Celtic legend sings from same hymn sheet for Auld lang syne

THE arrival of new Celtic manager on Friday, Ronny Deila, coincided perfectly with the culmination of the SportTimes 50 Greatest Games series.

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Bertie Auld, second from right in front row, parades the European Cup at Parkhead with his team-mates after Celtic's famous win over Inter Milan
Bertie Auld, second from right in front row, parades the European Cup at Parkhead with his team-mates after Celtic's famous win over Inter Milan

If the Norwegian needed a crash course on the club he has now joined, and what makes them so special, the list of special matches since the end of the Second World War would have provided it.

But, along with memories, the series also prompted debates - not least over the games included, those not, and the eventual pecking order of the top 50.

At No.1 was the European Cup final of 1967, with the semi-finals against Leeds in the same competition three years later right behind.

That met with the approval of at least one man.

And, given that Bertie Auld played in all three matches -not to mention 276 others -that is a serious vote.

Indeed, having first signed for the Hoops in 1955, and having left at the end of his second spell a medal-filled 16 years later, the now 76-year-old Lisbon Lion is in the perfect position to assess the merit of the entire list.

"You definitely got the 1-2-3 correct, with the European Cup final and the two legs of the 1970 semi-final against Leeds United," said Auld.

"The final in Lisbon had to be top. But the Leeds games also deserve to be right up there because they really were special nights for the clubs and our fans.

"Big Jock was pally with Don Revie, the Leeds manager at that time, and they came up to play us so often in pre-season.

"They got interviewed by the press down there, and I remember Jackie Charlton saying, 'If we go up there (and win), we will have to get a coloured trophy because our mantlepiece is already full of them.'

"I reckon all of our players must have seen that, and felt the same way I did about it. There was never a game that wasn't serious, even the pre-season 'friendlies', because they all mattered to us.

"But, the one time we did meet Leeds in a competitive match, we beat them, and that meant a lot to us. Not just that, we beat them home and away.

"The victory at Elland Road was followed by the win at Hampden, even after wee Billy Bremner had given them the lead to bring the tie level. The crowd that night was the biggest I have ever seen, and we couldn't let them down, which we didn't."

That result got Celtic to their second European Cup final in three years, something which has only really gained the recognition it deserves through the passing of time.

Considering how tough it is not just to get into the Champions League proper, and what an over-achievement reaching the last 16 has become, to be consistent semi-finalists and twice finalists was something truly to savour and marked the Celtic teams of that period as something special.

Of course, Feyenoord prevented the Hoops adding a second European Cup to their amazing trophy haul by winning in the San Siro.

But, while there remains huge disappointment, there is no bitterness when Auld reflects on the one that got away.

"It was a massive achievement to get to a second European Cup final in three years," he said with justifiable pride. "But it was also a massive disappointment to lose it to Feynooord.

"When I look back on it now, I see it a bit differently. We tend to take away from how good Feyenoord were.

"They were a bit like ourselves in that a lot of people said we had no chance when we went to play Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967 because they were past winners and we were just coming to the fore.

"But, would you reverse the '67 for '70? No, because the win in Lisbon changed all of British football."

The surviving Lions, the players involved in the run to the final, the backroom staff and their families were in Lisbon again for last month's dramatic shoot-out between Real Madrid and Atletico.

Despite his years, Auld is renowned for his amazing powers of recollection, every detail of games played - not just the European Cup final -instantly and accurately brought to the fore whenever he travels down memory lane.

But did this latest return to Lisbon bring out anything which had slipped to the back of his mind?

"The most important aspect about returning to the scene of our greatest triumph was looking at my team-mates, friends and their wives and families," he said when quizzed.

"It was great just to be in their company. The big thing that came back to me was that it WAS a penalty.

"Despite what Cairney (Jim Craig) still insists to this day, it was a penalty. And I told him that when we went to visit the Estadio Nacional.

"In fact, I said to him, 'It was not only a penalty - it was a sending-off offence.' "And I added, 'If you had been sent off, it would have made it easier for us because you were bloody hopeless!'

"Cairney took it well, which was no surprise because he is a superstar and a lovely guy."

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