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136,505 fanatical Celtic supporters and I was there

29 April 2020


There are times in your life that you just know will never be repeated, 15th April 1970 was one such night. I’ve been going to Glasgow over 50 years since that night. I’ve seen many great teams leave ‘Paradise’ with their tails between their legs as the most atmospheric stadium in Europe claimed another victim, 80,000 in the old days, 60,000 now with Zadok the Priest and You’ll Never Walk Alone in deafening chorus, it’s an awe inspiring sight and sound without comparison, although that night at Hampden Park in 1970 bares no comparison either.

Back in 1969 I had just turned 16, I made my first trip to ‘Paradise’, Celtic v Benfica, Eusebio and all, 75,000 and Celtic won 3-0, it was magic, then in March 1970 I was back again as the Celts made short work of the Italian Champions Fiorintina, 3-0 again.

The draw for the semi final brought the game everyone wanted, Leeds Utd, by far the best team in England at the time, dubbed ‘Super Leeds’ by the English press, Lorimer, Gray, Bremner, Giles and Jack Charlton, they swept all aside in England and were made favourites for the European Cup by the English press, their bookies were giving 4-1 on Celtic so confident were they even though Celtic had won the first leg 1-0 at Elland Road.

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Celtic were one of the dominant teams in Europe then, they lost in the Cup Winners Cup semi finals in 1964 and 1966, European Cup winners in 1967, Celtic were defeated in the quarter final by eventual winners AC Milan in 1969, they lost a second final v Feyenoord in 1970, and defeated by Ajax in 1971 quarter final, losing to Inter Milan in semi final in 1972, and to Athletico in semi final in 1974, In all during that period Celtic record was impressive.

As the 1970 semi final build up commenced the English press as always had Leeds as clear favourites but the reality was that they hadn’t played anybody like Celtic in the English League. Not taking away from Leeds, they were a great team but Celtic were just different class.

The demand for tickets was so great that they changed the game from Celtic Park to Hampden, and that was the days when Celtic could attract gates of 80,000, but Hampden could cater for incredible numbers, over 130,000, in fact when it was built it could hold 150,000 and the famous Maracana in Brazil was modelled on Hampden and even bigger, the 1950 World Cup Final had an attendance of 200,000.

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Hampden had records of it’s own, the highest attendance ever was the 1937 International, Scotland v England, set at 147,547, just 453 short of the record.

Just a week later the largest crowd for a Cup game in Britain and probably Europe was the Scottish Cup Final, Celtic v Aberdeen, 147,365.

That night against Leeds in April witnessed the largest ever club attendance in Europe and a never to be equalled EC/CL record, 136,505, so Hampden holds the records for the biggest attendances for an International game, European Cup game and Club game anywhere in Europe, and amazingly today it only holds 50,000.

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As the days before the game heralded a massive demand for tickets Leeds returned half their allocation of 10,000 tickets so Celtic had over 130,000 supporting them that night, an incredible stat and emphasises the vast following Celtic have if they ever made it to the EPL.

I prepared to head over to Glasgow again, ironically I was working in a city centre pub in Belfast and a lot of our clientele were Shipyard workers, all Linfield & Rangers men, but I got on well with them and they wished me well, in fact for the final in Milan they were going to have a whip round for me if I planned to go, seriously generous offer from these dyed in the wool Rangers men, that’s what football should be all about.

I left Belfast airport, Aldergrove, that sunny April morning, there were thousands leaving Ireland from all over on planes and boats to join the masses that would assemble in Mount Florida that evening, all 136,500 of them and bar the 5000 from Leeds, everyone was there to support Celtic. With time to spare I headed down the Glasgow and Dumbarton roads to meet up with my Donegal Aunt and Uncle and their two Scottish sons, my cousins, part of the Donegal diaspora which had made Scotland their home après Famine times.

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After the dinner down in Clydebank we started on the train journey to Hampden, it was like Seville in 2003 when 80,000 descended on the Andulician city for the UEFA Final, every bus and train was packed with green and white scarfed Celtic supporters, descending at Mount Florida, a part of the city where many Donegal people were also domiciled.

It was just a tsunami of green and white flowing towards the stadium, 136,505 it’s almost beyond comprehension especially in an era when the average attendance in the English Premier is 40,000.

We queued for ages the crowds were that big, eventually we made our way into the massive stadium and took our place on the old Celtic End, for anyone not familiar with Hampden there was a ‘Celtic End’ and a ‘Rangers End’, the ‘Celtic End’ was to the right of the main stand, a massive terracing like nothing you ever seen before.

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It was 7 pm an hour before kick off but the place was already packed unlike the modern era when fans arrive 10 minutes before kick off with everyone having a ticket and a seat, there were no seats in those days except the Main Stand, just this large terracing stretching from the pitch to the stars.

The Uncle, I suppose considering our safety, brought us closer to the front of the terracing, just behind the nets, unknowingly we were in prime position to witness events as the night would evolve.

As the teams appeared there was a crescendo of noise from the serried ranks of Celtic supporters that I’ve never experienced since, it seemed to envelop the whole stadium, crashing across the terraces like the gigantic waves across the surfing meccas in Donegal, ‘Cel-tic, Cel-tic’ reverberated around the old Hampden slopes, the stadium which had witnessed many incredible nights over the years but would never experience a night like this one.

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The teams were like gladiators as they made their way onto the pitch in the midst of that monster crowd, the Champions of Scotland and England, also Celtic European Champions only 3 years earlier and Leeds winners of the Inter Cities Fairs cup (present Europa League) in 1968, they would be like Barca playing PSG today.

Both were dominant in their own Leagues, Celtic had the League in the bag, also the League Cup and were in the Cup Final v Aberdeen, Leeds were top of the English League with 7 games to go and in the FA Cup final, of course the English press claimed that Leeds had a tougher time of it but both would play 60+ games in that memorable season. Leeds came to Hampden a goal down thanks to George Connelly’s first minute strike in front of 46,000 at Elland Road sending the Celtic support ecstatic and making Elland Road like a home game for the Hoops.

So as they lined up to kick off Leeds had it all to do but if they believed their press it was doable? Both had contrasting fortunes in their respective Cup Finals, Leeds drew with Chelsea in a brilliant game at Wembley whereas Celtic didn’t turn up against Aberdeen, losing 3-1 in an apathetic performance, obviously with one eye on Leeds and getting back to another European Cup Final.

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Don Revie like Stein was a top Manager, both would manage their countries England and Scotland later in their careers, apparently Revie promised the Leeds players a years wages if they beat Celtic that night at Hampden, at least he saved himself some dosh.

The teams were full of top class pedigree, Internationals all, Celtic started with, Williams, Hay, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan, Jinky, Connelly, big Yogi, Auld & Lennox, 6 of the European Cup winning team, Leeds were filled with Internationals as well, Sprake, Madely, Cooper, Bremner, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Clarke, Jones, Giles and Eddie Gray, funny I met Jack Charlton years later playing golf in Mayo and I asked him about that night, he said, “we were the best team but we had a load of Scots and Irish and they were all Celtic supporters and didn’t try”, this was 40 years later and he still believed it.

After 15 minutes Billy Bremner hit a brilliant 30 yarder into the top corner of the net we were behind, I can still see it zooming past Evan Williams, 1-1, it gave Leeds a massive boost and they probably edged the first half but as the second half began and the tsunami of sound rocking Hampden there was only going to be one winner. We were only a few minutes into the second half when Davie Hay made a short pass to wee Bertie who clipped a nice ball onto the head of ‘Big Yogi’ and he buried into the back of the net, I don’t remember much of the next 5 minutes, the stadium erupted into an uncontrolled euphoria behind us and appeared to submerge us in a whirlwind, I felt as if I had landed in the back of Gary Sprake’s net myself with him and the ball.

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There was only going to be one victor after that, Celtic went into over drive and showed their superiority over the English Champions, urged on by the largest crowd in European history Celtic drove at Leeds in wave after wave of attack, the defence solid, the midfield creative and the forward line on fire with Jinky tormenting the England full back Terry Cooper in a display that led to Revie saying après match that he was better than Georgie Best.

Within 8 minutes the game was effectively over, I’ll never forget the second goal, Jim Brogan broke up a Leeds attack and released Jinky down the right flank, he toyed with Cooper before releasing a perfectly measured pass which was met by Bobby Murdoch who dispatched it past David Harvey who had replaced the injured Sprake just a few minutes earlier, the stadium went into apoplexy, once again we were caught up in a tsunami of happiness as we realised that we were on the way to another European Cup Final.

My Uncle and cousins hugged me in a moment never to be forgotten, it was pure euphoria, like winning the Lotto, hitting on Grainne Seoighe or Rosanna Davison, and New Years Eve all at the one time, the rest of the game is a blur, Leeds were done, they had met their match, from the terraces the chant of ‘Jock Stein, Jock Stein’ cascaded down the serried ranks of delirious Celtic supporters, the great man had once again been the architect of a famous victory, the stadium rose to him in a manner seldom seen, his presence had made Celtic a European giant.

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Après match Leeds were superfluous in their praise of Celtic, Revie said he hoped Celtic would win the final, Norman Hunter said Celtic were the best team they ever played, and the English press were in full praise of Jinky, ‘a world class player’, it was just unfortunate that they didn’t go on to win a second European Cup after an insipid display against Feyenoord in the Final, but that’s football.

The night of all nights at Hampden will never be forgotten, at the end of the game as Leeds dejectedly trundled up the tunnel, Celtic went on a lap of honour around Hampden, the vast arena was bouncing, it was like a modern CL game at Paradise but multiplied by ten, that’s the way it was, imagine the Parkhead capacity doubled and more, standing on terraces the height of the North Stand, the Green Brigade would be in their element. It was incredible and a night I know will never be repeated.

I’ve seen a lot of football over the past 50 years but I’ve never seen anything like that night on the 15th April 1970, the night Jinky, Yogi and Murdoch destroyed the English Champions at Hampden in front of 136,505 fanatical Celtic supporters and I was there.

Paddy McMenamin was born in Belfast with Donegal and Tyrone parents. He spent the 70’s in Long Kesh. He has been going to Paradise since the Benfica game in Nov. 1969. He lived in Donegal for 30 years but now lives in Galway. He returned to University at 50 and became a secondary school teacher of history and English.

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