A crowd of 107,609 – which is still to this day the largest-ever attendance for a League Cup final – crowded into the national stadium on that Saturday afternoon to witness the action. The teams were ;-
Celtic; Simpson, Young, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Gallagher, McBride, Lennox, Hughes.
Rangers; Ritchie, Johansen, Provan, Wood, McKinnon, Greig, Henderson, Willoughby, Forrest, Wilson, Johnston.
On the Saturday morning, I had received a phone call from Celtic Park, asking if I had a ticket for the game and if not, there would be one waiting for me at the front door of the stadium. “Excellent” were my thoughts, not only at the prospect of seeing what was a most important match for Celtic but also at the gesture, which I assumed was because I was still on the list for an early chance again in the first team and they were just keeping me sweet. When I look back on it all, I am quite surprised how bleeding cynical I was at the age of 22? But I was up for the occasion!
In the Rangers side were two guys whom I had played against quite often. From the age of just over 15 to 18, I had spent my Saturdays playing for the school team in the mornings and then for Queen’s Park’s Victoria XI in the afternoons. The Victoria XI was their under-18 side and played in the youth division of the Scottish Amateur League. In half of the matches, I was at centre-half; in the other half, I was at inside-right, in a sort-of dual ‘striker’ role alongside Andy Roxburgh, later Scotland’s manager and then Europe’s chief coach.
We were a successful side at the time, although always pushed by Drumchapel Amateurs, whose best-known players were inside-right Alec Willoughby and his cousin, centre-forward Jim Forrest. They scored a lot of goals but Roxburgh and myself were also on the score sheet regularly and in one team selection – for either a Glasgow Select or a Scottish Youth Select, I can’t quite recall – Andy and I were chosen ahead of Willoughby and Forrest.
The late Alec Willoughby never got over that decision. He was one of the few players outside Celtic who called me by the ‘Cairney’ appellation and whenever I met him, he would come out with the same expression : “I can’t believe they picked you over me at inside-right for that game; come on, you are a defender!”
Anyway, on that Saturday afternoon, Alec and his cousin Jim – who had already won a League Cup winner’s medal with Rangers the previous season – were in the Rangers side for the contest and to be honest, I was slightly envious of them. As the team lined up for the start, the noise from the crowd was deafening, with one side of the stadium covered in green and the other in blue. At precisely 3pm, referee Hugh Phillips blew the whistle and we were off!
The Tackle…and a Bit of Luck!
Celtic were definitely psyched-up for the occasion and Ian Young proved this in the first couple of minutes when he scythed Willie Johnston with a crunching tackle. Hugh Phillips gave him the benefit of the doubt and only booked Ian (and also Willie for retaliation) but the tone had been set and did not falter.
Passion and Pace
After that dramatic opening, the match was full of pace, power and incident. Billy McNeill in the opening minutes looked uncomfortable against the speed of Jim Forrest and twice the Rangers centre-forward went through with easy chances to score and missed both of them! And it could be said that those misses were extremely costly in Rangers failure to retain the trophy!
When Celtic did start to settle down, Murdoch and Gallagher gave them more quality in midfield than the Rangers duo and John Hughes ran riot on the left wing, powering past Kai Johansen and troubling the rest of the defence with his dangerous runs.
After 18 minutes, John Clark hoisted a free-kick into the Rangers’ penalty area and Ronnie McKinnon, for some reason, used his had to push the ball away. It was an astonishing lapse of concentration but John Hughes took full advantage of it, sending Billy Ritchie the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Ten minutes later, Celtic were awarded another penalty, perhaps this one more dubious. Jimmy Johnstone slipped past Davie Provan, he was caught by the lanky fullback’s leg and despite Rangers’ protests, the referee pointed to the spot. Again Hughes scored, although the keeper did get a hand to this one but not enough to knock it away.
Keeping Them Out
The second half was a more bruising affair, with Rangers determined to come forward and Celtic defending. Ronnie Simpson twice saved Celtic at crucial moments but with 6 minutes left, was unfortunate, when in palming out the ball from a cross, it hit Ian Young on the face and ricocheted into the net. It made for an even more exciting last few minutes but Celtic held out to pick up the League Cup for the 3rd time.
On the following day, the headlines told the story ;-
Hughes Spot On Twice For Celtic
Celtic 2 Rangers 1
Rangers Pay A Very Heavy Penalty
Unfortunately, at the end of the match, an unfortunate incident took place, captured here in the headlines and the report, taken from one of the English broadsheets;-
Penalties Give Celtic Cup – Lap of Honour Cut Short
‘Celtic had beaten Rangers by 2 penalty goals to an own goal at Hampden and their captain McNeill had taken possession of the Scottish League Cup and was out on the field with his men before 108,000 spectators to show the spoils of victory in the customary lap of honour when the near riot started. Thousands of Rangers supporters from their terracing broke past the police, swarmed on to the park, made for the Celtic players and cut short their parade of triumph.
Young, the right-back, was struck and bundled down. So too was the trainer Mochan before the police rescued the players. Fortunately the Celtic supporters stood their ground on the opposite terracing and did not attempt to engage the invaders in midfield or there could have been the biggest football riot in Scotland since that in which Celtic and Rangers supporters joined in 1909 and wrecked Hampden and burnt the goalposts and turnstiles. The SFA make Rangers responsible for the conduct of their supporters in any park so they must worry about the consequences’.
Over the weekend, the incidents after the final whistle were the main themes of the newspaper coverage. Comments like this were quite common;–
‘Football is a sport, a competitive one at that and naturally, tempers and tensions can occasionally rise to the surface. However, repercussions like the ones we all witnessed at Hampden after the match have no place in the game and the authorities were quite right when they said they would deal sternly with those involved’.
Apart from that, for the players, the management and fans of Celtic, it had been a wonderful afternoon. The manager had made the right team choice and his men had risen to the occasion, got a bit of luck when they needed it then refused to let the opposition back into it. It was a very happy Celtic party which took the League Cup back to Celtic Park and placed it once again in the trophy cabinet.
A celebration would have been on the cards for many fans that night, perhaps a noggin or two at the local pub then a visit to the cinema to see one of the top films out on release. On that October weekend, the four most popular ones were ;-
How to Murder Your Wife – Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, Terry Thomas
Mickey One – Warren Beatty, Alexandra Stewart
The Agony and the Ecstasy – Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Diane Cilento
The Cincinnati Kid – Steve McQueen, Edward G Robinson, Ann-Margret, Tuesday Weld