The party of 18 players – Simpson, myself, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Lennox, Auld, Hughes, Fallon, Shevlane, O’Neill, Connelly, McBride and Gallagher – was delayed for a few hours down at Prestwick Airport but our plane eventually took off just before midnight. By that time, the nervous fliers in the squad were nearly having a fit but the rest of the flight was uneventful, although it did stop at Paris and Madrid en route.
At the airport in Madrid, a priest got on and took the seat beside me. As he did not have any English and my Spanish was non-existent, we tried a conversation in French, both of us just having enough to get by. As he was an Argentinian, he knew the South American football scene quite well but as we were having our meal, he said something that made me think. “You have one thing going for you”, he mused “at least you are fortunate that you are playing Racing Club. If you had been playing Boca Juniors, there would have no point in ever leaving Glasgow. They just would not let you win!”. Remind me to strike Boca Juniors off my list of ‘teams that I would like to play against’.
It was a long haul but roughly 20 hours later, we arrived in Buenos Aires and were driven to our headquarters, the Hindu Club. This was, apparently, a fashionable centre for rugby and polo enthusiasts situated among high-priced houses in the neighbourhood of Don Torcuaso, some 15 miles north-west of the capital.
On our arrival, though, we were not initially impressed as the grounds were packed with families enjoying the sunshine. However, as the day wore on and they began to disappear, we realised that, like families back home, they were out to enjoy the end of the weekend.
As we were all a bit on the stiff side after our plane trip, we did a light session in the grounds of the hotel. At least, that’s how the Boss described it before we started the exercise but it turned out to be a little more energetic than that.
We were driven back into the city for a training session at the ground designated for the contest, the Avellaneda Stadium, a huge concrete oval, holding well in excess of six-figures. The session went well but we were less impressed by the hordes of local fans who had gathered to watch our arrival and departure. It would be fair to say that we were not given a warm reception.
After the crowds had left, the Hindu Club then proved to be a very pleasant choice, quiet and peaceful. Whether to keep us in or prevent anyone else getting in, there were four armed policeman round the pool and a ten-man guard right round the place.
As it was All-Saints day, we attended Mass in the local village and that proved to be a very pleasant experience, where everybody in the neighbourhood turned up to greet us, the players signed autographs and gave out pins and badges. A few of the locals even wished us all the best for the match!….at least I think they did?
Somebody had brought in a few local papers and when an interpreter did his job, it was apparent that Racing Club were carrying the hopes of the nation. One line said ‘fervent supporters of Boca Juniors, River Plate, Independiente and San Lorenzo should all get behind the home side”.
When representatives of Nacional – a club from Uruguay which wanted to arrange a match with Celtic – were asked about the referee Senor Esteban Marino, a fellow-citizen, they did not give him much of a recommendation. And we received at least one telegram from back home : ‘The City of Glasgow is with you 100%. Lord Provost John Johnston’.
I wondered if the Rangers fans thought that?
Apart from all these moments, the rest of the day was the usual for a match-day. The Boss gave us a few words after lunch, stressing some points. He told us that it was important to keep our heads and not to retaliate, whatever the provocation, and always to accept the referee’s decision. He also announced the team. Bertie Auld had come off at half-time in the League Cup final the previous Saturday with a cut on the ankle and this was still bothering him, so he was out and rather surprisingly, he was replaced by Willie O’Neill, so it looked as though we were going for a holding operation. The talk was followed by few hours in bed in the afternoon, then the pre-match meal before the trip to the ground.
Late Afternoon on the Day of the Match
On our trip through the centre of Buenos Aires, with a motorcycle escort clearing the way, we were most impressed by the way it resembled Paris, with it tree-lined boulevards and expensive shops. Then, however, the escort headed into what was undeniably a working-class district and the vista changed. High-rise blocks, factories and industrial sites were the norm.There were police everywhere, most of whom were carrying guns; some were on horseback and they held either leather-whips or sabres.
As we descended from the bus to enter the stadium, an ‘escort’ of military police made a pathway for us, a few in what looked like riot gear, while others were holding Alsatian dogs. When we went out on to the pitch, togged up in our green club blazers, we were met with a torrent of abuse from the crowds already there. Fortunately, they were behind a 20-feet wide concrete ‘canyon’ – with a few feet of water covered in bottles and other litter – encircling the pitch.
One good thing we noticed was that the pitch – which we had trained on the previous day and found it to be very hard – was now a lot softer, thanks to some heavy rain that morning.
The most astonishing thing, though, was that the ground was almost full at that point, probably 45 minutes to an hour before the kick-off. And the vast majority of the 120,000 present – we must not forget the 106 Celtic fans who had made the trip – were making an amazing noise, trying to compete with the five bands playing away. Was every match in South America like this?
Martin, Rulli, Basile
Raffo, Cardoso, Cerdenas, Rodriguez, Maschio.
Murdoch, McNeill, Clark
Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, O’Neill, Hughes.
Racing had been forced to leave out Mori from the team which played at Hampden, as he was suffering from a reaction to a pain-killing injection for an ankle injury. The Argentinian side had also not played a match since the first leg in Scotland and were having a bad run in their matches anyway, with no goals in their last four.
Just as we were warming up, disaster struck! Ronnie Simpson, standing in his goal and handling some shots from all of us, suddenly collapsed and lay on the ground with his hand cradling his head. We all rushed to see what the problem was but he was in some pain, having difficulty in talking and just pointing to the back of his head.
Within seconds, Neilly Mochan and Bob Rooney had raced on to the pitch to deal with the problem and they soon signalled to Doc Fitzsimmons to come on as well. The rest of us gathered round, unable to help but obviously aware that Ronnie had been hit by something and that whatever it was must have come from the crowd.
It is easy to be wise after the event but the suggestion that it was a bottle is unlikely, as the incident took place some distance from the crowd, probably too far for a throw and we would also have undoubtedly seen something as large as a bottle lying around. Much more likely was the other possibility that Ronnie had been hit by some form of missile fired by a catapult. Whatever it was, though, it caused enough damage for Ronnie to come off and a very surprised John Fallon came on to replace him.
That got the play off to a wonderful start, I don’t think, what with anger on our part and a desire to get over the defeat in Glasgow on theirs, so it probably came as no surprise that from the first whistle, the tackles were going in.
Stevie Chalmers and Willie Wallace were felled and needed attention but we held Racing fairly confidently for the first 20 minutes or so. Then we got a reward –
Jimmy Johnstone had beaten three players and was going round the keeper when his ankle was grasped. It was definitely a penalty but when am Gemmell came up to take it, there were photographers on the field, with every Racing player trying to distract him. The big fellow held his nerve, though, and slammed the ball past the keeper. 1-0 Celtic
We seemed to be holding Racing all right and might have gone further ahead when a cross from me was struck against a post by Stevie but they continued to push forward and soon made a breakthrough;
a quick break down their right wing, a cross into the middle by Maschio and Raffo was first to it to head home. 1-1
The Boss was quite annoyed at half-time, not so much with us but with the Racing players and most of all, with the referee, who, like his predecessor at Hampden, seemed unable to distinguish between a fair challenge and a foul. It was a bit of a rant and it probably got his feelings off his chest but frankly, the players could have done with a bit of tactical help at that point and a rant was not what was required.
Then, there was a problem with the water in the dressing-room and we came out for the second half eight minutes later than we should have. That seemed to upset us more than them, as no sooner had the second half started than Racing went ahead –
Rulli sent a long pass into the path of Cardenas and his low shot beat John Fallon. 2-1 Racing Club
It was a long second half. By now Racing has their tales up and were beginning to play some football. By contrast, our play had started to stutter. The defence was still managing to keep the Argentinian forwards at bay but our whole side was just not doing enough to keep pressure on their backline and at full-time, it was the Racing fans who had reason to celebrate.
Full Time Score Racing Club 2 Celtic 1
No doubt the result came as a shock to fans in Scotland and that was their second surprise of the day. At lunchtime, it had been announced from Ibrox that manager Scot Symon had been sacked.
As for the players, well, to say we were downhearted was putting it mildly. It was a fairly disgruntled squad who boarded the bus for the journey back to the Hindu Club and matters were not improved when Jock Stein, for some unaccountable reason, decided to give us a bit of a rollicking for allowing ourselves to be upset and losing our calm. Perhaps he thought that was what he needed; I’m not sure that any of the players did. Certainly, it did little for our morale.
When we gathered for dinner that night, most of us were really annoyed that we had let the World Championship title slip away from us. And the performance of the officials was high on the list of topics for discussion. I, for one, had not been impressed by the referee’s showing. Senor Marinho was not a performer of the highest class, failing to notice – or probably just being used to seeing in his own country – the South American use of football’s doubtful ploys, like jersey-pulling, spitting, pushing, elbowing and blocking. The Racing players could do all those in masterful fashion; when we tried to reciprocate, everybody saw our challenges, which were crude and open by comparison.
Defeat is always hard to take for any group of professional footballers …..but to feel that you have been cheated as well makes the feeling even worse!