Each year, as Celtic have racked up their current consecutive run of league titles, I have made a point of looking back over the corresponding league winning fixture from the previous nine in a row period under Jock Stein. This year it’s time to analyse Celtic’s original ninth successive league title from 1974.
On 27 April 1974 Celtic, and their supporters, travelled to Brockville Park in Falkirk, hoping to achieve a little bit of history by winning their ninth consecutive league title under Jock Stein. It seemed academic that Celtic would succeed as they needed a mere one point from their three remaining games and they enjoyed a healthy four point lead over Hibernian.
A game like this would normally have been played in a carnival atmosphere but the entire club was still hung over from the European Cup semi-final defeat against Atletico Madrid, just three days earlier. The Celts had endured a torrid trip to Madrid after the first leg at Parkhead had finished goalless, and in turmoil, with three Atletico players sent off and eight more of them booked. In the return leg, Celtic had defended bravely in Madrid and only went down to two goals in the last 15 minutes. Losing a European Cup semi-final would have been bad enough but to lose it in such damaging circumstances had proved to be a traumatic experience for all concerned. Jimmy Johnstone and Jock Stein were issued with death threats and the players endured a poisonous atmosphere in the Vicente Calderon stadium. Celtic fans were encouraged not to travel on safety grounds and there was no noticeable band of fans to cheer them on in Madrid. Players and fans alike felt cheated at being deprived of the opportunity of facing the great Bayern Munich side of Beckenbauer, Muller, Breitner and Maier, in the final to be played in Brussels.
For their part, Falkirk had to win this match to avoid relegation, and came out with all guns blazing. Hesitancy between Celtic ‘keeper, Denis Connaghan, and Billy McNeill, allowed Kirkie Lawson to opening the scoring for the Bairns after only three minute play. However, Kenny Dalglish equalised for Celtic before half time with a typically brilliant goal, when he weaved past two defenders and struck a terrific shot past Ally Donaldson.
In the second half, Dalglish saw his shot cleared off the line and Lawson hit the Celtic bar with a header, then the game predictably fizzled out and ended 1-1. At the sound of the final whistle young Celtic fans invaded the field as the Celtic players attempted an impromptu lap of honour. Photos from the time show, not happy delirious Celts, but serious faces and frowns. The mental scars of Atletico Madrid would clearly take a long time to heal, even allowing for achieving the point needed to secure yet another league title. Poor Falkirk discovered they were relegated although not many took much note.
The fans sang the popular Gary Glitter chant of ‘Nine in a row….nine in a row….hello….hello!’ and the media regaled us with the news that Celtic were now the joint record holders for their nine in a row efforts, with the Bulgarians of CSKA Sofia and the Hungarian side, MTK of Budapest. Later on the news came through that Manchester United had been relegated to the second division after losing Manchester City at Old Trafford. There was very little sympathy for Lou Macari, who one year after departing Parkhead for Old Trafford, would now be playing second tier football and had lost his place in the Scotland World Cup squad for West Germany.
So Celtic had prevailed yet again during a difficult season where they were required to cope with a few serious obstacles along the way. Young Brian McLaughlin had suffered a tragic injury which had finished his season; Davie Hay had actually gone on strike over pay and handed in a transfer request; George Connelly had troubles off the field then had broken his leg against Basle; and their main assets, Dalglish and McGrain had played over 70 games during the course of a demanding season.
There was great optimism about Celtic’s chances of a tenth league title but, as we now know, it was not to be. It is now the fervent hope of every Celtic fan that the current Celtic side will not fail next season when they make their own bid for that elusive ten in a row. Let’s hope they can succeed where others have failed.