.

This is the best and most enduring of the songs which you sometimes hear on the odd away trip.  The tune for the chorus is taken from a Hare Krishna chant popularised by ex-Beatle George Harrison in his 1970 song ‘My Sweet Lord’:


We don’t need yer Colin Stein

Eusebio or yer Alan Gilzean!

We’ve got someone twice as good 

We’ve got Harry Hood!  

Oh Harry, Harry!

Oh Lou Macari

Oh Kevin Barry

Oh Harry Hood!  (Oh Harry Hood!)



Harry Hood moustache and tracksuit


There aren’t too many songs where you get a world-famous footballer (Eusebio) name-checked along with a Rangers player (Stein), a Spurs player (Gilzean, formerly of Dundee), a bhoy from Largs (Luigi) and an executed Irish patriot (Kevin Barry).


Given Harry’s surname and the popularity of a Robin Hood tv show in the ’70s, it was no surprise that the show’s theme tune was adapted in tribute to the Celt:


Harry Hood, Harry Hood

Riding through glen

Harry Hood, Harry Hood 

And his Fenian men

Feared by the bad

Loved by the good 

Harry Hood!

Harry Hood!

Harry Hood!  


Harry Hood celebrates arms aloft


Another ditty in Harry’s honour was this catchy number:


Oh a dirty wee hun came up to me
He asked me the secret of the Celtic team
I answered him as best I could
The answer I gave was:  Harry Hood!

Oh Harry! Harry! Harry Hood!
We loved you Harry, like nobody should
You can keep your Rangers and your Colin Stein
Cos we’ve got Harry in the Celtic team


Harry Hood hoops 8



Two great Hunskelpers together!

Moussa visits Harry in his new bar at Angel’s in Uddingston for some goalscoring tips:

Harry Hood and Moussa Dembele


More Celtic songs and chants can be found here:  https://the-shamrock.net/celtic-songs/

If there’s any you’d like included email us at theshamrock@outlook.com.


The Shamrock – Celtic Retro magazine

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The Iron Man tells it like it is!

Sean Fallon as Celtic captain 1952

In one memorable chapter in the excellent George Connelly biography Celtic’s Lost Legend, the great Fifer and his closest pals in the famed Quality Street Gang, Davie Cattenach and Davie Hay, reminisce about their playing days and the characters they met on and off the pitch.

All of them speak in glowing terms about Celtic’s Iron Man – Sean Fallon.  The Sligoman had been instrumental in Celtic picking up many of that exceptionally talented group of youngsters and helped guide their early careers as Jock Stein’s assistant.

Talking in 2007, when Sean was still alive, Davie Cattenach gets the ball rolling – before recalling one of his favourite Fallon stories . . .


CATTENACH: Talking about brilliant servants, what about Sean?  Anyone shaking his hand would suffer from broken bones.  What a strength!

HAY: He’s no’ changed that much.

CATTENACH: He looks great.

CONNELLY: He was a good guy to look up to.

HAY:  Sean was for us.

CONNELLY:  He wasn’t coming in there shouting, or trying to unnerve you.  He had a nice away about him.

CATTENACH: We beat Rangers 3-1 in that Glasgow Cup final on a Monday night.  Quinn scored.  Oh, what a goal he scored!  We were all there that night.  Alex Macdonald was playing for Rangers – he could be a dirty so-and-so.  The ball came between us on the halfway line and we were both going for it.

I did him up high, at the top of his neck.  He was carried off on a stretcher.  Stein went ballistic at half-time.  ‘Oh, you f****** bastard! he screamed.

He called me for everything.  I was shattered.

Sean comes up and says quietly: ‘All right Catt? That was one of the finest tackles I’ve ever seen in my life!’


Sean changing room


Buy the George Connelly book here:  Celtic’s Lost Legend (Amazon)

Buy the wonderful Sean Fallon biography by Stephen Sullivan here: Celtic’s Iron Man (Amazon). One of the best Celtic books ever.

———– ————


More Celtic Stories for your enjoyment HERE!


NineteenSixtyHeaven logo by R


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. 


 Image result for Celtic 1966

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’.


1966-06-08: Bayern Munich 1-2 Celtic, USA Tour - Pic


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.


Candlestick Concer poster

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.


Beatles at Candlestick Park


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.


1967 Nantes v Celtic


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.


Beatles and George Martin in studio

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’.


Session pic


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.

Celtic players celebrate victory over Vojvodina 1967


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.

Mr Kite poster


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.


Cover photo session


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.


1967-04-25: Dukla Prague 0-0 Celtic, European Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg - Pictures - Kerrydale Street


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.


Jinky celebrates at Ibrox 1967 title win


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.’


Cesar Lisbon Big Cup taken below b and w


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.


Pepper drum cover




© The Shamrock 2017



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