Part 3 – The Dirtiest Game
…. Continuing …the concluding part of Jimbo67’s Trilogy … enjoy folks!
The game was not, to the best of my memory, broadcast live on television. Instead, there was a recorded highlights programme broadcast late in the evening which, thinking about it now must have been cobbled together very soon after the match ended. I was allowed to stay up to watch it because the match had been played on a Saturday afternoon in Uruguay.
At first the game seemed quite uneventful, like the opening round of a boxing match between two well-matched opponents with the protagonists keeping the best of their own skills in check. It was not boring exactly but it had not quite been what I had been expecting. But then suddenly, Jimmy Johnstone was hacked down and writhing in agony. It was the kind of foul that should have led to a sending off even in Scotland but the referee, Doctor Rodolfo Osorio of Paraguay, did not do what he should have. The good doctor was to turn out to be a somewhat erratic figure, the occasion turning out to be ‘too much for him and he was totally incapable of dealing with subsequent events.’ The damn burst.
1967-11-04: Racing Club 1-0 Celtic, Intercontinental Club Cup (play-off) Centenario Stadium, Montevideo, Uruguay
Venue: Montevideo (Uruguay).
Cejas, Perfumo, Chabay, Martín (c), Rulli, Basile, Raffo, Cardoso, Cárdenas, Rodríguez, Maschio.
Coach: Juan José Pizzuti.
Goal: Cárdenas (56)
Sent Off: Basile, Rulli
Celtic: Fallon, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace, Auld, Hughes.
Sent off: Lennox, Johnstone, Hughes, Auld (who never left the field of play)
Referee: Rodolfo Pérez Osorio (Paraguay)
These subsequent events turned out to be that Celtic pretty much lost the plot- there were infamous incidents in which Tommy Gemmell, thinking the cameras were not on him, booted his immediate opponent, Raffo, in the, er, groin area and made a swift exit only to discover subsequently that the cameras had been focussed on his actions, whilst John Hughes set about their goalie in the kind of incident that did remind me of the kind of daft things I saw in football matches in the playground.
Three Celtic players were sent off- Johnstone, Lennox and Yogi, whilst two of their players got their marching orders. There was quite a bit of noise in our front room but also some laughter, ironic perhaps, as the game spiralled completely out of control. Armed police as well as phalanxes of photographers and other men not wearing strips seemed to be on the field rather a lot too.
Cardenas of Racing scored a terrific goal- a strike worthy of Tommy Gemmell or Eusebio- not long after the second half began and it turned out to be the match’s only goal. I know that the result is now rather overlooked but that night, even as I watched the mayhem unfolding before me, that seemed the most important thing and in some ways it still does. I did not experience the grief that I was to when we lost to A.C. Milan in March 1969 or, worse, to Feijenoord on 6 May 1970, but that night in Montevideo was a choker all the same. At the end of the game at least two Celtic players, Gemmell and McNeill, exchanged sporting handshakes and jerseys with Racing players. I did not know the word ‘surreal’ but that the referee’s final whistle signalled the end of hostilities was just that, surreal. And preferable to having some pompous oaf stopping the exchange of jerseys.
The final whistle was not the end of the affair alas. Bizarrely the referee’s report said that four Celtic players had been ordered off. Johnstone, Lennox, Murdoch and Auld. The first two had definitely left the field- Wee Bobby for no obvious reason it must be recorded- but the other two had not. Bobby Murdoch had been the victim of mistaken identity but Bertie had, it transpired, carried on playing after being sent off. Surrealism that was nearer to Monty Python than Rene Magritte possibly.
Reaction to the game in Scotland was, publicly, very harsh on Celtic’s players who had so completely lost their heads. Privately there was though some pride that having been provoked for 2 and a half games the Celtic players had risen to the occasion and pretty much given their bullying opponents a ‘doing’. The reputations of Tommy Gemmell and especially John Hughes were even higher than before, in the playground of my school at least, the following Monday. That we had lost had been forgotten by many as soon as that.
Celtic were reported to have fined their players £250 each for behaving so badly. Racing Club made initial noises expressing regret for the behaviour of their team but ending up paying them a four-figure sum ( each) and , it was rumoured, bought them cars too. I think that other than thinking it most unfair on John Fallon to have been fined, he had stood in his penalty area alone looking on at the carnage, a popular, if not majority, view was that the fine was fair enough as it was thought that as one the best supported teams in the UK, and certainly the most currently successful one, the players were rather better paid than it turns out they were. Whether the fines were paid, and to whom, out of wages actually earned or whether a reduction was made from the promised bonus for the successes of 1967 that were still to be paid I do not know for sure and would appreciate a definitive answer.
One thing I still recall clearly was that the person who was most vilified in our house on the night of that match in Montevideo was the BBC Commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. The broadcast was a BBC Sport based in London production as opposed to some Queen Margaret Drive effort hosted by Peter Thomson or Rev. Murdo MacPherson, their bias against Celtic would have been expected, but Wolstenholme had previously been thought a master of impartiality and, as with Glanville too, to be an admirer of Celtic. Instead in the words of the Rev. Denis Duncan in the religious newspaper The British Weekly :-
The extent to which Kenneth Wolstenholme went out of his way to build up preparation for unpleasant incidents had to be heard and seen to be believed.
The London based BBC- the real BBC I always think- has rarely shown as much interest in us since.
I mentioned earlier on (several thousand words ago) that I had an old mate who has seen Racing Club play in Buenos Aires, rather more recently than Celtic played in that city. Jim is no lover of Celtic, he supported Meadowbank Thistle, when I first met him )a couple of weeks before Albert Kidd became an immortal) but is a fair-minded individual who loves football and has seen it played professionally in 5 of the 6 inhabited continents. Racing is his, sort of, team in Argentina not least because they are something of the underdog of the traditional big 5 Argentine sides, for some reason Jim is attracted to teams which under perform, Racing has won far less than the other four have since they played us.
Jim’s take is that the games were pretty much standard fayre for Argentine football of that era, so Celtic could not have claim to be surprised at the way Racing played and that until Montevideo the games were nothing like as violent as Celtic made out. A dissenting point to this view came from Humberto Maschio – Racing’s playmaker and an Italian internationalist who had returned to the land of his birth, who took great pride in that amidst the mayhem in his private battle with his direct opponent, Bobby Murdoch, (neither man had committed a foul on each other and had played proper football throughout). I take Jim’s point and can accept that to an extent that this was a clash of football cultures but am still less than convinced. I asked him if I turned up in Buenos Aires and went to a Racing match in the Hoops what kind of reception I’d get and he assured me that I’d be very warmly welcomed by Racing fans- Celtic was part of their greatest ever triumph so how could it be otherwise
A postscript of sorts to Celtic’s matches with Racing Club came on the 10th of April 1974 when Celtic played Atletico Madrid at Celtic Park. Although there was slight uneasiness before the game when it was learned that the Madrid team’s coach, Juan Carlos Lorenzo, had coached Argentina in the 1966 World Cup few expected what we got. 48 and a half years on I am still not quite sure I can believe what I saw that night either, no team has seemed “dirty” since, they were that awful and whether Atletico was worse or better than Racing has been a source of some dispute ever since. Three of Atletico’s players were sent off in Glasgow. The Argentinean Ayala (a fast, skilful but apparently deranged winger), is the one most remembered whilst the third player to get a slightly earlier use of the soap, Quique, was no more than a fringe player. The second player sent off was one Ruben Diaz who fouled Jimmy Johnstone often and savagely. Diaz had been Racing’s left back in the match at Hampden. I hope his family was proud of him.
Our grateful thanks to Jimbo67 for this series of fine articles.
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