Celtic’s first experience of European competition was in a rather unusual competition called the Anglo-Franco Scottish Friendship Cup, which took place at the beginning of season 1960-61.
The invitations to participate were based on league performance in the 1959-60 season and Celtic – who had finished 9th in the table – only got in because Ayr United (8th) did not have floodlights and Kilmarnock (2nd) were taking part in a tournament in New York. With Hearts, Rangers and Hibs all involved in the major European competitions, that left spaces for Clyde, Dundee, Motherwell and Celtic to enter the new tournament.
Celtic were drawn to face UA Sedan Torcy, a team based in Sedan, about eighty miles from Reims, in north-east France. It was not an attractive place to make a European debut and things became even worse for the Scots when nobody from the hosting club turned up to greet the visitors when they arrived on Friday 5th August 1960. It was not until three hours before kick-off the following evening that the Celtic club officials first met a counterpart from the Sedan club.
The players should have been angry at this slight but if they were, it was not reflected in the team’s play, as according to the local press, they were ‘outplayed, outpaced and outclassed’ by the local side, who were part-timers. Sedan were three up after 28 minutes, much to the delight of the crowd of around 3,000, with two Celts in particular having a less than memorable evening. Frank Haffey completely misjudged a corner at the second goal and Dunky MacKay sliced an attempted clearance into his own net for the third goal. The team on the night was Haffey, MacKay, Kennedy, Crerand, McNeill, Peacock, Carroll, Chalmers, Mochan, Kelly and Auld.
For the second encounter of the sides on Tuesday 18th October, the same defence was chosen but the forward line had been boosted by the arrival of Willie Fernie from Middlesbrough, so it lined up Chalmers, Fernie, Mochan, Kelly, Auld. A crowd of 27,000 turned up at Parkhead for the occasion but they watched with some dismay as their side struggled against the more inventive French visitors. Sedan had taken the lead in the first minute; John Divers equalized 60 seconds later; Sedan then scored with two long-range efforts before the interval to make it 3-1; but Celtic forced a draw with two goals form Steve Chalmers in the 70th and 87th minutes.
That meant that Celtic provided one point towards the overall Scottish total. In the other matches, Clyde won home and away against Lens, picking up 4 points, while Motherwell did the same against Toulouse. Dundee, up against Valenciennes, won one game and lost the other, so the final tally was Scotland 11 points and France 5.
The Celtic management and directors had reservations about the tournament. In fact, in his manager’s report in Celtic Football Guide of 1961-62, Jimmy McGrory wrote:
I feel that if it is to be continued, re-organisation is necessary to make it a success. The club’s experience was that there was little interest or incentive, and a lack of organization, especially at the French end.
Despite these misgivings, though, Celtic eventually agreed to take part in the following season. They were drawn this time against Reims but, probably much to their relief, the French club could not agree to dates for the matches and thus ended Celtic’s participation in the Anglo-Franco-Scottish Friendship Cup.
Two years later, in season 1962-63, Celtic entered one of the major European competitions for the first time, their 3rd place finish in the league the previous season giving them an entrée into the Fairs Cities Cup, where they were drawn against Valencia of Spain who had won the competition in 1961-62, beating Barcelona 7-3 on aggregate in the two-legged final.
It was a tough start to their European life, as was demonstrated in the first leg in the Estadio Luis Casanova, the stadium named after their president from the 40s and 50s ( originally the Campo de Mestella). Celtic came away with a 2-4 defeat, the Spaniards thoroughly deserving their win, their fans – making up the vast majority of the 40,000 crowd – leaving for home very pleased with the performance of their side.
Celtic’s first goal came from an own goal by right-half Mestre and the second was scored by Bobby Carroll, who thus became the first Celtic player to score in European competition.
In the second leg in Glasgow on 24th October 1962, the Celtic eleven of Haffey, MacKay, Kennedy, Crerand, MacNamee, Clark, Chalmers, Craig, Divers, Gallagher and Byrne collected a 2-2 draw, a scoreline which pretty accurately reflected the play.
Another own goal, this time by right-back Verdu in 48 minutes, gave Celtic a lead but Valencia came back with two goals from inside-left Guillot and centre-forward Walso before Pat Crerand got the equaliser five minutes from time. An excellent crowd of 45,000 had gathered at Parkhead for the encounter and they would have been disappointed when John Clark missed a penalty in the 17th minute. However, over the 90 minutes, a draw was a fair result and Valencia took the tie 6-4 on aggregate.
Valencia then went all the way to the final for the second year in a row, where they proved too strong for Dinamo Zagreb in another two-legged affair, winning 4-1 on aggregate.
The other two major competitions that season finished as follows;-
European Cup Final for 1962-63 – Played at Wembley in front of a crowd of 45,000. Result: AC Milan 2 Benfica 1
European Cup Winners’ cup Final – Played at the Feyenoord Stadium, in Rotterdam, with an attendance of 49,000. Result: Tottenham Hotspur 5 Atletico Madrid 1.
These matches against Valencia get a mention from Jimmy McGrory in his Managers’ Report in the Celtic Football Guide:
In the Fairs Cities Cup, 1st Round tie against Valencia in Spain we were beaten 4-2 but we put up a very good show and we were quite confident we could turn the tables when they came to Glasgow, but the best we could do was draw 2-2 making the aggregate score 6-4. Our form against the continentals has not been the best, but I am sure we couldn’t look for anything better than the show against Real Madrid when we lost 3-1 at Celtic Park.
This match against Real Madrid referred to by Jimmy McGrory in his Manager’s Report took place on 10th September 1962 and was a friendly, the brainchild of a well-known Glasgow businessman and Celtic supporter called Max Benjamin. It was devised to benefit the Jewish National Fund Charitable Trust, the proceeds from which went to help the rehabilitation of refugees, particularly women and children, from Europe and North Africa. The match was promoted by the Blue-and-White committee, the name reflecting the colours of Israel’s national flag. Because of the charitable nature of the game, Real Madrid reduced their normal fee by a third and both the referee – Leo Horn of Holland – and the linesmen – local men Tom Wharton and Bobby Davidson – all gave their services free.
72,000 were there on the night and in the first half they saw Real Madrid give a commanding performance and go into a 2-goal lead through Puskas and Amancio. Celtic brought on three substitutes at the interval – Chalmers, Carroll and Byrne – and although Real scored another through Gento in 60 minutes, Celtic pulled one back through Steve Chalmers a minute later. Suddenly, the home players rose to a new level and the crowd saw the unusual sight of the Spanish masters struggling to contain this young Scots side.
The final result was 3-1 to Real Madrid but the crowd was so delighted by Celtic’s performance, particularly in the second half, that they demanded a lap of honour. Naturally, the team was hesitant. After all, it is unusual to be feted after a defeat. Eventually, though, the players appeared, in assorted clothing, some of them in bare feet, and paraded round the pitch. Later, hundreds of excited fans gathered outside the Central Hotel, where the post-match banquet was being held, chanting the names of their heroes.
Celtic’s team that memorable night was Haffey, McKay, and Kennedy; Crerand, McNeill, and Price; Lennox (Chalmers), Gallagher, Hughes (Carroll), Jackson, Brogan (Byrne).
The following season, thanks to their runners-up slot in the Scottish Cup Final of the previous year, Celtic entered the European Cup Winners’ Cup, the campaign getting off to a great start with a 10-1 aggregate win over Basle of Switzerland, in each of the two legs scoring five goals. In the first leg, in the Stadion St Jakob, where only 15,000 were in attendance, the goals came from John Divers, Bobby Lennox and John Hughes (3); while back at Celtic Park, where an even poorer crowd of 8,000 had turned up for the return leg, the crucial strikes came from Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, Steve Chalmers and John Divers (2).
The Round Two draw paired Celtic with Dinamo Zagreb of Yugoslavia. The first leg was at Celtic Park, where 42,000 had paid their money and got an impressive performance from their boys, who were much better than their opponents and were rewarded with a 3-0 win, the goals coming from John Hughes and Steve Chalmers (2).
One week later, on 11th December, in the Stadion Dinamo in Zagreb, Bobby Murdoch opened the scoring for Celtic in 41 minutes but the Slavs came back with counters in the 62nd and 85th minutes to take the tie 2-1, although Celtic went through 4-2 on aggregate.
In Round Three, Celtic were drawn against Czech opposition, Slovan Bratislava, with the first leg again at home. The fans were getting a taste for these European matches and 53,000 were there to witness Celtic put on a fine display of attacking football. Unfortunately, only one goal, a penalty by Bobby Murdoch in 71 minutes, was the product of all this endeavour and the fans were slightly apprehensive about the team’s chances when they travelled to Czechoslavakia for the second leg on 4th March in the Stadion Tehelne Pole.
Slovan Bratislava had just returned from a very successful tour of South America and as expected, they did dominate the play. However, they failed to get the vital goal and Celtic did do so five minutes from the end, John Hughes picking up the ball inside his own half and then running towards goal, beating two players en route and flicking the ball past the Czech goalkeeper. It was a great goal and it put Celtic through on a 2-0 aggregate.
Celtic were now in the semi-finals, alongside MTK Budapest, Olympique Lyon and Sporting Lisbon. The draw paired them with the Hungarian side, the first leg took place on 15th April at Parkhead, 51,000 went along to watch – and they certainly got their money’s worth!
On the night, Celtic were excellent. They showed determination and aggression all through the match and their pace, particularly from Steve Chalmers and Jimmy Johnstone, was just too much for the visitors. The goals came from Johnstone four minutes before the break and Chalmers in 65 and 76 minutes. It was never easy – although, since their side was 3-0 ahead, the fans were chanting that word towards the end – but it was an impressive all-round performance, with every aspect of the team doing their work. As the ground slowly emptied, players and fans were looking forward with anticipation to the second leg.
That match took place on 29th April 1964 and must go down as one of the most disappointing nights in Celtic history. From the comments of some of the players who played on that night – the team was Fallon, Young, Gemmell, Clark, McNeill, Kennedy, Johnstone, Murdoch, Chalmers, Gallagher, Hughes – it appears that the players were encouraged to show the Hungarian fans how well Celtic could play football. In his book, Lion Heart, Tommy Gemmell gives us an specific insight into the thinking of the club management at that time;-
‘You would think that in a European semi, 3-0 up from the first leg, the management would tell us to keep things nice and tight and make the opposition chase the game and work for everything they were to get. No. Sean Fallon, who was in charge of team affairs by that time, wanted us to hump the ball 50 and 60 yards. You just don’t do that sort of thing. We didn’t deserve to get anything from the game, while they deserved to beat us 4-0 and maybe by even more’.
Jimmy Johnstone was equally reflective :
They simply didn’t play at Celtic Park but they could easily have scored more than four in the second leg. Mind you, maybe we were a wee bit confident from the first game.
John Hughes also had some memories of the occasion;
I remember Bob Kelly slapping his glove into his hand before the game and saying, “Och, we beat them over in Glasgow – we can beat them here as well. Just go out and play”.
That was the attitude – there was no “Let’s go out and try and hold them for 20 minutes”. There were no thoughts of soaking up pressure.
Before the match, it had been a wonderful situation for Celtic to be in. 3-0 up from the first leg, at the semi-final stage of the European Cup Winner’s Cup, with Olympique Lyon or Sporting Lisbon prospective opponents in the final to be held at Brussels. What an opportunity! Would it be too harsh to say that Celtic blew it?
MTK Budapest therefore went through to the final, where they met Sporting Lisbon in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. The first match ended in a 3-3 draw and the replay was held two days later, this time in Antwerp. Only 19,000 turned and up they witnessed a single goal, scored by the Portuguese side, to take the cup back to Lisbon.
In the European Cup Final, held in the Prater Stadium in Vienna, with an attendance of 72,000, Internazionale beat Real Madrid 3-1.
And in the Fairs Cup final, it was an all-Spanish affair, with Real Zaragoza beating Valencia 2-1 in front of 50,000 at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.