HIS GREATEST GAME – GEORGE CONNELLY – 1972 CELTIC 3-1 RANGERS

Celtic moved this league game to Hampden due to building work still to be completed on their newly built main stand at Celtic Park. The kick off was moved to 12 o’clock by the local authorities as they attempted to find a solution to the crowd trouble which had plagued this fixture in the recent past, although this reduced the attendance to a disappointing 50,000 when an excess of 70,000 would have normally been expected.

Rangers came to Hampden full of confidence after their success in the European Cup Winners’ Cup just a few months previously. They were now managed by their new boss Jock Wallace who was full of optimism beforehand. Celtic were without the influential trio of Jim Brogan, Davie Hay and Bobby Lennox as Jock Stein drafted in the young threesome of Danny McGrain, Pat McCluskey and Lou Macari to replace them.

Celtic took control from the off and opened the scoring in only two minutes when Johnstone headed a Macari cross on to Dalglish to score from close range. Celtic smelled blood at this stage and continued their onslaught on the Rangers goal and in 17 minutes they scored a second when Dalglish beat Jardine on the left and set up Johnstone to score easily.

At this stage of the game Celtic where imperious with Murdoch and Callaghan controlling the midfield area and attackers Johnstone, Dalglish and Macari being unplayable up front. However Celtic’s superiority started from the back where Billy McNeill and George Connelly had the much vaunted Rangers strike duo of Colin Stein and Derek Johnstone totally under wraps.

Connelly was now in the apex of his career and he gave a virtuoso display of long passing, effortlessly turning defence into attack in an instant, as a regular supply of through balls where played into the danger areas behind Rangers defence for Macari and Dalglish to fasten on to.

In the first half big George had delighted the Celtic fans by carrying out an impromptu display of keepy-uppy in which he taunted the Rangers players to come and get the ball off him to which there were no takers as the Celtic supporters roared with approval.

Macari scored a third early in the second half as Celtic threatened to run all over their great rivals. Three times Rangers’ defenders cleared Celtic efforts off the line although as the game wore on the Celtic players were now happy to keep possession and let the Rangers’ players chase around in frustration with George Connelly at the centre of the possession play.

Rangers’ fans began to leave long before the end and in the last minute John Greig burst through to score at the Celtic end of the ground where the Celtic fans greeted the goal with a huge ironic roar as Greig ‘saluted’ them in return. The Celtic fans may have cheered Greig’s goal with a certain amount of humour but there was also an element of grudging admiration as Greig was the only Rangers player who hadn’t accepted his fate long before the final whistle.

The media stated afterwards that the gap between the two clubs on the field of play had never appeared so great such was Celtic’s superiority although some Celtic fans were annoyed that the team had wound down in the second half and hadn’t went for the jugular to score more goals to add to Rangers humiliation.

Celtic had many fine players on the day and George Connelly had been majestic throughout. Comparisons were now being made between the Celtic sweeper and the great West German star of the period, Franz Beckenbauer, and there were certainly similarities between their playing styles.

At the end of the season George Connelly was selected as the Scottish Sports Writers Player of the Year as he kept up his fine form with a string of consistent displays. This game was part of the reason he was selected for that award and Celtic fans were to fondly remember his bold keepy-uppy display in the heat of a Glasgow derby for many years to come.

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