It had been an awful night in the Victoria Plaza Hotel. After the match, we had endured a heart-breaking bus trip from the Estadio Centenario over to our base in Montevideo, with the Argentinian supporters in the crowds lining the route giving us a real going-over as they celebrated the success of their side.
A reception had been prepared for us at the British Embassy, hosted by the Ambassador but to be honest, none of us were up for the small talk of a diplomatic affair like that and we just wanted to get back to our hotel. Once there, most of the guys went to be early and if they were anything like me, found it very difficult to get to sleep. Over and over again, I replayed the crucial moments of the match and pondered that same old problem….what if?
Sunday morning did not bring a better feeling in the camp. We attended Mass in the town centre then came back to the hotel and just got ready for the journey home. I have never known a lower moment among the players during those years. We all thought that we had disappointed our support, with the guys who had been ordered-off particularly low, constantly apologising to the rest of us for ‘letting the side down’.
Two players – Jinky and George Connelly – had been invited to take part in a friendly match between ‘Uruguay’ and ‘Argentina’ that afternoon and they received a very pleasant reception from the local crowd.
Later on, the journey to the airport was another unsettling experience, as quite a number of Argentinians were still about and they gave us pelters as we went past. Things went for worse even later. Our plane was delayed at fog-bound Ezeiza Airport, not for merely minutes but for an astonishing six hours. All we could do was sit around, either at café tables or in the lounges, drinking innumerable cups of coffee and discussing mainly football matters and particularly the events of the previous day. It was a bad scene and suddenly became a lot worse, when there occurred one unsettling moment for us all – and it involved the Boss.
He had chosen to sit by himself at a table for four and was, frankly, the centre of attention, although no one went across to sit beside him. Suddenly, almost to our horror, he put both arms on the table and then rested his head on his arms. It was quite a pathetic sight and we all tried hard not to look but, as usual in those cases, were unable to keep our eyes off him.
Then one of our travelling party took a hand. Jimmy Gordon (now Lord Gordon) who had overseen the making of the video ‘The Celtic Story’, went across to Jock Stein, spoke to him and eventually got him to sit back up again. The incident had only lasted a few minutes but it put the extent of our loss into perspective.
Nearly the rest of the previous day and most of this one had been spent either waiting in airports or travelling. The plane stooped for re-fuelling at Rio de Janeiro and Paris before arriving in Glasgow at around 10.45pm. It was very tiring but what kept us fairly amused was trying do discover what exactly was in the suitcase that club treasurer Desmond White insisted on taking on to the plane with him and having it beside him at all times?
The story only came out when we got home.
When Mr White had gone along to collect Celtic’s share of the gate from the organising committee, he assumed that he would be getting either a cheque or a bank draft. Much to his surprise – or perhaps disgust or astonishment – he was handed an old and fairly battered suitcase full of used notes.
Worse was to come. When he arrived back in Glasgow , he found it difficult to exchange the money or deposit it as, on 7th November, the Uruguan government, which was in the middle of a financial crisis, had chosen to devalue the peso by slightly more than 50%. In order to facilitate the change, the foreign-exchange markets were closed for four days and by the time the money in the suitcase was handed in, its value had decreased by virtually half.
Nothing on this trip seem to have right for Celtic!
We had been given two days off, so we were not supposed to report to Parkhead again until Thursday.
The Boss had decided to go in and from what I read in the evening paper, he had been quite busy. We had been due to play Kilmarnock in a league match the following evening but the club managed to get the date changed.
Killie Game is Off – It Will Be Played Next Week
‘Travel-weary and battle-fatigued Celtic will NOT meet Kilmarnock at Celtic Park tomorrow in the league match postponed from last Saturday. Today the League Management Committee agreed to a request from Celtic for a further postponement until next week’.
A relaxing day at home. Meanwhile, over at Ibrox, Davie White is un-veiled as the new manager of Rangers. Only hours later, the Light Blues beat Cologne 3-0 in the Fairs Cup.
It would be fair to say that the club was not a happy place at that time. The players knew that we were being frowned upon for the happenings in both Buenos Aires and Montevideo. There was no public condemnation, of course; that would have rocked the boat and we still had a league and Scottish Cup campaign to consider. No, it was more of a ‘keeping of distance’.
Where the members of the Board had always seemed happy to chat with us, enjoy our company and join in the celebrations of the good moments, at that time, in my opinion, they kept their distance. That was fairly obvious after the games in South America and particularly so on the trip back.
It was harder for the Boss and the coaching team to show their disappointment in the performance. After all, they were personally involved, making their living through assisting and helping a group of players to perform to the best of their ability so they could not exactly ignore them when they hit some bad times. The players recognised all these little problems with relationships at the different levels within the club and while there were never any difficulties within the squad as such, we were all aware that a poor atmosphere existed. And matters were not improved that on Thursday morning after the players left the ground, when those who took the trouble to buy an evening newspaper got a real surprise.
I will let the back page of one of the evening papers tell the story –
Celtic Fine All Their Players £250
‘Every Celtic player who took part in the now infamous ‘Battle of Montevideo’ has been fined £250. This sensational step, unprecedented in Scottish football, was announced today by Celtic club chairman Mr Bob Kelly.
Mr Kelly said : “We feel the criticism we have received in Britain was much more violent than anything we received from the Argentinians and other South American papers.
Let me assure you that we, as a club, from the directors to the players, take responsibility for what happened.
We had been confident of the discipline of our players, despite the warnings of the first and second matches. So we went into the third game despite warnings from various sources that our opponents had no intention of making this a football match.
We do not want to individualise on the players and we are taking the unprecedented step in football by fining the whole team £250 per player.
Mr Kelly, in answer to a question, said the fine would only apply to those who took part in the third game in Montevideo’.
There are a couple of points I would like to make. Firstly, there must have some doubt behind the scenes at Celtic Park – in other words, the management and directorate – about the wisdom of taking on the third match at all. The Racing players – unlike us – could be ‘sleekit’ in their breaking of the laws of the game and frankly, got away with murder in the first two matches. Unfortunately, when we retaliated, it was of a physical nature and everyone saw it, including the referee. That did not seem to happen when Racing had a go at us.
Now, having watched those two games, and putting aside all thoughts of bravado, spirit of the game etc, was it really sensible to have asked us to risk our reputation – and our bodies – in taking part in a football match played under circumstances which bore no relation to what we were used to?
And secondly, the fine was more than £250. What the club did was to decide to withhold the bonus payment we were due for winning the League Cup, which at that point had not been paid. Frankly, we all would have been disappointed had the bonus for winning one of Scotland’s three major trophies been as low as £250 so where that figure came from, I just do not know. However, whatever the figure, I can assure you that the news had not been greeted with any enthusiasm, especially the very public announcement of the decision.
Throughout football, managers and officials were quick to give their view of Celtic’s actions –
Bertie Mee (Manager of Arsenal): “Shocked…would not have let my players play in the third game”.
Vic Buckingham (Manager of Fulham) “the team are responsible for each other. So, if one pays, they all pay”.
Ken Aston (Member of Referees’ Committee of the FA)…I think that what the directors have done is a shining example to every club in the country.
Tom Reid (President of the SFA)…….It is a bit hard on some of the Celtic players to pay this fine.
John Hughes ( Secretary of the SPFA)….While we agree that the players who mis- behaved should be punished, I personally think that the indiscriminate fining of every player is wrong.
Not to be undone, the Celtic officials made an announcement of their own and it was to the effect that the sum of £2750 – the collective amount from the 11 players involved in the third match in Montevideo – would be given to charity.
As regards the next league match – against Airdrie at Broomfield – it was announced that the side which had beaten Dundee in the League Cup final would take to the field, although the five forwards may not turn out in the positions they filled at Hampden Park.
On the previous evening, a Celtic reserve side had beaten Airdrie reserves 4-1 at Celtic Park, when Ronnie Simpson got a run out in goal and the ‘Newman’ at outside-left was the first appearance in a Celtic shirt for Paul Wilson.
Our own training went well, although a few of us, including myself, were feeling a bit under the weather. In my case, it was nausea that was causing the problem, not a constant feature but just enough to upset my normal well-being. I hoped it was just a minor problem but what really worried me as the day wore on was that it persisted all day and, of course, was worse when running.
On the morrow, while we were facing Airdrie at Broomfield, Rangers were hosting Morton at Ibrox. And a reporter on one of the evening papers was in no doubt about the outcome of both matches –
Old Firm to Pull In the Points
Morning of the Match
I felt hellish as soon as I got up, so much so that I could not face breakfast and went back to bed again. I really needed something like this at this time of the season, I don’t think and I was puzzled by the fact that I had something of this nature. I had never, right through my whole life, suffered from any type of sickness and found it hard to cope with. My mother was a bit blunt in her diagnosis – “well, you’ve never to South America before either!”.
As Airdrie was not too far from Parkhead, it was one of those occasions when we would have the pre-match meal in our own houses before heading for Celtic Park and the usual bus trip. I decided to go in a bit earlier just to let the medical team have a look at me. Unfortunately, as soon as they did, I was told to go back home again and report back on the following Monday. I was not alone in picking up some kind of ‘bug’; Lemon had not even made the trip up from Saltcoats, as he was apparently suffering from the same symptoms. And Jinky was still suspended.
At that time of the season, Airdrie were lying in 11th place in the league table – with a record of P9 W2 D4 L3 F9 A14 Pts 8 – and I would say that their ground –Broomfield – would lie just above Annfield at Stirling in the list of ‘least popular grounds’ among our players. It sloped in two directions, did not have a very smooth surface and the surrounding stand and terracings were very close to the pitch, which was fine when the fans nearly on top of you were Celtic fans but no so good when they supported the Diamonds. The circumstances of my birth and parentage were regularly commented on!
Goodwin, Black, Whiteford
McLellan, Ramsay, Marshall, Fyfe, Wilson.
Brogan, McNeill, Clark
Hughes, Wallace, Chalmers, Murdoch, Auld.
Obviously, I was not at this match, so can only give a report based on what the guys told me and what I read in the press on the following days.
We seemed to go on the offensive right from the first whistle and according to one press report, started well;
‘Airdrieonians are not the hardest nuts in the league to crack, yet they were quite out-classed by the general level of Celtic’s competence on a soft pitch swept by wind and rain squalls, which must have made South America seem very far away’. And we got our reward fairly quickly –
Jim Brogan shot for goal and after the attempt was blocked, he pounced on the rebound to score from just inside the area. 1-0 Celtic
However, there seemed to be moments when Airdrie might have been rewarded for their own efforts –
‘Celtic had the game thoroughly under control although twice before the interval the defence found itself in two minds and McLellan ought to have scored at least once’.
In some ways, I’m sorry I missed the half-time team talk, since as a non-participant, I might have enjoyed it. Still, whatever the Boss said, it must have had an effect as it was not long before we increased our lead;
a cross along the ground was met by Chopper at the far post. 2-0 Celtic
From then on, we apparently were right on top and our fans in the crowd of 18,000 were liking what they were seeing. They had also been given a boost by the sight of Joe McBride coming on for the injured Bertie Auld.
Final Score Airdrie 0 Celtic 2