March 1977 saw Celtic visit Ibrox in good spirits. The Celts were on top of the league with only seven games remaining in the season. Big Jock was the manager, Kenny was the captain and Danny would be named as the country’s best player only a few weeks later.
Scottish football was still reeling from Alfie Conn signing for Celtic only a matter of days earlier. Conn previously had been a hugely popular Rangers player and had been part of their 1972 European Cup Winners Cup winning side. He was known for his long hair and sideburns but now ‘cut’ a new figure as a Celt with a shorter hair style and a lack of facial hair. This prompted Alfie to humorously comment in later years that his most difficult opponent had been ‘The barber after I signed for Celtic.’
Living in Govan it was a short walk to Ibrox. The local pubs were full of Celtic fans as our part of Govan hosted the Celtic supporters’ buses which were massed down Helen Street and in the industrial estate nearby. Celtic’s allocation for the game was around 20,000 of an estimated 52,000 crowd which would attend later that afternoon.
I was 11 years old and this was my first visit to Ibrox. My Dad took me to most games although he had baulked at the idea of taking me there but for an unknown reason he relented and off we went to the big match. Strict segregation was in place in those days. Not a Rangers fan could be seen all the way down Helen Street and along Edmiston Drive. Then a small number of Rangers fans came out of the ‘wee’ Rangers club and were literally given a police escort to the sanctuary of the Rangers end of the stadium.
I got my customary lift over the turnstiles and we were in. My Dad shepherded me around the back of the Celtic end towards the centenary stand to find a decent vantage point. The Celtic end was uncovered but happily it was to stay dry. As the teams came out it was obvious that the Rangers support would target Conn with a rousing chorus of ‘Alfie’s a barrel…’
The game was exciting and eventful. Celtic took control and took the lead when Roy Aitken turned in a shot from Ronnie Glavin causing great joy all around us. The Celts should have been out of sight but missed several chances. Conn then smacked a shot off a post causing people to comment later that an earthquake would have ripped through Ibrox had the shot gone in.
As often happens Rangers equalised against the run of play through Derek Parlane who was a constant thorn in Celtic’s side during the decade of the 1970’s and it was Parlane who gave Rangers the lead with 10 minutes left. Celtic’s goalkeeper, Peter Latchford, was injured in the process and this caused a hail of cans and bottles to cascade from the Celtic end, causing young kids to scamper on to the field to avoid injury. Jock Stein assisted the police in restoring order and the game carried on.
There was not long remaining and Rangers’ fans were in full voice when Celtic won a free kick on the right. Johnny Doyle sent over a hard, waist high cross and Roy Aitken turned and caught it flush on the volley to send a thundering shot into the net. The Celtic end exploded with joy with me thrown about like a rag doll in the process. It was later voted as one of the goals of the season.
Aitken’s goal gained Celtic a point and both sets of fans appeared satisfied at the end as they wearily left the ground, exhausted by this roller coaster of a game. Celtic were probably the happier as any title aspirations Rangers had died that day and the Celts went on to win the title at Easter Road just three weeks later.
The mass of Celtic fans then slowly made their way back down Helen Street with many of them dropping into the old Saint Anthony’s juniors social club for a refreshment and a sing-song. I can always remember we saw John Hughes, big Yogi himself, and he was surrounded by well wishers as he went back to his car. Yogi was by now retired but still held in great esteem by the Celtic fans.
Looking back so much has changed. Things are a lot more sterile these days. There are no more terracings, fans can no longer drink openly at matches and the Celtic jersey didn’t have a badge on it never mind a sponsors’ logo. 1977 seems such a long time ago.