This is the first in a new series of articles on Celtic Underground where St Anthony will look in close detail at some notable Celtic victories by a high margin through the decades.
Three days before this match, Celtic had drawn 2-2 with Ajax at Parkhead in the first leg of a first round tie in the European Cup. It was a great shame that two such illustrious names, who had previously graced the competition to such a high degree, had to come together at such an early stage. The game did not disappoint as the teams fought out an exciting 2-2 draw, said to be one of the most entertaining European matches ever witnessed at the old Celtic Park ground, with Tommy Burns, Charlie Nicholas and Paul McStay outstanding for the Celts on the night and Johan Cruyff, Jesper Olsen and Soren Lerby in terrific form for the Dutch. Sadly, not many held out much hope of Celtic advancing in the second leg with Ajax now hot favourites to go through.
Celtic lined up at Fir Park without Tommy Burns, courtesy of an injury he received against Ajax. Manager, Billy McNeill, rejigged his line up by playing Davie Moyes at the back and pushing Roy Aitken into midfield to replace Burns. Aitken was to replace Burns with devastating effect and give credence to those who had long advocated that the powerful Celt was at his best in a marauding midfield role.
There had been much excitement around Fir Park in the close season. Motherwell had enticed Jock Wallace to return to Scotland from Leicester City and the Fir Park club were looking forward to exciting times under the ex-Rangers manager. This was quite a coup for the Lanarkshire club and they had spent a great deal of money to lure Wallace back north with a lucrative long-term contract. Wallace chose an experienced team to face Celtic with ex Celts, Johannes Edvaldsson, Alfie Conn and Tommy O’Hara in their line-up and their hopes were high of getting a result with Celtic possibly suffering a hangover from the Ajax tie.
A noisy crowd of 17,000 turned out with Celtic concerned over the trip to Amsterdam in ten days’ time to face Ajax. However, the talk of the town in Scottish football at this time was the return of Charlie Nicholas after he had been out for six months with a broken leg. Nicholas was at the peak of his form and his partnership with Frank McGarvey was the best in the country. With Aitken adding strength and purpose to the Celtic mid line, the Celts ran up a 3-0 lead at half time with Nicholas, McGarvey and Murdo MacLeod scoring the goals.
In the second half it was a case of damage limitation for Motherwell but Celtic were in such irresistible form that nothing could stop them from running up a score. Aitken netted two sensational goals when he twice burst through the middle of the Motherwell defence from the half way line to delight the Celtic fans who made up three quarters of the crowd. Murdo MacLeod made it 6-0 before Nicholas thrilled the crowd by scoring the goal of the game. Running from half way, the bold Charlie used Frank McGarvey as a decoy three times as he beat three ‘Well defenders before coolly placing the ball high past ‘Well keeper Hugh Sproat. This was much to the frustration of McGarvey who had made a lung bursting up to support Nicholas and was looking for a tap in.
The end result was 7-0 to Celtic and their supporters happily lapped it up. They gleefully chanted ‘Wallace for Rangers’ throughout the game as poor Jock sat uncomfortably in the dugout. Celtic were actually seven up with twenty minutes remaining and eased up late in the game to save their opponents yet further embarrassment. It’s no exaggeration to say it could have been double figures. The game was televised for posterity and Celtic supporters looked forward to watching it on Sportscene that same night.
The last word should be left for Jock Wallace at the end of the proceedings. All he could say was ‘We were slaughtered.’ And the good news ? Celtic went to Holland and beat Ajax 2-1 in Amsterdam on a memorable night in the second leg. But that’s a different story for another day.