In the 1970’s there were virtually no away supporters in games at Parkhead. This was because there was no segregation and it would have been a brave or foolish man who would have stood on the Parkhead terraces in that era with opposing colours on. Back then Celtic fans were a pretty intimidating bunch and did not look kindly on such actions.
But this game was different. Segregation was essential for these games and this was the first time I was to experience the massive Rangers support that they would bring to Celtic Park. London Road from Bridgeton Cross was no go area for Celtic fans as the majority of the huge 20,000 Rangers’ crowd came to the ground while the Celtic supporters would, as usual, access the stadium from the direction of the Gallowgate.
My Father had obtained stand tickets and, surprisingly, there was no segregation in the stand even for an Old Firm game. Looking back it seems a bit weird but the feeling was that supporters in the stand were deemed to behave better and this was normally the case. Night time games under the floodlights always have a great feel to them and although I couldn’t see the fans, all around the ground in the darkness, they could certainly be heard. As the old saying goes the atmosphere was electric. A haze of smoke rose out of the stand and into the cold night air as supporters could not only drink openly in the ground but smoke as well. Two things which wouldn’t be tolerated now.
Celtic were going well in the League under Jock Stein and this was seen as Rangers last chance to get back in the League race. Celtic’s strength was seen in attack with their fine forward line of Doyle, Glavin, Craig, Dalglish and Wilson whilst Rangers hopes lay mainly with their strong back four of Jardine, Forsyth, Jackson and Greig.
In the freezing, difficult conditions both sets of players wore ‘sannies’ to get a better grip on the icy pitch. The match was a typical gritty, feisty affair. In the first half Rangers had the edge but after the break Celtic, with their majestic captain Kenny Dalglish, took control.
Joe Craig had a goal disallowed as Celtic pressed forward but in 76 minutes the breakthrough came. Celtic, as always traditionally shooting into the Celtic end in the second half, won a corner on the left. John Doyle took a short one to Andy Lynch and he threw in a hopeful cross into the box. Roddy MacDonald was up for the corner and headed goalwards. Rangers’ keeper Kennedy looked to have it covered but in the difficult conditions the Rangers centre half, Colin Jackson, tried to head clear but only succeeded in diverting the ball past his stranded goalie. 1-0 to Celtic.
A Celtic goal had always been a joyful experience at any time but this was my first experience of the mayhem that immediately follows a Celtic goal in an Old Firm match. I was thrown around like a rag doll by fellow Tims who I knew nothing of while some Rangers fans sat around us despondently, surrounded by all this Celtic delight.
When the final whistle sounded Celtic had won narrowly and we drove home. When passing through Bridgeton Cross there was a river of Rangers fans cascading through there. In the gloom they looked like a vanquished army, heading for home with their flags and banners lying low. There was little note of incident after the game which was very unusual for that time. Celtic had triumphed and to this day I remain thankful that I witnessed a victory in my first Old Firm game.
For the record the price of a stand ticket that night was the princely sum of £2.00. In these far off days of January 1977 platform shoes and flared trousers were the fashion and you could watch Peter Sellars star in ‘The Pink Panther rides again’ in the Glasgow Odeon whilst the Coliseum in the Gorbals was showing Jessica Lange in the modern version of ‘King Kong.’ David Soul, of Starsky and Hutch fame, was at number one in the charts with ‘Don’t give up on us baby’.
I never did find out why my Dad decided to take me that night in an act of total spontaneity but I’m certainly glad he did because a victory in your first big Glasgow derby is a sweet memory to cherish for any fan. Now if Neil Lennon and the Bhoys can only muster another narrow 1-0 win on the 28th they can make it a happy anniversary for me.
C’mon the Celts !