The period between the late 1970’s and early 1980’s was one of the most memorable for Celtic. It was indeed a great time for both Glasgow giants, they were dominating Scottish football, the old Firm Derby was one of the biggest fixtures in the world and it was a time when Scottish players were amongst the best in the world. Indeed many world class Scottish players were plying their trade for the biggest clubs around. The home international tournament was still going and as the 1970’s were coming to a close the memory of all those Scottish fans running amok at Wembley Stadium after Scotland had defeated England in ‘77 was still fresh in the mind. Glasgow Celtic had ended the 1970’s as Scottish champions, finishing the 1978 – 1979 season in first place on forty eight points, three points ahead of their great rivals Rangers in the recently formed Scottish Premier Division. So, it would be Glasgow Celtic who would represent Scotland in the European Cup tournament for the 1979 – 1980 season. Celtic would go into that European Cup tournament in confident mood. As I’ve already alluded to they had some class players in their ranks such as Danny McGrain, goal keeper Pat Bonner, Tommy Burns and Roy Aitken and they were led by Lisbon Lion Billy McNeill. McNeill was a member of the Glasgow Celtic side that had lifted the European Cup of 1967 in Lisbon, becoming the first British side to do so. Domestically speaking the Parkhead club would relinquish their Scottish title to Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen the following season, the Dons would pip Celtic to the title by a single point finishing on forty eight points. However, Celtic would go on to lift the Scottish F.A. Cup after beating city rivals Rangers 1 – 0 in extra time, the single goal scored by George McCluskey. That particular cup final is remembered for the intense crowd trouble between the two sets of fans, it led to a complete ban on alcohol being sold in Scottish football grounds, a ban that still stands today although there is growing opinion within the media and many of the clubs north of the border that the ban should be lifted.
At the end of a successful 1978 – 1979 domestic season, with the Scottish title in the bag, The Hoops could look forward to the following seasons European Cup. Back in those days, as I’m sure you are aware, only the champions of a countries top league were entered into the European Cup. The tournament consisted of a lot less games than today’s Champions League, anyway Celtic’s first round tie would be played in one Europe’s most closed and austere countries, Albania. Celtic had drawn Partizani Tirana. So Celtic made their way to Albania for their 19th of September meeting with the Albanian champions. It’s understandable that there was some trepidation for the Glasgow club going to such a country. There was even talk regarding Danny McGrain’s beard, seeing that beards were outlawed on religious grounds in the small eastern European country, happily for Danny the beard remained in place. Also visa problems surfaced straight away, Celtic asked for fifty, they received only thirty six and the aeroplane that they had originally chartered with Yugoslav Airlines failed to materialize so another aircraft had to be swiftly booked. The Parkhead club made a note of not taking any food hampers with them, they didn’t want to offend the Albanian authorities. However Tommy Burns did take his tin of beans, together with a tin opener. Danny McGrain packed a loaf of bread with him, a pack of gammon and a few tea bags! The game took place at the Qemel Staffa stadium, which was named after the founder of the communist party of Albania. Of course the travelling Celtic fans must have faced their own travelling headaches, thankfully though for them ticket prices were very cheap, the most expensive being twenty one pence. At the start of the game instead of the traditional pennant the Celtic team were presented with a book on Albanian architecture by the Partizani captain, so at least they weren’t stuck for something to read on the flight back! It was a very hot evening when the two teams took to the pitch at the Qemel Staffa the sun still high in the sky. There was only one goal in it and it came in Partizani’s favour courtesy of striker Agim Murati. Celtic flew home confident they could turn things around at Parkhead. And indeed they did, the final score was 4 – 1 to Celtic the goals scored by McDonald, Davidson and a couple by McGrain.
So Celtic were safely through to the next round, however this second leg had its own particular “moments”. It was the turn of the Albanians to have visa trouble as they forgot to apply for visas. A few phone calls to the Home Office saved the day for Partizani. The second round in late October saw Celtic drawn against Irish team Dundalk, the Irish team gave a good account of themselves losing narrowly 3 – 2. A fortnight later the two teams played out a goalless draw at Dundalk, so Celtic were through to the quarter finals. Awaiting them there were Spanish giants Real Madrid. The first leg was to be played at Parkhead. It was the first European Cup quarter final to be played at Celtics home since 1974 when The Hoops defeated Swiss team F.C. Basel only to be beaten in the semifinal by Real’s neighbours Atletico. Obviously it was a sellout, all 67,000 tickets were sold out in hours after going on sale. Real’s arrival in Glasgow was greeted by a traditional Scottish piper plus all the staff of the Renfrew Hotel where the Madrid side would be staying. Laurie Cunningham walked out onto the Parkhead turf for Real Madrid, he’d only been at Real for a year or so after being sold by West Bromwich Albion to the Madrid club for almost a million pounds. In the stands to watch was the then England boss Ron Greenwood. Also on the pitch was two players who had played in Alfredo Di Stefano’s testimonial in 1967, Bobby Lennox and the Real team captain Pirri. The first half was dominated by the Spanish team, however in the second half Celtic turned it on scoring two goals without reply, the goals coming from Doyle and McCluskey. It was Celtics night, they had played Real off the park during the second half. However, the tie still had the difficult second leg in Madrid to come. The away tie saw Celtic turn out in not seen before all green jerseys, shirts and socks.
Three thousand Celtic fans traveled to Madrid for the second leg. Sadly for them they would be travelling home disappointed as Real Madrid ran out 3 – 0 winners, the goals coming from Santillana, Stielike and Juanito, therefore winning the tie 3 – 2 on aggregate. At least they would have something to smile about when Real were battered in the semifinal by West Germany’s S.V. Hamburg 5 – 2 on aggregate. A disappointing end to their European campaign for Glasgow Celtic, however the following season they would come storming back in the league to win another Scottish Premier title.
Author Richard Fenton September 2016