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13th November 1968:  Celtic v Red Star Belgrade –  European Cup  2nd Round First Leg

10th November 1968

After a very light training session at Celtic Park on the Sunday morning – more of a wind-down in reality – we all boarded the bus for the trip to Seamill, our usual haunt before a big game. I should perhaps clarify the use of that word ‘all’. Ronnie Simpson had been left behind at Parkhead in the hands of physio Bob Rooney, as the keeper had not quite recovered from the leg knock he picked up in Scotland’s World Cup qualifying match against Austria the previous week.

The Boss was on his way back from watching Red Star in action in Belgrade, so it was Sean Fallon who told the press corps – “Simpson is improving. It was quite a nasty knock and it is too early yet to say that he will definitely play.” Personally, I thought there was not a hope in hell of Ronnie making the game. He was still limping a bit and when that occurs, you are not going to make a miraculous recovery, especially in the position of goalkeeper, where bodily movement and flexibility are essential. However, I kept my thoughts to myself.

11th November 1968

Red Star’s ‘master spy’ – Tosa Zivanovic – got further mentions in the daily press and there were stories that he had given very pessimistic reports on the chances of the Red Star players stopping the runs of Jimmy Johnstone. The reports on that morning of the match against Arbroath were very complimentary about Jinky’s performance and the heading would have given every Celtic fan a boost-

Wee Jinky Ready for Big Night

There was only some light training for all of us down at Seamill and it was mostly done on the lawn between the Hydro itself and the wall separating it from the beach. Some loosening up work, some short sprints and a bit of ball work; that was it and we moved indoors to make use of the baths and pool. It could be a tough life! And we got fed as well!

12th November 1968

The usual start to a day at Seamill. An early call (except on the day of a game), dressed, downstairs to meet at the front door, then, led by Neilly Mochan, we headed along the main road towards Largs before cutting down a lane at the far end of the golf course to the beach and back along the strand to the hotel. It certainly got the lungs going and if there was a wind blowing – which was normally the case – it helped to re-arrange the hair styles as well!

From then on, it was breakfast, then another walk, an afternoon siesta, a short stint in the baths and dinner was followed by the moment we had all been waiting for – the announcement of the team. We had been joined by Ronnie after lunch as it had been decided that his leg was definitely getting better. That was what he were told anyway. What Ronnie thought I never found out, as he was keeping shtum. It was great to see the old guy back with us but when I saw him favouring one leg over the other – ever so slightly, mind you – I realised that my original diagnosis was spot on. He had ‘nae chance’ of playing.

The Boss was in one of his crafty moods at the team talk. Instead of naming the team outright, he used the numbers when discussing the play, so instead of Simpson, Craig and Gemmell, it was numbers 1, 2 and 3. That way he could keep his chosen ones to himself till nearer the game, which keeps everyone on edge and does away with the chance that someone not included might have a strop and upset the mood. The Red Star party had travelled from Belgrade the day before and had spent the morning and afternoon resting. They trained at Celtic Park in the evening, timing their session to coincide with the kick-off time of 8pm.

Hibs would also be in action on the Tuesday night, against Lokomotiv Leipzig at Easter Road in the Fairs Cities Cup, with a certain Joe McBride wearing the number 9 shirt in the green-and-white strip; while Rangers had a trip to Dundalk for their match in the Fairs Cities Cup due to be played on the Wednesday.

Back down at Seamill, as I was coming out the lounge where Jock Stein had given the pre-match talk, John Clark suddenly appeared alongside me. “Cairney, I was flicking through this book on European football last night and this guy Djazic that you will be up against tomorrow is apparently one of the world’s best wingers………Do you fancy a coke or something?” And with that we headed for the coffee shop. Just as well I didn’t get too worked up before a big match, eh!

The Day of the Match 13th November 1968

A later start to the proceedings on a match day. Breakfast was followed by a walk round the grounds, then a light workout on the lawn before we headed in for lunch. That was followed by the usual siesta, by which time I was beginning to feel a little uneasy about the game, not just this one but any one. And matters were not helped by the fact that Tam Gemmell just hit the pillow and went straight off to sleep! I hesitate to say that he was snoring loudly? Let’s just say that he was usually breathing very deeply ….and noisily!

Those picking up an evening paper that night would have noticed an interesting comment from Jock Stein –“The whole squad will appear on the field a full 20 minutes before the start and put in a short training burst. On the field will be Simpson to see how he stands up to a barrage of shots from the Celtic forwards.

Only after the players have been recalled to the dressing-room will I make the important decision about the team”.

In the late afternoon, we had the re-match meal and then boarded the bus for the trip back up to Parkhead. I always enjoyed these journeys; there was always a ‘buzz’ on the bus. As we approached the city, there were some supporters lining the streets and making their way to the ground and, especially on a big occasion like that night, we would be met by a police motor-cycle escort once inside the city boundary which steered us safely – and quickly – all the way to Celtic Park. Once there, the size of the crowd was amazing and you began to wonder how they could all be fitted inside the ground?

However, our job was to keep an eye on the game, so, in order to fulfil the scenario laid out in the papers that night, we got into our strips pretty quickly and made our way out to give Ronnie a test. And, as I had thought for the previous two days – please forgive my gloating – he failed to convince the Boss that he ready and as we went back inside, it was John Fallon who was in the number one position.

The Teams

Celtic

Fallon
Craig, Gemmell
Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan
Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Lennox, Hughes.

Red Star

Djurkovic
Djoric, Krivocuka
Pavlovic, Dojcinovski, Klenkovski
Antonijevic, Ostojic, Lazervic, Acimovic, Dzajic.

The Play

This was a game of two halves. The first half was a very competitive affair, with Celtic, naturally, as the home team, putting on most of the pressure but the Yugoslavs often showing that they had the talent to threaten. We got off to the perfect start through Bobby Murdoch in the 3rd minute, which gives any team a real boost and it certainly helped our cause that night.

From then on, though, although we had most of the play, we did not make too many chances and when centre-forward Lazervic equalised six minutes before the break, the huge crowd was not slow in telling us that our play was not to their liking.

The Boss was not a happy man at the interval but he said what he wanted to say briefly and straightaway and then allowed us to collect our own thoughts and deal with any knocks and so on. Something else seemed to have happened in the dressing room, though, a discussion which was to play a most important role in the events of the second half but …. and I must stress this ‘but’ ….. only one player and the Boss were involved in whatever went on. The rest of us only found out after the match.

We started the second half in determined mood and suddenly we could all feel a difference in our play. The quick, sweet-moving style returned and the Red Star players were suddenly under the cosh. Even better, the fine play was being rewarded with goals – four them, from Jinky (47), Lemon (50), Wispy (75) and Jinky again (81) – and at the final whistle, the score was Celtic 5 Red Star Belgrade 1, a wonderful result to take to Yugoslavia for the second leg.

The crowd gave us a great reception at the end and it was one of those nights when the hordes do not want you to leave the pitch and the players are equally reluctant to do so. There was also little doubt that Jinky had been the star attraction and he received enormous praise for his endeavours. Unfortunately, though, we eventually had to leave the field although, once back in the dressing-room, the celebrations continued, with other players, back-room staff and directors pushing their way in to join in the fun.

However, there was one player showing an aspect of behaviour that no one could understand. Wee Jimmy was running up and down the dressing-room, weaving in and around the folk standing there, shouting “I’m no goin’; I’m no goin” at the top of his voice.

Only later did the story break. Apparently, the Boss had taken Jimmy aside (that ‘discussion’ I mentioned above) and told him that if we got ourselves a good lead in the first match, he would not have to fly to Belgrade for the return leg. For someone with Jimmy’s fear – if not terror – of flying, that was a challenge that he could not refuse and he went out determined to show what he could do. And he did it! A performance that would only be bettered by his showing in the 7-1 match against Dundee United at Parkhead a year later.

It was a wonderful – and privileged – night to be a Celtic player and as we left the ground, there were still hundreds of spectators milling around, savouring the atmosphere and revelling in the score. Oh! and how did the world’s best outside-left mentioned by John Clark, Mr Dazjic, do on the night? Well, as his immediate opponent, I hesitate to say that I had him in my pocket but just let’s say that he did not get much chance to show what he could do!