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21st April 1969:  Kilmarnock v Celtic – League

20th April 1969

We were in on the Sunday for some training and there was just the vaguest hint from those in charge that they had not been too pleased with the performances against both Rangers in the Glasgow Cup and Airdrie in the League. You will all have through similar situations, when the guys at the top do not issue any direct criticism but there are hints that such-and-such was not too good or that we could perhaps have done some aspect of our play a bit better. At a time like that, you are better just keeping your mouth shut and not draw attention to yourself; and by that time, we were all experienced enough to know what to do.

Anyway, apart from the atmosphere, the training went well although only a squad was announced for the journey to Kilmarnock the following day.

21st April 1969

An evening kick-off, so we reported around 5pm and boarded the coach for the trip down to Ayrshire. The mood was good but we were also aware of the fact that we would have a hard match against Killie, who were lying in 5th place in the table, only five points behind us. Still, it was a fine surface down at Rugby Park, ideal for playing football and we were all looking forward to the match.

Not much had been said to us about the game but the Boss had obviously spoken to the press and he got a big headline in one of the evening editions –

Celts In and Out of Luck!

‘If there is any rain before the kick-off at Rugby Park tonight, John Hughes will definitely make his comeback for Celtic against Kilmarnock, so that he can be match fit for the Scottish Cup final against Rangers on Saturday.

If the pitch is hard and fiery, the manager will not risk Hughes – but he will play against Raith Rovers in the Reserve League game on Wednesday’.

Jock Stein said –“We eased up far too much against Airdrie after we got a goal in front. We played well in the first half but it was only when we were 2-1 down that we started to get right into the game again. I will certainly be making two or three changes tonight to get the zip back into the team’.

The Teams

Kilmarnock
McLaughlin
King, Dickson
Evans, McGrory, Beattie
T McLean, Queen, Morrison, J McLean, McIlroy.  

Celtic
Fallon
Craig, Gemmell
Murdoch, McNeill, Clark
Johnstone, Callaghan, Wallace, Chalmers, Hood.  
Sub: Lennox

The Play

Kilmarnock won the toss and chose to play with the gale-force wind behind them in the first half. It was not long before they took advantage of the elements –

9 minutes…..after Tam Gemmell failed to clear his lines, Tommy McLean crossed a nice ball into the middle and Morrison headed home.  1-0 Kilmarnock

We kept plugging away but the wind was having a real effect on the play and before the break, Killie once again took advantage –

31 minutes……King and McIlroy exchanged passes before giving Queen the chance to increase the Ayrshire team’s lead.   2-0 Kilmarnock

At the break, the Boss was unflappable, giving us some praise for our efforts but insisting that we would find things much easier in the second half, with the wind behind us. Whether he believed it or not, that sort of calm prediction was always good for our morale and it was an even more determined side which went down the tunnel for the second period. And, just as the Boss predicted, we did control the play for the most part, although it took us some time to get a goal –

63 minutes……high ball by Chopper into the box and an under-pressure Frank Beattie deflected the ball past his own keeper. 2-1 Kilmarnock

While we continued to assumed control and drove forward, we did occasionally leave ourselves open at the back and Tommy McLean had two great opportunities which thankfully he squandered.

Time was not on our side, though, and we could hear the frustration of our support. Then came a moment of sheer joy, described neatly in one of the following day’s dailies –

‘One shot after another cannoned off the Kilmarnock defenders before Gemmell got his foot to the ball and hammered it past McLaughlin for the all-important point’.

Final Score    Kilmarnock 2  Celtic  2

The celebrations began, not only in the dressing -room but out in the crowd. Then we were brought down to earth with a bump. Like myself, most of us, with our preparations for the match against Kilmarnock very much at the front of our minds, had completely forgotten that Jimmy Johnstone had appeared before the SFA Referee Committee earlier that afternoon and had been severely dealt with. It was a topic that he, and the Boss, had tied to keep quiet about before the Killie match in case we were affected. Had we known, we might well have been .

The press the following day recorded just how damaging the punishment would be –

Johnstone Suspended For 14 Days

‘Jimmy Johnstone, the Celtic right-winger, will miss the Scottish Cup final against Rangers at Hampden Park on Saturday. He was suspended from today till May 6 when he appeared before the SFA Referee Committee yesterday for having three cautions against his name’.

Jinky out of the Cup Final team! And because of that three cautions rule? What a blow!