CELTIC and Scotland legend Jock Stein, at the age of 62, passed away 35 years ago today. The international manager took unwell at the end of his nation’s dramatic 1-1 draw with Wales in a World Cup group game at Ninian Park on September 10 1985.
The draw set up the Scots with a two-game play-off against Australia which they won 2-0 with Alex Ferguson in charge to take us to Mexico the following year.
However, it was at Parkhead that Big Jock will be best remembered and here are some memories from one his iconic Lisbon Lions.
This is an extract from Bertie Auld’s autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,’ which was co-authored by Alex Gordon and published by Black and White.
SO, there I am, pinned against the dressing room wall with Big Jock’s huge left hand around my throat and he is threatening to wallop me with his right. If he was trying to get some sort of message across, it was working, take my word for it.
We had just come off the pitch after beating Clyde 3-0 at Shawfield and I knew our manager wasn’t greatly enamoured with some of my antics. My sin? I sat on the ball three times during the game. OK, it’s a highly unusual tactic when you are hoping to tempt a team into your own half. Clyde, though, refused to budge that afternoon. We were three goals ahead and you might expect them to open up and have a go at grabbing some sort of salvation. Not that day. The Clyde players seemed wary of even crossing the halfway line. They appeared to be content to keep the scoreline as it was.
I chased back to the 18-yard line to collect a throw-out from Faither, Ronnie Simpson. I looked up and, sure enough, there were the Clyde players refusing to come out of their own half. Quick as a flash, I decided to sit on the ball hoping to spur at least a couple of their players into action. Nope, they weren’t buying it.
I got up, rolled the ball back to our keeper and asked him to return it. Faither duly did and I sat on the ball again. Still, nothing stirred from our opponents. I staged an action replay immediately and parked my backside on the ball for a third time. Still, Clyde didn’t want to know.
I looked around the Shawfield Stadium and the Celtic fans were cheering and applauding. They loved this piece of showmanship, but I wasn’t doing it to belittle our rivals. Genuinely, I wanted them to make a game of it and they just didn’t want to know. I glanced over at our dug-out and that was when I saw Big Jock in full ranting mode. Not a pretty sight.
Now whoever designed the dug-outs at Shawfield would never win any award for services to architecture. For a start, you had to take a step down to get into them and that left you getting a worm’s eye view of the action. All you could see were ankles flying past and there is no way you could actually witness the game unfolding. It was the worst view in the house.
But there was Big Jock, with all his bulk, trying desperately to clamber out of that small confined space. There was a slab of concrete across the top of the dug-out that acted as a roof. Jock slammed his head off it – not once, not twice, but three times – as he attempted to climb his way onto the track. He was furious and I thought, ‘You’re for the high jump here, Bertie. Let’s hope he calms down at full-time.’
I could always hope. There wasn’t a chance of that happening. Once Big Jock went up like Vesuvius it took an awful long time for him to come back to earth. Maybe a week or two!
When the final whistle went, I took a gulp and headed for the away team’s dressing room. I wondered if there was any chance I could have a shower, get changed and get on the coach before Jock emerged. I prayed for someone to stop him and have a chat before he could get to the dressing room. Headbutting a speeding train would be more preferable than incurring the wrath of Jock.
I knew I was in for an ear-bashing, but I didn’t anticipate what happened next. Jock, with that heavy limp that ended his career, stormed in behind me as quickly as he could. Now the pegs in the changing area at Shawfield must have been put up by some fairly tall joiner. They were so high up the wall that we used to have to put Wee Jinky on our shoulders when he was hanging up his gear!
Big Jock must have thought it was a good idea to hang yours truly on one of those pegs that afternoon. He grabbed me with that massive mit of his and lifted me off the floor. ‘Put me down, boss,’ I squeaked as his clenched right fist looked a wee bit too close to my nose for comfort. ‘Don’t you ever dare do that again,’ he bellowed. ‘Don’t you ever treat a fellow-professional in that manner.’
My feet were dangling by this stage as I attempted to plead my case. Jock wasn’t interested. ‘Do that once more and you’ll never play for this team again as long as I am manager.’ Thankfully, after awhile, he released his grip and I slumped to the floor.
Then he turned to Faither who thought he was going to get away with his part in my impromptu tactic of trying to entice our opponents to cross the halfway line. ‘The same goes for you,’ said Jock. ‘You encouraged him.’ At least, our veteran goalkeeper was spared being suspended by the throat for a minute or two.
Did I tell you our boss had a temper? Life wasn’t dull when Big Jock was around. He was the gaffer and he let everyone know it. He could be a complex character. He could be irrational. He could be inspirational. He could be humorous. He could be hurtful. He was impossible to second guess.
There were occasions when you might expect a rollicking and, instead, he would put his arm around your shoulders and give you a little pep talk. ‘Okay, you weren’t at your best today, but don’t worry. It’ll come back in the next game, I guarantee you.’ Then, when you least expected it, he would give you a dressing down in front of your team-mates and leave you utterly baffled.
I’ll give you an example. We had beaten St. Johnstone 4-0 at their old ground at Muirton in Perth on the Saturday and before training a day or so later I was taken aside by Neilly Mochan, our trainer, and told that Big Jock would be having a meeting with the players. I didn’t think I had anything to worry about because I believed I had actually played quite well against the Saints.
Neilly warned, ‘Big Jock is going to have a go at you. Don’t say anything back. He’s going to single you out because your mates know you had a fine game. He’s going to wind them up and make certain no-one gets complacent. So, play the game, take in what he says and he’ll move onto someone else.’ I thought, ‘Fair enough if it helps the team’s cause.’
What followed surprised even me. Jock did, indeed, start with me. He also ended with me. He ranted on for what seemed an eternity. I was on the receiving end for about fifteen minutes as I slumped deeper and deeper into my seat. Then, after his tirade, he simply said, ‘Right, everyone – out on the park, we’ve got some training to do.’ And, with that, he turned on his heel and left the room.
There was silence all round until someone piped up, ‘Thank Christ we won on Saturday!’
I wasn’t at Celtic when he had his near-fatal car crash on the A74 in July 1975 when he was returning from Manchester Airport after a family holiday in Minorca and his Mercedes was in a head-on collision with a car coming directly towards him on the wrong side of the motorway.
He was ordered to take a year out, but friends at the park told me he was there shortly afterwards although it was clear that Sean was in charge of the team on matchdays. Thankfully, he made a full recovery, but those close to him said he was never quite the same again. Possibly, he now had new priorities and who could blame him?
I was watching Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales in Cardiff on September 10 1985 on television in my pub, The Buccaneer in Hamilton, when he collapsed and died shortly after the game. I was numb. The footage only showed the viewers that there was some commotion around about the dug-out area before the programme ended.
I wasn’t sure what on earth was going on. Telephone calls were made all over the place. Then the news bulletin came on and told us Big Jock had passed away. I felt as though I had lost a true friend, despite all our ups and downs. Big hard guys in the pub that night just broke down in tears. Yes, I cried, too.
I had to close early that evening and the blokes in the bar just accepted it. It was a very emotional evening for us all. Jock’s funeral at Linn Crematorium a few days later was one of the saddest days of my life. Football had lost a legend.
As I have pointed out, Jock could be complicated on occasion, but how can you ever doubt that his methods, controversial or otherwise, brought dividends? Just take a quick look at his trophy haul – ten league championships, nine Scottish Cups – one with Dunfermline – six League Cups. Oh, and a little matter of the European Cup. Jock Stein gave Celtic back their belief.
Above everything, he taught us all what it was like to be a winner. I hope he would accept that as an appropriate epitaph.
* An extract from Bertie Auld’s autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,’ co-authored by Alex Gordon and published by Black and White in 2008 and reprinted in 2017.