The Morning of the Match
I had an early start to the day. I had been told that my former school – St Gerard’s in Govan – was playing in an important cup tie that day and one of the teachers had asked would I put in an appearance. I was pleased to do so, although I was a bit astonished at how little grass there was on the pitch.
Later, when I thought about it, I felt a little embarrassed. After all, it was not so long ago that I was performing on such a surface and never thought twice about it. Was I getting big-headed? I hoped not. Anyway, the young lads won and I was very pleased for them.
On the way home, I was thinking about the whole situation and almost burst out laughing. In a few hours time, I would be running out at Annfield to face Stirling Albion and as I mentioned previously, it was not my favourite surface.
Between 1921 and 1939, Stirling’s league side was known as King’s Park, and their ground, Forthbank, had been destroyed when a lone German bomber, randomly jettisoning his payload, dropped it on the site. Rather than resurrect the team, a group fans – under the direction of coal merchant Tom Ferguson – organized the purchase of the Annfield Estate and set up a new ground there.
It was certainly quaint. There was a mansion called Annfield House, adjacent to the pitch, and this was used for offices and dressing-rooms. But the pitch had a decided slope, which I think is anathema to good football and if every player felt as down as I did when I walked out on to it, then I should have felt sorry for them….but I was too busy trying to psych my own self up!
Stirling had gone through a rather difficult decade of the 60s thus far. Promoted from the Second Division as champions in 1960-61, they were relegated again the following season. They came up as champions again in 1964-65, finished 4th bottom in 1965-66 and at that period of season 1966-67, were sitting third from bottom, fighting to avoid one of the two relegation places alongside St Mirren and Ayr United.
We went out to look at the pitch as usual and I noticed that most folk were not particularly happy with what they were seeing. We all knew about the slope but what really made us even more tense was that the pitch was also a sea of mud – and that was before a ball had been kicked. Heaven knows what it would be like once the two teams started to play on it. We came back in and started to get ready without much of the usual banter in evidence. And then Steeley took over.
Jim Steele was officially our masseur. During the 2nd World War he did his training in that field and for a time was helping out light-heavyweight champion Freddie Mills.
How he arrived at Celtic I was never too sure but he was a godsend to the players. Before a match, he would give every single player a massage – and don’t forget that footballers would have had muscular legs to deal with – and kept up a line of banter all the time, with the occasional song thrown in, many of which were from the light operatic field and one of which I can still recall; “Come with me, come to the ball. Music and merriment call!”
Unfortunately, those were the only words of that particular melody that he knew and he la la’d the rest. I always meant to go into the Mitchell Library and find out the rest of the song but like many things one means to do, I did not get round to it.
On a day like that one at Stirling, he came to the fore, recognising that the players were a bit apprehensive about the pitch and making the dressing-room a fun place so that the boys could forget their nerves for a while.
It certainly did help but when we went out pre-match and saw how the pitch was cutting up badly even in a warm-up, I’m afraid that the nerves started again!
Murray, Dickson, McGuiness, McKinnon, Rogerson, Thomson,
Peebles, Smith, Kerray, Laing, Symington.
Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace,
Chalmers, Auld, Hughes.
There were two things I recalled about the start. One was the match began about 10 minutes late due to crowding outside the ground and secondly, that the Binos came out in the most dazzling orange shirts you have ever seen.
We totally dominated the play from the off, made a lot of chances but just could not find the target; whereas Albion scored from their first corner in the 23rd minute. Taken by Symington, the ball went right through to new signing George Peebles (from the Pars) and he knocked it home.
As you might imagine, that came a shock to us and we re-doubled our efforts but still their defence held out with keeper Murray in quite brilliant form.
I was expecting a barrage at the interval but the Boss was quite phlegmatic, telling us to keep plugging away and the breakthrough would come. However, when we got back out again and saw how much the field resembled a quagmire, we realised that we would have to put a good shift in.
And we did, although it was hardly silky play. It was hard combative stuff, with no quarter given, the Stirling guys determined to get something out of the game and us determined that they were not getting both points. Eventually, the breakthrough came in the 52nd minute, when Yogi got his head to a cross.
That was a signal for us to raise the tempo but they responded and fought all the way, over-doing it at times, with McKinnon being stretchered off the field with a leg injury and Rogerson – already booked for a clash with Chopper – sent off for a tackle on Wispy.
We continued to keep the pressure on but a combination of poor final passes ( not surprising on such a surface) and a difficulty in keeping our feet when shooting meant that there was no further scoring. At the end, the Stirling guys celebrated as thought they had won the cup final.
Final Score Stirling Albion 1 Celtic 1
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