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Pre-Season 1968-69

It was an interesting summer. Initially, while the playing party was in North America, I did the occasional training session in Bellahouston Park, just along from my parents’ house. It was quiet and I could get on with my work without any outside interference.

I did occasionally drop into Celtic Park but found that I was being asked to join in ‘activities’ when I really wanted to take things at my own pace, so eventually did all my running and calisthenics in Bellahouston. Then it was time for a break and what a special holiday it turned out to be. My fiancée and I – now my wife Elisabeth – drove all the way from Glasgow to Rome in a Vauxhall Ventura I had recently bought. It is not the sort of journey that I would take on nowadays at my advanced age but when you are in your mid-20s, then everything is possible and we both thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And I made sure that I did at least a light work-out every day.

Unfortunately, much as I enjoyed the trip and the sunshine, I could sense that not all things were working well in the Craig body. My fitness was definitely improving but not as much or as quickly as I would have expected and I was getting quite worried about it.

Then, I had a stroke of good fortune. My Mum had an appointment with her doctor, a rare occurrence, as Mum usually would have to feel pretty bad before admitting to a problem. Anyway, I drove her to the surgery and sat in the waiting-room while she saw the GP. Then she came out and, much to my surprise, said that the doctor, a lady, wanted to see me too.

When I went into the surgery, I found that Mum had told her about all my recent medical problems, from the nausea after the South American fiasco to the damage to my lower leg from the tackle after the New Year. I was initially quite annoyed that Mum had told her but I quickly found that the doctor was very au fait with problems like those, particularly my body’s reaction to the virus which I must have picked up in Argentina. She was very helpful with her comments and even parried one of two of my digs at the treatment I had received.

When I mentioned, for instance, that Dr Fitzsimmons, our club doctor, had never seemed too sympathetic about either my nausea or the pain from the leg, she pointed out the blindingly obvious, although I had not thought of it at the time. I can still hear her words today – “well, both of those conditions are not life-threatening, so I might not have given you a great deal of sympathy either. I would have been pushing you to work hard at getting fit again. And don’t forget, the club doctor is under pressure from the club management to have all the players fit. That’s why sympathy is at a premium!”.

I came out of the surgery feeling quite embarrassed……but also very determined!

 

15th July 1968

The players all reported back for training. A comment from one of the evening dailies set the scene –

‘One-by-one, high powered cars pulled up outside Parkhead and out came the Celtic stars to be told by manager Jock Stein that only superb fitness would be good enough to meet the demands of what promises to be one of the toughest seasons in Celtic’s history’.

The papers were happy enough to print comments like that to set the scene. Fortunately, there were no reporters present to cover the hard work and most uncomfortably, the sweat.

 

16th July 1968

We go through it all again; and I noticed in the evening press that the players of both Rangers and Kilmarnock returned today for their pre-season training, with Ibrox boss Davie White adamant that his boys would be working hard both morning and afternoon.

There was an interesting story about an Anglo-Scot in the press –

’30-year-old ex- Hearts and Everton centre-forward Alex Young has been transferred to New York Generals in the North American Football League. The fee is reputed to be 30,000 dollars (£12,500)’.

 

17th July 1968

Need I say more. Hard work all the way and double sessions, too.

That was an area that always fascinated me. The management would order you to report for sessions in the morning and afternoon yet never make any provision for some food at lunchtime. Some of the guys – like myself – brought in a few sandwiches and then you had to rely on the cleaning ladies to let us use their kitchen to make a cup of tea; others went out and found a café in the surrounding area.

Partick Thistle started their pre-season training today, with one watching reporter making the comment – ‘there was no sign of any footballs but plenty of medicine balls’.

 

18th July 

‘Stein Grills Celts’

    ‘Competition is so fierce that only the FITTEST and not

      just the fit will be considered for a place in the team’.

 

19th July

As training continued both morning and afternoon, during the occasional break this particular story was much discussed by the players –

‘Manchester United Boss Matt Busby is in bed with a bout of food poisoning. He had been in South America to watch his team’s World Club

Championship opponents Estudiantes of Argentina’.

Nice to know that I was not the only one to have some problems in South America.

 

20th July

A Saturday. Did we get a day off? No, we did not, although we only did the one session in the morning and naturally, that turned out to be the toughest we had undergone up to that point. Talking point for the guys was a story about an ex-Celt in the press –

‘Jim Kennedy, the former Celtic full-back freed by Morton at the end of the season, was back at Celtic Park yesterday. He trained with the full staff and manager Jock Stein said “he will be coming to Parkhead soon in some capacity. We will be making an announcement within a few days’.

 

21st July

At last, a break from training and I had an easy day, although I received the usual attention after Mass, with many parishioners keen to know all about the goings-on behind the scenes at Celtic Park. To be perfectly honest, I was not sure myself what was happening, far less tell anyone else. Sometimes, the players found out more from the press than the other way round. Still, it was nice to know that people were interested in the club and the players.