The first few years of the decade of the 1960s had not been successful ones for Celtic. Indeed, the last time they had won one of the three major domestic trophies was in 1957, the 7-1 victory over Rangers in the final of the League Cup. So, when the Celts went on a fine run in the European Cup-winners’ Cup in season 1963-64, it was not only a surprise to many in Scottish football but also to their most dedicated fans.
Celtic were only in the competition in the first place because they had lost to Rangers in the final of the Scottish Cup the previous season and as the Light Blues also picked up the League title and thus qualified for the European Cup, it left a place for Celtic in the lesser tournament.
In round one, the Hoops beat Basle of Switzerland 10-1 on aggregate; in round two, Dinamo Zagreb of Yugoslavia were dispatched 4-2; while in the quarter-final, it was the turn of Slovan Bratislava of Czechoslovakia to fall to the Scots by 2-0. That put Celtic into the semi-finals and a tie against MTK Budapest, the first leg of which, in Glasgow, ended in a very comfortable 3-0 win for the home side, the goals coming from Jimmy Johnstone and Stevie Chalmers (2).
The result put Celtic into a very fine position for the return leg in Hungary and it was a pretty confident party which travelled to Budapest for the second match. Then somebody behind the scenes made an almost unbelievable decision.
At some point before the return leg, held on this day in 1964 – and don’t forget Celtic were sitting on a 3-goal lead – ‘somebody’ from the directorial or managerial staff told the players that they had a duty to go out and show the Hungarians just how well a Scottish team could play football. The Celtic eleven – Fallon, Young, Gemmell, Clark, McNeill, Kennedy, Johnstone, Murdoch, Chalmers, Gallagher and Hughes – tried to do as they had been advised but their rather open system left spaces for MTK to take advantage of and this they truly did, going on the win the leg 4-0 and the tie 4-3!
NB Towards the end of that season and during the summer, there were some changes in the playing staff. In April, John MacNamee had been transferred to Hibs for £17,000; in the same month, Billy Price was given a free transfer; in June, Frank Brogan moved to Ipswich for £12,000 and Paddy Turner crossed the Irish Sea to Glentoran for £1000.