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2nd October 1968:  Celtic v St Etienne – European Cup 1st Round Second Leg

30th September 1968

We all reported early that morning to Celtic Park and boarded the coach which would take us to Seamill, our haven before major matches. When I say ‘all’, I am exaggerating matters; there were three players left behind. Two – Ronnie Simpson and Bobby Lennox – for treatment and also Bobby Murdoch, one of whose children was not well.

Once down at Seamill, we were allocated rooms and then reported for training, which involved some pretty physical stuff on the sandy beach then some sprints and shooting practice on the lawn in front of the Hydro. Then it was into the dining-room for a splendid lunch before the players were spoiled even more with a session in the pool and baths, the salt-water versions being particularly popular.

As usual, the press came along to see what was going on and thanks to them, we got to see the early editions of the evening papers, with two headlines in particular catching the eye. The first was about both halves of the Glasgow divide –

It Gets Rougher and Tougher!

‘Celtic and Rangers are finding the challenge to their supremacy becoming harder and harder to beat off. Not only harder – but rougher and tougher.

As the ‘Old Firm’ fight to stay at the top the players are having to take more and more knocks – and keep on fighting. At Dunfermline 10 days ago, the man and not the ball seemed to be the target when Celtic had to fight for a 1-1 draw. Action was even more daring at Tynecastle on Saturday when only an Andy Penman goal scored three minutes from time saved Rangers from another 1-0 defeat by Hearts’.

Another headline topped a story about Celtic –

Celtic are Right Off the Goal Standard!

‘This was underlined at Celtic Park where Aberdeen departed the scene firmly convinced they had been robbed of a point in Celtic’s 2-1 win’.

Later in the article, the reporter came up with two very valid points, the first about Celtic’s second half performance –

‘Celtic swarmed into all-out attack, made no end of chances – and wasted them all’.

The reporter also gave praise where it was due, not only to the visitors but also one of their players –

‘Before the Lennox winner Aberdeen had played splendid football with inside-forward Jimmy Smith – the man that Celtic money could not buy – a truly brilliant performer’.

 

He was too!

But if we thought that the evening would be spent merely lounging round the Hydro, we were in for a surprise. After an early dinner, we were told to get ready for another trip on the coach and ended up at Cappielow, where Morton – five down from the first leg – would be facing Chelsea in the second leg of their Fairs Cities Cup tie.

Unfortunately, Morton lost 3-4, making it 3-9 on aggregate.

1st October 1968

The usual Seamill day. A walk along the beach before breakfast, a work-out on the lawn before lunch and the baths in the afternoon. Sometimes in the evening, we might go to the cinema but that night, the Boss decided to have a discussion about the match, where we had gone wrong in the first leg and what he was expecting of us in the second. The actual eleven players to be involved were not given out and he merely discussed the tactics in general terms. However, we were all realists and knew that – as we were 0-2 down – attack would be the order of the day. The difficult aspect of tactics like that, though, is that there is a very serious balancing act to be undertaken. An attacking ploy obviously put more players into an offensive position. Unfortunately, it also reduces the numbers in defence. Juggling both of those aspects of play is one of the hardest things to do in football. And we would have to attempt it the following evening!

The papers that evening were in no doubt as to what would happen at Parkhead –

‘You can expect the same tactics as Celtic employed when they won the European Cup in Lisbon. All-out attack from the forwards plus help from the full-backs Craig and Gemmell’.

At least they had me playing!

The Day of the Match  2nd October 1968

The morning papers had a most eye-catching headline –

Stein Keeps them Guessing

The article went on to say that the Boss had an injury concern about one of the two players who had been receiving treatment for injury. Was it Simpson or Lennox? The Boss gave nothing away and explained why

“I have absolutely nothing to say. I have no intention of giving St Etienne the slightest clue on the problem. If I named the player, the French would almost certainly make him a marked man early in the game’.

Frankly, we were not too sure either and as both players were being treated at Parkhead, there was no chance of finding out. Our day was the usual, a light loosener in the morning, lunch, a few hours in bed, the pre-match meal then the coach trip back up to Celtic Park, where even we were surprised by the size of the crowd that was gathering.

The Teams

Celtic

Simpson
Craig, Gemmell
Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan
Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, McBride, Hughes.
Subs: Fallon, Clark, O’Neill, Connelly, Lennox.

St Etienne

Camus
Durkovic Camerini
Mitoraj, Bosquier, Herbin
Fefeu, Jacquet, Revelli, Keita, Bereta.
Subs: Migeon, Peletier, Polny, N’Dombe, Farnison.

 

The Play

So, the problem was solved. The player in doubt was Bobby Lennox and as he had been in great form in recent weeks, the injury must have been severe enough for the Boss just to have bit of doubt about him starting. Putting him on the bench gave the message that he was almost 100% but perhaps not quite. Anyway, the guys were all sympathetic and went out of their way to offer comfort.

Unfortunately for Bobby, what a match to miss out on. This was undoubtedly one of the best performances by Celtic during my time at the club and it was undertaken in an all-white strip, which was a first for me at any rate. Right from the first whistle, we were in control, pushed the French champions back well into their own half and, urged on by the noise of the 75,000 crowd, battered the St Etienne defence. However, while we had the possession, we lacked a bit of precision with the final pass. When the breakthrough came, it arrived in the penultimate minute of the first half –

44 minutes
Joe McBride was manhandled by Camerini and the referee – a Czech – awarded a penalty. To say the decision was not received well by the French side is an under-statement. They protested vehemently, continued their protests as Tam Gemmell lined up to take the take and even threw some shin-guards at him to put him off. Tam took it all in his stride and fairly blasted the ball into the net.  1-0 Celtic

The Boss was amazingly calm at the break and made some good points. I think that they hit the mark as we went out and took over complete control of the play. The chances came….and we took them!

60 minutes
I broke forward down the right and from the edge of the box, slammed the ball high and hard past keeper Camus. 2-0 Celtic

67 Minutes
wonderful run by Jinky, during which he terrorised some French defenders, then a pass to Stevie, who merely had to tap the ball home. 3-0 Celtic

87 minutes
the icing on the cake came from Joe, with a typical opportunistic effort.

Final Score  Celtic 4  St Etienne 0     Aggregate 4-2

When the final whistle blew, the players went ballistic, hugging each other and going to the crowd to soak up the acclaim. And boy, did they give us some reception! Once inside the dressing room, the celebrations continued, the champagne being passed round for everyone to have a sip, whether they were directors, other members of the playing pool or some of the staff inside Celtic Park! It was an amazing scene.

It was also a very important win for the players. The previous year, in the same competition, we had lost a lot of prestige – and I suppose, sympathy – when we went out of the European Cup in the first round. To repeat that feat would have been a real disaster and looking back now, we probably should have been given some credit for over-turning the 0-2 deficit of the first leg into an overall 4-2 win.

No doubt the Boss was also pleased but he brought the celebrations to a close with a sharp reminder –“that’ll do, guys, now get off home….and remember, we’ll be training in the morning…we have Dundee United here on Saturday”.

Other Results

The other Scottish teams involved in Europe also had good results –

Rangers 0 Vojvodina 1 (A)     Aggregate 2-1

Aberdeen 2 Slavia Sofia 0 (H)   Aggregate 2-0

Dunfermline 2  Apoel 0 (A)   Aggregate 12-1

Hibs 2  Lublijana  1 (H)  Aggregate 5-1