On 10th May it will be exactly 40 years since Celtic beat Rangers 1-0 in the Scottish Cup final at the old Hampden Park. It was a landmark game in many ways as it represented the last cup final that Celtic stalwarts, Peter Latchford, Bobby Lennox and Johnny Doyle would win. It also marked the occasion of the infamous post-match riot where mounted police were required to clear the pitch from rival fans who had fought a pitched battle on the famous Hampden turf. This show of violence resulted in the ban on supporters’ consumption of alcohol at football grounds which remains in place until this day. Very much the hero of the hour was 22 year old Mick Conroy, who was thrust into an unfamiliar role at centre half and performed with distinction. Mick, who now works with the Football Association of Ireland and resides in Cork, was kind enough to give up his time to discuss the matter of the 1980 cup final with St Anthony and look back on a memorable day in his life.

Saint: How are you these days Mick?

Mick: Yeah I’m doing well, these are obviously strange time we are in Stevie. Everybody is in lockdown as you know but I’m really enjoying being in Cork.

Saint: We are going to have a wee chat about the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Scottish Cup final victory over Rangers in which you played in. But first of all let’s go through the rounds to look at the teams which Celtic played on route to the final as a reminder. In the third round we played Raith Rovers at Celtic Park and we won 2-1. You came on as a substitute that day, have you any recollection of that one?

Mick: Not really although winning 2-1 at home it sounds like a tight game. Looking at the next round I definitely remember the Saint Mirren games. I got injured before the first game on the Friday morning. We were training behind the Rangers end goal at Parkhead and the ball struck me in the eye and I ended up in hospital for five days. We drew 1-1 with Saint Mirren and it went to a replay. I was in hospital for the replay and this guy would come over to update me on the score in the ward. We won 3-2 with ten men, I remember that, but I was lying in a hospital bed looking at a roof for five days and five nights. I was obviously delighted the boys got through.

Saint: Next up was Morton in the quarter finals.

Mick: I never played, I was sitting in the stand and I didn’t have a lot of luck that time. The semi-final against Hibs I was suffering from the flu and never even made it to Seamill before the game. We won 5-0 and I think George Best was playing for Hibs. Davie Provan was outstanding that day and I went to the game with my Dad sitting in the back of the stand and that was the lead up to the final. Rangers had got to the final by beating Aberdeen in the other semi with a very good goal by Derek Johnstone. So it was all set for a big showdown at Hampden.

Saint: Did you ever get to play against George Best during his time at Hibs?

Mick: No, I think each time he played for Hibs I was either on the bench or out injured so I never got on the pitch against him.

Saint: I think it’s fair to say that the eye injury you got was quite a scary one which resulted in serious problems.

Mick: What happened to me was called a focal Hyphema. At the time the club sent me to hospital where the eye was patched up and I was sent home. But over the course of the weekend I was lying watching TV with one eye then there was bleeding in the eye so I was sent to Gartnavel hospital. The doctor said he was going to keep me in to monitor my condition and it was important to lie flat on my back for five days to ensure everything was okay. It was a frightening time as every time I opened my eye everything looked red due to the blood in my eye. They eventually let me out after five days to go home but only with limited movement.

Saint: That injury kept you out the Real Madrid games.

Mick: Sadly yes. Celtic were excellent in the tie in Glasgow particularly in the second half. In the second leg we went over with more of a defensive situation. We had opportunities in Madrid and just didn’t take them and it was hugely disappointing to go out at that stage.

Saint: By the time the cup final came round there was a lot of pressure on Celtic as we had blew the league to Aberdeen due to a late collapse. As a player, were you aware that he cup final now had a greater importance because we had not won the league?

Mick: Yes, I think so, we were hugely disappointed that we had not won the league and none of two Glasgow clubs had won a trophy yet that season as Aberdeen had won the League and Dundee United had won the League Cup. So, as you say, there was a fair bit of pressure. I find that if you look back to the previous season, to the build up where we beat Rangers 4-2, if we didn’t win then that night then Rangers still had to pick up points to win the league. But with the cup final I think there was more pressure on us as we really had to win.

Saint: The pressure was also on Rangers as they had to win to get into Europe and if they didn’t then Saint Mirren were in the UEFA cup so the whole of Paisley was probably behind Celtic. So you’re standing by for a place in the team in your normal midfield role and then fate took its toll.

Mick: I had been playing in midfield for the three or four games leading up to the final and we knew Roddy MacDonald was injured and Tom McAdam was suspended. This meant Jim Casey was earmarked to come in as a replacement in defence. So, I think it was the Monday prior to the final, we were training at Celtic Park and the midfield players and forwards were at one end practicing shooting and the defenders were with Billy McNeill and John Clark at the other end. All of a sudden we heard some shouting and a crowd had gathered at the other end six yard box. Someone was down and Brian Scott came running over but we weren’t sure what had happened. Next thing Billy came walking over the halfway line and he called me over. It didn’t look good for Jim Casey and he was carried off. Billy said Jim was in a lot of trouble and would be out of the final, and how did I feel about playing centre back? I said fine, it had been a while since I had played there and I had liked playing there at Port Glasgow juniors. I hadn’t played in defence for the Celtic first team but had played there on occasions for the reserves. The next day we knew for definite that Ben, as we used to call Jim Casey, was out, so it was all about preparing me, Roy Aitken, Danny McGrain and Alan Sneddon to get used to playing as a unit. We had to focus on facing long clearances as Peter McCloy liked to do for Rangers and we decided that I would go and challenge in the air and Roy would sweep behind me. We got it pretty tight and that was pretty much our set up for the game. That’s all we done Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and a little bit of Friday.

Saint: Where you apprehensive about playing centre half or where you quite confident?

Mick: I was quite confident because the previous games I had played there, even though it was years previously, I had done reasonably well.  I knew my role was not to let Derek Johnstone dictate in our half of the pitch and once I knew my role then I could go about trying to stop him. Once Rangers had a free kick or corner it was a different kind of set up as they had a lot of height. There was Colin Jackson and Gregor Stevens, as well as Johnstone, so they had an aerial threat which we dealt with well on the day. We did everything that we had set up to do.

Saint: What would Billy McNeill’s advice to you have been to you before the game?

Mick: Obviously we had done all the prep work beforehand and Billy himself had actually played as a centre forward in training to try to prepare me in what to expect from Derek Johnstone. He said just to find a bit of space to go and attack the ball without Johnstone being able to body check and block me. We needed a bit of luck and I think we got that. Peter Latchford was great, Danny was great, the back four did well and that was because we had put the work in, in training before the game.

Saint: Did Billy McNeill give a different ream talk before the game to motivate the team?

Mick: We never really needed big team talks before Rangers games as we all knew what was at stake and we just had to stay organised. Davie Provan had come in to play in midfield in my role with Johnny Doyle playing wide right so we had an experienced set of players there. Tommy, George, Roy and myself were quite young but we had a good bit of experience from playing against Rangers. As individuals we just knew we had to do our job and we were well up for it.

Saint: What’s your recollections of the game is there anything special which stays in the mind from that match?

Mick: The first thing I remember was the heat because it was a lot hotter than I thought it was going to be. The game was end to end and I thought we were just edging it on opportunities. I remember we had a nail on penalty kick early in extra time but the referee never gave it, when George McCluskey was fouled in the area. In the last minute of normal time Rangers nearly scored when a header struck Roy and wrong footed Peter Latchford and just went past the post. It was probably 50/50. Then when I saw the ball fall from the sky to Danny I thought, oh well that’s that done, Danny would never have scored from 25 yards with a shot but George got a great touch on it. At first I thought it was a deflection but when you see it back you know it was meant. I was further back looking to the linesman to see if the flag was going up.

Saint: I always think George McCluskey never gets the credit he deserves through the years for that goal because when you do watch it closely the ball’s coming towards him and he feints to the right then flicks it to his left. There’s no doubt that’s what wrong footed Peter McCloy.

Mick: It was a bit of fatigue as well as George normally would have tried to control it but he managed to put a bit of spin on it and take it away from McCloy. I checked for the ref and linesman to see the goal was given and after that it was all about defending and staying solid to see the game out. With about four or five minutes to go we had a period of control where we got corner after corner and I was just glad to see it down there. Then in the last minute they got a free kick. It was the only time in the match that Peter Latchford never shouted and I never knew if he was coming, or not, as the ball was flying into our penalty area. He came for it without me knowing he was there and as he’s caught the ball, he caught it in front of me, and I’m trapped between him and the ball. The ball is right in front of me and I’m desperate to make sure it doesn’t make contact with my hands and give away a penalty kick. I turned round to shout at him, why did you not shout, and at that very second the final whistle went with Peter holding the ball and waving to everybody. I’m still annoyed that he never shouted!

Saint: That’s an incident which people still talk about to this day because as he came to take the ball he took you with it, got the ball clearly in his hands but wrapped himself around you.  You are correct, untangling yourself was a bit dodgy, as you don’t want to handle the ball but it’s okay to laugh about it now.

Mick: The amount of times I’ve woke up in a cold sweat as I could have headed it over him into an empty net and we’d both have been shot!

Saint: It’s a pity the riot happened as it was a good game and there was a lot of good football on show.

Mick: Both goalkeepers played really well and there were opportunities. Derek Johnstone had one chance when a cross came over and as Roy went to head it, he pulled out and that put him off and the ball bounced by the post. That was their best chance. We had few efforts of our own, Murdo’s shot just went past, Bobby Lennox came on and first touch of the ball he had a great shot go just over from 18 yards. It was a slugging match for 120 minutes it was a real tough game. The stuff afterwards was most unfortunate.

Saint: Tommy Burns had a great chance to wrap it up with a second goal in extra time.

Mick: Davie Provan had a great break, ran at the Rangers defence and slipped it to Tommy. He did everything right, clipped it by McCloy and I’m waiting for it to go into the net but it just drifted by the post. In hindsight if that goes in and it’s 2-0 all the Rangers supporters would have left as the game would have been over then there would have been no riot, no drinks ban in Scotland and everything would be different now. We never knew about any trouble on the pitch, it was Bobby Lennox who commented that it was unusual to sit in the Hampden dressing room with no press guys coming in, they must have been watching the trouble unfold and weren’t allowed in to see us.

Saint: What were the celebrations like in the dressing room after the game?

Mick: Doylie always loved beating Rangers, even though he was annoyed that he was taken off that day. The dressing room was great, the whole spirit we had then was fantastic and I’m very glad we never lost as that would have left us with nothing. The heat and the concentration levels required were tremendous and it was just a relief to win.

Saint: Where your family at the game?

Mick: Yes, my Dad was there with my youngest brother Derek and my Uncle Pat. They were in the main stand at Celtic side. At the start we had to line up to meet the dignitaries and I was disappointed I couldn’t see them but I knew they were there. My brother was only 14 and they had parked up at the Rangers end for some reason but luckily enough they had no colours on so they didn’t get any bother. We came out and went on to the bus and heard there had been a lot of trouble. We went back to Celtic Park for around an hour, Davie Provan was driving so he took us back to Port Glasgow and we arranged to meet later that night but it’s only when we got to Celtic Park that we discovered the scale of the riot.

Saint: Was there no hotel bash or official celebrations that night?

Mick: Not really. The players had left their cars at the ground before we went to Seamill on the Thursday. When we came back we had a drink and a bite to eat in the President’s lounge inside Celtic Park for about half an hour and that was it. I think Frank McGarvey and his wife had a party and most of the boys ended up in his house in Glasgow but me and Davie were down the coast at Port Glasgow and Gourock and we ended up going to a place called the Angus hotel in Skelmorlie. I was driving so never even had a drink but we still had a right good night.

Saint: How does it feel to go up those steps to get the trophy and receive your medal?

Mick: Obviously it’s something you dream about when you are a boy, playing in a cup final and beating Rangers and playing reasonably well. You’ve dreamt about that your whole life but the fatigue was bad by then, after two hours of play most of us had cramp, and I felt like climbing the steps on all fours such was the tiredness, but still a great feeling. I loved it and it was a great end to our season.

Saint: You are being a bit modest by saying you played well because most people recall that final for two things. Firstly, George’s winning goal and, secondly, you being so impressive at centre half. The papers made you the perceived weak link before the game but on the day you played very well. In next day’s Sunday Mail you must have been pleased when Kenny Dalglish singled you out for a special mention.

Mick: Yes, that was good to see someone of Kenny’s calibre saying I had played so well, you know you’ve played well within yourself but it was great for someone in such high esteem to recognise it. One of the papers summed it up by saying I had went from fourth choice centre half to Hampden hero in just 120 minutes.

Saint: The cup final jersey that day was a smart one and was embroidered with ‘1980 Scottish Cup final’ on it and you also had a smart tracksuit top which buttoned up rather than zipped up which was also embroidered. Do you still have those?

Mick: Yes I have them both. And the medal. My young brother has them, I would hope he has them! So they are still in Scotland. They are great to have and to look back on. I was lucky to be with Celtic and be in football for over 40 years. I’m still involved with the FAI and working in football so I have been very lucky.

Saint: The players were not particularly well paid in those days in comparison with now but you would be due a bonus for winning the cup. How did that work out?

Mick: If I remember rightly, we got £2000 which was split up as £1000 for winning the cup and £1000 for coming second in the league.  I think that was for the guys who missed out on the final through injury and suspension to ensure they get something for their efforts. Guys like Tom McAdam and Roddy MacDonald should have been due something. If we had lost the final then I don’t think that we would have got anything. It wasn’t as if it was contractual.

Saint: Did the players get a holiday that summer from the club?

Mick: We had a week in Majorca at the club’s expense the week after the final. We did the same the year before in 1979 when we won the league and it’s great to go away when you’ve won something and have that great feeling.

Saint: At the beginning of the next season you went back to your midfield role with Roddy and Tom going back to centre half. Where you frustrated that you never got a run at centre half afterwards?

Mick: I actually did. We went to Germany for pre-season and I played some games in midfield but myself and Roy played at the back one night against Werder Bremen we got ran ragged and got beat 4-0. Then we played Ayr United in the Drybrough Cup when I played at the back but I never played well so after those two games Billy decided to put me back into midfield. I was still happy to fill in if required but my best position was definitely in midfield. At the back you need higher levels of concentration than you do in the middle of the pitch.

Saint: The team are still revered for their efforts that day. For my generation this is a final we recall with great fondness.

Mick: I remember watching the cup finals in 1973 and 1977 when Andy Lynch won it for us with a penalty so it’s kind of exciting feeling to be involved and go and give it your best shot and do a job that maybe people thought you couldn’t do. If anything it was great to prove them wrong. Very happy days looking back.

Saint: Thanks very much for sharing your memories from the day, it doesn’t seem like 40 years, those years have flown by. Thanks for your efforts that day and good luck with your continued work with the FAI.

Mick: Thanks Stevie.