The Ajax side of the early 1970s has always been regarded as one of the best-ever in football and their players certainly proved that when Celtic met them in the quarter-final of the European Cup in 1971. The first leg had taken place in Amsterdam on 10th March 1971, when the teams were;
Celtic; Williams, Craig, Gemmell, Hay, McNeill, Brogan, Johnstone, Connelly, Wallace, Callaghan, Lennox.
Ajax; Stuy, Vasovic, Suurbier, Hulshoff, Krol, Rijnders, Neeskens, Swart, Muhren, Cruyff, Keizer.
Throughout the match, we had withstood a barrage of Ajax offensives, hardly having any chances to go on the attack ourselves. We lost goals to Cruyff in 62 minutes and Hulshoff in 70 but were more than holding our own in the final 20 minutes, a 0-2 loss quite a reasonable result to take home. Unfortunately, right on the final whistle, Keizer scored a third, which put an entirely different complexion on the situation. So, it was a far from happy travelling party which arrived back in Glasgow the following day.
Due to renovation work at Celtic Park, the return leg, played on this day in 1971, was re-scheduled at Hampden Park, where a crowd of 83,684 turned up on a fine evening. The fans were expecting a Celtic blitz and they certainly got one, as a Celtic side with three changes from the first leg pressurised the Dutch champions all the way, getting an early goal from Jimmy Johnstone in 28 minutes.
However, while we made further chances, we could not take them and Ajax held out to go through to the semi-finals on a 3-1 aggregate.
NB. Although I have no evidence to support my theory, I suspect that Jock Stein was quite annoyed that another Dutch team ( remember Feyenoord only some nine months before) had beaten his side. He did not show any anger after the match but when the team arrived back in Glasgow the following afternoon – where wives or friends were at the airport to take us home – he had organised a bus to take the players to Celtic Park and the wives were told to collect us there.
Back at the park, we were told to get into our training gear and he put us through quite a tough session of trackwork, for what reason he did not say and I could not work out. If you were looking for reasons why we lost 0-3 to Ajax in Amsterdam, then a lack of fitness would not even have been considered. Even for a top side like Celtic, which we were at that time, there are occasions when you just have to hold your hands up and admit that, over a particular 90 minutes, the opposition was better!