All Our Celtic Yesterdays - 1971, Part 1
The year 1971, in the context of Scottish football, began with the awful tragedy at Ibrox on 2nd January, when 66 poor souls died in the ghastly crush on stairway 13 at the Rangers (Copland Road) end of the ground. The events of that dark, foggy day have been chronicled many times elsewhere, so I will only make this observation: there, but for the grace of * and the order in which the goals were scored, could have gone you or I. I was at the match, and like most of our deflated support, trooped down the steep terrace steps and away from the ground completely unaware of the tragedy unfolding at the other end. In those days, without the instant dissemination of news that we take for granted now, it was not until later in the evening that we heard of the disaster. I had wondered as I walked home why so many ambulances were heading the other way, but assumed it was a road accident. It was of course much, much worse than that.
Normal football resumed after a period of reflection and mourning, and Celtic continued to fight it out with Eddie Turnbull’s Aberdeen team for the league title. The Dons had of course won the cup the previous season, beating Celtic 3-1 in the final thanks to two goals from their cup talisman, Derek “Cup-Tie” Mackay, and some very questionable decisions by the referee, a Mr R H Davidson of Airdrie. At the turn of the year, Aberdeen led the champions by one point, courtesy of having won 1-0 at Celtic Park in December thanks to a close-in second half header by their prolific striker, Joe Harper. One of those days when Celtic huffed and puffed, but could not break down the Dons’ resolute defence. The Dons held a one-point lead over Celtic at the turn of the year, so Colin Stein’s late equaliser at Ibrox was a big boost to them. Celtic re-grouped quickly, they had to. They had a tough programme of fixtures in the New Year, starting with an increasingly formidable Hibs side at Celtic Park on Saturday, January 9th. Callaghan and Hood scored either side of half time for Celtic, and Pat Stanton grabbed an 89th minute consolation goal for the visitors. The following Saturday, 16th Jan, Celtic had one of those daft days at Dens Park, when everything they touched turned to goals. They won 8-1, with Hood, Wallace, and Johnstone each netting a brace, and Tommy Callaghan and an own-goal by future ‘Ger Bobby Houston completing the rout. Dundee’s scorer was their fine centre-forward John Duncan, a man who apparently was a Celtic target a couple of years later. He went south to Tottenham Hotspur, following in the footsteps of the Dens and White Hart Lane legend Alan Gilzean - one of the few players to score a hat-trick against Rangers at Ibrox, a feat which he had achieved almost exactly ten years previously in a 5-1 win for Dundee on the way to their League Championship success of 1961-62.
The Scottish Cup campaign kicked off on January 23rd, with a routine 5-1 trouncing of Queen of the South at Celtic Park. Hood (2), Wallace, Callaghan, and McNeill the scorers. On the following Wednesday, the 27th, an Old Firm Select played a Scotland Select at Hampden in a match in aid of the Ibrox Disaster victims. Despite the laudable aims of the match, and the presence of guest stars like Bobby Charlton and George Best, the same old bile spewed forth from the Mount Florida terraces every time a Celtic player touched the ball. Very disappointing, and one wondered what that fine gentleman Bobby Charlton must have thought. The month ended with a narrow home win over Dunfermline, 1-0 at Parkhead, Willie Wallace scoring. This game turned out to be Bobby Murdoch’s last of the season, save for a brief substitute appearance against Falkirk at the end of March. The midfield powerhouse was out with a leg injury until the start of the next season, so Celtic compensated by shifting Tommy Callaghan, Davie Hay, and George Connelly around the midfield, with Jim Craig and Tommy Gemmell playing together again at full back.
On February 6th, Celtic slipped up at Muirton Park - the largest playing area in Scotland, allegedly, when the excellent St Johnstone side of the time beat them 3-2. Jim Pearson and Henry Hall scored for the Saints in the first half, with Harry Hood’s strike sandwiched in between. McPhee put Saints 3-1 ahead, before Wallace gave Celtic hope with an 81st minute goal, but the home side held on. It had to be said that Celtic were stuttering at this point, so perhaps the Scottish Cup tie with Dunfermline at Celtic Park on February 13th came as light relief. Not a bit of it. In a grim encounter reminiscent of the 1968 tie at Celtic Park which the Pars won 2-0, Celtic struggled to break the visitors down. Eventually Willie Wallace scored on 39 minutes, but Joe McBride of all people - now plying his trade with the Fifers - equalised in the 50th minute, and there was no further scoring. Celts made a habit of giving themselves tough midweek Scottish Cup replays away from home in those days - I can recall ties with Hearts, Motherwell and Aberdeen in the early seventies all going to nail-biting replays away from home - in addition to the Dunfermline one. Fortunately, Harry Hood’s 19th minute goal was enough to see Celts through. Airdrie were beaten 4-1 in the league at Parkhead on February 20th, but another point was dropped in a tough away fixture on the 27th , a 1-1 draw with Hearts at Tynecastle. Fortunately, Aberdeen had been shipping points too and although they held a one-point advantage - 42 to Celtic’s 41 - at the end of February, Celtic had a game in hand over their Pittodrie rivals.
The men from the north held on to their advantage during March, but Celtic roared back to scoring form with a 7-1 home win over Raith Rovers in the Cup on March 6th, followed by away wins at Cowdenbeath (5-1), Kilmarnock (4-1) and a home win over Falkirk by 4-0. Celtic and Aberdeen were neck-and-neck as the crucial return fixture at Pittodrie loomed up on April 17th. Celtic limbered up for the “League Decider” with a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Dundee United on April 10th, Wallace’s late equaliser cancelling out Andy Rolland’s first half goal for United. Motherwell were were comfortably beaten 3-0 at Celtic Park on Monday April 12th, then it was on to the big one at Pittodrie! Aberdeen held a three-point lead, but Celtic had two games in hand. If Aberdeen won, then beat Falkirk in their last game at Brockville, they would finish the season with 57 points (two points for a win back then), and Celtic could only reach a maximum of 56. The atmosphere on a chilly, windy day at Pittodrie was tense. Celtic were still missing long-term injury victim Bobby Murdoch, and lined up as follows:
Williams, Craig, Brogan, Connelly, McNeill, Hay, Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace, Callaghan, Hood.
Top scorer Harry Hood gave Celtic the best start possible with a goal in only three minutes; this settled the Celts, but Aberdeen hit back with an equaliser by ex-Ranger Alex Willoughby seven minutes from half-time. Aberdeen could not get to grips with the swirling wind in the second half, but they came agonisingly close to snatching a win when Arthur “Bumper” Graham, yet another Glasgow boy and Celtic fan whisked north from under Celtic’s noses by the Dons’ famed Glasgow scout Bobby Calder, went through one-on-one on Evan Williams, dragged the ball wide of the keeper and carefully rolled it towards the empty net, only for Billy McNeill to slide in and clear the ball out for a corner! there were no more real chances for either side, and Celtic emerged relieved to be masters of their own destiny. The following Saturday, April 24th, Aberdeen slumped to a 1-0 defeat away to Falkirk, to end their campaign with 54 points, and that left Celtic with three games in which to garner the four points required for outright victory. This was achieved with a 2-2 draw against St Mirren at Love Street, and clinched with a 2-0 win at Hampden over Ayr United. The game was played at Hampden due to building work at Celtic Park - the erection of the new main stand.
Harry Hood’s third-minute goal at Pittodrie effectively seals title no.6!
Celtic, needing only a draw to win the title on points, decided to stage a gala farewell to the Lisbon Lions in their last game at home to Clyde on May 1st. The match was played at Celtic Park, with the players taking the field through the rubble of the old stand. Even Ronnie Simpson, retired for two years, took part in the warm-up before being replaced by Evan Williams. The other ten outfield Lions played together for the last time and rolled back the years with a vintage display and a 6-1 win. The fans gave the Lions an emotional ovation at the end. We will surely never see their likes again. Closer inspection reveals, however, that if Celtic had lost to Clyde by 1-0, then they and Aberdeen would have finished level on 54 points and the Dons would have taken the title on goal average - used for the last time in season 1970-71 - by 3.77 goals to Celtic’s 3.45…it was closer than we realised!
Almost un-noticed, in April, Sir Robert Kelly became President of the club, with Desmond White taking over as Chairman. In the Scottish Cup, Celtic and Airdrie drew a hugely entertaining semi final 3-3 at Hampden Park, the Diamonds coming back from 3-1 down to level with a quarter of the game still to play; there was no further scoring, so the teams re-convened at Hampden four days later, on April 7th, when Celtic won 2-0 with second half goals from Johnstone and Hood.
On May 8th, Celtic and Rangers drew the Scottish Cup Final 1-1, a topsy-turvy game in which Rangers dominated the first half only for Bobby Lennox to slide Celtic in front five minutes from half time, and with Celtic well on top in the second, but unable to increase their advantage, they conceded a late sucker-punch equaliser to 17-year old Derek Johnstone with only three minutes to play. The press informed us that Rangers had never lost a Scottish Cup Final replay - they had beaten us easily, 3-0 in 1963, and stolen a 1-0 win in 1966, a game not unlike the recent League Cup Final in terms of floodlit robbery! It would be different on May 12th 1971; Celtic won much more easily than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. Lou Macari, surprisingly picked ahead of Willie Wallace to add mobility and sharpness to the forward line, scored from point blank range in 24 minutes, after Billy McNeill had dummied the ball from a corner to let it run through to the unmarked Macari, and Celtic added a second from a Hood penalty barely 2 minutes later. Rangers fielded a 17-year old debutant, Jim Denny at right back to replace the injured Alex Miller, and the poor lad was hopelessly out of his depth. He got himself into a terrible fankle trying to clear the ball, and only succeeded in giving it straight to Tommy Callaghan. Big “Tid” shuttled it to Jimmy Johnstone, and Ronnie McKinnon had to haul Jimmy to the ground to prevent him from shooting. An indisputable spot-kick, which Harry Hood duly rammed home. Celtic continued to make and spurn good chances throughout, and although Jim Craig sliced a clearance into his own net in the second half, Celtic were never in trouble. Jock Stein said afterwards that “This was a good result for Rangers!”
Incidentally, the look of resignation on big Ron McKinnon’s face as Jinky helped him to his feet after conceding the penalty, and the sporting handshake between the two was typical of the mutual respect and genuine friendship which existed between the two opposing teams back then. My theory is that this was the inevitable result of almost all the players being Scottish, and mixing together in the international squads. The friendships between Willie Henderson and Tommy Gemmell, and before them Jim Baxter and Pat Crerand were well-documented. This is one aspect of the Old Firm meetings that is badly missed now, as a thinly-disguised loathing appears to exist between the camps.
Lou Macari opens the scoring in the Cup Final Replay (top), and Harry Hood adds no.2 from the spot two minutes later.
Two days after the Cup Final replay, Celtic supplied the opposition for a Testimonial match for Kilmarnock’s veteran skipper Frank Beattie. Celtic won 7-2 with young Kenny Dalglish choosing the occasion to display the full range of his goalscoring ability by grabbing a double hat-trick! Scottish football duly sat up and took notice…
Celtic’s European Cup campaign was halted by the brilliant Ajax team of Cruyff, Krol, Neeskens and Keizer at the quarter-final stage in March. Kokkola of Finland and Waterford of Eire were despatched by landslide scores in the first two rounds, but the Dutch were a different proposition! Three second half goals, the last in the last minute, gave Ajax a 3-0 lead and although Jimmy Johnstone gave Celtic a 1-0 win in front of 83,000 fans at Hampden in the second leg, they never looked like rescuing the tie. Ajax, playing in blue, strutted their stuff and comfortably held Celtic off at arm’s length.
In other news, Decimal Currency was introduced in Britain on February 15th. An old shilling (12 old pennies) was now worth 5 New Pence. Funnily enough, a “Penny Dainty” caramel still cost 1p - even though it was now 2.5 times more expensive! The BBC, with their unerring knack of producing an annoyingly precocious child to explain to everyone how it works, came up with a wee 9-year-old nyaff called Sebastian - a Harry Potter lookalike who told us all that “Decimalisation is easy”. He probably grew up and became a merchant banker Tory donor...
End of Part One