Foreword by Alex Ferguson

Prologue, 1965

The Genius

1 Paradise at Last, 1965–66

2 Glory, Glory, Glory, 1966–67

3 Triumph and Disaster, 1967–68

4 Three Times a Winner, 1968–69

5 Twilight of the Gods, 1969–70

The Master

6 A New Start, 1970–71

7 The Brink of Greatness, 1971–72

8 Intimations of Mortality, 1972–73

9 Nine in a Row, 1973–74

The Old Fox

10 End of an Era, 1974–75

11 The Last Hurrah, 1976–77

12 The Final Curtain, 1977–78



The Celtic Years

Tom Campbell and David Potter

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For the home teams:

Pauline, Robin and Dana

Rosemary, Alison, Susan and Andrew


The authors would like to acknowledge the help received from the following in the compilation of this work: Charlie Gallagher, Billy McNeill, Bobby Murdoch, Ronnie Simpson; Sean Fallon, Jimmy Farrell, Alex Ferguson, Kevin Kelly, Bob Crampsey, Kevin Macarra, Archie Macpherson, Ken Robertson; Peter Burns (S.J.), Frank Glencross, Robin Marwick, Bobby Reid and Pat Woods.

In the past, the following have been interviewed and the memories and notes from those meetings have been of great value: Bertie Auld, Steve Chalmers, Willie Fernie, Dr John Fitzsimons, Tom Grant, Cyril Home, Sir Robert Kelly, Jim Kennedy, Matt Lynch, Willie Mathieson, John McAlindon, Jimmy McGrory, Gerry McNee, John McPhail, Paul McStay, Willie Ormond, Desmond White – and, of course, Jock Stein.

The authors are very grateful to Tom Leonard for permission to reproduce his poem ‘Fireworks’.


I am proud to say that I knew Jock Stein as a football manager, as a colleague and as a friend.

Our paths had crossed when I first started playing for Dunfermline Athletic shortly after Jock Stein left for Hibernian. Jock’s presence still permeated East End Park. All the players there, particularly the young ones – Willie and Tom Callaghan, John Lunn, Jackie Sinclair and the Lanarkshire boys Jim Herriot and George Miller – looked up to him as a coach and manager.

I played against Celtic in late December 1964 and scored the winning goal in a 2–1 win but the atmosphere at Celtic Park was dreadful, a very small crowd and a typical winter’s day in Glasgow: dreich. In April 1965 when Dunfermline played Celtic in the Scottish Cup final, things had changed, as all the players at Dunfermline knew they would. Jock Stein, now in charge at Celtic Park, had overhauled the players’ attitude and they had a great belief in themselves. They already had a better team shape and understanding, and I felt there was an inevitability about the outcome – a 3–2 victory for Celtic which ended their long trophy drought.

I should say that I was not selected for that Dunfermline team, although I was their top scorer; I’ve often told Big Billy McNeill that he had an easier afternoon than he expected with me out of the side!

Jock Stein’s sides had certain criteria, the characteristics of all the great British teams in history: they always tried to win games, they never gave in and they were always fit and mentally tough. And those Celtic sides had tremendous players, men who performed with style and skill.

Jock Stein revolutionised football in Scotland as a tracksuit manager. Every manager since has been influenced by him: his training methods, his tactics and his strong principles. At Dunfermline they were still speaking about his tactics-talks on the chalk board, a practice they had never experienced before. He also was the first manager to hold press conferences in the modern sense – although, like most present-day managers, I have mixed feelings about that.

And, now that I am an experienced manager myself, I can appreciate just how difficult it is to achieve such success. I would like to think that I have always worked hard – as did Jock Stein; and that I also am willing to travel in order to learn more about this game of football. In 1970, only a year after I was playing for Rangers against Celtic in a Scottish Cup final, I went to Milan hoping to see Celtic win the European Cup for Scotland; I can remember getting soaked like the rest of the supporters.

I also remember fondly the number of times that my wife and I used to meet Jock and Jean Stein and Sean and Myra Fallon at the Beechwood Restaurant near Hampden Park for a meal and to have a good night’s blether. He was always pleasant and cheerful, a good companion; he was always generous with his praise and advice; he was the greatest manager in British football, a legend . . . and I was young and inexperienced then.

Men like Jock will live for ever in the memory.

Alex Ferguson,


May 1998


In January 1965 Celtic Football Club was in a mess.

On the playing field, a young team, always filled with potential but permanently disappointing, was producing mediocre football. They were not performing as a unit and, as individuals, were becoming increasingly drained of confidence. The talk in the dressing-room was not of winning trophies or honours but of probable transfers: the captain, Billy McNeill, totally frustrated at the continuing lack of success, had already decided that he would be leaving at the end of the season; Tottenham Hotspur were favoured to capture him. Bobby Murdoch, too often played out of position, was considering emigrating to Australia. Jimmy Johnstone had become so fed up with football that he asked to be dropped. Bobby Lennox, yet another whose potential had not developed as it should have, had been the subject of recent inquiries from Falkirk.

During the course of the downward spiral of yet another disappointing season, attendances at Celtic Park had started to dwindle alarmingly. Strangely enough, the crowds at away fixtures were more acceptable: 16,000 at Rugby Park to see Kilmarnock beat Celtic 5–2 on 28 October 1964, but only 12,000 at Parkhead three days later to watch Celtic defeat Airdrie 2–1; 13,500 at Celtic Park on 2 January to witness a 1–1 draw with Clyde, but 18,000 at Tannadice on 9 January to see Dundee United win by 3–1. Perhaps the terminal decline of a once-great club had a greater fascination for outsiders than for Celtic’s own followers. A thoroughly disillusioned Celtic following was disappearing, and what remained was the basic bedrock numbering some 15,000, a pathetic remnant of what used to be called ‘The Faithful’.

Perhaps the most depressing match of all was at Celtic Park on 16 January 1965, when Hearts visited Glasgow. The day was miserable with overcast skies, and the rain persisted from midday onwards. The crowd was a respectable 23,000, but the more honest Celtic supporters would have to agree that the Hearts’ followers outshouted their own, and seemed to outnumber them – and at Celtic Park! The evidence could be seen in the Jungle which, on a rainy, windswept day, was little better than an old cattle shed, when the Edinburgh fans actually dared to enter that so-called covered enclosure. They were not exactly made welcome, but there was no outright hostility as the visitors attempted to escape the rain soaking them on the exposed Rangers’ end of the ground. Even in the Jungle the spectators risked getting wet, as water cascaded down through the rusty, leaky roof.

Johnny Hamilton scored for Hearts very early in the contest and, although Gemmell equalised in 28 minutes, Hamilton added a second for the Edinburgh side, a lead which they maintained comfortably until the end. By completing a league double over Celtic, Hearts were able to maintain their run of good form and challenge for the title. Celtic remained mired in sixth place with little interest in the championship.

That match represented the nadir of Celtic’s season – and perhaps their fortunes.

It was a bit too much to bear from those supporters who were prepared to stick it out to the bitter end. Torrents of abuse were being hurled from all parts of the ground, not at Hearts, nor at the referee, but at some Celtic players, and very clearly at the directors’ box. The main target of the insults was the chairman of the club, Bob Kelly.

A stockbroker’s clerk, he had inherited or controlled a sizeable portion of the shares owned by the Kelly family and had assumed the chairmanship back in 1947. At that time, Celtic were a struggling club, and nothing much had changed over the years, although there had been memorable moments of almost miraculous flashes of form in otherwise drab seasons. Nobody questioned Kelly’s zeal or commitment, but the chairman was a man who ran the show with no real football qualifications apart from having watched Celtic for decades (from the directors’ box), and having inherited shares passed down from his father, James Kelly, Celtic’s first captain. His arrogance in determining every aspect of Celtic’s policy bordered on the pathological. He was loathed by many of the fiercely loyal supporters, nostalgic for a glorious past but without any comfort in the present and with absolutely no hope in the future.

Jimmy McGrory, a magnificent player for Celtic back in the late 1920s and 1930s, had been appointed manager in 1945, but he had made little impact. Like other managers of the immediate post-war era, he ran things from his office and rarely ventured near the players at training sessions. Preparation for matches was left to the trainer, or was entrusted to a few key players strong-willed enough to take the initiative. Apart from Rangers – who were prepared to buy their way out of trouble, and who always had a coterie of determined players – Scottish football was similarly haphazard. Occasionally, splendid sides would evolve, like the glorious Hibernian team of the late 1940s and 1950s, and the Hearts side of a little later. But nothing like that was developing at Celtic Park.

Since 1957, when Celtic had inflicted a stunning 7–1 victory over Rangers in the League Cup final, the club had stagnated. This period, which lasted for virtually seven seasons, has (with hindsight) often been referred to as ‘the youth policy’ – but it should never have been designated as ‘a policy’ because there was no planning, no method and no prospects. The maladministration of the club amounted to dereliction of duty by the board of directors. Frustratingly, many of the young men who played for Celtic at that time were highly promising and later developed into exceptional players, but at Celtic Park the important matches during this time were fated to end in disaster, often self-inflicted through bizarre team selections. Bob Kelly, the man responsible, was rightly criticised for this and the subsequent lack of success unacceptable in a club of Celtic’s reputation. Those who blamed him for Celtic’s ills had a valid point, but the chairman, apparently immune to criticism and secure in his position at Celtic Park, seemed prepared to sit things out indefinitely.

Infuriatingly self-righteous, Kelly may have claimed to be unaffected by the abuse, some of it unavoidably personal, which was being hurled at him, but he was also a man looking for an honourable escape from the stress of running Celtic. He had no wish to be remembered as the least successful chairman in the club’s history and, now in his early 60s, he was becoming physically drained, and getting more and more discouraged as the trophy drought continued.

As custodians of ‘a family club’, Celtic’s directors always took a keen interest in the gate-receipts, and they could see at a glance that the club was declining financially. The Scottish Cup remained the only chance of a reprieve – and of a major trophy that season – but the draw had decreed that Celtic would be travelling to Love Street to face a St Mirren side that had inflicted two heavy and embarrassing defeats on them at the semi-final stage in recent years. An early dismissal from the Scottish Cup would be ruinous.

Within the boardroom, too, there were notes of dissent. James Farrell, a Glasgow lawyer and a long-time associate of the directors, had only recently been appointed as a board member. A Celtic supporter since childhood, he could see what the club needed and, in his view, the appointment of a new manager was a priority. As a new director he had to be careful about voicing his opinions forcefully, but others were clearly thinking along the same lines.

Kelly was also becoming concerned about the emotional and physical well-being of his manager, Jimmy McGrory. He had always admired McGrory as an exceptionally decent human being but he had to admit that the former player’s tenure as manager (which virtually paralleled his own reign as chairman) had not been successful by Celtic standards. Jimmy McGrory would soon be 61 and, blaming himself in part for Celtic’s repeated failures, he recognised that anxiety was beginning to affect his health.

In the background was the rumbling of discontent from several keen Celtic supporters who were also astute businessmen and lawyers. It was rumoured, not without reason, that some of these men were preparing a bid to take over the moribund club . . .

Bob Kelly was rightly worried.


It was at that time that the chairman received a phone call from Jock Stein, Hibernian’s manager and a former Celtic captain and coach, ostensibly asking Kelly for some advice. The pair arranged to meet for lunch in Glasgow’s North British Hotel, just off George Square, to discuss Stein’s problem.

Stein had been allowed to leave Celtic Park in March 1960, relinquishing his position as second-team coach to take over as Dunfermline’s manager. Before leaving, Stein – who had always been ambitious1 – had determined after meeting Bob Kelly that he should not consider Celtic as one of his future managerial options, the chairman having made it plain that Stein, nominally a Protestant, would not have been acceptable to some in Celtic’s support. Jock Stein was in absolutely no doubt about that and, as a West of Scotland man, accepted the reality of the situation. When Stein left Celtic, it was with Kelly’s good wishes but nothing more.

Dunfermline Athletic were deep in relegation trouble at the time, and nobody expected Stein, an untried manager, to revive them in the closing six matches of the season. However, his new career got off to a meteoric start against his old club on 19 March when Dunfermline scored within fifteen seconds of the start and went on to collect both points with a scrappy 3–2 win. By winning all six of those remaining fixtures in 1959–60, Dunfermline managed to avoid relegation. In 1960–61 they had improved enough to win the Scottish Cup by beating Celtic in a replay; in 1961–62 the unfashionable Fifers enjoyed a sensational run in Europe, and finished fourth in the First Division. Throughout the same period, Celtic were largely standing still.

In April 1964 Hibernian, a larger club than Dunfermline Athletic, approached Jock Stein. Stein’s first reaction was to contact Bob Kelly, nominally to seek his advice but, in reality, to remind Celtic of his existence. A natural politician, Stein would never admit that these contacts with the chairman were calculated to keep him in the picture at Celtic Park but, significantly, he never denied them. Having once again made his availability known to Celtic – and been rejected for his pains – Stein eventually accepted the vacant post of Hibernian manager.

The Edinburgh club, celebrated in the immediate post-war seasons as the best footballing side in Scotland with three championships to prove it, had declined since those days. It was Stein’s task to restore some of that lustre to Easter Road, and he was fortunate that the Summer Cup of 1964, a competition which the Old Firm had declined to enter, was there for the taking. By the turn of the year, Hibernian – recently flirting with relegation – had improved enough to be in serious contention for the championship and well tipped for the Scottish Cup.

Such achievements with Dunfermline and Hibs were drawing attention to Jock Stein as a young and effective manager. Wolverhampton Wanderers, another famous club in decline, had approached him, and this was the matter he said was concerning him when he telephoned Bob Kelly. Listening to Stein outlining his predicament, Kelly advised against accepting any offer from Wolverhampton, pointing out that the Midlands club recently had sacked its long-time manager, the legendary Stan Cullis, in acrimonious circumstances.

As the conversation went on, Bob Kelly began to realise that Jock Stein might well be the answer to Celtic’s travails and at some point during lunch, the chairman finally took the bait. How would Stein feel about taking over at Celtic Park? This was exactly what the wily Stein had been praying for.

Why had it taken Kelly so long to realise what most football followers in Scotland had already recognised? The major stumbling-block – at least, for some directors and fans – was the matter of religion. Like many other non-Catholics, he had played for Celtic – although in Stein’s case he had done so despite the misgivings of some of his friends and relatives. Like those others, he had been accepted by Celtic players and supporters as the team’s captain without too many qualms. Appointed as the second-team coach after his enforced retirement as a player, he had experienced little difficulty in communicating with the youngsters in his charge, and had been considered a success in that role. Cyril Home, the long-time correspondent for the Glasgow Herald and a confidant of Stein from the latter’s days as a player, told one of the authors several years ago that Stein had been reprimanded by Kelly for recommending too many Catholic youngsters as Celtic prospects. According to Stein, the chairman had told him in blunt terms that any lad, regardless of religion, was eligible to play for Celtic if he were good enough.

Still, there were people who anticipated difficulties for Jock Stein in his public and private life as Celtic’s first non-Catholic manager. Upon hearing of his appointment one prominent journalist was reported as saying: ‘Well, he’s going to have to learn to whistle “The Sash” and hum “The Soldiers’ Song” at the same time from now on.’ Jock Stein himself was totally familiar with the nuances of the sectarian divide in Scottish society, but he was confident that he could overcome the difficulties. Apart from his growing reputation as a manager, Stein had another great thing in his favour. He was untainted by the sectarianism which surrounded him in Lanarkshire, and he despised the worst manifestations of it. In fact, his wife, Jean, came from a Catholic background. As far as humanly possible, he was open-minded and tolerant, capable of judging all people (players, officials, journalists and supporters) strictly on merit.

He knew the Celtic supporters better than the club’s chairman did, and was aware of what they needed in the person of a manager: a good man who deserved respect, a strong man to stand up to a dictatorial chairman and a leader who could deliver some success on the football pitch. He had enough self-confidence to believe that he was capable of answering those needs.

On the eve of his appointment the mood among Celtic’s support was so apathetic that only 14,000 bothered to turn up at Parkhead for the visit of Aberdeen. It was 30 January, the day of Winston Churchill’s state funeral, televised nationally. The players, however, seemed to have heard something to their liking – or sensed the probability of change – as they trounced the Dons by 8–0, John Hughes leading the way with five goals. For those fans within Celtic Park that day the atmosphere had become charged with electricity. They realised instinctively that something was ‘on’ and, throughout Scottish football, rumours began to circulate about changes at Celtic Park.

In London’s Westminster Abbey at much the same hour, the invited guests and dignitaries – and millions watching on television – were listening to a moving rendition of one of the wartime leader’s favourite poems:

And not by eastern windows only

When daylight comes, comes in the light.

In front, the sun comes slow, how slowly

But westward, look, the land is bright!

In retrospect, the same words were just as apt for Celtic Park that day, as Jock Stein was preparing to switch his workplace from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

Even before he took over officially, Jock Stein had had to face an unexpected test. At one meeting with Kelly, after having shaken hands on the appointment, Stein was preparing to discuss the general and specific terms of his employment, when the chairman momentarily left him gobsmacked.

It was an open secret that Bob Kelly had always intended Sean Fallon to succeed Jimmy McGrory as Celtic’s manager. Kelly was reluctant to abandon his plans for Fallon and the proposal that he put to Stein was breathtaking in its simplicity, if not stupidity. The chairman, having gone so long without seeing the need for a manager, was now suggesting to Stein that Celtic would be better off with two. Stein listened carefully as Kelly outlined his proposal: Jock Stein and Sean Fallon would operate as joint-managers of Celtic; Stein would largely be in control of the football squad, its training and coaching – the other details could be worked out later.

Stein may have been desperate to become Celtic’s manager, but never on those impractical terms. He was deeply disturbed at the implications inherent in the proposal, but he was street-smart – he knew that Celtic needed him, and sensed that they could not afford to lose him at the last minute. He asked for time to consider the proposal, and Kelly agreed to that request. Shortly afterwards, Stein made an appointment with Desmond White, the club’s secretary and also a senior director. White assured him that Celtic wanted him as their manager, and advised him to hold out for sole control.

Given Kelly’s reputation for pigheadedness, it was a calculated gamble. At this point it might be worth while to speculate on what might have happened to Celtic had the offer to Jock Stein been withdrawn.

Almost certainly, the position would have reverted to Sean Fallon, who had been acting as Celtic’s manager (and coach) for the past couple of seasons although Jimmy McGrory remained nominally in charge. As the official manager, Fallon’s position would have been strengthened and the chain of command would have been more streamlined, but would things have improved very much? The training and the coaching would have remained largely the same – and with the same disappointing results. Bob Kelly would have continued to make too many of the important football decisions – and with the same consequences. Billy McNeill, for one, has little doubt about the prospects: ‘Celtic might well have won a trophy every couple of seasons, most likely the Scottish Cup, and the directors would have been happy enough with that.’

By that time, Billy McNeill would have left Celtic for England and several others would have been plying their trade for other Scottish clubs. Other players, Bobby Murdoch and Jimmy Johnstone among them, would not have developed fully as professionals and might have drifted out of the game.

In the event, Kelly was backed into a corner, and admitted defeat – on his own terms. With commendable loyalty he arranged adequate consolations for Sean Fallon and Jimmy McGrory: Fallon was appointed as Stein’s assistant-manager, and McGrory was given the newly created role of public relations officer.

Sean Fallon was fully justified in feeling disappointment in being passed over for promotion, having waited patiently for so long and having worked so hard without gaining too much recognition. The Irishman sought out a meeting with Jock Stein, and the two former team-mates very quickly reached an amicable understanding: Stein was coming to Celtic as manager with complete responsibility for football matters, and Fallon would assist him in every way possible.

That meeting took place in Edinburgh, at Easter Road, where Fallon had intended to watch a reserve game before returning home. However, in the course of the conversation, Jock Stein happened to mention that Tommy Docherty, Chelsea’s manager, had visited him earlier that day and had remarked that he would be meeting a youngster that evening at the North British Hotel. Sean Fallon was aware that Docherty was interested in a 16-year-old from Paisley who had been watched by Celtic. Acting on intuition, Fallon changed his plans about the Easter Road match and hurried over to the hotel where he contacted the boy (and his father). Within an hour or so, the teenager had been persuaded by the earnest Irishman to join Celtic. His name? David Hay.

Sean Fallon, that most loyal of Celtic men, had no trouble in accepting the understanding that he had reached with Stein – and, to his infinite credit, he remained totally true to the new manager throughout his years at Celtic Park, modestly retreating from the limelight as much as possible. In fact, Fallon’s steadiness and other attributes at times complemented Stein’s and he proved a most worthy assistant, his contribution at times being undervalued – although, significantly enough, not by the players.

Sean Fallon also deserves credit for steering Celtic through a difficult interregnum as the players waited for Jock Stein to become available on or about 8 March 1965. The astonishing 8–0 victory over Aberdeen at Parkhead at the end of January may well have been put down to a positive reaction to the hints about the change in manager, but a more difficult task lay in wait a week later with a visit to Love Street on Scottish Cup business on 6 February and 28,300 crowded into the ground to see the match. At half-time after an evenly fought battle the score was 0–0, but Stevie Chalmers put Celtic in front only four minutes into the second half. Celtic took command of the situation but their two other goals, both from Lennox, came late in the match.

Thanks to inconsistency earlier in the season, Celtic’s remaining league fixtures were meaningless, but provided an opportunity for the side to prepare for the Scottish Cup ties. Still, Celtic’s form was impressive: a 5–1 rout of St Mirren a week after the cup tie and a 2–0 win over Kilmarnock at Celtic Park on 27 February. Kilmarnock were formidable opposition; in fact, the Ayrshire side, managed by ex-Ranger Willie Waddell, would go on to win the league championship with a dramatic win at Tynecastle in their last match of the season.

Having edged Queen’s Park at Hampden Park on 20 February in their first Scottish Cup clash with the Spiders since 1928, Celtic qualified to face Kilmarnock in the quarter-final on 6 March. It was a critical match for Celtic as the success of the whole season hinged on it. It proved an enthralling game for the crowd of 47,000 at Celtic Park who were left in suspense until the final whistle confirmed a 3–2 win for Celtic. Even greater suspense was in evidence at Easter Road as Hibernian, with Jock Stein in charge for the last time, faced Rangers for a place in the semi-final. In the very last minute of a bruising battle, Hibernian scored to knock Rangers out of the Cup by 2–1. A great day for Celtic!

Sean Fallon had performed admirably in his difficult role: since the news of Stein’s appointment he had led Celtic to three successive league wins; he had steered the team to the Scottish Cup semi-final with victories over St Mirren, Queen’s Park and Kilmarnock; and he had landed a promising youngster in David Hay. He stepped down with Celtic perfectly safe in seventh place in the league table and with a place in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Not too bad a performance from a caretaker.

Having decided that it was time to replace McGrory, the chairman had wasted little time in imparting the news to the manager. According to a reliable source, the conversation took place while McGrory was preparing the pay-envelopes for his players – the clearest indication of the duties expected of Celtic’s manager at that time. Perhaps Jimmy McGrory was relieved to be free of responsibilities which, increasingly, were proving to be too much for him. However, despite the security in retaining much the same salary in his less stressful position, he did feel some twinges of resentment at the much greater sum offered to Jock Stein upon his appointment.

Stein knew Celtic as a ‘family club’ and raised no objections to working with Sean Fallon and Jimmy McGrory, both of whom he liked, trusted and respected. He realised the awkwardness of McGrory’s new position and went out of his way to ease McGrory into his new role by deference to his own former manager. Bob Kelly was particularly impressed with Stein’s habit of referring to Jimmy McGrory as ‘Boss’, especially in front of impressionable players.

Jock Stein was unfailingly polite and respectful towards his chairman, knowing instinctively that the most important relationship within a football club is the rapport and mutual trust between manager and chairman. But he was determined that he would succeed or fail on his own terms as a ‘football man’ and, for Stein to succeed at Celtic Park, it might have to be at the expense of the chairman’s considerable ego. Kelly himself gave an early indication that he had realised the sea-change in Celtic’s fortunes when he reported back to his fellow-directors after his first meeting with Stein. Jim Farrell, with a lawyer’s total recall, remembers the exact words: ‘Gentlemen, I think I’ve found a manager . . . but he’ll make life hard for us.’

Farrell also confided to the authors his recollections of the traditional Thursday night board meetings prior to Stein’s arrival: ‘Desmond [White] would read the minutes, somebody would approve them, the correspondence would be read out, the Chairman [Bob Kelly] would allocate some responsibilities along the lines of “X, could you speak to him about that?” or “Y, write to them and see what can be done?” . . . This took about ten minutes at the most, and then the Chairman would relax, sit back, and say, “About Saturday’s game, does everybody agree with me that it’s time we brought in young Z to add some speed to the forwards?” And the conversation would go on for a couple of hours about football and players and teams and referees.’

The real issue would be over the right of the manager to select the team, a right which Stein had demanded from the outset, and which he had been promised. This area had always been a bone of contention at Celtic Park since the start of Kelly’s chairmanship. Stein could remember vividly an incident in 1956 when Bobby Evans was informed of the team by Jimmy McGrory on the morning of the Scottish Cup final and, as captain, started to make plans for the match against Hearts. A few hours later, he had to lead out a vastly different side at Hampden Park at the whim of the chairman. Needless to say, the Cup was lost – thrown away – as were others due to unrealistic team selections.

Stein’s first six weeks in charge at Celtic Park were a model of professionalism. He had very quickly established a rapport with his board of directors and most significantly with its prickly chairman; he had eased Jimmy McGrory out of the firing-line smoothly, allowing the former manager to keep his dignity intact; and he had set in operation a good working relationship with his assistant, Sean Fallon.

It was perfectly clear what Stein had to do: he had to guide Celtic through the tail-end of another disappointing season while making plans for the future. He had to assess every player on the books and gauge his attitude and potential. He had to become accustomed to being the manager of a truly big club and learn how to cope with the pressures of that position.

Every manager rules his players with some degree of fear – the fear that they will be dropped from the side and eventually released. Stein was more than capable of utilising this fear and, by making it known that no player’s situation was entirely secure, he obtained better performances from those Celtic players used to a more laissez-faire approach.

The players were fully conscious of the manager’s intentions and watched carefully for any indication of his leanings. Either by accident or design, Stein remarked casually that he had noticed that Charlie Gallagher and Bertie Auld rarely played well when both were fielded in the same team, suggesting that the inside-forwards were too similar in style, although vastly different in temperament and attitude.

Other players were equally apprehensive about the new man’s expectations of them, sensing that in the remaining six weeks of the season they would be playing for a place in the following year’s Celtic. Stein assured them that they would all be given a fair chance to prove they deserved to be retained, and went out of his way to speak to Ronnie Simpson with whom he had had a poor relationship at Easter Road. Simpson, upon hearing that Stein was coming to Celtic Park, is said to have gone home and informed his wife that they would be on the move again. At any rate, the veteran Simpson – who had played against Stein as a player – listened glumly to the manager, nodded agreement without comment . . . and carried on training with the reserves, not too hopeful about his prospects.

Jock Stein knew before taking over at Celtic Park which players were indispensable and which ones were suspect. At one meeting of the directors, the manager was invited to give his long-term plans for the team, and he presented a list of those players who, he felt, could be released or put on the transfer-list. Such decisive actions on the part of a manager caused some consternation among the directors and perhaps rightly because the latter column reportedly included the names of Jimmy Johnstone and John Hughes.

At the time, Stein’s thinking was correct: neither Johnstone nor Hughes had lived up to the expectations aroused by their potential; both players had been discouraged at the lack of success, and both were notoriously inconsistent. On their day, they could be worldbeaters – or flops. It would be hard to imagine the Celtic of the next few seasons without Johnstone in particular, but Cyril Home of the Glasgow Herald insisted that ‘Jimmy Johnstone was at such a low ebb early in 1965 that it was probable that he would revert to junior football again – and sink without a trace’.

Stein was putting pressure on his squad, challenging them to show him what they could do, and they started to respond. Despite the weariness brought on by a long, and so far fruitless, season the players showed a renewed enthusiasm for training, welcoming the new manager’s hands-on approach.

From the first day in charge he showed the players a new concept in football managership. Billy McNeill remembers clearly the impact of the manager on the training-ground, when he turned up wearing a tracksuit: ‘I never saw Mr McGrory in a tracksuit; I don’t suppose he owned one. But Jock Stein was rarely out of it at training.’

But, consciously, Jock Stein was utilising the remaining league fixtures to give some members of his squad another chance to prove themselves – and to protect himself from any possible charge of dictatorial management.

His method was seen most obviously in the case of Jim Kennedy. The rugged defender was a popular figure at Parkhead, and had been a stalwart for many seasons, earning representative honours with Scotland. A regular in Celtic’s team at the start of the season, he had played for his country against Wales and Finland as recently as October 1964 and against Northern Ireland in November. Since then his form had tailed off, and Stein knew that the veteran was starting his inevitable decline; accordingly, he was selected for only three matches in the run-in – against Dundee at Dens Park on 20 March, against Hibernian at Celtic Park on the 22nd, and finally against Thistle at home on 17 April. Stein’s suspicions were well founded: Celtic drew 3–3 against Dundee and lost to Hibernian (4–2) and Thistle (2–1) while Kennedy struggled.

Other players were given the opportunity to earn a place in the line-up for the Scottish Cup ties, including Hugh Maxwell, a surprise signing from Falkirk for £15,000 in mid-November. But he was unimpressive in the defeat by Hibernian, and in a 5–1 drubbing from Dunfermline in the last league match of the season.2

Tommy Gemmell was another all too aware that the new manager was looking closely at his players and he laid his plans accordingly. Gemmell had heard through the grapevine that Stein was partial to the idea of the attacking full-back, and so Gemmell spent much of the first half of one league match foraging down the left wing in search of goals, and neglecting his defensive duties. At half-time, Stein took him aside and growled menacingly at him – and promptly replaced him for the next (unimportant) fixture.

One criticism frequently levelled at Jock Stein is that he was – relatively speaking – a poor judge of goalkeepers. But, to his credit, Stein realised very quickly that John Fallon, the current goalkeeper, was one player who responded better to a vote of confidence. Accordingly, Fallon, although criticised in past seasons for lapses, was selected for every game until the end of the season.

The league fixtures could now be used for tinkering or even experimentation but not the semi-final of the Scottish Cup against Motherwell at Hampden Park on 27 March. The Lanarkshire side had frequently played well against Celtic, particularly in the Scottish Cup, and they made things difficult for the favourites in this match. Twice they led, goals coming from the alert and mobile Joe McBride, who tormented Billy McNeill on the ground – and even in the air. Bertie Auld twice equalised for a stuttering Celtic, his second goal coming from the penalty spot in 60 minutes, while a couple of his younger colleagues turned away, unable to watch. The match finished 2–2 and Celtic were in complete command during the closing stages, Jimmy Johnstone being unlucky to have his close-range effort chalked off in a dubious offside decision.

Stein made only one change for the replay, held at Hampden on 31 March before a crowd of 58,959: Jimmy Johnstone, out of touch four days earlier, was dropped in favour of the more reliable Stevie Chalmers. Motherwell’s chance had gone, as Celtic overpowered them in an emphatic 3–0 victory. This time McNeill, helped by John Clark, was in complete control of Joe McBride.

Celtic’s league results had been mixed, to say the least. The pessimists among the support feared the worst; the optimists hoped that the manager was consciously adjusting his squad and evaluating them. Stein’s first game in charge was on 10 March, an evening fixture at Broomfield against Airdrie on the day that he took over. The players responded with a sparkling performance to win by 6–0, Bertie Auld leading the way with five goals. The same team was selected for Stein’s first home game – against St Johnstone on 13 March – but gave a tepid display and went down by 1–0.

Jock Stein was given a rousing reception as he took his place on the bench but he sat stoically throughout a miserable 90 minutes, commenting in a matter-of-fact tone to the BBC interviewer afterwards: ‘I see now why I’ve been brought here.’ That same inconsistency marked Celtic’s play as the season drew to a close: a loss by 4–2 to Hibernian at Celtic Park was followed shortly afterwards by a 4–0 win for Celtic at Easter Road; Celtic’s last-ever fixture against Third Lanark ended in a 1–0 win, but the next home match against Partick Thistle was lost by 2–1; and the most ominous result was a 6–2 pounding at the hands of lowly Falkirk at Brockville.

Stein said very little in public during this time and it was suggested that he was not too perturbed by the league results. For one thing, it gave him valid reasons for dropping some players for the more important Scottish Cup programme; he could argue convincingly to the likes of Kennedy, Maxwell, Cushley, O’Neill, Brogan and even Jimmy Johnstone that the team performed more effectively without them.

For the Scottish Cup final on 24 April 1965 he chose this side to face Dunfermline Athletic: Fallon, Young, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Chalmers, Gallagher, Hughes, Lennox and Auld.

There was no place for Jim Kennedy although the romantics noted that he had been forced to withdraw at the last minute from the 1961 final, which had also been against Dunfermline; Stein had a match to win and sentiment would not be allowed to interfere with his plans. Some time before the final, Jock Stein faced a test of his authority when his line-up was questioned by the chairman. Having already told his players at Seamill who would be in the team – and explained his thinking to them, and the tactics to be used – Stein as a courtesy informed the chairman. Kelly immediately spotted that Bobby Murdoch was listed as wing-half, and queried the manager’s decision, growling at Stein that Murdoch was an inside-forward. Stein ended the discussion with the firm but polite statement: ‘You’ll see on Saturday what he is.’

As a matter of fact, Bobby Murdoch had played several times as a wing-half, both under Jimmy McGrory and Jock Stein, notably in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Motherwell, but only a week before the Cup final he had a shocker against Partick Thistle. Stein had already decided that Murdoch was a wing-half or a midfield player, and would not be swayed from his evaluation even though the player had been inconsistent of late.

The final was destined to go down in Celtic folklore: twice they were a goal down to the resolute Fifers, and twice they fought back to equalise through goals by Bertie Auld. Just before half-time Dunfermline had shocked Celtic with a spectacular goal following a free-kick, and the mood at Hampden Park among the Celtic support was funereal. Jim Farrell remembers going up the steps towards the directors’ lounge, and nodding gloomily to Mrs Stein. She smiled at him and said: ‘It’s not over yet. Maybe I should say a wee prayer to St Anthony.’3

As the match entered the closing stages, the excitement was reaching a peak. Celtic had equalised shortly after the interval, and had been threatening Dunfermline’s goal since then. Lennox burst through on the left, and won yet another corner in 81 minutes. Charlie Gallagher considered his options carefully and then flighted the ball perfectly across the face of the goal. Billy McNeill, unusually for him at that stage in his career, had come upfield and eluded his marker.

The moment is etched in Celtic’s history in a dramatic photograph which shows McNeill connecting with the ball about five yards out; the camera-angle shows McNeill rising above the goalkeeper’s outstretched arms and he is framed head and shoulders above the vast Hampden terracings. A split-second later that same terracing – and most of Hampden Park, with 108,800 spectators inside – erupted with joy as Celtic took the lead at 3–2.

Bobby Murdoch remembers clearly the agony of the remaining nine minutes: ‘I thought the final whistle would never come.’ Like every other Celtic supporter, Murdoch was tortured by the thought of the prize being snatched away at the last moment; a victim of repeated failure, he could take nothing for granted until Hugh Phillips blew the final whistle. He had no way of knowing as he watched Billy McNeill hold up the Scottish Cup how spectacular the future success would be, or how sustained.

A curious episode unfolded in the joyous hubbub of the Celtic dressing-room afterwards. Charlie Gallagher, always a quiet man, was sitting down admiring his medal, when Bertie Auld approached him and insisted on borrowing it. Auld, as cocky as ever, marched up to Jock Stein and held out the medals, one in each hand: ‘You said that Charlie and I couldnae play in the same team. What aboot these medals, eh?’ Stein apparently smiled knowingly and declined to answer.

The glory days had begun at Celtic Park . . .

The Genius

The Master

The Old Fox

Chapter 1

Paradise at Last

After the trials and tribulations of a biblical span of ‘seven lean years’, Celtic had at last tasted the heady wine of success – and it was good. Things seemed to be turning their way, and much of it was due to the almost tangible confidence and self-belief emanating from the new manager. Celtic now had a leader envied by other clubs and organisations, the SFA quickly recognising his talents by requesting his services as Scotland’s part-time manager at the same time as he was fulfilling his full-time responsibilities at Parkhead. This interest on the part of the SFA was to be a constant anxiety for Celtic in the years ahead: Scotland needed a manager, and Jock Stein, a patriotic Scot, was naturally interested in the position – and the ambitious Stein knew his own worth in the sport. The SFA’s trust in Celtic’s manager was fully justified by Scotland’s early results with him in charge: a draw in Poland (1–1) and a win in Finland (2–1).

That was highly commendable but the supporters were becoming excited at what was happening at Celtic Park.

For several seasons Celtic had lacked a consistent goalscorer, and Stein remedied that situation swiftly. Early in June he snapped up Motherwell’s Joe McBride, a proven striker known to be ‘Celtic-daft’. Back in March, McBride had bothered the Celtic defence in the Scottish Cup semi-final and his two goals for Motherwell earned the Lanarkshire side a lucrative replay. For several seasons Celtic had been rumoured to be on the verge of signing him as McBride performed honourably with lesser clubs – and as a model professional had always played well against Celtic.

Joe McBride had scored goals wherever or whenever he played, but he was more than a penalty-box poacher; he worked hard, distributed the ball well, and had a refreshing and positive approach. When playing with Kilmarnock as a youngster in a league match against a powerful Rangers side, he skinned an Ibrox defender; the veteran growled at young Joe, and threatened him: ‘Dae that agane, an ’Ah’ll break yur legs.’ Young McBride laughed, as he skipped away: ‘Ye’ll have tae catch me first, auld yin.’ This was the attitude that Celtic wanted, and Stein sensed that McBride would fit in perfectly at Parkhead. However, Joe had played senior football for a long time and Stein wondered if the striker still had the fitness for life at Celtic Park. Accordingly, as the season drew to its close, Stein had Joe McBride watched on four different occasions and, when satisfied, he put in a bid at a mere £22,000. The capture of McBride for that sum would earn the new manager a reputation for larceny.

Jock Stein was a natural at public relations, proving himself adept at keeping the press happy. He seemed able to distance himself from the ghetto mentality so characteristic of Celtic Park in the preceding seasons. Several journalists he liked and respected, men like John Rafferty and Cyril Home, and they were given insights into his thinking and philosophy. Others he did not care for, but he knew they had a job to do. Accordingly, he would always give every journalist some quote or angle to a story. In the summer of 1965 news about Celtic – positive, complimentary stories – flooded the sports pages. Only later did the grateful members of the Fourth Estate realise that one of Stein’s primary aims was to knock Rangers off the back pages of Scotland’s newspapers.