Celtic today clinched the SPL title to make it seven successive league titles in a row. This is actually the second occasion in which a Celtic side has achieved such a notable feat. Back in 1972 Jock Stein and his men won Celtic’s previous ‘7 in a row’ and this is how they achieved it.
On the afternoon of 15th of April 1972, Jock Stein’s Celtic team set out to win their seventh consecutive Scottish League title. It was sure to be a regarded as a momentous achievement as Celtic looked to break their very own previous record run of six successive title wins during the Willie Maley years from 1906 to 1910.
East Fife’s Bayview Park, in the Fife town of Methil, was the unlikely setting for Celtic’s big day. 12,000 fans squeezed into the old ground on a blustery spring afternoon with the vast majority of them travelling through from Glasgow and it had been many years since Bayview had hosted a game of such importance in front of a full house. This was Celtic’s first visit to Bayview since 1964 and Jock Stein, as an ex miner, was said to be comfortable in the surroundings of the close knit Methil mining community with its distinctive docks by the coast. The Fifers were in fine spirits as they had given a good account of themselves after being promoted from Division 2 the previous season and, although they were in a relegation fight, they would eventually stay up at the season’s end.
Under normal circumstances the opportunity of creating a new record of consecutive titles would be headline making news but this game was actually fairly low key. Celtic had typically led the title race from early on in the season with Rangers again unable to mount a serious challenge to them. Aberdeen had put up a valiant fight until February when they succumbed to Manchester United’s £120,000 record bid for their talented captain, Martin Buchan. After that the Dons’ challenge had collapsed, leaving an on-form Celtic on the home straight from March onwards. This was unlike the previous season of 1970-71 when Aberdeen’s challenge had lasted until the very closing stages of the campaign.
However, the talk amongst the travelling Celtic support was of the excitement of the prospect of yet another European Cup final appearance. Just days previously the Celts had held Inter Milan to a 0-0 draw in the San Siro in the European Cup semi final first leg on a night when the Inter fans had booed their team from the pitch. The return leg in Glasgow was due just four days after this match with few observers giving the Italians any hope of going through to the final. It was therefore understandable that Celtic and their supporters had their minds concentrated on the prospect of a trip to the final in Rotterdam at the end of May. This was an exciting time for the city of Glasgow as Rangers were due to host Bayern Munich at Ibrox in the semi final of the European Cup Winners Cup on the same evening. Added to this, the Celts had recently beaten Kilmarnock in a semi final to reach yet another Scottish Cup final, making it heady times for all concerned at Parkhead.
The game was academic. Celtic won 3-0 with goals from Harry Hood and two from Dixie Deans. At the end of the match the Celtic players took the acclaim of their supporters in the centre of the field. The younger element of the side – Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Quinn, Lou Macari and Pat McCluskey – lapped up the occasion as this was their first league title win. However, after the game, Jock Stein had made a point of praising his old guard – Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, Jim Craig, Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox – for their tremendous contributions during the season.
East Fife very sportingly played ‘Congratulations’ by Cliff Richard over their tannoy system much to the appreciation of the Celtic support who cheerfully chanted along from the steep Bayview terraces. As if to underline the supporting role of another routine title win, the Celtic View headline the following Wednesday was – ‘COUNTDOWN TO EUROPEAN CUP SEMI – THREE TO MISS MATCH’. The title success was barely mentioned in the club’s own newspaper as Inter Milan loomed large on the Celts’ horizon.
The newspapers printed the usual clichéd headlines that Celtic were now in ‘Seventh Heaven.’ Jock Stein stated afterwards that he would never see another ‘7 in a row’ achievement in his lifetime. He was to be proved correct. And it’s also fair to say that the big man would have been immensely proud to see Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic of 2018 emulating his side’s record from 1972.
We all realise that Jock Stein went on to make it ‘9 in a row’. Every Celtic fan will fervently hope that Brendan and the Bhoys can make 10 the magic number in the next few seasons.