12th March 1969: Celtic v A.C. Milan – European Cup QF 2nd Leg

10th March 1969

While we were arriving at Parkhead and then enjoying the coach trip to Seamill, the Celtic fans buying the morning and evening papers would have noticed that the victory over Raith Rovers at the weekend was almost over-looked. Most of the coverage was about the forthcoming European Cup tie with the Italian champions –

As the Big-tie Tension Grows
Lennox Takes a SEA CURE

This was a reference to the ankle injury which had caused Bobby Lennox to miss the Raith Rovers match. Once we had arrived at Seamill, been allocated our rooms and provided with an early lunch, we did a bit of light training on the lawn in front of the hotel in the afternoon. It was nice and easy, more to shake off any knocks than anything else but while most of us were doing that, Lemon, along with two other guys suffering from knocks – Cesar and Brogie – went for a paddle in the Firth of Clyde. In March, I would have imagined the water might have as cold as the Arctic Circle but needs must and they just got on with it.

After the training, it was into the baths, a perfect way to spend the hours before going in for dinner, where we were shown a headline in one of the evening papers –

Rocco Hopes for a Replay

It made for a good headline but I, for one, did not believe a word of it. There was no way the Italian manager would not have a plan to sneak a goal, in spite of the pressure they could expect from us. No one wanted another match at this time of the season. Brussels, in fact, had been chosen as the venue if a third match was required.

11th March 1969

The usual start to a Seamill day, a walk before breakfast. Along the main road north, down to the shore at the far end of the golf course then back along the beach to the Hydro. It was always a brisk start to the day and also gave us an appetite for breakfast. The rest of the morning, we just lazed about, then had an early lunch, followed by a rest then another workout on the lawn before the baths and dinner.

Later on came the moment we had all been waiting for, when we gathered in one of the rooms and the Boss went over his plans for the game. Sometimes, the team was announced at this point, sometimes it was left till nearer the match. On this occasion, with Lemon still on the injured list and paddling in the sea, the team announcement was delayed. The Boss must have told the press this earlier in the morning, as the headline read –

Lennox – Stein Still Waits

I had taken a good look at Bobby Lennox while down at Seamill and noticed that, even when walking, there was a very slight reluctance to put his leg down firmly. Having been in that situation myself, I recognised the signs and just knew that he would not make it.

These meetings were very intense. We did not need to be reminded of the importance of the occasion but when the Boss went over his ideas and explained what he wanted, it just concentrated everyone’s mind, the usual banter was missing and everybody focused on his words. And it was still a fairly quiet crew who went up to the bedrooms.

There was, though, good news for the 200 or so Italian fans who had travelled for the match –

Prati  Plays

The Day of the Match 12th March 1969

Morning……We did not do the walk but had breakfast at the usual time, then lounged about a bit in the Hydro before doing a light session later in the morning. Then, it was in for lunch.

Afternoon….After lunch, we went back to our rooms for a little siesta and then were woken to go down for the pre-match meal. Now, the chat became a bit more voluble as the tension grew and by the time we boarded the coach for the trip to Glasgow, you could almost feel the pressure building. It got even more intense as we reached the outskirts of the city, where we were met by a police motor-cycle escort and fairly flew through the streets towards Celtic Park. As we approached the ground, the crowds got even thicker. They were expecting a crowd of 75,000 and it seemed that most of them had got there early.

The Teams

Craig, Gemmell
Brogan, McNeill, Clark
Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Murdoch, Hughes.

AC Milan
Anquiletti, Schnellinger
Rosato, Malatrasi, Maldera
Hamrin, Lodetti, Prati, Rivera, Scala.

The Play

This was a battle on all fronts. There was tough-tackling, quick play, goalmouth chances at both ends and a real endeavour from both sets of players for 90 minutes. However, the outcome of the match rested on an incident which occurred fairly early in the match. I have attached a match report from one of the Scottish dailies to describe the scene-

12 minutes…..’Jim Craig took a throw-in just inside his own half. The throw should have been the start of another big Celtic attack – especially as the ball came straight to captain Billy McNeill, who had all the time he needed to hit it to one of his forwards.

But for a reason that will remain a mystery for all time McNeill failed to bring it under control and when he had made that first error he further failed to slam it away to safety.

Prati, the man said to be only half-fit before the kick-off, was lurking nearby and he does not look this type of gift horse in the mouth. He was on the ball in a flash as McNeill lost his balance and the outside-left-cum-centre-forward went dashing in on Fallon.

In a hush like an Armistice Day silence he hit the ball low into the back of the net and that was that as far as Celtic were concerned.

With 78 minutes still left to be played Celtic could and should have been able to do something about pulling this iron out of the fire. But not against a team like Milan.

Having picked up this gift-wrapped goal, the A.C. players not only locked, bolted and barred their door they put a whole roomful of furniture behind it – just to make sure that there would be no break-in by Celtic’

The description is a bit flowery in parts but the basics are true. I shied the ball just in front of Billy and shouted “hook it” meaning that he should just wallop it up the park which would let us out of defence and up to the halfway line. Alas…..

And after that, as the report describes, it was like playing against an Iron Curtain. We certainly did make the occasional opportunity but they were few and far between and we did not take advantage of any of them. By the time Senor de Mendebil of Spain blew the whistle for time-up, that single goal separated the sides and the Italians celebrated like mad on the Parkhead turf.

The dressing-room was like a morgue afterwards and even Jim Steele could not raise the mood. The Boss eventually disappeared and it was to Sean Fallon to impart the news that we would be back in for training the next morning.