27th November 1968: Red Star Belgrade v Celtic –  European Cup 2nd Round  2nd Leg

24th November 1968

There had been a family do the previous evening and I spent most of it with the males of the species, all of whom wanted to ask questions about the goings-on at Celtic Park, like how did I get on with such-and-such a player, what was Jock Stein really like and did we ever manage to get the ball off wee Jimmy in the bounce games?

The answers – in order of being asked – were ‘fine’, the Boss was good to deal with and we always played two-touch at the training matches, so wee Jimmy got a maximum of two touches like everyone else and the problem was solved.

After the grilling I got the night before, I did not fancy a repeat at Mass on the Sunday so – and may God forgive me – I arrived at the church shortly after the service started and left right after Communion. My parents lived about half-a-mile from the church, so I was home quick!

25th November 1968

I have never spoken to the rest of the guys about it but I was really up-tight about what the Boss would ask us to do in Belgrade. It is not often that any team takes a 5-1 win to the second leg of a European tie. Our best previous result had been the 3-1 against Dukla Prague in the semi-final of the cup in 1967.

You may remember that the tactics chosen by the Boss for the second leg were pretty defensive. Since the match finished all-square, you would have to admit that they worked but it would also be true to say the boys were not too happy playing in such a way. Would he now ask us to repeat the performance or, considering the size of the lead, would we go for something more expansive?

And would we be without wee Jimmy? As one of the evening papers mentioned

‘Wee Jimmy Johnstone, the man who stayed behind, enjoyed the luxury of a long lie in bed this morning when his Celtic colleagues left by bus for Prestwick Airport and the flight to Belgrade.

Jimmy will be training tomorrow with Tommy Callaghan, who was signed too late for inclusion in the squad for the tie’.

Tommy’s performance against Partick Thistle deservedly received a mention –

Callaghan?  –  Yes, he’ll do!

The paper also included the list of 22 players for the World Cup qualifying tie against Cyprus and I was included among the fullbacks. It was nice to be included but it would give me a problem that I shall mention later.

Our flight to Belgrade was uneventful and by late afternoon, we were walking round the centre of the Yugoslav capital, led by Field Marshall Neilly Mochan. We did not always take a direct route in Neilly’s Walks but one thing to keep in mind was that we never actually did not get back to the starting point!

26th November

The usual procedure on the day before a match abroad. Up reasonably early, then a quick breakfast, another walk, then an early – and light – lunch. The reason for this schedule was that the match against Red Star had a starting time of 1.15pm and the Boss wanted to get to the stadium for a training session at exactly that time. It was good forward thinking and we were all happy to go along with it. The Crvena Zvezda Stadium looked well up for the match and the pitch was in very good condition; we were, though, rather surprised that a fair-sized crowd turned up to watch us training, just as we had seen in Tbilisi and Prague, towns in two other communist countries.

We heard from some of the journalist who were with us that the Red Star directors had fined three of their defenders £100 each for ‘saving’ themselves for Celtic when they played Zeljeznicar the previous Sunday. In other words, they were accused of not working hard enough in that match and concentrating more on the Celtic match.

And we were also told that the Red Star supporters fully expected wee Jimmy to be in the side. They knew he had not been on the plane but they thought that he might come in some other way?

27th November 1968

It was just as well that we had rehearsed the unusual circumstances of the 1.15pm start. Having your pre-match meal at around 10am did take a bit of getting used to but we were all in good form and looking forward to the match. The previous evening, the Boss had gone over the plan for the match and, thank goodness, we were not going to stay back in some ‘catenaccio’ system. Certainly, as we were well ahead from the first leg, we would not go hell-for-leather, either; we would play just that little bit deeper but would be ready to come forward whenever a chance presented itself.

The Teams

Red Star

Djokic, Krivokuca
Pavlovic, Dojcinovski, Klenkovski
Antonijevic, Ostojic, Lazerovic, Acimovic, Dzajic.


Craig, Gemmell
Murdoch, McNeill, Brogan
Clark, Connelly, Lennox, Chalmers, Hughes.
Subs:  Wallace, Simpson, O’Neill, Hay, Quinn.

The Play

There had much talk the previous evening – by the Boss in particular – that we would not be going for a defence-in-depth match. Unfortunately, the personnel in the team that had been picked rather suggested  a back four of myself, McNeill, Clark and Gemmell with another threesome of Connelly, Murdoch and Brogan stationed just in front and that is exactly the way we started the match and continued it for the most of the first half.

The Red Star players were good. Indeed, Dzajic – trying to live up to his World-star status – was as good a winger as I ever played against, with great touch and vision. He had a fatal flaw, though, when facing me. He continually tried to go past me down the outside and never seemed to work out that I was the quicker of the two!

It must have been a good match to watch, as, although Red Star did most of the attacking, at least in the first half, we were quite good at making the occasional break ourselves. And even the most biased Red Star fan would have to admit that their finishing was extremely poor.

Ours was a quite content dressing-room at the break, the Boss happy with our form and merely telling us to continue in the same way. In actual fact, after the break, it was a case of us controlling more of the play, with them looking frustrated. And when we took the lead, it effectively gave us the match –

76 minutes
Right out of the blue, Wispy – making history as the first Celtic sub in a European match -walloped a peach of an effort from 30 yards which flew high before dipping over the Red Star keeper and into the net.  1-0 Celtic 

The few fans we had with us were ecstatic; the home support started to leave and we took our eye off the ball. Just when we thought that we were going to finish the match with a win, the Slavs equalised, Ostojic knocking in the ball after a scramble in the Celtic goalmouth.

Final Score  Red Star  1  Celtic  1      Aggregate   Red Star 2  Celtic  6

What an atmosphere there was in the dressing -room, with everyone – the players, the Boss and his management team plus the directors – all crowding in to join in the celebrations. Then, it was straight to the airport for the return flight to Glasgow and as we reached home that evening, there was time to pick up one of the evening papers and check the headlines –

It’s All Star Celts

Wonder Defence  –  Wallace Goal –  And They’re Through to the Last Eight!