Things did not look good for either Celtic or Gallagher at the beginning on February 1968. The season already had the look of anti-climax about it, with only the Scottish League Cup won in October to show for their efforts in stark contrast to last season’s heroics. South America had been an unmitigated disaster which Charlie had done well to be on the edges of and not in the middle. The European Cup had been surrendered, again without Charlie, at the first time of asking to Dinamo Kiev – admittedly with bad luck in the Ukraine but with little excuse for a supine, sub-standard performance at Parkhead in which some heads seemed to have swollen to an unwarranted extent. That was all in the autumn, and then at the New Year two goalkeeping errors seemed to have given the advantage to Rangers in the Scottish League.
And now on the last weekend of January another disaster had struck. A half-hearted, disorganised sort of Celtic side had deservedly gone out of the Scottish Cup to a professional and clinical Dunfermline Athletic. Celtic had been devoid of luck, but it had been 2-0 and the Press and Jock Stein himself had been under no illusions about things. The team were struggling and as The Sunday Express was not slow to say, “It’s a long way from Lisbon”.
To a certain extent, there was something inevitable about this. It is difficult to retain momentum at such a high level as Celtic had been at. Maybe a mistake was made in standing still in summer 1967. Maybe another big signing or two was called for to “ginger” up the squad, yet it was hard to even think about replacing any of that great side. For whatever reason the hopes expressed that Celtic might dominate European football for several years in the same way that Real Madrid had done a decade before were dashed.
Even in Scotland, Rangers were now clear favourites to win the League. They were undefeated, were two points ahead (and even that was assuming that Celtic won their games in hand) and did not have to play Celtic again in the League. It was almost like going back to the pre-Stein era. Reflecting a change of Manager, Rangers were playing with youthful enthusiasm – and annoyingly, with luck.
They had never, for example, deserved their draw at Celtic Park at the New Year. It had been John Fallon’s nightmare – and Charlie was distressed at this, for he was a friend of John – but it meant that Rangers retained their advantage. All Celtic could do was hope that someone else could beat them, for teams only played each other twice in 1967/68.
And were was Charlie Gallagher in all this? He had played only a handful of games this season, and was in danger of being forgotten about. Being the unofficial deputy to Bertie Auld was not a great place to be, but he stayed where he was. His normal phlegmatic self would not allow him to throw tantrums and demand transfers, and he had played for no-one other than Celtic, but he must have wondered, yet again, what this future was going to be.
To someone other than Gallagher, the thought of a transfer to another club would have been attractive. His skills were appreciated by other clubs, and even Rangers supporters frequently wondered why in this dark hour of Celtic’s season he was not given more of a run. He could not of course have played for Rangers, but many other Scottish clubs admired him. England too possessed many clubs who had been aware of his skills, and in 1968 it was often said that when an English club was in trouble, they merely looked north and came back with someone.
Yet would be have wanted to go anywhere else? Celtic through and through, Glasgow through and through, and now with a wife and baby to think about, he would have been reluctant to move. Besides, he may well have felt that his opportunity might yet come at Parkhead.
Certainly in early 1968 the depression around Parkhead was tangible and the disillusion was obvious among the support who found it difficult to accept that, having had an all too brief taste of the good life, we had to go back to the mundane mediocrity that seemed to be facing us. Yet Stein was not called a great Manager without cause, and there would be no dismal surrender, as we had seen all too often in the early 1960s.
So February dawned with Celtic generally reckoned to be in decline. The usual cliches like “one season wonders” were being trotted out with annoying predictability by those who thought they were being stunningly original, but even the most loyal of Celtic fans had to reckon with the possibility that the Scottish League Cup would be all that Celtic would win in the first post-Lisbon season. Perhaps, some of us reckoned, it would be no bad thing if Celtic did not win the League this season. Celtic could then re-group, bring on some of these impressive youngsters that we had heard about with names like Dalglish, Macari. McGrain and Hay, possibly even buy a player from England and come back fighting next year. This might mean curtains for the career of several players, not least Charlie Gallagher.
Charlie was in danger of becoming one of these players who, when one looks at photographs 20 years down the line, one asks “Who was he?” Yet the perceptive of the support had recognised his worth, and Stein, for all his sometimes boorish and unpleasant treatment of some of his fringe players, (not only Gallagher) obviously agreed, for there had been no attempt to unload him at this stage. In particular he was recalled with pleasure by fans for his two famous corner kicks against Dunfermline in 1965 and Vojvodina in 1967 – both of which were highly significant in the history of Celtic. But good and important as these corner kicks were, there was more to Charlie Gallagher as a player than his ability to find the head of Billy McNeill from a set piece.
But for this year, the thought of Rangers being champions was a painful one. Rangers had a few months previously staggered the world by sacking their Manager Scot Symon when they were actually top of the League! This had happened when Celtic were in South America in early November, and seemed to be an indication of panic. It certainly lacked any common sense or clear thinking, and appeared to have been brought about by a combination of a bad result against Dunfermline and Celtic winning the Scottish League Cup the Saturday before! Symon’s replacement was David White, until recently the very successful manager of Clyde but a man with little pedigree of coping with football at this level. Yet as January turned into February, Rangers were not only top of the League but were also still in the Scottish Cup and in Europe. That could not have been said about Celtic.
In the run-up to the game against Partick Thistle on February 3, Gair Henderson in The Evening Times said that a win for Celtic was a “must”, for the players had been told that there might soon be new faces at Parkhead, and “there is nothing like a pistol at the temple to get rapid action – and there will certainly be more effort and more spirit in the green and white jerseys for weeks to come” This message, which seemed to contain some inside information, was backed up in a strongly worded statement in the programme written by Jock Stein himself. New energy was certainly evident in the Partick Thistle game, for Celtic won convincingly 4-1, but there was still no Charlie Gallagher. Fans were a little happier with this performance, but there was still the depressing news that Rangers had narrowly beaten Clyde 1-0. It would be an all too familiar scenario in weeks to come.
The following week saw Celtic beat Motherwell at Fir Park, but none too convincingly. John Hughes scored the only goal of the game, but was then injured and replaced by Steve Chalmers. This was significant for, with only one substitute allowed in those days, Bertie Auld had to limp back on when he was injured – something that did him few favours and led to serious trouble as he aggravated his injury. Charlie was playing for the reserves that day at, of all places, Ibrox in a gloomy 2-0 defeat. Even more dispiriting was the news that Rangers first team had won at Dundee that day
Legend has it that a meeting with all the players in the table tennis room on Tuesday February 13 changed it all. Stein spoke eloquently, telling the players that they were man for man better than Rangers “but you know that anyway”, and there were two other advantages. One was that Rangers were involved in two other major competitions, and the other was that their new Manager was inexperienced. It was Stein’s belief that Rangers could yet be “psyched out” and, as it were, compelled to lose the League – as long as Celtic won their games and won them well. There was no margin for error.
Bertie Auld’s injury ruled him out for the time being – effectively he would not play again the rest of the season – and thus Charlie made his low key return to the team on the night of Wednesday February 14 for a home game against Stirling Albion, postponed a month previously in the bad weather of January. The weather was still not great, and the disappointing crowd of 17,000 perhaps gave an indication of how highly the support rated Celtic’s chances of winning the League Championship. It turned out to be a mundane, regulation and unimpressive Celtic victory by 2-0 with a penalty from Tommy Gemmell and a lob over the goalkeeper by Willie Wallace. Charlie played quite well but his performance was not highlighted in any newspaper reports. Still, the victory narrowed the gap to four points behind Rangers with a game in hand. (There were only two points given for a victory in 1968).
Thus was launched Gallagher’s finest hour. There are those who believe that “ilka doggie has his day” or that everyone has his brief moment in the sun. The heroes in the Iliad of Homer all had what was called their “aristeia” when they charged up and down the battlefield killing all and sundry of the opposition who happened to be in their way. Destiny was now calling to Charlie Gallagher.
Tom Campbell in Jock Stein – The Celtic Years has this to say of Gallagher in spring 1968 “…Auld was injured…in came Charlie Gallagher as a direct replacement, fitting into the midfield role which he relished. It was another reminder of the previous regime’s in competence as Gallagher, never particularly fast, frequently had been played out of position (as a centre forward or a right winger for example) while the chairman indulged his own version of Fantasy Football. Like Auld, Gallagher could read a game and organise strategies to break down defences. In addition and perhaps surprisingly for one of such a slight build, Gallagher was an excellent striker of the ball and possessed a lethal shot. Those supporters who felt uncomfortable in remembering the barracking Gallagher had received previously from the less tolerant were delighted to see him take full advantage of the recall. From the deep lying position he spread passes all over the field and, more importantly, was the ideal link man with forwards now running freely and steadily into dangerous positions. Bobby Murdoch stated that one key to Celtic’s success went largely unnoticed: ‘For years nobody twigged that what we were doing – and looking for – was creating space”.
All this was in the future however because for the next two weeks Celtic took a back seat. Being out of the Scottish Cup, they had no game on February 17, although they arranged a friendly at St James Park against Newcastle United which they lost narrowly. Charlie did not play in that game, his place going to young George Connolly. Then all of Great Britain turned their attention to the Scotland v England game on February 24 at Hampden (a disappointing 1-1 draw which suited England rather than Scotland), the weather was unpleasant and saw the postponement of a game against Aberdeen in the following midweek and it was Saturday March 2 before Celtic played again. By this time Gallagher was well prepared for his key role in the 1967/68 season.
In the meantime, Stein had told the players that he would manipulate the media. He would leak stories, make sure that Rangers were knocked off the back pages and he asked his players to dazzle the country by their play. He then told them that he would play his master card, although to an extent he had been forced to do this. It was made clear that Charlie Gallagher, that silkiest of passers, would be brought into the team for an extended run. Bertie Auld struggling with bad injuries sustained at Motherwell would later admitted with magnanimous and characteristic candour “I was drappt” but that was not entirely true. He was in fact badly injured and eventually needed a cartilage operation, but even if there had been any chance of him recovering, it would have been very difficult for Stein to drop Gallagher.
The first game back for Celtic after the enforced break was at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock on March 2 on a heavily sanded pitch and in weather which was still cold, (there had been a considerable amount of frost) but providing a little reluctant sunshine. Sunshine was the word too for this fine Celtic performance. Charlie excelled that day with his superb passing, although most of the plaudits went to Willie Wallace for his four goals and Jimmy Johnstone who had his own point to prove to Kilmarnock’s trainer Walter McCrae with whom, when the pair of them with the Scotland squad last week, he had crossed swords. Walter had asked Jimmy to be a linesman rather than play! Jimmy made the remark that his performance was “no bad for a linesman, eh, Walter?” Celtic won 6-0, and one of the goals was scored by a young gentleman with the illustrious name of Jimmy Quinn, the grandson of the great Jimmy from Croy of 60 years ago.
This game was broadcast on the radio, and highlights were shown on TV, so that all Scotland was impressed and, in the psychological battle that Scottish football always is, all of Ibrox began to tremble. Rangers themselves won 6-2 against St Johnstone that day, but the sheer speed and brilliance of the Celtic team as seen at Rugby Park was not lost on Rangers. It would have an effect on them, and caused their Board of Directors to make a distinctly wrong decision.
Both teams played in midweek on March 6 – Rangers beat Dunfermline narrowly and luckily, and once again Celtic turned it on at Parkhead to beat Aberdeen 4-1 in a game that might, with advantage, have been stopped at half-time. Indeed it was a game which Gallagher and Celtic seized by the scruff of the neck from the very start and they were 4-0 up at half-time with Aberdeen looking as if “they hadn’t reached Glasgow yet” in the words of a fan. In the middle of the second half, Stein took Gallagher off, not because he was displeased with him, but rather because he wished to keep his new talisman for future occasions. In any case Charlie’s replacement that night was a boy of some promise. He was a debutant by the name of David Hay.
Highly impressive stuff this was, and enough to send more than a few shivers of fear down Ibrox way for it was then that Rangers co-operated with an astonishing own goal. It concerned the Glasgow Cup, a grand old tournament – the third oldest in the world behind the Scottish and the English Cups – which in its day had attracted great crowds and enthusiasm. By the 1960s it was struggling, – it had not been competed for in 1965/66, for example, because no-one could agree dates – but when Celtic were drawn against Rangers in the semi-final (Celtic had already beaten Partick Thistle at the start of the season) at Ibrox, the game was much anticipated.
The game had been scheduled for some time in February, but the bad weather which had delayed Rangers replayed Scottish Cup tie with Dundee meant that it was postponed until Monday March 11. Rangers with their fixture problems – they were also in the European Inter Cities Fairs Cup and of course the Scottish Cup – asked for a further postponement because both teams would also be playing on Wednesday. It would therefore have still been a level playing field in the sense that both teams would be playing three games in a week, and for this reason the Glasgow FA, fed up of being pushed around, dug in their heels and insisted the game should be played on that Monday.
There is a common Celtic perception that authorities, be they the Glasgow FA or the Scottish FA, are in the pay of Rangers, and will invariably back up Rangers and do Celtic down. Not so! History does not really support this assertion. In fact if anything, the SFA, the Scottish League and other organizations resent the arrogance of Rangers who often give the impression that they are above everyone else. On this occasion the Glasgow FA, a body who had seen better days but who boasted correctly that their tournament was older than the Scottish League, showed here that that they were not going to be bullied by a mighty financial organisation like the men from Govan, still less were there any secret deals made by men who rolled up their trouser legs in private and shook hands in a strange fashion!
The wily Stein realised that all he had to do was stay silent and Rangers would be isolated. Celtic of course had always been willing to play. But now Rangers suddenly announced that in view of their other commitments in the Scottish League, the Scottish Cup and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, they had decided that they would not fulfil the fixture and that they were to be withdrawing from the Glasgow Cup! It was an even more astonishing decision considering that the game was to have been played at Ibrox.
To a neutral observer, to Celtic supporters, to the Press and to even some of Rangers own fans, this looked like cowardice and fear of facing Celtic in the only competition left this season in which the two teams would meet. Clearly Celtic’s dramatic return to form against Kilmarnock and Aberdeen was having its effect. Celtic fans certainly thought this was the case, and were not slow in letting Rangers fans know their point of view. It was a clear insult to the city of Glasgow, and Rangers’ pleas that the winning of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup would bring great glory to Glasgow cut little ice. As it was, it was a gift for Celtic, who were now in the final of the Glasgow Cup and they had clearly gained the moral high ground and the support of neutrals. A cruel joke went round Glasgow that Rangers for their next game were to have the unlikely letters IRA embroidered on their shirts, standing for I Ran Away!
Even given fixture congestion, there were at least two things Rangers might have done. They might have approached Celtic to suggest that both teams fielded a weakened team – but would Stein have agreed? – or they could have declared their pitch unplayable because of all the frost and/or rain than bedevilled Glasgow that spring. As it was they meekly surrendered – and this from a team whose supporters sang a song that they would do no such thing!
Two days after the Monday when the Glasgow Cup game ought to have been played, Rangers were deservedly punished for their craven behaviour. Clearly smarting from the abuse and ridicule heaped on them, Rangers went out of the Scottish Cup to Hearts, to a late Donald Ford goal at Tynecastle, thereby, as their critics were not slow to point out, easing their own fixture congestion! But as far as Celtic fans were concerned, this was only the icing on the cake, for they heard the news on their way home from Celtic Park having just seen their own team beat Airdrie 4-0. The Tynecastle game had been delayed because of serious over-crowding, so car radios and pub TVs had the honour of passing on the good news.
Willie Wallace scored a hat-trick, and Jimmy Johnstone was outstanding, but discerning spectators noted the quiet and unspectacular performance of Charlie Gallagher with his inch perfect passes and wonderful understanding with Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Murdoch. On that same day came the sad news for fans of Bertie Auld that he was going into hospital for a cartilage operation and would be out for the rest of the season. This clearly put the onus on Gallagher to deliver the goods, but it also gave him a sense of security that his position was not under any immediate threat. He did not pass up the opportunity.
Indeed a glance at Celtic teams for the months of March and April will show that virtually the same team took the field every game. This was good, for players knew each other, the camaraderie was excellent and they all knew each other well enough to cover for each other’s mistakes and to forgive each other the occasional blemish. It was actually a fine time in Celtic’s history as the support, realising than something was happening, rallied round after all the “I’m no comin back” sort of rubbish in January, and it was visibly a collective effort.
The position at the top of the League was that Celtic and Rangers had both played 25 games. Nine games remained. Celtic had by far the better goal average over Rangers, and the way they were playing meant that they were likely to steadily improve it, but the problem still remained the two points. Goal average, we remember, meant dividing the goals for by the goals against, rather than goal difference which is simply the crude method of subtracting goals against from goals for. Rangers were undefeated in the League, and Celtic needed someone to beat them, or at least two teams to draw with them. And it had to be someone other than Celtic, for the two teams would not meet again this season in the League or indeed any other competition.
Charlie might have been unsettled by the rumours going around at this time that Stein was making a bid to sign Jimmy Smith from Aberdeen. This would have been a direct threat to Charlie’s place in the team, but by the time that Celtic travelled to Brockville on March 16, nothing had happened. It was claimed that Stein did in fact make an offer to Aberdeen, but it seems to have been a fairly half-hearted one, and it was turned down by Aberdeen, if indeed anything was offered.
It is hard to believe that this move would have been a success. Smith was talented, sharing with Jimmy Johnstone the nickname of “Jinky” and was certainly a Celtic sympathiser, but he was a proven discipline problem with both his Manager and with referees. He had publicly disgraced himself with a dreadful tackle of Stevie Chalmers in last year’s Scottish Cup final – for which he had been booked – and too often found that the Aberdeen fans turned on him for his attitude which did not always appear to be as committed as it should have been. If Jock had gone for him and failed, he would have consoled himself in that he had Charlie Gallagher who was not only a talented player in the first place, but was also steadily improving with the added responsibility thrust upon him. And there was certainly no problem with his attitude. Indeed Charlie would prove that Celtic did not need Jimmy Smith.
A run in the team was what was needed. This Celtic team was superb – everyone knew that – but that did not mean that it did not require some time for Gallagher to bed in, as it were, in match conditions. It was one thing on a training ground and quite another in a game in front of ever-demanding fans. Bobby Lennox for example was so fast that he preferred the ball a few yards in front of him so that he could run on to it, whereas Johnstone preferred it at his feet, and as long as you managed to get the ball to Wallace or Chalmers in or near the penalty box, there was at least a chance of a goal. Charlie, never an extrovert in the dressing room, was nevertheless quite assertive on the field and fitted in fairly seamlessly as the team gradually moved into top gear.
Much had been made of the psychological aspect of all this, and anyone who ignores this aspect is ignoring the truth. As long as Celtic won their games, Stein and the fans knew that there was at least a chance that Rangers would crack. Rangers knew they had been lucky not to lose to Celtic in the two League games that season – the New Year game in particular – and they probably knew that in their heart of hearts, Celtic were a far superior side. Rangers had now exited from the Scottish Cup after clearly losing out in the psychological warfare resulting from their Glasgow Cup decision. Their young Manager called Dave White had done a brilliant job for Clyde but was this job too much for him? Clearly out of his depth at this level against Jock Stein, he must have wondered what he was doing. Rangers, in fact, began to look like a man going down a dark alley and expecting to be mugged.
Rangers’ adequate but no-more-than-that squad would clearly have doubts as they looked over their shoulders at the approaching Celtic juggernaut, which, for all their failings this season, had, last year, won the European Cup – a fact that everyone reminded Rangers of. And Celtic were now on a Gallagher-inspired roll, playing superbly and not looking as if they were going to make any errors.
Saturday March 16 was one of the worst days, weather-wise, that one could imagine with a howling wind and heavy torrential rain. Celtic were at Falkirk. Brockville, now thankfully closed down, was grossly inadequate at the best of times and out-of-date even in 1968, when it was called “Broken-downville” by visiting supporters. Falkirk had of course been a graveyard for Celtic in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and they could always be guaranteed to put up a good game against Celtic, whatever their current form was against other teams.
This particular day saw the BBC TV crew, there for their highlights programme at night, deciding to abandon their position on top of the enclosure roof! In addition a piece of roan pipe blew off and hit a poor girl on the head. The exposed terracings were sparsely populated, and those who were there, were clustered under a few umbrellas and hoped in their heart of hearts that referee Mr Anderson of East Kilbride would abandon the game, and allow everyone to go home or to the pub. Indeed when he extended the half time interval to about 20 minutes to allow the players to change their gear, we suspected that he had done just that!
But a good player in a good team can play in every type of weather, and Charlie rose to the occasion. Celtic led at half-time through a soft penalty as everyone tried to adjust to the conditions, but in the second half, even with large puddles beginning to form on the park, Celtic began to take a grip of the game, adapting their style to a short passing sort of approach, and Wallace and Lennox scored the goals to give Celtic a 3-0 win. The only fly in the ointment was Rangers 5-0 win over Stirling Albion at Ibrox, but Gallagher felt that it was a good day for Celtic the game with a win at a ground which had so often in the past provided a huge hurdle.
Similar weather was in place for the next game, this time a 5-0 beating of lowly Raith Rovers at Parkhead. Ron Trevorrow of The Evening Times says quite unequivocally that “there is no team in the land that could live with these modern day soccer gladiators in green and white”. Willie Wallace scored a hat-trick and Bobby Lennox and John Hughes scored one each. Charlie played superbly that day but was substituted near the end, and we feared that he had picked up some kind of injury, but if it was, it was a very slight one. More might have been expected of Hibs that day, but they capitulated 1-3 to Rangers which meant that now with only 7 games left, the gap was still that gnawingly annoying two points.
But now Celtic seized the initiative. The game v St Johnstone at Perth, originally scheduled for early January but postponed through bad weather, was going to take place on Wednesday night. Rangers were involved in the Inter Cities Fairs Cup against Leeds United on the Tuesday, so Stein realised that Celtic could actually be on top of the League if they won at Muirton Park, the then home of St Johnstone. (The Saints moved to McDiarmid Park in 1989). A further opportunity to unsettle Rangers occurred when Willie Ormond, the Manager of St Johnstone, suggested to Celtic that he would rather play the game on the Monday because St Johnstone were in the Scottish Cup semi-final next Saturday against Dunfermline Athletic, and would prefer more time to prepare.
You could almost imagine Stein’s eyes gleaming when he heard this. Not only was there now a chance to be top of the League even BEFORE Rangers took on Leeds United, but Stein also twigged that for a team like St Johnstone, a Scottish Cup semi-final was a huge occasion. They had only been there once before in 1934, and therefore the focus would very definitely be on Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final rather than a League game of lesser (for St Johnstone) importance. Opportunity was knocking for Celtic.
The now recently re-energised Celtic support, there in huge numbers that mild dry spring evening, saw Celtic and Gallagher take command from a very early stage. Lennox scored 4 goals in a 6-1 victory in which Gallagher sprayed passes throughout. Conditions were a lot better than in recent games, and Muirton Park was often reckoned to be the best surface in Scotland for football. This was tailor made for Charlie whose inch perfect passes frequently drew gasps of admiration from the crowd and even the occasional ripple of applause from the traditionally sporting St Johnstone supporters in the main stand. It was indeed a marvellous exhibition of football, reported in detail in the newspapers, and causing all sorts of distress at Ibrox.
Tommy Gemmell tells an interesting story about this game. St Johnstone’s only goal came from a free kick. Stein gave the players a day off training the following day, but after that, pretended to be furious and the next few days at training were spent in doing nothing other than clearing free kicks! This of course is an indirect compliment to Charlie Gallagher and the rest of the team, for he clearly felt that everything else was going well. Further evidence of the “quivering” of Rangers came when feckless forward play prevented them from scoring at Ibrox against Leeds United, but every one of the huge Ibrox crowd knew that, given their obsession with Celtic, in their heart of hearts that the problem really was the six goals scored at Perth the previous night! A crack was not far away.
Everyone – even sports psychologists – will deny that what happens at a different ground on a different day in a different competition has any effect on another game. But anyone who has ever taken part – even as a spectator – in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Old Firm will appreciate that there is a great deal in nerve games. It has happened too often that a triumph in one half of Glasgow will have its effect on the other. Stein certainly realised that.
As the spring came (or seemed to), Celtic moved up a gear. March 30 was a big day in the Scottish football programme, for it was Scottish Cup semi-final day. How odd it was to see neither Celtic nor Rangers involved in the Scottish Cup at this stage! But the League programme continued with Celtic and Rangers playing difficult games at Dundee United and Airdrie respectively.
The weather clerk seemed to have taken an interest in the destination of the Scottish League and the Scottish Cup. He, apparently, wanted to watch the football as well. At long last we had a good, sunny day to see Celtic at their best, as they went to Tannadice Park (not always the happiest of hunting grounds in the past) and put five past a Dundee United side which had beaten us twice last year and drawn at Parkhead in December. Once again the forward play was superb and the local Press even went as far as to say that it was the best display of attacking football seen on Tayside for many years. Dundee United Manager Jerry Kerr was compelled to agree. Indeed veteran Celtic supporters had never seen anything like it either.
Jimmy Johnstone scored a wonderful individual goal to open the scoring, and the biggest surprise of the first half was that Dundee United had survived until half-time having conceded only two goals. It was an absolutely devastating performance, and it was difficult to imagine anyone on earth living with Celtic. There was a confident jauntiness about the team with Jimmy Johnstone occasionally verging on the unstoppable, Charlie Gallagher spraying passes, Willie Wallace and Bobby Lennox interchanging at speed and John Hughes thundering down the left wing. Not for the first time, did supporters regret that awful game at Celtic Park on September 20 last year which effectively put Celtic out of the European Cup! Interestingly, immediately after the 3rd goal went in, Charlie was taken off and replaced by David Cattenach. It was as if Jock Stein decided that it was “job done” and the time was now ripe to take off the star man and keep him for future occasions.
Gallagher had indeed had a fine game in what was football at its best. He received one of the greatest compliments possible from an elderly fan who, either by a genuine mistake or what was called a Freudian slip, said “Well done, Patsy (sic) Gallagher!” It was one of the best games played by the team in this great epoch. The fans loved it, and the Press and TV reported it all with adulation and jaw-dropping astonishment. And Rangers quivered even more.
They may have quivered, but they still were winning, today getting a late lucky winner to get the better of Airdrie after a poor performance. Both Scottish Cup semi-finals were being played that day as well. Both Dunfermline v St Johnstone and Hearts v Morton ended up in 1-1 draws and were rightly slated as “dreadful” and “boring” in most newspapers. Neither game looked good on the TV highlights, and it was so frustrating to see one’s team playing so well, but, at this stage, looking still as if the Scottish League Cup, won away back in October was all that we were going to have to show for their splendid efforts.
But Celtic’s performance in Dundee did have one side-effect. The local Press now played a part. The Dundee Courier, The Evening Telegraph and even The Sunday Post naturally enough supported the two local teams, but were basically pro-Celtic. (Odd, considering that their politics were blatantly pro-Tory!) Spearheaded by Tommy Gallacher, son of the illustrious Patsy of long ago, a campaign was launched in the knowledge that Dundee United’s next two games were against Rangers – at Tannadice in a postponed game on Wednesday and then at Ibrox on the Saturday. Basically, it admitted that Celtic were good, but also told United that they would have to improve. Pressure was put on the Dundee United players, and the Wednesday game at Tannadice in particular was pointed to as a game to show their fans that they weren’t as bad as Celtic had made them seem on Saturday.
But before that, weather once again played a part. The problem about Scotland’s weather, particularly in the spring was its unpredictability. It had been pleasantly warm on Saturday but now Scotland suffered a rash of snow storms and blizzards – by no means unprecedented in late March or April – and early on Wednesday morning Aberdeen woke up to several inches of snow. Celtic were due there that night but were alerted and told not to travel. The bad weather however had not reached as far south as Dundee (or Glasgow for that matter) and Rangers’ game at Tannadice was on.
So for Charlie and indeed for all the Celtic fans, it was an anxious night waiting for the news from Tannadice. It turned out to be the night in which the first real crack in the Ibrox edifice became visible, because to the delight of their own fans and to those of Celtic, Dundee United stiffened their defence, played the boring defensive football for which they were notorious and earned themselves a goalless draw on a cold, wintry night. The contrast between Saturday and Wednesday could not have been more acute both in terms of the weather, and in the standard of football. The bad news was that Rangers had now played the same amount of games – there were now only five left – but they were a point ahead. Still, given Celtic’s far superior goal average, one more point lost by Rangers would do it, as long as Celtic didn’t lose any games.
This particular night also saw Dundee, a good team in 1968, reach the semi-final of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, and Dunfermline and Hearts reach the final of the Scottish Cup. Hearts were thus upbeat for their home game at Tynecastle on Saturday April 6 when Celtic arrived. Hearts had of course been in a fairly obvious decline for a year or two since they threw away the Scottish League in 1965, on the same day as Celtic’s win over Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup final. In fact, one often felt that April 24 1965 was the day that symbolised the reversal of roles of the two clubs, for Hearts had prior to 1965 looked like the side that would provide the most consistent challenge to Rangers, while Celtic had been the permanent disappointment, failing on key occasions to believe in themselves. Now the roles were reversed and it was changed, changed utterly.
On this day it was like old times again with a 27,000 crowd at Tynecastle. The Hearts supporters were buoyed to hysterical proportions with their win over Morton in midweek and relishing the prospect of a Hampden Cup final – something that they were not slow to remind us of. In truth it was their first Scottish Cup final for 12 years.
But Celtic played things low key, scored two good clinical goals from Johnstone (in which this tiny man outjumped the whole defence to head home) and Lennox and then kept good possession of the ball during a somewhat lethargic second half. It was in situations like this that Celtic saw the benefit of Charlie Gallagher. Whatever else he could do, he could read a game. He could tell when to slow things down and when to speed things up. He sensed on this occasion that the situation, with Celtic 2-0 up at half-time, needed only sensible possession of the ball against a team which had certainly done well on the Wednesday night but were now suffering from the emotional effects of it all. In any case, Hearts were not quite as good as their some of their more optimistic supporters felt they were.
One recalls the scene just as the players came out for the start of the second half with all eyes still glued on the half time scoreboard at the Gorgie Road end of the ground. The Gorgie Road terracing presented the amazing sight of all heads facing away from the field and the Celtic players themselves also facing the board as they waited for the referee to re-start the game. This was of course the only way in which the score at Ibrox could be conveyed, for there was no radio coverage until 4.10 pm and the BBC could not be guaranteed to give scores of games other than the one they were broadcasting.
The scoreboard operators clearly relishing the occasion put up all the other irrelevant scores ignoring the importunate cries of “It’s these bastards from Ibrox we want to hear about”, and even, for a laugh, putting up a few fake scores like 5-0 or 0-5. With both teams now back on the field, a “0” at last appeared for the home team at Ibrox, and with everyone now shouting for “3” or “4” to appear for Dundee United, another “0” was put in place. Goalless at half-time! Still, it was something!
It didn’t last, however. Celtic’s good and deserved victory was somewhat tarnished when the radio at 5.00 pm us told the grim news that Dundee United had been unable to repeat their heroics of Wednesday night and had imploded, fairly predictably and depressingly, at Ibrox (as indeed they often did). Rangers had won 4-1 with Alex Ferguson having one of his rare good days in the blue shirt of Rangers. So, four games each to play, and Rangers still one point ahead.
There was a pop song going the rounds in spring 1968 which always reminded one of Charlie Gallagher. It was called “Me The Peaceful Heart” and was sung by the Glaswegian pop star Marie Lawrie, better known as Lulu. In particular the last two line of the chorus just seemed to sum up Gallagher’s approach
“…wondering why the stormy weather
Always finds me, the peaceful heart.”
There was indeed something very calm and re-assuring about Charlie. Everything else might be exploding in frenzy round about him, with some of Charlie’s team mates guilty of losing the place now and again, but there was always the reassuring presence of Charlie, now and again seen to have a “quiet word” with some of this colleagues who were giving signs of beginning to get riled by an opponent.
There was a picture which appeared in several periodicals of Charlie with an easel doing some painting. This also typified the man. Peter Marshall describes him as “exquisite” in everything that he did. In the same way as he used exactly the right colour for his painting, he knew exactly where to place his pass, and precisely the right weight to put on it.
Midweek once again gave Celtic the temporary lead in the League. Rangers were playing in Europe on the Tuesday night, losing to Leeds United at Elland Road, so Celtic had the chance on the Wednesday to gain the initiative in their postponed game at Pittodrie. Rangers fizzling out at Leeds – they lost 0-2 – was once again, one felt, a symptom of the strain they were under because of the pressure from Celtic, but the official Celtic line was “it’s of no consequence to us” (as Jock Stein said to a supporter as he boarded the train for Aberdeen that morning – but he had a twinkle in his eye!). Everyone knew that Celtic would get a further boost from Rangers travails.
Indeed the Ibrox world was now crumbling like a cake. They now ONLY had the League to play for, having lost everything else. In the space of a few weeks, after they had run away from Celtic in the Glasgow Cup, they had exited the Scottish Cup and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Celtic were already the possessors of the League Cup, and they were now desperately hanging on to their one point advantage in the Scottish League. But Rangers problems would count for nothing if Celtic could not win at the toughest ground, other than Ibrox, on the Scottish circuit – Pittodrie.
Aberdeen, who had disappointed this season, had nothing to play for other than pride, which had of course been badly dented by their 4-1 defeat at Parkhead a few weeks ago. Celtic still had the luxury of an injury free squad, so the team once again picked itself – Simpson, Craig and Gemmell: Murdoch, McNeill and Brogan: Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace, Gallagher and Hughes – a few changes since Lisbon of a year ago, but changes for the better, it was felt. Once again we must call into question the statement apparently attributed to Stein in 1965 that he wanted to get rid of Johnstone, Gallagher and Hughes. They were not only still there, they were starring, all three of them! Indeed it was the opinion of many supporters that they were now playing better football and with more confidence than last year. And as at Tynecastle, another aspect of their play came into view – the ability to soak up pressure.
Amazingly well supported in the 25,000 crowd considering that it was a Wednesday night 150 miles away from home, (although what does “home” mean for Celtic, considering the support that they have in all parts of Scotland, including the surprising size of the pro-Celtic faction in the North East?). Celtic had what was probably their hardest game since the New Year, being indebted to Ronnie Simpson for at least three good saves from Davie Robb, one of which at least seemed net-bound. Celtic’s goal was a regulation Johnstone to Murdoch to Lennox in the 60th minute, and after that, Celtic were forced to defend, with Gallagher detailed to support the midfield and not venture too far forward. Referee Eddie Thomson’s final whistle came as a huge relief, meaning as it did that Celtic were top of the League by one point with three games to go. Rangers had four to play, but, now still coming to terms with their failures in other competitions, the pressure was intensifying.
Saturday 13 April saw the repetition of a pattern that we had seen on many Saturdays this season – a convincing Celtic win and a scratchy Rangers one, and more frustration for the Celtic crowd. At Parkhead Celtic beat Dundee – no mean opponents under Manager Bobby Ancell (himself a football purist) for they were now in the semi-final of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup – 5-2 playing sparkling football to the delight of the 41,000 crowd, whereas at Stark’s Park, Kirkcaldy, Rangers had to hold on against a tremendous late Raith Rovers onslaught to edge home 3-2 before a huge crowd which delayed the kick-off by 12 minutes. Thus the environs of Parkhead had the phenomenon of Celtic fans clustered round cars to hear how the game at Kirkcaldy was going. No-one in Kirkcaldy didn’t believe that Raith Rovers shouldn’t have had at least one penalty, but Rangers were still holding on. The full time whistle came to predictable groans and curses.
Writing in the following day’s Observer Hugh McIlvanney has no doubts about what was the main cause of Celtic’s superiority. “Most of Dundee’s difficulties stemmed from the killing accuracy of Gallagher’s passing. Gallagher’s languid air, his reluctance to become embroiled in any robust activity, masks a genuine menace. His eye for an opening is flawless and the sureness of his touch enables him to curve passes round defenders into the path of the running forward. He could release Lennox from apparently hopeless positions and when Lennox breaks, no defence is safe”.
Strong words indeed from a fine journalist who didn’t often try very hard to hide his love for the Celtic! Rangers, annoyingly, however were still that point ahead. But there are times in life when one’s faith in an all-loving deity are reinforced. Celtic who had now scored 100 goals that season were still waiting for someone to beat or even draw with Rangers in order to give the team the break and the League title that their play had so richly deserved. More and more people, not all of them of the Celtic persuasion, were beginning to say that it was time for justice to be done, and for the side that had so dramatically electrified the Scottish season since February to step up and claim the title.
Charlie Gallagher’s role in all this was crucial. In 1968, it often seemed like blasphemy if someone said that a team played in a 4-2-4 formation, the tradition of the 2-3-5 M or W set-up dying hard. 4-2-4 or 4-3-3 was seen as a sign of defensive mindedness, so beloved by the Continentals. But to a supporter, it did seem very much as if this was what Celtic were playing, and doing so with conspicuous success. The back 4 would be Craig, McNeill, Clark (or Brogan) and Gemmell, the middle 2 would be Bobby Murdoch on the right and Charlie Gallagher on the left, with Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace and Hughes in the front. Murdoch would tend to bring the ball forward himself before releasing it, whereas Charlie would beat one man and then deliver a silky, visionary pass to one of his eager front runners, the combative and talented Willie Wallace, the speedy greyhound called Bobby Lennox, and the two loose cannons in Jimmy Johnstone and John Hughes, both of whom, Johnstone in particular, capable of winning any game virtually on his own.
But of course there were two other great strengths in the team. One was the fact that, notwithstanding what the perceived team formation was, the team was fluid. Great Celtic teams in the past – the Jimmy McMenemy inspired team of 1908, and the Jimmy Delaney and Malky MacDonald team on 1938, for example, both had this in common, that they could interchange almost at will and render themselves almost impossible for the opposition to man-mark. In any case, a 4-2-4 system, the pure undiluted 4-2-4, seemed to exclude wingers. Celtic’s system emphatically did not do that. In fact Johnstone more than once asked at pre-match team meetings what was expected of him. Jock would say “You? We’ll get the ba’ tae ye and then ye can just dae whit the hell ye want!”
The other thing was the great team spirit. Everyone knew that Jimmy Johnstone was, on his day, the best in the world – the old timers even permitted him to be included in the same breath as Patsy Gallacher and Jimmy Delaney! – but he was emphatically not a prima donna, at least as far as the rest of his team were concerned! Emotionally insecure on occasion, Jimmy would sometimes go on to the field saying things like “Ye heard fit the Big Man said. Gie me the ba’!”
In this respect Charlie Gallagher was the perfect foil for him. Totally different characters, they nevertheless understood each other and fed off each other in an astonishing display of mutual symbiosos. Jimmy liked being told that he was the best in the world, he did on occasion fall out with Big Jock, he could on occasion fall out with a referee and he certainly put Walter McCrae of Kilmarnock in his place when Walter tried to bully him with the Scotland squad – but he never considered himself above his team mates or indeed the Celtic supporters. He needed his ego massaged from time to time, but Jimmy was astonishingly like “an ordinary man”, as they used to say about Jimmy Quinn.
And this could be said of them all. They all talked to supporters without ever giving the impression that they were talking down to them, they got on well together and they were all proud to be playing for the team that they loved. Some like Simpson, Gemmell and Wallace perhaps had not been born as Celtic supporters – but they were now! They may have been well paid professionals, but they were never anything other than the man on the terracing – except that they had been blessed with the ability to play football. This was certainly true of the unassuming Charlie Gallagher, now recognised by most of the support as the man who was producing the “tick” in Celtic.
So now we come to the dramatic events of Wednesday 17 April, and enter Greenock Morton, where Rangers went that fateful Wednesday. This was Rangers game in hand over Celtic, and as it happened, Morton were due at Parkhead on Saturday. Celtic on that same Wednesday were at Hampden playing Clyde in the Glasgow Cup final, the trophy of course which Rangers had scorned in early March. Ironically, now that Rangers were out of the Scottish Cup and the Inter Cities Fairs Cup, they would have had all the time in the world to play their Glasgow Cup fixtures!
Celtic had no such problems about the trophy that was actually older than the Scottish League and only a few years younger than the Scottish Cup itself. In fact, they were the holders for the past three years in 1964, 1965 and 1967 (it had not been played for in 1966 – because of fixture congestion!), and were proud to list this venerable old trophy among their 5 successes of last season! Stein paid Clyde and the Glasgow Cup the compliment of sending out his best available side.
Celtic delighted their fans with a great 8-0 victory at Hampden, in a game made remarkable at half-time by the movement of fans from one end of Hampden to another on the running track, the better to see more goals going in after the break! They were already, by half time, 7-0 up! Gallagher was substituted in the second half because the job was so obviously done and Stein wanted to give John Clark a run out in the team. Clyde supporters stood and clapped this great Celtic side, as their players simply shook their heads with that “What can we do?” look about them. Jock Stein paid tribute to Clyde for their sportsmanship and Gair Henderson in The Evening Times makes the astonishing suggestion (presumably, one hopes, as a joke) that if Celtic played continued to play like that, it might be an idea to introduce a handicapping system in football! The 8-0 victory equalled the record score in the Glasgow Cup set by Queen’s Park in 1889!
Those Celtic fans who moved from one end of Hampden to another were already buoyed up by encouraging news from Greenock, for Queen’s Park, no lovers of Rangers, were broadcasting score flashes with a certain amount of glee. Morton were 2-0 up at half-time, and shortly after the restart, both sides scored to make the score 3-1. The news was spreading around Hampden, where Celtic having done all their work and with no desire to humiliate any further their part-time opponents, most of whom were Celtic supporters in their spare time! Chants of “3-1” and “Morton” left the players in no doubt either, but there was still some time to go. Rangers scored on the hour mark through John Greig, and then fifteen minutes later, Willie Johnston headed an equalizer.
An eerie silence now descended over Hampden. Little of interest was happening on the pitch, as the game was being played out. All thoughts were with the gallant Morton defence at Cappielow, or even if they could just slip up and score another! Their two full backs were Laughlan and Sweeney – and they didn’t sound as if they were Rangers supporters, and there was also Preben Arentoft in the midfield, and he was a great player.
John Fallon, the “villain” of the New Year – it had been he who in one of his rare outings for the club who had conceded two goals to Rangers, tells the story of how he was playing in a reserve game at Parkhead against Raith Rovers that night in a virtually deserted stadium and was told the score at both other grounds by a friendly ball boy. He left the field totally unaware of what the score had been in the game in which he was playing (Celtic Reserves beat their Raith Rovers equivalents 2-1), but hit the roof with delight when he learned that Morton had held out for a draw.
The full time whistle at Cappielow came more or less at the time that the magnificent old Victorian trophy the Glasgow Cup was being presented to Celtic, and thus there was a double celebration! Two trophies had now been won this season, and Celtic were now in the lead in the Scottish League on goal average (significantly better) with two games left – Morton at home and Dunfermline away as distinct from Rangers who had to go to Kilmarnock before finishing off with Aberdeen at home.
Rangers then lost even more friends by another crazy, arrogant, superior decision – and one which cost them dear. The last games of the season would have seen Celtic at Dunfermline and Aberdeen at Ibrox. Celtic’s game could not be played on that day as Dunfermline were in the Scottish Cup final against Hearts at Hampden. Dunfermline and Hearts, Dunfermline in particular, suggested ever so nicely to Rangers that it might be an idea to bring forward or to postpone the Rangers v Aberdeen game. This would mean that the Scottish Cup final (which would be struggling to fill Hampden given the comparative lack of support for both East of Scotland teams, neither of whom had a huge fan base in the West) could have the city of Glasgow to itself. The suggestion was sound and backed up by the Press.
Rangers however seemed to resent being dictated to by someone like Dunfermline and refused to move their fixture, clearly believing that there was the possibility that they could now have had all their games completed before Celtic did, and so that Celtic would therefore have to go to Dunfermline the following midweek needing to win to capture the League. This line of thinking backfired on them spectacularly, as we shall see.
But there was more to it than that. Rangers’ attitude created the impression that Rangers were more important than the Scottish Cup final and that Rangers were, in some ways, superior. They had given that impression before, notably in 1954 when they took their players on a tour of Canada rather than let them play for Scotland in the World Cup! It was an attitude that did them no favours, and Stein, always with his ear to the ground to find ways to capture the morally higher position announced that he was taking the whole Celtic team to Hampden on April 27 to watch the Scottish Cup final. Not only that, but he suggested that the whole Celtic support should do likewise. It was an important day, he said, and everyone realised just exactly who he was getting at here. He still of course was not without his hankerings for Dunfermline, for it had been he who had created them out of virtually nothing.
But that was the following week. In the meantime Celtic now scented blood, but Morton now fancied themselves for an Old Firm double on April 20. They were given a great reception by the cheering, chanting, triumphant 51,000 Parkhead crowd for their efforts of Wednesday night, and such was the pressure on the Parkhead turnstiles that the kick-off was delayed. This would be significant in the late drama that was to come. After Willie Wallace scored early on with a brilliant flying header from a Hughes cross, Morton equalized on the stroke of half time.
Celtic had seemed a little edgy, but this was all put down to nerves, for of course it was even possible that Celtic could win the title today if they won and Rangers lost at Kilmarnock. The pitch was a little uneven and fiery, for after a very wet spell, the weather had suddenly turned dry and a few bare patches were visible. At half-time with both games level, anything could happen. On this occasion there was a radio broadcast starting at the traditional time of 4.10 (ie the last half hour) coming from Rugby Park – but everyone was aware that because of the delayed kick-off Celtic’s game would finish at least 5 minutes later than the Rangers one. However, with news coming through on the transistor radios that Rangers had scored and were edging it over Kilmarnock with about 20 minutes to go, Celtic had to get another goal to win the game.
The second half was agony as Celtic in their all green strip pressed and pressed towards the Railway End where most of the fans were crammed but could not break down Morton’s stubborn defence. The goal scoring machine was simply not working today. Minutes passed but the goal would not come. Celtic changed their formation more than once, trying Hughes on the right wing and Johnstone on the left, Gemmell surged forward repeatedly but the goal would still not come. Gallagher moved all over the forward line in an attempt to force the issue but still nothing happened. A few chances was missed, a few corners were forced, and we all, behind that Railway End goal tried to suck the ball into the net, for it began to look as if Celtic would have to settle for a draw.
We screamed and shouted, begging for penalties where there wasn’t even any contact between the players, and looked at our watches as the minutes rocketed by. The radio now gave the baleful tidings that Rangers had, in fact, beaten Kilmarnock 2-1 (we accused Kilmarnock of “collaboration”!) and unless Celtic got a goal, Rangers would be one point ahead going into the last game. The ninety minutes had now, apparently, come and gone at Parkhead. Referee Mr Paterson of Bothwell, looked at his watch ostentatiously and histrionically and the final whistle was expected when Murdoch in desperation sent a high cross into the box, Hughes made partial contact, the ball broke to Wallace who miskicked and the ball came to Lennox. The ball took a funny bounce on the hard pitch and Lennox too miskicked, but the ball hit off his shin and went into the net!
Phrases like “Parkhead erupted” did not quite cover it. Many of us were simply overwhelmed by the surging of the crowd, but the memory remains of the Morton player hanging on to the back of the net in sheer anguish and chagrin at having come so close to a famous double over the Old Firm. On the field the players went mad. Tommy Gemmell tells us he toyed with the idea of stealing a policeman’s helmet, but fortunately thought better of it. Even the phlegmatic Charlie Gallagher was jumping about hugging his team mates.
The full time whistle went immediately afterwards but amidst the bedlam no-one heard it. We just saw the players shaking hands and walking off the park, the Celtic ones doing a few jigs on the way. Celtic were back on top, ahead of Rangers on goal average, and only one game remained. No-one knew it, but Celtic were now destined to win the League without kicking another ball.
The story is told of the train back from Kilmarnock to Glasgow that afternoon. Rangers had beaten Kilmarnock and when the train left Kilmarnock, Celtic were still drawing, so Rangers supporters thought they were back in front. Now in 1968, when one was on a train, one was virtually out of touch with the outside world as there were no mobile phones or texts and even transistor radios could not pick up a good signal because of the noise of the train. So happy was the atmosphere with how great Rangers were and songs were heard about “Follow! Follow!” and references to obscure incidents in Irish history about guarding walls and grassy slopes. The train reached Glasgow Central, someone bought an Evening Citizen and the atmosphere changed to “We need to buy better players!” “White disnae hae a clue” and how Greenock Morton were in a Jesuit plot to give Celtic the League!
Next Saturday, April 27, was the date for the Scottish Cup final between Dunfermline and Hearts. Celtic of course had no game, and had urged their supporters to go to the Scottish Cup final – well they weren’t likely to go to Ibrox to see Rangers v Aberdeen, were they? – and Stein had repeatedly announced that he was organizing a bus party to take all the players. Sadly, there was loads of room at Hampden, for the crowd failed to come close to anything like its full capacity, although quite a few Celtic supporters took Jock’s advice and went along to cheer the Pars.
Gallagher thus watched the Scottish Cup final (Dunfermline won 3-1) while at the same time hearing titbits of information about the Rangers v Aberdeen game. With 30 minutes to go, Aberdeen equalized to make it 2-2. This would have been good enough news for it would have meant that a draw would then have been enough for Celtic at Dunfermline on Tuesday night. The players thus watched the Cup being presented to Dunfermline, and then an uncertain rumour began to spread that Aberdeen had scored late in the game. Communications were still not great in 1968 and the players were all sitting on their bus before Stein came in with the final score from Ibrox and told them that Celtic were the Champions, Aberdeen having scored in the 89th minute. Rangers, shell shocked by last week’s events, and now convinced that they were not going to win the League, surrendered their unbeaten record on the last day of the season, and had now lost everything. They had been comprehensively “psyched out”, even on a day when Celtic were not playing!
East End Park on Tuesday was thus a celebration for both teams. It was the Scottish League Champions v the Scottish Cup winners. The crowd was vast, too big for the ground. The game should have been all-ticket, but as it was, the overcrowding at the city end of the ground was terrifying, and the youngsters who climbed on the roof of the enclosures did so taking their lives in their hands. Some 49 supporters were injured but there was no malice in it, simply overcrowding.
It had been obvious from an early stage that there was going to be crushing. From about 6.00 pm an hour and a half from the kick-off time, the road from the Kincardine Bridge to Dunfermline had been jammed with traffic, and the town of Dunfermline itself was virtually impossible to drive in that night. Many cars and buses were parked in the Dunfermline Glen on the other side of town, as supporters then walked all the way to East End Park.
The problem had arisen when an exit gate was forced open and thousands rushed in. It was not necessarily that they grudged paying, more than they were frustrated at the long queues at the turnstiles. Not for the first time did we see a provincial ground, normally adequate for its purpose, unable to cope with a large Celtic crowd. Before the teams came out, already the packed crowd was swaying dangerously.
Twice the game was stopped in the first half by Mr Wharton to allow police and ambulance men to deal with the injured, as both Managers tried to appeal to the fans to come down off the enclosure roof. On both these occasions, Mr Wharton signalled the players to go off, but he himself, bravely, stayed in the middle with his two linesmen talking to police men. Had he gone off as well, it might have seemed to the crowd that the game was being abandoned and that might have caused more problems, but the fact that he remained indicated that he, at least, was still hoping that football could be played.
Slowly the police managed to ease the problem, decanting some spectators to the Halbeath end of the ground and allowing others to sit on the grass behind the goal. It was a mercy that, although 49 were reported injured, no-one actually lost their life, and it said a great deal for all concerned that this was the case. Both teams were cheered by both sets of supporters, Jock Stein tried to steal the Scottish Cup from George Farm when the trophy was being paraded, everyone laughed and the game itself finished 2-1 for Celtic with Lennox, inevitably perhaps, getting both goals, one early and one late. Both teams however deserve a great deal of credit for playing in such difficult circumstances. But it was a lesson in the problems created by such enthusiasm and passion for Celtic.
For Charlie Gallagher this represented his apogee. Cheered every time he touched the ball and even now and again getting a look of something like approval from Stein, who still apparently did not like him, he had now climbed football’s Olympus. He was never the most flamboyant of players in the way that Johnstone or Gemmell were, but the more perceptive of the support appreciated the part he had played in this championship, Celtic’s 23rd and the 3rd in a row. He had indeed come a long way since February – so had the team, but he had been the man who took them there. He himself would never have said so, but to many of the more thoughtful and studious of the support, 1968 was Gallagher’s championship.
There was of course more to it than that, and Charlie was embarrassed when people use the phrase “Gallagher’s championship”. Tribute must also be paid to other great members of the team, to Stein’s masterly use of psychology (never let anyone tell you that football is not played in the mind as well as on the pitch) and the role of the supporters in all this. They weakened in February, it would have to be said but rallied in March and April and played their own part in carrying the team through. No-one however, either in the support or in the Press underestimated the part played by the modest and unassuming Charlie Gallagher.
There was a brief tour of the New World in the summer. It was nothing like as successful as the longer tour of two years earlier which had done so much to build up the esprit de corps which played a large part in the European Cup triumph. Only three games were played but Charlie played a part in the goal scored by Celtic in the 1-1 draw against AC Milan in New York on May 28 when goalkeeper Belli could not hold Gallagher’s shot and Wallace netted the rebound. He then scored when Celtic beat the same opponents in Toronto a few days’ time on June 1. So Celtic returned with their reputation enhanced. The horrors of late 1967 in South America had now been forgotten about, and summer 1968 was a happy one. Gallagher was happy and looking forward to a lot more of this. He did not know that his Celtic career was virtually over.
Born in 1948, David Potter first saw Celtic at Dens Park, Dundee in March 29. It was a 3-5 defeat, which equipped him admirably for the horrors of the early 1960’s. He had “followed” Celtic for a few years before that and recalls having been called upon to impersonate Jock Stein and receive the family silver teapot which had to do for the Scottish Cup as it was presented on April 24 1954, after he and his father had spent a nerve wracking afternoon listening to the radio! Since then, he has “followed” every Celtic game with bated breath, and has written extensively about the club in magazines and books. His favorite team was that of 1969 (which he rates marginally better than 1967) and his favorite player was Henrik Larsson.
His ambition for Celtic is for them to keep on winning silver in Scotland and to be something in Europe once again. His other interests are cricket and drama. He is 70, a retired teacher of Classical Languages, married with three children and five grandchildren. He now travels on the Joseph Rafferty bus from Kirkcaldy. He also loves Forfar Athletic.
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