On 28th March 1970 a large and noisy travelling Celtic support journeyed east to Hearts at Tynecastle. There was anticipation in the air that day for two reasons. Firstly, Celtic needed to muster just the one point to claim their fifth successive league title under Jock Stein and match their own club record of winning 5 in a row from 1909. Secondly, Celtic were only four days away from playing Leeds United at Elland Road in the first leg European Cup semi final in the legendary Battle of Britain ties.
The Celts enjoyed a six point advantage over second place Rangers with only four games left and it was a formality that they would get the point they required before the end of the season. With Leeds in mind, Stein sprang a surprise with his team selection with Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, Bertie Auld and John Hughes all left out of the side with reported injury scares. It was obvious Stein was keeping them fresh for Leeds in midweek. Bobby Murdoch was Celtic captain on the day with young players George Connelly, Jimmy Quinn and Lou Macari coming into the team with Tommy Callaghan in the number 7 shorts but playing in midfield. It should be noted that both Macari and Quinn had led the line the very previous night in a reserve game, with Macari scoring three, and both showed great levels of fitness in lasting the pace with very little rest beforehand.
Celtic started strongly with Hearts’ Scotland international goalkeeper, Jim Cruickshank, making two tremendous early saves from Bobby Lennox and Willie Wallace. However, the biggest talking point in the first half came in 35 minutes when Hearts’ midfield player, Jim Townsend, head butted Davie Hay. The bold Davie stood his ground, did not go down and faced up to Townsend, so it was maybe just as well he was ordered off in order to deny Hay the chance of taking retribution on him later on.
In the second half Celtic were awarded a contentious penalty when Alan Anderson handled outside the area only for referee, Archie Webster, to award a spot kick. It was definitely a bad decision and justice was done when Cruickshank made another heroic save, this time from Tommy Gemmell’s typical full blooded penalty.
The tackling remained fierce and Celtic replaced young Quinn with Harry Hood in an effort to win the match but to no avail. Cruickshank refused to be beaten and Hearts’ efforts earned them a deserved point. Celtic’s point, of course, saw them over the line and their estimated 20,000 supporters in a 28,000 crowd loudly sang their victory anthems at the end. There were no great on field celebrations as Celtic now focused on the task facing them at Leeds, who it was announced, had surprisingly lost 3-1 at home to Southampton, after dropping eight of their first team for that game.
Celtic players were allowed the pleasure of celebrating with champagne in the bath as Sunday’s newspapers would show. League championships were obviously important but they paled into insignificance with European Cup semi final ties.
These were the Celtic days of Camelot and sadly a modern day Mordred, in the shape of Feyenoord, would later come on the scene to spoil things. But that was for later and Celtic fans basked in the glory of 5 in a row at Tynecastle. Here’s hoping the current Celts will emulate the class of 1970 next weekend.