2nd January 1969: Rangers v Celtic – League

Morning of the Match

There had been some discussions beforehand apparently among the managerial and coaching staff about just what to do before this match.

Games in successive days were not the norm and there were two schools of thought on the pre-match preparation. Either we came in early, did a light work-out, then went to a hotel for some lunch; or we arranged our own pre-match meal at home and did the warm-up when we got on to the field at Ibrox. In the end, the latter was chosen but to be honest, none of us was really concerned one way or the other and we just reported at the time appointed at Celtic Park.

The journey across the city before a match like that really brought it home to us just how important this game was. On the streets and even hanging out of the windows in the tenements, the colours were on display. There had been a small crowd at Parkhead to see us off; at Ibrox, a much larger one had gathered to give both sides a rousing reception before heading off for their segregated places in the ground.

We were keen to see the pitch and went quickly down the tunnel. Our fears were put to rest. It was fine, not perfect by any means but it certainly was not going to spoil the play in any way and we got changed and went out for a more intense workout than usual, trying to shake off any stiffness from the previous day.

The Teams

Johansen, Provan
Greig, McKinnon, Watson
Henderson, Penman, Stein, Johnson, Persson.  
Sub: Jardine

Craig, Gemmell
Brogan, McNeill, Clark,
Johnstone, Murdoch, Wallace, Lennox, Hughes.  
Sub: Chalmers

The Play

There had been a slight change in our team, John Clark coming in to play alongside Cesar in central defence while Jim Brogan moved into midfield and Bobby Murdoch moved a bit further forward. From the first whistle it was one of your typical Old Firm encounters, no quarter asked, none given, the play ranging from end to end, with both keepers being called into action.

The result hinged on two critical moments of play, the first of which arrived in the first half –

25 minutes
a great run by Yogi ended with a fine low cross which Willie Wallace tried to knock into the net but shot wide.

A goal at this point for us could have made a vital difference and Wispy was stunned by the miss. I do not know if it deflated our morale but it certainly gave Rangers a boost and from then till the break, they flooded forward.

And the other vital moment came 15 minutes into the second half –

60 minutes
Willie Henderson shot hard for goal, the ball hit Billy McNeill and referee Archie Webster immediately pointed to the penalty spot. John Grieg stepped forward and fairly lashed the ball past John Fallon.

That proved to be the only goal of the game and the headlines the following day read                                                         

Penalty Drama Stuns The Celts

It was a harsh decision by the referee. Billy McNeill was very close to Willie Henderson when he took the shot and there was no chance of him getting out of the way. It also seemed to hit his body rather than his arm. However, that debate aside, the incident led to the only goal of the game and at the end the Rangers fans were the happy ones.

As a match, it was regarded as being very entertaining, as can be shown from these two paragraphs in in a report the next day;

‘For although the match was played at a cracking pace with no quarter asked or given, it was never crude – nor did it threaten to erupt into violence.

Indeed, I’ll remember it as one of the most thrilling Old Firm matches I’ve ever seen – a game in which everyone takes credit’.

That may have been so, but it was two points dropped in the chase for the title and very disappointing for everyone connected with the Hoops, be they players, management, directors or fans.

For those of us who had taken part, we needed to put our disappointment behind us and concentrate on the immediate future. The next match – against Dunfermline – was coming up in two days.

Unfortunately, the match would also be remembered for an incident when a barrier in the Rangers end of the ground collapsed and 24 people had to be taken to hospital for treatment.