All Our Celtic Yesterdays - 1971, Part Two
The summer of 1971 was long, hot, and very pleasant. As the summer trundled on, our attention was diverted by other sporting events; at Wimbledon in June and July, Australia’s John Newcombe won his third Men’s Singles title, beating American Stan Smith in five sets. The happy-go-lucky young Aussie Evonne Goolagong emerged from nowhere to beat her compatriot, the defending Ladies’ champion Margaret Court in straight sets in the Ladies final, and later in July Lee “Supermex” Trevino won the first of his two Open Championships at Birkdale, beating popular “Mr Lu”, Lu Liang Huan of Taiwan into second place, and England’s Tony Jacklin into third. Lu was tied for the lead and playing well until his drive at the 17th struck a woman spectator on the head and injured her; the gentlemanly Lu, who wore a straw trilby hat, was distraught and bogeyed the hole. Trevino, never slow to exploit an opponent’s misfortune, safely parred the last two holes to win and complete a remarkable trio of Open wins over a period of five weeks; he beat Jack Nicklaus in a play-off to win his second US Open at Merion, Pennsylvania, then added the Canadian Open before completing his hat trick on the Lancashire links. Celtic would soon complete a unique treble of their own before the summer was out!
July 1971 saw the introduction of a new competition for the top-scoring sides of season 70-71 in Scotland, the Drybrough Cup. Rangers failed to qualify because Airdrie scored seven goals in their final league match to overhaul them into 4th place behind Celtic, Aberdeen and St Johnstone. Dalglish continued his spectacular goalscoring exploits by scoring four in a 5-2 win over Dumbarton, and another three against St Johnstone in the semi final, a 4-2 win at Firhill. The final at Pittodrie was won 2-1 by Aberdeen. John Hughes scored Celtic’s goal from a cross by - who else - Dalglish, but a penalty awarded five minutes later for a foul by Callaghan was converted by Joe Harper to add to Davie Robb’s first half strike.
The season proper began on Saturday 14th August with an Old Firm clash at Ibrox. The big two had been drawn together in the sectional stage of the League Cup for the fourth time in five seasons. Celtic had won the group on each of the previous occasions. This time Morton and Ayr United made up the numbers. Celtic Park was out of commission due to building work on the new stand, so the game, nominally Celtic’s home leg, was played at Ibrox as Hampden was also unavailable. Rangers sportingly offered to play the game behind closed doors, so as not to be seen to gain an advantage, but the Scottish League chiefs had a collective fit at the thought of losing their take of an Old Firm gate, and insisted that it would be an all-ticket game. And so it was that 72,500 fans, the biggest crowd in Britain on the opening day of the season, rolled up to Ibrox in bright sunshine. Despite this being the first Old Firm game at Ibrox since the terrible disaster in the cold, clammy fog of January 2nd, all reservations were forgotten and the usual tribal pleasantries resumed. Back then, there was no cover on the terracing at the Celtic (Broomloan) end of the ground, and it was possible to gaze across to the Clyde shipyard cranes standing mute in the soporific summer sun, and the hazy purple hills of the Campsies beyond. Any such pastoral reveries were soon rudely interrupted - as the song “Bodenstown Churchyard” goes, “I was awoke from my dream by the voices and tread of a band who came into the home of the dead” - in this case a group of gentlemen dressed in the appropriate football-watching style of the day, viz. suit, collar and tie, carry-out, and Celtic scarf! These stalwarts launched into an amusing ditty based on the popular no.1 song of the day, Middle of the Road’s “Chirpy, Chirpy Cheep Cheep” designed to antagonise our hosts across the field.
Eventually, a thunderous roar greeted the entry of the holiday-bronzed gladiators:
Rangers: McCloy, Jardine, Mathieson, Greig, McKinnon, Jackson, McLean, Conn, D. Johnstone, W. Johnston, MacDonald - sub, Stein
Celtic: Williams, Craig, Hay, Murdoch, McNeill, Connelly, Johnstone, Lennox, Dalglish, Callaghan, Hughes - sub, Davidson
From the off, Celtic were composed and cohesive, with Murdoch - the new, slimline Murdoch, fully restored to fitness after missing the last half of the 70-71 season - and Callaghan virtually unopposed in midfield and Johnstone clearly in the mood to wreak havoc, whereas Rangers were, typically, all fire and brimstone with very little joined up teamwork. Celtic, despite missing the likes of Gemmell, Brogan, Hood, Wallace and Macari for various reasons, coped easily with Rangers’ fevered assaults. Half time arrived without a score, but with Celtic comfortably in control. The second half proceeded in much the same vein, and Johnstone in particular posed a major threat. The only real surprise is that Rangers manages to hold out till midway through the second period without conceding. Celtic’s opener, when it came, was simplicity itself. Dalglish flighted a corner on the Celtic right to the back post, where Johnstone popped up unmarked to control the ball with his first touch, and lash it into the roof of the net with his second. The fans had barely stopped celebrating when, two minutes later, Hughes sprang the ‘Gers offside trap, swerved round McCloy, and was crudely hauled down by the keeper. Penalty! But who to take it? the previous season’s regular specialist, Harry Hood, was not playing, so Billy McNeill handed the ball to Kenny Dalglish and told him to take it, on the basis that he had scored one for the reserves. Kenny’s typical deadpan reply was that there wouldn’t be much difference taking one in front of a packed Ibrox, then…Nonetheless, he had the sheer, gallus chutzpah to “take the knee” and re-tie his bootlace before calmly sending McCloy the wrong way from the spot. The making of a legend…
With the result not in doubt, Celtic saw out the final twenty minutes without undue stress, and indeed John Hughes came within an ace of adding a third near the end, his thunderbolt shot from twenty yards almost cracking McCloy’s crossbar. It was a jubilant throng of Celtic supporters who made their way - very carefully - down the steep Ibrox steps to the exits.
The same Celtic line-up, with one change: Danny McGrain in at right back for Jim Craig, ill with a throat infection, beat Morton 1-0 at Cappielow the following Wednesday, and eased past Ayr United at Somerset Park with a 3-0 win, all the goals coming in the second half. In fact, Celtic had not managed a first half goal all season! The same was true at Celtic Park the following Wednesday, the ground at last available with the new stand open to the public. Unfortunately, Celts could not hansel the new structure with a win - indeed they fluffed their lines completely, losing 0-1 to a goal created for Morton by their 15-year-old winger Charlie Brown. He slid a lovely pass through the gaping home defence to striker Billy Osborne, who slammed the chance home. Celtic had one of those nights when they just could not score. Dalglish even missed a penalty just before Morton scored, shooting past the post after he had been brought dow in the area by Morton centre-half George Anderson, who was said to be interesting Celtic at the time. This surprise reverse opened the door again for Rangers, who found themselves level again on points, but top of the group on goal difference after beating Ayr 4-0 at Somerset. They could effectively put the group beyond Celtic if they could win the “return” Old Firm game, again at Ibrox, on the following Saturday, 28th August.
Again, the summer sun shone down on Govan as the teams lined up as follows:
Rangers: McCloy, Jardine, Mathieson, Greig, McKinnon, Jackson, McLean, MacDonald, Stein, Johnstone, Johnston - sub, Conn
Celtic: Williams, Brogan, Hay, Murdoch, McNeill, Connelly, Johnstone, Lennox, Dalglish, Callaghan, Macari - sub, Hood
If Celtic were fearful that they may have blown their chance to progress in the League Cup, they did not show it. They were relaxed, confident, and calmly in control in the first half, with Hay, Murdoch, McNeill, Connelly and Callaghan outstanding. Once again, curiously, Celtic failed to score in the first 45! The second half was only two minutes old when the (this time genuine) away team scored. Celtic had once again been happy to suck Rangers forward into their half, knowing the Ibrox men would leave themselves dangerously short at the back, and that is exactly what happened. Williams threw the ball out smartly to Murdoch, he glanced up to see Lennox and Dalglish hovering with only Mathieson between them and the goal, and flighted a long pass to Lennox. Dalglish timed his run perfectly in anticipation of Lennox knocking the ball onwards into the area, past the stranded Mathieson, and the youngster steadied himself before blasting the ball into the roof of the net, giving McCloy no chance. Effectively it was game over already, and Rangers knew it, but Celtic added another two corkers by Callaghan in 71 minutes, a first time blast from outside the box that beat the diving McCloy low to his right, and another run and shot from Lennox eight minutes from time to put the icing on the cake. By this time, the Rangers end was emptying rapidly - they had seen enough to know that there was still a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon between Glasgow’s “big two”. Celtic duly wrapped up the section with a 4-1 home win over Ayr, the match brought forward to the Monday evening after the Rangers game because Celtic were entertaining Nacional of Uruguay 48 hours later in a friendly match to officially open the new stand, which Celtic won 3-0.
Celtic kicked off the League campaign for 1971-72 season on Saturday 4th September with a 9-1 thrashing of Clyde at Celtic Park, on the day when the sixth consecutive League Flag for 1970-71 season was unfurled and the impressive new stand saw league action for the first time. Celtic were in top gear from the start, and Bobby Murdoch set the ball rolling after only five minutes play when he pounced on a misdirected clearance from Clyde’s veteran goalie Tommy McCulloch and flighted a brilliant shot over the stranded keeper from 35 yards. Two minutes later, Kenny Dalglish scored his first league goal for Celtic, and further goals from Billy McNeill, with a rare left foot shot, and two from Bobby Lennox made the points safe by half time. The juggernaut rumbled on in the second half with a cracking goal from Tommy Callaghan - a run and shot similar to his Ibrox effort the previous week - notching number 6, and a quick fire brace from Lou Macari saw Celtic 8-0 up with 14 minutes still to play. Clyde scored a consolation goal through future Celt, the young Dominic Sullivan, but Bobby Lennox, starting his eleventh season in Celtic’s first team, and still only 27 years old, clinched his hat-trick with three minutes left. Playing at inside-right for Clyde that day, incidentally, was one Danny McGrain - cousin of Celtic’s Danny. In midweek, Celtic parted company with the man who scored the most significant goal in the club’s history, when the legendary Steve Chalmers joined Morton - teaming up again with fellow Lion John Clark, who had moved to Cappielow in the close-season. On Wednesday 8th September, Celtic eased past Clydebank in the first leg of the League Cup Quarter-Final at Kilbowie Park, winning 5-0 with two goals by Lou Macari, and one each from Hood, Callaghan, and Wallace. Accordingly, the boys were well tuned up for the third instalment of the Ibrox trilogy on the following Saturday, 11th September. Summer of 1971 was one of the best weather-wise for many years, and even approaching autumn, it was still shirtsleeves at Ibrox. Willie Waddell tinkered with his starting eleven, but Jock Stein took the view that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The teams lined up:
Rangers: McCloy, Jardine, Mathieson, Greig, Jackson, MacDonald, McLean, Penman, Stein, Conn, Johnston - sub, Henderson
Celtic: Williams, Brogan, Hay, Murdoch, McNeill, Connelly, Johnstone, Lennox, Dalglish, Callaghan, Macari - sub, Hood
At last, Celtic scored in the first half against the old foe. Only eight minutes had passed when Johnstone was fouled on the right wing just outside the penalty area. Murdoch flighted over a cross, Billy McNeill, running toward the near post, left the ball for Macari, following up behind him, to head smartly low past McCloy. It was simply a variation on the opening goal in the Cup Final replay in May, but Rangers fell for it again. The goal served to poke Rangers in the ribs, and they set about Celtic with determination. They drew level on the half hour mark, when Jim Brogan blocked a Johnston cross with his arm. Jim was only about two yards away, and had no chance to avoid the driven cross, but the referee was in no doubt. Evan Williams got down to parry Johnston’s effort from the spot, but the winger followed up to slam home the equaliser. Poor Evan blundered in the last minute of the half - he failed to hold a dolly of a shot from Johnston, and let the ball slip out of his grasp. Colin Stein dashed in to sweep home the loose ball, and Rangers went in to the interval with their tails up. Celtic pressed the reset button at the start of the second half, and again took control of midfield through the class and guile of Murdoch, the strength of Connelly and Hay, and the powerful running of Tommy Callaghan. Celtic’s equaliser arrived ten minutes into the half, and again, incredibly, it featured Billy McNeill making a run to the near post from a corner; this time, the captain flicked on Lennox’s flag kick, and Dalglish, level with the back post, had time to chest the ball down and fire it crisply low into the net with his left foot. The game perhaps turned on two incidents mid-way through the half: first, Rangers were reduced to ten men when Alex MacDonald was sent off for a crude foul on Callaghan; then, Connelly was short with a headed back-pass to Williams, and Colin Stein lunged in to toe-poke the ball over Williams and into the net before colliding with the keeper. The referee deemed it to be dangerous play, and disallowed the goal to the fury of Rangers players and support. Considering Stein’s foot was level with Williams’s head, most observers would say that the ref made the right call.
Below - Collision course… Stein flicks the ball over Williams, then clatters into the keeper, Schumacher v Battiston style.
Celtic gradually re-established control, but it looked like the game was going to end in a draw. Macari and Dalglish had other ideas. In the last minute, Kenny knocked the ball on to Lou, overlapping down the left, and he lofted the bouncing ball into the mixer. It should have been meat and drink for Peter McCloy in the Rangers goal. The giant keeper, nicknamed “The Girvan Lighthouse” after his place of residence, hesitated before coming out to jump for the ball, and this allowed the smallest man on the field, Jimmy Johnstone, to out-jump him and nod the ball in a slow, agonising arc toward the goal, where it dropped under the bar and into the net to the stunned disbelief of the Copland Road terraces behind the goal. Undiluted joy erupted at the Broomloan end. Mercifully, this time there was no late equaliser, and no ensuing hideous tragedy.
The following Wednesday, 15th September, Celtic surprisingly lost 1-2 in the European Cup First Round, First Leg, to BK 1903 Copenhagen in Denmark. Danish football back then was not the highly organised, potent force that it was to become in the 80s and 90s, and it was a shock defeat for the Celts. Amends were made in the second leg at Celtic Park two weeks later on September 29th with a 3-0 win, but it took two late goals from Callaghan and Wallace, added to Wallace’s first half opener, to make the tie safe. A nervy evening all round! In between times, Clydebank were duly beaten 6-2 at Parkhead in the League Cup for an 11-2 aggregate win, and Morton were dismissed by 3-1 at Celtic Park in the league. The bandwagon rolled on to Airdrie, and Broomfield was bathed in late September sunshine as Celtic ran out easy 5-0 winners, with Lou Macari chalking up a hat-trick.
October arrived with the barometer still pleasingly high, but Celtic hit an uncharacteristic low at home to St Johnstone, going down 0-1 to the stuffy Perth side, mercurial forward John Connolly scoring the only goal of the game in the first half. St Mirren were beaten 3-0 in the League Cup Semi Final at Hampden on Wednesday 6th October, with three second half goals in three minutes from Hay, Hood, and Lennox. The next league fixture on 9th October, away to the dangerous Hibs side now beginning to bloom under Eddie Turnbull’s leadership, was however crucial; any more slip-ups could undermine confidence, and encourage rivals - most notably Aberdeen, who had continued strongly despite losing manager Turnbull to Hibs, the club where he had made his name as part of the “Famous Five” forward line of the 1940s and 50s (Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull, and Ormond). Turnbull’s replacement was Jimmy Bonthrone, a Dons stalwart in his playing days. Celtic prevailed in a tense encounter, Macari snapping up a rare shooting chance in the last twenty minutes. In the following midweek, Davie Hay and Jimmy Johnstone were in the Scotland team which beat Portugal 2-1 at Hampden in a European Nations Cup qualifier - Tommy Docherty’s first game in charge of Scotland as Caretaker boss following the dismissal of Bobby Brown - and on the Saturday (16th) Dundee were beaten 3-1 at Celtic Park with a hat-trick from Kenny Dalglish, and that rarity - a missed penalty by Tommy Gemmell! On Tuesday October 19th, Jock Stein dropped a bombshell by transferring two Celtic legends - John Hughes and Willie Wallace joined Crystal Palace in the English First Division for a joint fee of £50,000 - potentially the best deal the Selhurst Park club ever struck, given the age and experience of the two players. The next day, Celtic cantered to an easy 5-0 win over Sliema Wanderers of Malta in the European Cup Second Round, First Leg. The Maltese champs, all in red, were hopelessly out of their depth, and one wondered how on earth they had managed to get into the second round of Europe’s premier tournament! Goals came from Hood (2), Gemmell, Brogan, and Macari. His strike would prove to be Tommy Gemmell’s last goal for Celtic.
The day after the Sliema game, Glasgow was rocked by tragedy for the second time in 1971. A gas explosion ripped through a row of shops in Clarkston Toll, between Glasgow and Busby, in Renfrewshire, killing 22 shoppers, shop workers, passers by, and passengers in a passing bus, and injuring 100. I was working in an office in Rutherglen, some 6 miles away, when we heard a dull “crump” noise in the distance, and the office windows rattled. We all looked at each other and said “What the * was that??”. Sadly the truth was another disaster caused by a gas leak which ignited.
Life, and football, carried on regardless, and Saturday, 23rd October 1971 would go down in football folklore as one of those days when the football world stood on its head. Celtic, the red-hot favourites, faced loveable old Partick Thistle in the League Cup final at Hampden Park. The Jags, capable of fluent, dynamic football under their legendary player, now manager, Davie McParland, had stumbled, blinking into the spotlight of a national final. How would they cope with the pressure? Billy McNeill was missing with a rare injury, the first final he had missed since the League Cup Final of 1964-65 season, when he was sidelined with a broken ankle - the most serious injury of his long career. On a fine autumn day, the teams lined up:
Celtic: Williams, Hay, Gemmell, Murdoch, Connelly, Brogan, Johnstone, Dalglish, Hood, Callaghan. Macari. Jim Craig was sub.
Partick Thistle: Rough, Hansen, Forsyth, Glavin, Campbell, Strachan, McQuade, Coulston, Bone, Rae, Lawrie, sub - Gibson.
It soon became apparent that Thistle hadn’t come to make up the numbers. Indeed, they had clearly been studying the Danny Blanchflower book of football tactics, and decided to get their retaliation in first - equalising before Celtic had a chance to score! Celtic’s defence, without McNeill, were at sixes and sevens, the normally unflappable Connelly now flapping like a swan taking off from a pond. Thistle skipper Alex Rae set the ball rolling, volleying home from 15 yards when an uncleared corner fell to him. We smiled indulgently. Bobby Lawrie made it 2-0 with a rasping shot across Williams’s bows five minutes later when he cut in from the left; our eyebrows arched upwards and we laughed nervously. Come on Celtic, the joke’s over…but the clock had not yet clicked over to thirty minutes when, incredibly, big Denis McQuade, the archetypal Thistle player, took advantage of more slapstick mayhem in the Celtic box to make it 3-0, and the Jags fans thought they had died and gone to heaven when Jimmy Bone, a future Celt, pounced on a rebound to knock the ball over the line from a yard out. 4-0. What was going on??? Still, only 36 minutes had been played by the time Bone scored - plenty of time for Celtic to wake up and exact a terrible vengeance! Alas, it failed to materialise. Half time came, and the shock scoreline was flashed around Britain. Rumour has it that busloads of Rangers fans left Ibrox, where their team was routinely beating East Fife, to gain admission to Hampden and witness this unheralded humiliation of their bitter rivals. Some super-optimistic Celtic fans, your writer included, still thought that a scorching from Big Jock would galvanise Celtic and propel them to pull the game out of the fire; all we would need was an early second half goal… Well, we did score, but not until the 70th minute when Dalglish scrambled one home. Thistle deservedly held on to record probably the most celebrated result in their history. Thistle being Thistle, some of their superstitious fans attributed their success to the fact that Japanese Emperor Hirohito was on a state visit to Britain; his only previous visit had been fifty years earlier, in 1921, when, by a remarkable coincidence, Thistle had recorded their only other major victory, beating Rangers 1-0 in the Scottish Cup Final.
Below - No way through! Alan Rough saves from Kenny Dalglish in the 1971 League Cup Final.
You couldn’t help but feel pleased for Thistle and their long-suffering supporters. At last, they had a team worthy of their support. Indeed, five of the Thistle players - Alan Rough (a Celtic supporter and future Celtic keeper), John Hansen (brother of future Jags and Liverpool star Alan), future Man Utd full back Alex Forsyth, and future Celts Ronnie Glavin and Jimmy Bone, went on to represent Scotland at full international level. It was a perplexed Celtic support who shook their heads in bemusement as we trudged away from Hampden that day. Jock Stein took quick action in the transfer market: on the Monday following the Hampden fiasco, goalkeeper Denis Connaghan - often linked with Celtic in the past - was finally signed from St Mirren. A real surprise followed on Halloween, however - Celtic signed Motherwell’s trouble-prone centre-forward John “Dixie” Deans for a nominal £17,500. Dixie was known to be a good goalscorer, but he had a hair-trigger temper, and was half-way through a six-week SFA ban when he signed. A strange one, but Jock Stein knew what he was doing! Celtic, meanwhile, were in Malta preparing to tie up the loose ends of the European Cup tie with Sliema; Jock took the opportunity to give another Quality Street Kid, Vic Davidson, a run out, and young winger Steve Hancock, signed from Juniors Newtongrange Star, also came on as a substitute for Bobby Lennox. Celtic lost a goal in the first minute, but Hood equalised before half time, and Lennox scored the winner before being replaced by Hancock. Celtic won 2-1 on the day, 7-1 on aggregate. This game was also Tommy Gemmell’s last first team appearance for Celtic.
Celtic recovered quickly from their League Cup Final aberration. With Denis Connaghan now in goal, they beat Dunfermline 2-1 at East End Park the Wednesday after the final, with second half goals from McNeill and Lennox, and a Kenny Dalglish strike was enough to secure a 1-0 win over Ayr United at Somerset Park the next Saturday. November 6th, saw Aberdeen, league leaders by one point, come to Parkhead. The Dons gave a good account of themselves, defending stoutly, and threatening with fast breaks. They had a very slick, mobile forward line featuring ex-Gers Jim Forrest and his cousin Alex Willoughby, Scotland caps Davie Robb and the lethal Joe Harper, and the “one that got away” from Celtic - left winger Arthur Graham. At the back, the Dons had Scotland goalie Bobby Clark, full backs George Murray and Jim Hermiston, and a rock-solid half back line: future Celt Steve Murray, giant red-head centre half Willie Young, and their young captain, Martin Buchan, soon to be lured south to Spurs and Manchester United respectively. Harry Hood gave Celtic the lead with a snap shot on the hour mark, but Billy McNeill headed a cross into his own net thirteen minutes from the end, to give the Dons a 1-1 draw. Denis Connaghan had come out to take the ball, but claimed that he didn’t hear Billy shout that he would get it because of the roar of the 64,000 crowd. Welcome to the big time, Denis!
In midweek after the Aberdeen draw, Kenny Dalglish made his Scotland debut alongside Davie Hay and Jimmy Johnstone, coming on as a substitute in Scotland’s 1-0 win over Belgium in a European Championship qualifier at Pittodrie - Tommy Docherty’s first game as full-time boss. There was a renewed sense of optimism around the national side under Docherty’s effervescent leadership. He did not hesitate to pick good young players who were performing well for their clubs, selecting Hibs’ exciting young inside left Alex Cropley, and telling him he would need a bigger display cabinet to hold all the caps he was going to win. Sadly, this time the Doc was wrong - injury blighted Cropley’s career, and although his talent was indisputable, he only won two caps.
Saturday November 13th saw Celtic make the often hazardous journey to face Dundee United at Tannadice; not this time - Celtic ran out easy 5-1 winners, Hood (2), Macari, Dalglish, and Lennox scoring. November 20th saw the first snow of winter fall on Glasgow, but not enough to endanger Celtic’s home game with a typically robust Falkirk side. Celts won 2-0, with an early goal from Kenny Dalglish and a brave header from “Cesar” McNeill, in which Billy lay stunned by a clash of heads when scoring and required treatment from Neilly Mochan’s “magic sponge” before playing on. Saturday November 27th was a revenge mission - away to Partick Thistle at Firhill. Could the Jags prove that the Hampden result was no fluke? No, they couldn’t. Celtic, with the jet-paced Jimmy Quinn standing in at left-back for Jim Brogan, administered a harsh reality check to Thistle. Early goals by Hood, Johnstone, and Dalglish had Celtic cruising before the first quarter was over, and although Jimmy Bone pulled one back before half time, late goals by Alan Strachan (o.g.) and debutant Dixie Deans ensured that full retribution was exacted for the Hampden debacle. Final score - Thistle 1, Celtic 5.
On Wednesday, December 1st, Hay, Johnstone, and Dalglish were in the Scotland team beaten 2-1 by Holland in a friendly in Amsterdam. It was Kenny’s first start in the national side. The 5-1 scoreline achieved against Thistle was repeated on Saturday 4th December at home to Kilmarnock, for whom future Celt Ally Hunter featured in goal. Johnstone and Dalglish grabbed a brace each, and Deans continued his goal-a-game start to life in the hoops. Dixie kept up the good work the following week against East Fife at Celtic Park - a dreary game on a dull, December day; the 20,000 souls shivering on the terraces and in the stand at Celtic Park had to wait till 15 minutes from the end for Deans to score his second goal, and Celtic’s winner in a lack-lustre 2-1 win.
On Friday 17th December, Tommy Gemmell finally left Celtic for Nottingham Forest, signed by the Midlanders for £35,000. It was an unhappily low-key departure for a man who deserves to be enshrined in the Pantheon of Celtic greats. Without Tommy Gemmell, there would have been no Lisbon glory, no thundering equaliser to confirm Celtic’s overwhelming superiority on the day. Tommy remains the only Scot to have scored in two European Cup Finals. He deserved better than to be jettisoned like an old, washed up has-been.
The sheen was back with a bang at Fir Park on December 18th, as Celtic wheeled out their third 5-1 win in four games; Deans opened the scoring against his old pals in the 10th minute, then Dalglish, standing in at right-half for the injured Murdoch, scored two stunning goals in two minutes, the 31st and 32nd. First, Lennox took two defenders away on a dummy run, leaving Kenny to swerve into the space created and lash the ball high past ex-Ger Billy Ritchie in the Motherwell goal from 18 yards. It was just the type of quality strike that we were to become used to from King Kenny in the coming years. The cheers had hardly died down when he worked a neat one-two with Bobby Lennox, found himself clean through on goal, and calmly slotted his second home. Motherwell replied quickly through Jackie McInally - ex Killie forward, and father of Celtic’s Alan “Rambo” McInally - but Bobby Lennox made it 4-1 before half-time, and Jinky wrapped it up mid-way through the second half.
It seems incredible to us now, but up till about 25 years ago, if Christmas Day fell on a Saturday then there would be a full league programme of fixtures. The only problem would be getting a bus home with the reduced holiday timetable! So it was that Celtic welcomed Heart of Midlothian to an afternoon of festive cheer at Celtic Park on Saturday 25th December, 1971, Celtic’s final fixture of a highly successful and memorable year. There was plenty of ho-ho-ho-ing when Harry Hood put Celtic in front in the first minute, but red faces in the home defence as Hearts equalised on the half-hour. Jimmy Johnstone restored Celtic’s lead on 36 mins, and Dixie Deans kept up his remarkable scoring run - now 6 in 5 games - with Celtic’s third on the 70 minute mark. Hearts clawed another back with thirteen minutes left, but Celtic held on to claim both points.
So ended 1971 - a year that saw the gradual transition from Lisbon Lions to Quality Street Kids; Tommy Gemmell, John Clark, Willie Wallace, Stevie Chalmers, Bertie Auld, and John Hughes all left Celtic during the course of the year, with Davie Hay, Jimmy Quinn, George Connelly, Vic Davidson, Lou Macari, and of course Kenny Dalglish establishing themselves in the first team squad. Danny McGrain had also played seven first-team games in season 70-71, but his breakthrough was delayed by injury and of course the form of Davie Hay and Jim Craig, who were ahead of him in the queue. Paul Wilson and Brian McLaughlin also made one first team appearance each, but their day would come later.