Great European Nights


Text/ David Potter

Celtic 1 Juventus 0     European Cup First Round First Leg September 16 1981           60,017

Celtic: Bonner: McGrain, Reid, Aitken, McAdam, MacLeod, Provan, Sullivan, Nicholas, Burns, McCluskey

Juventus: Zoff: Gentile, Cabrini, Furino, Brio, Scirea, Marocchino (Fanna), Tardelli, Bettega, Brady, Bonini

Referee: C Corver, Holland

The rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 60,000 crowd who trudged along London Road, the Gallowgate or were disgorged by buses in the nearby streets and trains at Duke Street station. Tonight they were going to see their favourites pit their wits against one of the greatest teams of Europe – the old lady of Turin, “la vecchia signora”, the mighty Juventus. It was the special atmosphere of a big European night, recalling all the great nights of the Jock Stein era, something that Celtic fans could simply not get enough of. It was said that the team would be lifted by the support, whose fanaticism and enthusiasm was something that impressed all European journalists. Tonight would be no exception.

Celtic, the current League champions, had started the season badly and were already out of the League Cup thanks to losing their first two games to St Mirren and St Johnstone. This had been a blow, but on the other hand, they were as yet unbeaten in the League, having defeated Aberdeen at Pittodrie some 11 days previously in a fine performance.

Well managed by Billy McNeill, the team had fine players. There was a good backbone in McAdam and Aitken, fine midfielders in Burns and MacLeod, and there was of course Charlie Nicholas. Nicholas was at his best at the moment, enjoying his football and having some supporters even comparing him with Patsy Gallacher. As yet, his head had not been turned by the siren voices luring him to England. Danny McGrain frightened everyone by turning ill the day before the game (he was a diabetic and such things could have been serious) but recovered well enough to play on the Wednesday.

Juventus bristled with Internationalists, some of whom would go on to win the World Cup for Italy in Spain in 1982, but unlike Celtic they had not won the European Cup, their best being 1973 when they had lost to Ajax in the Final. They had Liam Brady, once of Arsenal, in their ranks and much was expected of him.

The game started with Celtic playing towards the traditional Rangers end, and it was very much as one would expect, with Celtic playing with verve and enthusiasm, but being contained by the very efficient Italian side who always looked capable of scoring a goal on the break. Pat Bonner had a magnificent save from a free kick halfway through the first half, but then there were two moments of controversy when George McCluskey was twice brought down in the box, and on neither occasion was a penalty given – the main reason, according to the Celtic support being Mr Corver’s country of origin – Holland!

Just before half-time Murdo MacLeod came very close for Celtic with an overhead kick which just dropped over the bar. The first half ended goalless but the Celtic fans gave their players a tremendous ovation as they left the field at half-time, some of them barely recognisable with their hair plastered over their faces thanks to the incessant rain.

The second half saw more of the same. A couple of Italians were booked for their cynical tackles, and earned the wrath of the crowd as they urged the players to redouble their efforts. At long last, with the rain now beginning to ease, the breakthrough came about halfway through the second half.  It was from a corner on the left on the main stand side of the ground. It was taken by Davie Provan, headed clear but only as far as Roy Aitken who turned and drove into the Italian defence, hitting one of them in what seemed like a case of handball, but, before the referee could make a decision,  Murdo MacLeod picked up the rebound and scored via a deflection.

The crowd went berserk at this, but this was sadly all the scoring, with the Celtic management rightly concerned that too many men should not be pushed forward lest a fatal away goal be conceded. 1-0 at home was not a bad result, and it meant that any kind of draw or even a 2-1 defeat in Turin would be enough. Sadly it did not turn out like that, but many of us look back with pride and satisfaction at this great result. The European Cup was won that year by Aston Villa and most of us were of the opinion that Celtic in 1982 were better than they were. There was a certain amount of consolation in the winning of the Scottish League, but it was felt that the team were worthy of a longer run in Europe.


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