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19th February 1969: A.C. Milan v Celtic – European Cup QF


13th February 1969

After a 0-0 draw against Clyde in the Scottish Cup, all of us might have thought that we would receive a bit of criticism in the press but, in actual fact, the opposite was the case. We were actually praised for our play on what was admittedly a very frosty and rutted pitch at Shawfield against a side which had set out its stall to defend with as many players as possible. The one thing we did not do was put the ball in the net and that would mean a replay back at Parkhead in ten days time.

The press also mentioned that Ronnie had been taken to hospital for a check on his damaged shoulder and apparently it had already been decided by the management that he would not be travelling to Italy. Instead, it would be –

Fallon and Wraith Go to Milan with Celtic

The other headline which caught the eye concerned the weather and it was not hopeful-

    It’s Chaos Ahead

One of the evening papers then gave a resume of the conditions at the grounds on which the weekend matches would be played and to be blunt, it was not optimistic –

Aberdeen v Rangers – Very Doubtful                      
Partick Thistle v St Johnstone – Bad
Hearts v Dundee – Hard with slight snow              
Falkirk v Clyde – Hard but level
Arbroath v Dunfermline – hard but playable        
Celtic v Morton – Doubtful
Raith Rovers v Kilmarnock – Pitch hard 50/50      
Dundee Utd v Hibs – Sheet of ice…no chance

14th February 1969

While all this was inspection was going on round the country – and also on our own pitch -we were just training as usual, sometimes at Barrowfield, other times on the track at Celtic Park. It was really a case of choosing what would be the better surface to use. And while the headline suggested that one of our guys might be fit again –

  Hughes Ready for Comeback 

-probably the more important headline – in the form of a question – came slightly further down the back page –

A Blank Saturday?

There was also some news from Italy –

  Milan Won’t Take Any Risks

‘A.C. Milan will play 4-3-3 but if they get what they want – a two-goal lead – then they will switch to 4-4-2’.

When we had a look at the pitch at Celtic Park, we were in no doubt that the match against Morton would be off. The initial pitch inspection was on the Friday afternoon and we all waited behind after training to see what the referee would say. After a brief look, there seemed to no doubt in his mind that the pitch was unplayable and he declared the game off. We were all in agreement that he had made the right decision but the Boss rather brought us down to earth when he told us to report on the Saturday morning for – as he called it – a ‘little loosener’.

15th February 1969

The ‘little loosener’ turned out to be a little more than that but we all coped with it and then left for home.

Only three matches in the First Division went ahead that afternoon –

Arbroath  0   Dunfermline  1       
Falkirk 3  Clyde 1              
St Mirren 1  Airdrie  2

16th February 1969

Back in again, as we were due to leave for Milan on the following day. Another of the Boss’s ‘little looseners’, this one taking place on a hard and pretty slippy track. However, everyone seemed to come through the session fairly easily and the chat was good and full of expectation/

17th February 1969

A squad of 18 players – no Ronnie – reported to Celtic Park and we caught the coach to Prestwick Airport for the flight to Milan. As usual, you could always tell who the nervous fliers were as they chattered away like budgies but in truth, we were all excited at the prospect of a quarter-final tie and a match against the ‘other’ Milan club. And even the Bos seemed to have been affected by the atmosphere, having been quite voluble in his comments to the press –

Morale Sky High – Stein                                                  
80,000 Will See Celtic

‘We will be ready for a strong challenge by Milan but are confident that we can cope with their attacks. The team will be announced tomorrow and I am confident that all the players are fit and ready for the challenge’.

Our base in Italy, a hotel on what seemed like a mountain top in Varese, some 30-plus miles from Milan, was reached by a whole series of hairpin bends. The Boss was always very keen to see our opponent’s ground at the time of the match but there was snow lying everywhere so the journey to the ground that evening for a light workout was cancelled.

Back in Glasgow, the Rangers v Hearts Scottish Cup tie, due to be played at Ibrox that night, was cancelled.

18th February 1969

The Boss had been speaking to the Scottish journalists the day before and his comments were all over the both the morning and evening dailies, with headings like –

 No ‘Curtain’ For Celts                             

Jock Stein Will Use Attackers to Full Extent

The Boss mentioned Fallon in goal, Johnstone at outside-right, Hughes at outside-left and Wallace somewhere in the forward line. This was to dispel any injury rumours.

Just before lunch-time, we travelled by coach down the hair-pin bends to the ground of the local team Varese FC and there put in a session, watched by fans and pressmen. The sky was bright and blue, the sun was shining but my word, it was cold! However, it was a change from the dampness of the West of Scotland.

In the evening, the Boss took over one of the meeting rooms in the hotel and discussed everything about the game. Moments like that certainly concentrate the mind.

Back in Scotland, some 500 supporters were making their way to the airport for the trip to Milan.

The Day of the Match 19th February 1969

Morning

Varese had been hit by a blizzard and the news was that Milan has also been affected. We learnt later that 8 inches had fallen in 5-and-a-half hours. The match was in no danger, though, as the San Siro pitch was covered by a plastic sheeting and apparently an army of 200 workmen would be on hand to clear the snow off it. We were assured that underneath the plastic, the pitch was in good condition. The guys just lounged round the hotel and then went in to the restaurant for a light lunch.

Afternoon

Back to bed for the usual siesta and that was followed by the pre-match meal. The excitement began to gather at that point and would continue right up to the match. When I looked out the window to check the weather, though, I did notice something that made me think. The two bus drivers with the coach were fitting chains to the tyres, presumably to give the coach a better grip on the way down the hairpin bends. Suddenly, the fact that the hotel was a bit isolated seemed to have some disadvantages.

Pre-Match

The journey to Milan was uneventful and when we arrived at the San Siro and came off the coach, we were grateful for the noise being generated by our handful of fans. They might have been vastly out-numbered but they were putting in a fine shift and we suddenly felt very grateful to them for their support. It just makes you determined to give them something to cheer about.

The Teams

A.C. Milan
Cudicini,
Anquiletti, Schnellinger
Rosato, Trapattoni, Malatresi
Hamrin, Lodetti, Prati, Rivera, Sormani.

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

The Play

The San Siro was very impressive but we were completely unprepared for the blizzard raging round the stadium and a pitch that would have been deemed as unsuitable for a juvenile match far less a European Cup quarter-final.

As the match got underway, the driving snow was beginning to cover the lines on the pitch – these had been cleared before the start – and occasionally the ground staff would wipe them again to make them visible. It was no site for such an important match and, as you might imagine, it did little to allow sweet, flowing football to be the order of the evening. Even worse, there were explosions occasionally erupting in the stands and the Milan fans making up most of the crowd of 72,402 roared themselves hoarse in urging their side on. It might have been frightening and off-putting to many a side but after our experiences in South America, what we had to cope with that night was child’s play!

There was not a great deal of football played but we stuck to our task of maintaining a clean sheet and fought all the way. It would be true to say, though, that A.C. made the two best chances. In the 47th minute, centre-forward Angelo Sormani found himself clear in front of goal but only managed to head the ball against a post; while, two minutes from time, Gianni Rivera took too long to shoot when some ten yards out and the ball was cleared.

Towards the end, we seemed to have put a halt to A.C. Milan’s drive and made some openings  ourselves but overall it was a case of excitement winning over quality football.

 Final Score A.C. Milan  0  Celtic  0

Before the match, both managers had said that the winner of this tie would go on to win the trophy and Jock Stein commented after the match – “This is highly satisfactory. But I would liked to have won”.