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5th October 1968:  Celtic v Dundee United – League

3rd October 1968

The headlines after the St Etienne match were both lavish and complimentary –

This Was Celtic’s Finest Effort 

Celtic Overcome Deficit with Emphatic Win

The Super Celts Find That Magic Touch

Irresistible Celts – French

One well-known reporter with one of the evening papers summed the occasion up both neatly and precisely –

‘I have seen Celtic play more polished football. I have seen them when their teamwork was infinitely better but never have I seen them play with more fire in their stomachs or give so much effort in so short a space of time’.

Apparently, at the press conference after the match, Jock Stein had singled out Stevie Chalmers and Joe McBride for their chasing and covering. That same reporter mentioned above, though, had another take on the proceedings –

‘MY award for special merit went to Jim Craig, who scored the goal that changed the entire tie and Ronnie Simpson, who made a superb save from Keita in the last fateful 15 minutes’.

All of this coverage was great to read for the players but we were also brought down to earth on the Thursday morning with a fairly concentrated session involving some short, sharp stuff and some shooting practice. And I have never seen such a crowd outside the ground. Normally, just a few dedicated souls were present but on that particular day there were hundreds giving us a great reception. It was magic!

The two Manchester clubs had played the previous evening, also in the European Cup. Manchester City had been knocked out of the tournament by Fenerbahce while Manchester United thrashed Waterford 7-1, with Denis Law scoring four.

Later that Thursday, the draw was made at UEFA headquarters for the next round of the European Cup and the name of Red Star Belgrade was paired with Celtic, the first leg of the tie being played in Glasgow.

4th October 1968

The usual ‘day-before-the-match’ routine, short and sharp, and we were out of the ground well before 12 noon. A squad had been announced for the match against Dundee United but an actual team list would come nearer kick-off. I noticed that the Boss had spoken to the evening press and there was a quote from him that night –

“Everything hangs on the Lennox fitness. He was kicking the ball quite well today – but we will have to wait till tomorrow to see if there is any reaction”.

Day of the Match  5th October 1968

This match obviously came into the ‘expected to be won’ category as there was no lunch provided. As there was no reserve match that afternoon, either, quite a large squad had been told to report and, as might have been expected after the result in midweek, the atmosphere outside was jubilant and inside the pavilion was pretty good too. However, the Boss soon called us into the dressing-room, read out the team, told those players mentioned to start getting ready and ushered those not involved out into the foyer. I felt a lot of sympathy with them….it can be a tough game sometimes!

The good humour continued right through the build-up to the match, with masseur Jim Steel in particularly special form, entertaining us with his humour and bonhomie. But then the Boss called for some quiet and brought us down to earth with a bump, pointing out that a tough afternoon lay ahead against the Tangerines, who, at that point, were three points ahead of us in the league table. It was a salutary reminder of the circumstances…and his timing was spot-on.

The Teams

Celtic

Simpson
Craig, Gemmell
Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan
Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, McBride, Hughes.
Sub: Connelly

Dundee Utd

Mackay
Rolland, Cameron
Gillespie, Smith, Wood
Hogg, Reid, K Cameron, Mitchell, Wilson.
Sub: Millar

The Play

So, Bobby Lennox had failed the fitness test again and in actual fact, was rather missed, as it would be fair to say that the forwards on that afternoon at Celtic Park – with 46,000 watching – were all slightly off the pace.

It would also be true to say that we controlled the play but that came right from the back and continued into midfield. Up front, things were going astray and at the break, the match was still goalless. To say the Boss was not pleased at the break was putting it mildly. The defence got some credit for keeping United out but numbers 7 to 11 – with the exception of Wispy, who was in a midfield role – were the subject of his ire and it was a pretty tense dressing-room, as he did not miss his targets.

So, it was a quite deflated bunch of guys who came down the tunnel for the second half, determined to do better. And things did improve almost immediately –

48 minutes
Wispy slid a pass sideways just about the penalty spot and Bobby Murdoch slammed the ball home.  1-0  Celtic

Losing a goal rather pushed United into being more forward-thinking but our defence that afternoon was completely in charge and even a regular opponent of mine, Davie Wilson  – a fine player firstly with Rangers and then the Tangerines – admitted afterwards that they had not troubled us very much. However, our forwards were still being fairly profligate and with 14 minutes left, the Boss decided on a substitution –

76 minutes
it had been fairly obvious to everyone watching that Wee Jimmy was right off his game. Even worse, little he tried came off and, as one of the reports commented

he gave the impression that he was not of a mind to try much’.

So, it came as no surprise when the board to denote that a substitution was about to be made showed the number 7 on it and although we all thought that he was surprised, he eventually made his way towards the tunnel. He was obviously feeling slightly miffed, though, at best; at worst, he was very angry and as he passed the bench with the Boss and his coaching team on it, words were passed between the player and manager and then Jinky seemed to take off his shirt as he left the ground. What happened after that could not be seen from the pitch, although suddenly the manager was no longer on the bench.

The crowd was watching all this with anticipation. The players found it hard to concentrate on what we were supposed to be doing but tied our best to do so and almost immediately got another reward –

81 minutes
.a peach of a strike from 20 yards by Tam Gemmell gave keeper Mackay no chance.

Final Score  Celtic  2  Dundee United  0

When the match was over and we made our way to the dressing-room, it was not a happy place. Wee Jimmy was sitting there – fully dressed – and he apparently been told that there would be an immediate Board meeting to discuss the events of the afternoon. That meeting was still going on as I left the ground for home, so I did not find out till later that Jimmy had been suspended for seven days ‘because of his behaviour at the end of the match’.

It was an expensive lack of judgement on Jimmy’s behalf. Not only would he miss the forthcoming League Cup semi-final against Clyde on the following Wednesday, he would also be out of the next league match against Hearts and was also withdrawn from Scotland’s World Cup training party at Hampden on Monday 7th October.

Other Results

Aberdeen 1 2 Hearts
Arbroath 1 2 Kilmarnock
Dundee 2 3 Clyde
Dunfermline 3 1 St. Johnstone
Hibs 5 1 Airdrie
Morton 3 3 Partick Thistle
Rangers 2 1 Falkirk
St. Mirren 2 2 Raith Rovers

Table

Team P W D L F A GAv Pts
1 Dundee United 5 4 0 1 12 6 2.00 8
2 Rangers 5 3 2 0 12 7 1.71 8
3 Celtic 5 3 1 1 10 6 1.67 7