Preston North End visit Glasgow tomorrow to play Celtic for the first time since 1974 when the great Bobby Charlton, then Preston player-manager, brought his team north to play Jock Stein’s newly crowned 9-in –a-row champions.
That fixture 47 years ago was supposed to be a low key friendly but turned into a useful exercise for Celtic. Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish had been given an extended holiday due to their exertions with Scotland in that summer’s World Cup in West Germany, where the Scots had performed admirably. Celtic had just reached the Drybrough Cup final, courtesy of beating Airdrie at Broomfield and Dundee at Dens Park. This meant they had to face Rangers on Saturday 3 August, so the Preston fixture at Parkhead on Friday 2 August, now took on more significance as Stein used it as a way to get McGrain and Dalglish match fit in order to play Rangers at Hampden the next day.
Tickets for the Hampden final were on sale at the turnstiles as a modest crowd of 11,000 paid their way in to Parkhead. Celtic’s team was a young one, in the main, with the exception of McGrain and Dalglish, as Stein gave an opportunity for boys such as Graham Barclay, Jackie McNamara, Roddy MacDonald, Andy Ritchie, and Brian McLaughlin, to impress. Fringe players such as Jimmy Bone, Andy Lynch and Jimmy Quinn were also given a run as stein kept his first team men under wraps for the Rangers final next day although George Connelly was still making a tentative come back after breaking his leg in a European Cup tie against Basle six months earlier.
Celtic surprised the crowd by playing in their change strip of green and black vertical stripes with black shorts and socks as Preston were turning out in all white. Bobby Charlton named himself in the Preston line up with the experienced ex-Manchester United pairing of Francis Burns and David Sadler being very familiar names to the Celtic supporters in attendance. Preston had been relegated the previous season so their players would have been keen to impress Charlton before the start of the new 1974-75 campaign.
Celtic players sportingly gave Bobby Charlton a guard of honour as he led his team out on to the Parkhead pitch. Charlton was given a splendid ovation from the Celtic support, perhaps due to the fact that he had turned out for Celtic in May 1974, against Liverpool in Ron Yeats’ testimonial, and he had scored a tremendous goal and impressed greatly that night in Celtic’s 4-1 win at Anfield.
Within just 30 seconds Andy Lynch gave Celtic the lead with a header before Francis Burns equalised. For half an hour Dalglish was the best man on the park and with Stein satisfied he had seen enough, the bold Kenny was replaced by the unknown youngster, Jimmy Murphy, who went on to have a fine spell with Dundee in later years. With 20 minutes left it was perhaps fitting that the great Charlton would score the winning goal when he calmly walked round Celtic’s young goalkeeper, Barclay, to shoot into the empty net. Jim Reynolds, reporting in the Glasgow Herald, stated that he had never heard such applause from Celtic fans at Parkhead for an opposition goal.
Preston took the honours with a 2-1 victory and although the fans were disappointed with the defeat their spirits were raised the following day when Celtic won the Drybrough cup at Hampden against Rangers in dramatic fashion, by 4-2 on penalties, following an exciting 2-2 draw after extra time on a day of very warm weather. It says a great deal for the fitness and stamina of Dalglish that he played for two hours at Hampden after his cameo role against Preston just the night before. McGrain wasn’t risked by Jock Stein as Pat McCluskey replaced him in the right-back role.
47 years on and Preston North end are most welcome visitors again to Celtic Park. The only disappointment is that the Lancashire club, famous for the likes of Tom Finney, Bill Shankly, and Mark Lawrenson, won’t get to see Celtic Park at its fullest due to the current Covid restrictions.