With no SPL football this weekend for Celtic and in a change from the usual tictactic blogging, it’s time to take a look back at one of the most memorable Celtic matches of all time. In this first installment of what is to be a long-running and sporadic series, tictactic looks at the 1970 European Cup Final against Feyenoord (or Feijenoord in contemporary vernacular).
There are two great Celtic teams that are consistently held up as milestones in the great club’s history – from two different eras – Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions and Martin O’Neill’s Seville side. The 1967 vintage an obvious choice because of the historic win, and 2003 due to the macro-factors associated with competing at the highest level, constrained in Scotland in a post Sky era . But lets take a moment to consider the 1970 European Cup final – the chance to achieve an unthinkable second European Cup trophy. Still the Lions at heart, this side defeated the likes of Fiorentina and heavily fancied Leeds Utd to take on Feyenoord in the European Cup final in Milan – Celtic’s second final in the space of 3 years.
Having endured around 2 decades of strife at the end of Willy Maley’s reign and throughout the wars, Celtic had again risen to become the main club in Scotland culminating in the 1967 Cup triumph over the legendary “Grande” Internazionale from Italy, led by Helenio Herrera. By May 1970 Stein’s compelling story saw Celtic crowned Scottish First Division Champions for the fifth time in a row (on the way to the historic 9 in a row) and underlining the strength of the team had just achieved a domestic treble – so while post ’67, still very much at the peak of their powers.
Celtic came across Leeds Utd in the semi-finals, another side in top form – but not for the first time (or the last) that the commentators from South of the border dismissed the Scottish Champions as mere fodder in the Battle of Britain. The English side had disposed of Standard Liege (who in turn had eliminated Real Madrid, showing the strength of the Belgians) Ferencvaros and Lyn Oslo (16-0 on aggregate!) on the way to the semis.
After beating FC Basle, Eusebio’s Benfica (on a coin toss!) and Fiorentina, against this broad English perception at Elland Road Celtic triumphed 1-0 through George Connelly and in the second leg 2-1 thanks to John Hughes and Bobby Murdoch. The match was relocated to Hampden from Celtic Park to accommodate more spectators – an incredible 136,505 in total.
But Feyenoord were the reverse. This was before “Total Football” and no Dutch side had ever won a major European trophy. Celtic’s road to the final, particularly the victory only reinforced the UK belief that the Leeds vanquishers barely needed to turn up to become Champions of Europe once again. Feyenoord, managed by Ernst Happel (who would later become one of only three managers ever to win the European Cup with two different sides) were considered to be as curious as they were insignificant – a funny sounding wee team from a wee country, and Celtic landed in Milan on the crest of a wave of media hype and expectation.
Seven ‘Lisbon Lions’ started the game; a superb level of experience in a daunting foreign atmosphere. But while Stein had recently been experimenting with formations, he opted for the same tried and tested 4-2-4. When playing more cautiously (like away to Milan the season before) the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 had been utilised to useful effect.
Celtic had become famous for playing attractive, attacking football; summarised in Stein’s underlining of “the manner in which we win” and in this game, the parallels with modern football is eerily intriguing. Tommy Gemmell and David Hay could best be described as “rampaging” full-backs, in ideal circumstance playing high up the park, getting up and down the line to support the wingers ahead. (Interestingly this is to this day harked back as “the Celtic way” to play; full-backs take note)
Two more Lions, Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch made up the centre of midfield – possibly Celtic’s greatest ever central pairing and John Connelly was the unfortunate man to miss out despite playing well against Leeds. The two were big, bruising presences with unfaltering engines and able to hit the ball with power and accuracy. Complete midfielders – and in this encounter frequently swapped sides depending on the run of play and to use the old addage “taking turns” to go forward or sit.
Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone on the right wing needs no introduction, Bobby Lennox on the left was (as later explained by Stein) looking to use his pace to get behind the Feyenoord back-line, and up front were two more Lions – Willie Wallace (a lifelong Rangers fan signed by Stein) and John ‘Yogi’ Hughes – part of the 1967 squad dropped for the actual final and looking to make up for that huge disappointment.
This Feyenoord side, who would go on to win the Dutch league again (and the Intercontinental cup) were designed in the image of the creator – Ernst Happel. The Austrian was a supremely fit and powerful defender and an established legend for his boyhood heroes, Rapid Wien. But behind the rugged determination there was an intelligent technique and guile to his game, and this conveniently describes his 1970 select.
The full-backs Piet Romeijn and van Duivenbode had already been identified as quality players by Stein in the buildup, but in the imposing central pairing of “Iron” Rinus Israel and Theo “The Tank” Laseroms lay the foundations for an uncompromising defence. Both beastly in strength, like their manager possessed enough footballing ability to be comfortable with the ball at feet.
Again, echoing contemporary football formations was the 3 man midfield, consisting of another acclaimed set of individuals. Wim Jansen, most famous of course for becoming a Celtic legend 28 years later but also for being given the runaround by Archie Gemmell en route to the greatest goal Scotland has ever scored. Jansen protected the back 4, in a role marrying Javier Mascherano’s aggressive tenacity with Claude Makelele’s natural ability to read the game. Ahead of him two all-round midfielders in Willem van Hanegem and Austrian Franz Hasil. “All-round” may be contriving to mislead, as these guys enjoyed world-class technique with their passing and close control.
The lesser known Henk Wery was played high up on the right-wing, simultaneously charged with keeping track of Gemmell and providing service to Swedish targetman Ove Kindvall. The 2nd foreigner in Feyenoord’s side has been described (rather unfairly) as a fairly limited footballer but his goal-scoring record is inarguable – 129 goals in 144 league games.
Last but not least, high up on the left wing (wingers in this tie played far higher up than perhaps we’re used to in a British style 4-3-3 today) is none other than “Mr Feyenoord” himself: Coen Moulijn. The left-sided answer to Johan Cruyff, Moulijn is often said to be the greatest left-winger of all time and he made a whopping 487 appearances for Feyenoord. Cor van der Gijp (Feyenoord’s top scorer of all time) described Moulijn as Arjen Robben and David Beckham rolled in to one. Ferocious pace and dribbling but pin-point accuracy with the cross.
Gemmell, Hay and (of course) Johnstone were the reknowned dangermen and Happel’s high use of Moulijn and Wery served to hinder the attacking intention of Celtic’s full-backs. Yet Hay in the early stages was able to find space, often as the spare man in Celtic’s back 4 (with McNeill shuttling over) compared to Feyenoord’s front 3. Hay’s attacking style is actually familiar to Andreas Hinkel’s in tireless running and intention to join the attack. In fact his relationship with Johnstone is akin to the recent McGeady/Hinkel combo – get the ball to McGeady’s (Johnstone’s) feet at every opportunity, with Hinkel (Hay) the safe “out” pass or alternatively the dummy run down the flank to allow a cut-in.
Celtic’s initial aim was to keep the ball on the deck and this was clear at set-pieces. Very little in the way of high balls into the box (perhaps wary of the imposing Dutch centre-backs) instead opting for quick free-kicks, keeping the pace of the game at an intensity set to disrupt the slower, more considered style of Feyenoord. Getting the ball to Johnstone was paramount, and interestingly he was desperate to take players on even in his own box(!), albeit resulting in some hair-raising moments.
But in practice this deck-football aim was short-lived. Celtic were most piercing on the counter, putting the ball long and high towards Lennox and Hughes.
3-man centre crucial
With Lennox getting a goal chopped off for offside, Feyenoord were patiently calming the storm. Johnstone’s influence was waning as described by Van Hanegem: “We tried to isolate him [Johnstone] – Coen Moulijn prevented the supply of ball from David Hay, I blocked Bobby Murdoch, and their number ten, Bertie Auld, was also tied up.” [by Hasil]
The 4-3-3 against 4-2-4 also suited the Dutch – Jansen as the spare man was able to close down any hint of a threat at every opportunity. His awareness of space and reading of the game makes it little wonder he later became a hugely successful coach. When stepping higher up into midfield this allowed one of Van Hanegem or Hasil to get forward between the lines and run at Celtic’s back four. The duo’s superior technique seemed out of place for the time, with Van Hanegem in particular swiping the ball around with consumate ease with that cultured left-foot.
But with the pendulum swinging towards the Dutch, it was Celtic who broke the deadlock. With a central free-kick from 19 yards out, Murdoch cleverly faked his shot into a back pass to the left, making space for the onrushing Gemmell who struck low and hard into the corner – similar to the strike against Inter in 1967. The left-back until this point was probably the quietest man on the park but Celtic led against the run of play.
Just as the balance of power looked to be swinging back towards the Glaswegians, a series of not-quite-cleared headers resulted in Israel looping an effort over Williams and in off the post. An instant reply. With Celtic’s resurgence snuffed out quickly, from this point it would prove to be an exhausting uphill battle against a Dutch side growing in confidence.
2nd half struggle
Into the second half Celtic’s defence were becoming increasingly desperate. Pegged back and under the cosh, the long clearances-cum-passes to Wallace and Hughes were frustrating and futile and the Dutch were thankful for being given the ball back so promptly again and again. This now may suggest a difference in managerial approaches back in such days… ad-hoc strategic changes were perhaps not that frequent, and something was needed here.
The Dutch midfield 3 were dominant, Coen Moulijn was finally getting the better of Hay and Celtic were looking decidedly sluggish and one dimensional in comparison to the controlled and cultured opposition. The dominance in territory and chance-creation saw Williams seemingly on a one man mission to force a replay with numerous superb saves, and the painful journey into extra time only exacerbated his teams fatigue.
John Hughes had a fantastic chance in the early stages of extra time, but it was now Graafland’s turn to keep the score level. ‘Yogi’ never seemed to get over that fateful miss, and perhaps Stein never forgave him. Despite this chance, Feyenoord were still superior in most areas and their ability to cooly keep possession made things all the more tiring for Celtic. Late on, after a long-ball from Israel, a misjudged header from McNeill (which ‘Cesar’ in fact handled) allowed Kindvall to superbly control and lift the ball over the keeper, and the game was over.
The lasting recollection of the match is somewhere between Stein getting it wrong on the day, the players not performing, underestimating the opposition and most crucially Feyenoord playing fantastically well. While McNeill’s sentiment that “they slaughtered us on the night” was perhaps overly self-critical, in truth Celtic created a reasonable number of chances, not least Hughes’ miss in extra time. Snuffing out Johnstone (or more accurately, the supply to Johnstone – an unenviable task) proved to be decisive and Celtic’s inability to make use of the resulting extra room in other areas contributed heavily to the result. As surmised by Stein “They played as a team without a weakness. Unfortunately we had too many players off form, too many bad players tonight. But I don’t want to take anything away from Feyenoord.” And that was the bottom line – Feyenoord were superior that night.
While Stein’s Celtic went on to complete the legendary 9 in a row, rather ominously for World football, the following year in Europe Celtic were again knocked out by Dutch opposition – this time Johan Cruyff’s Ajax. This final in May 1970 was something of a swansong for the Lions on the World stage – indeed the last European final Celtic would see for 33 years, and despite the loss the journey and characters remain no less proud and mesmerising than ’67 or ’03.