Tommy Gemmell was already a football legend when he brought his Dundee team to Celtic Park for a Scottish Cup tie in February 1978. His old mentor, Jock Stein, was enduring a troubled time as his Celtic side struggled to cope with the departure of Kenny Dalglish. Kenny’s leaving, coupled with the long term injuries to Pat Stanton, Danny McGrain and Alfie Conn, had resulted in a run of poor form and disastrous results that Celtic fans had never previously endured under Stein. In their previous four matches Celtic had lost them all, to Ayr United, Motherwell, Rangers and Aberdeen.
Celtic were hoping for a good Scottish Cup run to redeem themselves and Jock had sprung a couple of surprises in team selection before the game. Alan Sneddon, a recent signing from junior football at Larkhall, made his debut in the troubled right back role. Since McGrain’s injury in October, Stein had tried Roy Kay, Roy Aitken, Joe Filippi and Peter Mackie in the right back role with little success, so the hope was that Sneddon would be an answer to this long standing problem.
Stein also named Tommy Burns in the number three shorts at left back but when the game started he was to be found in his usual midfield role. This appeared to flummox the Dundee players and Burns was left unmarked to score in only four minutes, and although Dundee equalised through Erich Schaedler, Roddy MacDonald restored Celtic’s lead before half time.
The Celtic fans standing in the 22,000 crowd on a bitterly cold winter’s night could not imagine what the second half was to bring. For the first time in a long, arduous season Celtic began to play with their accustomed style and verve. Conn, returning from long term injury gave glimpses of the undoubted talent everyone knew he possessed and, with Burns and Ronnie Glavin controlling the midfield, a steady stream of attacks rained down on the Dundee defence.
George McCluskey had been a youth prodigy at Celtic but had struggled in previous seasons to make in impact due to injury. This was to be the night George came to the fore and realise his potential at long last and he scored a superb second half hat trick. The pick of his goals was when he was sent clear by an excellent pass from Sneddon and strode forward to fire a shot past Dundee keeper, Ally Donaldson.
McCluskey’s strike partner, Tom McAdam, helped himself to two more goals as Celtic hammered in seven. The eventual 7-1 result, always a score line close to every Celtic fan’s heart, caused the fans to roar their approval as the goals warmed them up in the bitter cold.
Sneddon and McCluskey were the stand outs on the night and made the headlines in next day’s newspapers. Both players had made a huge impression to give everyone at the club optimism for the future. Sneddon’s keen tackling and distribution, together with McCluskey’s touch play and opportunism had been hugely impressive throughout the match.
Sadly, this result was to be a false dawn. In the next round the Celts were eliminated by first division Kilmarnock at Rugby Park which only served to round off a disastrous season and when the campaign ended, the great Stein made way for Billy McNeill to return from managing Aberdeen to take over at Parkhead. This game was probably the last time that a Celtic team under Jock Stein hit the heights expected of them and, at the very least, gave the supporters one happy memory in an instantly forgettable season.
And one can only wonder what big Jock and Tam Gemmell discussed after the game.