With the good win over Airdrie under the belt, we could look forward to our next match, a friendly against Dinamo Zagreb.
The two teams had met before, in the second round of the Cup Winners’ Cup in season 1963-64. On 4th December, at Celtic Park, in front of a crowd of 42,000, the Hoops had comfortably notched up a 3-goal win and although a week later, in Yugoslavia, Celtic lost 2-1, the goals in that first leg were enough to take them through to the quarter-final.
Jock Stein had been doing his best to stir up attention for the contest and the comments in the press on the Monday reflected that;
‘Tommy Gemmell and John Hughes, two key men in the brand-new Stein plan for football, were injured at Airdrie on Saturday – but both are expected to play on the big show game with Zagreb Dynamo tomorrow night.
Celtic have never approached a match with more preparation. Mr Stein insists that the plan is no gimmick “We have talked and talked about it: we have worked at it for days : and we are convinced it can operate successfully, particularly against Continental opposition”.
As a curtain –raiser tomorrow night, Mr Stein will send out all his players 15 minutes before the kick-off – and the fans are going to get a surprise. The numbers to be worn will bear no relation to the present day means of identification’.
Unfortunately, I would miss out on this occasion. Near the end of the match against Airdrie, I went to block a shot from one of the Diamonds players and took the ball right in the kisser. I went over backwards and blacked out for a few minutes. I recovered fine and went on to play the rest of the match but afterwards I felt terribly sick and later that night, I developed a terrible headache.
By the Sunday morning, the headache had eased but I felt rough and just stayed in all day. Nowadays, of course, those symptoms might lead to me being diagnosed with a mild concussion but we were not into that in 1967. I reported for training as usual on the Monday, felt hellish all the way through and just after reaching my parents house afterwards, I began to suffer from double-vision. I phoned the park to report the condition and was told to stay in and let them know the following morning how things were!
They were not much better the next morning, the day of the match. The double-vision had gone but I felt that someone was battering away inside my head with a hammer and that was accompanied by a slight nausea. So, that was me out of this adventurous system – which I suspect might have suited me – and I did not even see the match, as I had been told to stay at home.
The reason for the match, of course, was that we had been drawn to play against another Yugoslavian side – Vojvodina Novisad – in the quarter-final stages of the European Cup and it was thought that this match against Zagreb might give us an idea of what to expect when we met the Yugoslav champions.
That was the idea but the execution of the expansive plan on the night did not turn out so well.
The team was laid out in the following formation; One goalkeeper, 3 centre backs, 2 central midfielders, 2 wide midfielders, and 3 forwards.
According to the reports, with about 20 minutes or so to the end, the Boss told the players to switch into their more orthodox system and while this brought a little more in the way of chances, it did not make a difference to their shooting capabilities.Effectively, it was a 3-4-3 system and it was true that we had been trying to put it into operation most of the previous week, with me in the right-back slot. Unfortunately, on the night, while the players used the system to great effect, the one thing we did not do was put the ball in the net, with Stevie and Lemon in particular missing really good chances.
Then, with just three minutes left, a long ball through the middle caught the Celtic defence a bit square and the Yugoslav international striker Zambata latched on to it and beat Ronnie from close in to seal the win.
Final Score Celtic 0 Dynamo Zagreb 1
It was a disappointing end but the original plan had been inventive and probably we had not had enough practice in putting it into operation before taking on such talented opponents. And we did learn that we would have equally tough opponents when we met Vojvodina Novisad in the quarter-finals of the European Cup.