27 MARCH 1963
One cold Wednesday evening, in late March 1963, Celtic travelled through to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock. At that time Killie were riding high in the league, vying with Rangers in the championship title chase, with Celtic way back in joint fifth place with Aberdeen.
Cliff Richard was at number one in the hit parade with Summer Holiday, the cast of Brigadoon put on a private showing for President Kennedy and his family in the Whitehouse and the government announced that St Enoch railway station was to close as part of The Beeching Report. And Jimmy Johnstone made his Celtic debut.
The Celts had been hit by a severe injury crisis with first team regulars Frank Haffey, Billy McNeill, John McNamee, Bobby Murdoch, John Divers and John Hughes all out with various ailments. In view of this manager, Jimmy McGrory, decided to blood several of his promising youngsters and he gave debuts to goalkeeper, Dick Madden, centre half, John Cushley and a certain red headed right winger.
Kilmarnock took advantage of the inexperience of this young Celtic team in front of a good crowd of 20,000 of which it was said that at least half those in attendance were Celtic fans. With Killie boasting some of the best players in Scotland at that time in Campbell Forsyth, Frank Beattie, Davie Sneddon and Bertie Black, they took the game to Celtic and led 2-0 at half time.
In the second half the hapless Celts capitulated and debutant goalkeeper Madden could do nothing to stem the blue and white tide flowing towards him as Kilmarnock ran up a 6-0 score line. Even though the team were badly under strength the result was still a major disappointment. Reports at the time are brief and no mention is given of Jimmy Johnstone’s contribution on the night although Celtic fans of the period recall the wee guy with the Harpo Marx hairstyle showing a lot of skill and heart even though he was clearly struggling with the rest of his team mates.
The early 1960’s was a hugely depressing period for both the Celtic and its supporters. Even amongst the litany of disappointments this game stands out as a particularly embarrassing affair despite the youthful selection that McGrory had chosen.
The only bright note, as always, was the supporters and it was reported that; ‘They sang and they chanted but they left with the feeling of being let down.’
No one could have foresaw on that spring evening what would become of Jimmy Johnstone and the Celtic team. Incredibly, In just over four years Celtic would become European Champions on a hot Lisbon afternoon in sharp contrast to the biting Ayrshire cold.
Those same supporters who stood in disappointment at Rugby Park were to be royally entertained in the next twelve years by Wee Jinky and his performances would earn him the honour of The Greatest Ever Celt. No one would have bet on that in March 1963.
That four-year turnaround gives us all hope; even in this age.
Re: the picture: as always, defenders not even going for the ball!