Celtic to Tbilisi
‘A fine up-standing group of young men off to represent their club on foreign soil’. That’s what we all thought, anyway, although the reality might have been slightly different. And you will have noticed how formally we are dressed in overcoats and scarves, under which were the club blazers and grey trousers, white shirts and club ties. Nowadays, players, quite rightly, travel in the comfort of their track suits and casual shirts.
This photograph was taken at Prestwick Airport, on Sunday 23rd January 1966, as that Aer Lingus plane was readied to take us to the Soviet Union, for the return leg of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup, third round tie against Dinamo Kiev. Celtic had won the first leg 3-0 at Parkhead, thanks to goals by Gemmell and Murdoch (2), and now we were setting off for the second leg and a possible place in the quarter-finals.
From the top, the players are John Cushley, Bobby Lennox, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, John Clark, Steve Chalmers, myself, Charlie Gallagher, Bertie Auld, John Hughes, Joe McBride and Bobby Murdoch. The trip proved to be an eventful one. On the way out, the plane developed some form of trouble and was forced to make an un-scheduled landing at Copenhagen. As we came in to land, Bobby Murdoch – as usual not wishing to sit at the window but quite happy to lean across me to see out of the window – remarked “look at all those fire engines, there must be a plane in trouble”. It took him a second or two to work out the significance of his comment, then he leaned back with a “ For —-‘s sake, it’s us!” and tightened his seat-belt. Apparently, a problem with the nose wheel was the problem although we landed without any difficulty. It was not good for Bobby’s nerves though?
We then flew into Moscow, where we stopped for a bit of sight-seeing ……………
……………before heading for Tbilisi, in Georgia, where the match would be played, as Kiev, in the Ukraine, was under snow and ice at that time of year.
In the match itself, which we drew 1-1, I was ordered off, after a bit of a squabble with their outside-left, although all I said to him was “gie us peace” after a little altercation?
On the Thursday morning after the match, we headed back, making one scheduled stop in Moscow but also – thanks to further problems with the plane – making an overnight stay at the five-star Grand Hotel in Stockholm ( the things we did for Celtic!) before taking off the next day for the trip back to Glasgow. We arrived at around 10.30pm and the Boss took us all to Celtic Park, where we did a training session under the lights in preparation for the match on the following day against Hearts at Tynecastle.
For disciplinary reasons (you were supposed to apologise to the chairman in those days if you had been ordered off; as I thought I had done nothing to be dismissed for, I refused to do so) I was dropped, Billy McNeill, out of the side at that point, having lost his place to John Cushley, coming in at right back. It was not one of the club’s better performances that season and Celtic lost 2-3. Willie Wallace had a starring role but unfortunately, at that point he was in the maroon of Hearts. Still, I suspect that his showing that day prompted the Boss into signing him, which he did in December of that year.