Tue, 7 April 2020
The 9iar chronicles - Season Three 1967/68
The Second Greatest Season EVER in the History of the Club - and a Double season.
After the highs of 1967-68 it would be difficult to know how to go forward with the club. That Jock Stein had a vision of where the club should be was without doubt. He had clearly shown that the club could move forward with suitable backing and one voice. That direction was most clearly in Europe and to be recognised as a great and formidable club. And for this reason Europe and the participation in European competitions was THE most important thing. That is not to say that the other games were non-important. If Jock Stein was anything, he was competitive and aspirational. Having done it once, he wanted to do it again.
It seems almost inevitable as nemesis follows hubris that having won the competition at the first time of asking that the following season the team should fall at the first hurdle. But that's what happened. In Dynamo Kiev, they met a team as well prepared and ready to fight as Celtic were. At home in the first leg, they lost an early goal and then a second, both from errors made by Celtic players and though the effort was all-out in the second half they could only find the one goal. Stein had been looking for a win and by a clear three goals to give him the margin for the return leg. As a master of 'attack being the best form of defense' the away leg would have to be all-out attack. What happened was that though Celtic charged, the game was sorely affected by the pernickety refereeing of an Italian and the Bhoys never got a good clear run to build up the constant pressure of 9 men capable of scoring. And then on 59 minutes Bobby Murdoch was sent off for a second yellow card. A seemingly decent goal was then disallowed and Celtic found themselves knocked out.
With an abrupt termination of European competition this season, the necessity to qualify for next season was paramount. The League HAD to be one. There was just no two ways about this. The team embarked on a winning streak which lasted till the 2nd January and the game against Rangers at Celtic Park. Rangers were two points ahead in the League. The stage was set and no one was more keen than Jock Stein to put Celtic back where they belonged. What happened was to haunt John Fallon for the rest of his career. Two goalkeeping errors allowed Rangers to draw 2-2 and the nip-and-tuck would go on right to the end of the season. In the end it was Rangers that blinked. It was for them to lose the title which they duly did, missing out in crucial games allowing Celtic to continue to maintain their League win record and take the title with a rousing performance at Dunfermiline.
The drive for the League Championship this season established records. The team produced a post-war record of 63 points to win, 5 more than the previous season, and in doing so they lost only one League game. They did not score as many goals with 106 as opposed to 111 the previous but they conceded less - 24 against 33 in 66/67.
In the face of this success it might therefore be thought churlish to complain but there was something different about the performance this season. Despite the number of games won the team appeared to be less imperious than it had the year previously. Jock Stein recognised that no team could stand still and measures had been taken to bring new players through. There was a good crop of youngsters developing but this would take a little time. In the mean time Celtic still had a team capable of attacking with 9 men and defending in depth when required.
Of the other three competitions, Celtic were knocked out of the Scottish Cup at the First Round - something that had not happened since 1952 - by the team that would go on to win the trophy - Dunfermiline. Celtic retained the League Cup after qualifying from a group containing Rangers, Dundee Utd and Aberdeen - another nose rubbed in the dirt. And when Rangers withdrew from the Glasgow Cup citing fixture congestion the word everywhere was that Rangers were afeared to face an in-form Celtic. Celtic duly retained the Glasgow Cup.
Perhaps this last excuse needs bearing in mind when considering the Intercontinental Club Championship games against Racing. There is no doubt that Jock Stein wanted to win this. Even in the face of the debacle after the second leg in Buenos Aires It was Jock that insisted on playing the replay in Montevideo. Robert Kelly was all for returning home. But how would the public have seen a statement like that? In the end it was probably the players view that they could beat Racing which turned opinion to playing the replay and what happened made Jock Stein regret his decision to go ahead with the replay. In the face of the film of the incidents being shown around the world the club had no choice but to censure the players. But what people throughout had failed o see was the utter intimidation and dirty behaviour that Celtic had faced from the Argentine side throughout the three games. And the patience and fair play of the team finally broke and led to the incidents.
So what we have then is a great season in many ways, but flawed and not perfect as say 1967-68 had been. It still represented a phenomenal achievement. Celtic were playing total football with local players all from within 20 miles of Celtic Park long before the phrase became popular and in relation to the Dutch.
The next season as always would present new challenges.