You will forgive me, I hope, if I break away from Celtic matters to cover the days leading up to my first international appearance. It was quite heartening to have been chosen but whether to take the opportunity of playing was quite another matter.
As you will have realised from my previous reports, I was still suffering from the virus I had picked up in South America, a vicious little brute which was causing me to be affected by nausea, sometimes there all the time, at others only occasionally but almost always present when I was playing. Most of the time, it was not too bad; then there were the moments when it felt as though someone was grabbing my insides with a glove covered in spikes.
I had spoken to two people about the risk of playing. In other words, I asked if I should take the opportunity to pick up my first cap even though there was the chance that I would not be performing to 100% of my ability. These two men were my Dad and the Boss. Both of them replied in the same way – “well, its up to you, son”.
Not much help, you’ll agree. But I learned from it; whenever any of my sons or daughter was in a similar position, I unhesitatingly told them not to play. I just wish, though, that I had been quite so positive about my own case.
What follows is a brief resume of the days with the international squad leading up the clash with Wales on 22 November –
The chosen squad meets up at SFA headquarters in Park Gardens, from where we are bussed down to our hotel in Largs. When the rooms are allocated, I find out that I am paired with Jim Baxter and he proves a nice laddie, with an entertaining line of chat in that Fife accent. Later, I found out that he thought my Govan one a bit gruff!
For the rest of the day, it was just a question of catching up with guys I knew and meeting ones I had only heard or read about. It was amazing how many questions I had to ask about Lisbon and the events surrounding it. It brought it home to me just what a big moment that was for – not only Scottish football – but the British game as well.
Practice match at Rugby Park, where Malcolm McDonald has arranged for us to play against his Kilmarnock side. It seemed to go well for everyone and I felt reasonably good, only once or twice being struck by the ‘intestine-crusher’ and even then it was fairly mild.
After dinner in the evening, Bobby Brown announced the team for the match. There had been reports in the press that he was going to drop Ronnie and play Bobby Clark of Aberdeen, one of the reasons being given was the 16 year gap in their ages. And when the team was read out, there was indeed no Ronnie. However, that still left three Celts in the side –
Clark (Aberdeen), Craig (Celtic), McCreadie (Chelsea), Greig (Rangers), McKinnon (Rangers), Baxter (Sunderland), Johnstone (Celtic),
Bremner (Leeds), Gilzean (Tottenham Hotspur), Lennox (Celtic) and Johnston (Rangers).
Bobby Brown had us up early and well before 10am we were training at the Inverclyde Training Centre in Largs.
After lunch, we boarded the bus again for a trip back up to Glasgow where one of the TV stations had prepared films for us to see, which included the Scotland v England encounter at Wembley earlier in 1967 and the recent Wales v England match which England won 3-0.
The morning papers gave big coverage to the match but what made the most prominent headline was the possibility that the game would be affected by fog, forecast by the experts to come sown around dusk. The authorities take no chances and arrange for referee Jim Finney of England to inspect the ground firstly at 3pm and then again at 5pm.
Down at Largs, we had a final training session before heading for Hampden. By the time we arrived, there was some light fog floating around but it would not interfere with the match going ahead.
It was not a good performance by the Scots; in fact, the only commendable feature was that we won 3-2, with the winning goal coming from centre-half Ronnie McKinnon, not noted for his goal-scoring. Few in the side played particularly well, with several being castigated in the newspaper report the following day –
‘This was a good result, against a surprisingly good Welsh team but the fact remains that a number of men in dark blue jerseys were failures. Jim Baxter was one; so too was his Anglo pal Billy Bremner; while Willie Johnston struggled to impose himself on the game. Jim Craig made one or two slips but generally he had a good first international match.
Jimmy Johnstone had a sprightly start but gradually faded from the picture, although he would not have been helped by stupid – and unpatriotic – shouts of “Henderson…..Henderson”.
Frankly, I had found it a long night. All through the game I could feel the cramps just there, as they were waiting to burst out. It meant that I found running flat-out quite uncomfortable, so did it as seldom as possible. In fact, in one report, I noticed that I was described as ‘slow’. Now, you could accuse me of many things but ‘slow’ wasn’t one of them. In all the teams I played for, when it came to the sprints, I was right up there at, or near, the front. No, the truth is that I should probably not have played. However, you also have to remember the circumstances and I would ask you this question. If you received a phone call to say that you have been picked to play for the national side for the first time, would you call off because you were having a problem with an injury that ‘occasionally’ was a problem? Or would you take a chance?