Any clash of cultures can be prey to disorder and dispute as two different, and sometimes diametrically opposing, views of the way things are conducted bump up against each other, with truculence and violence often the outcome. This can also be the case in sporting encounters when teams that are used to different ‘norms’ are placed on opposing sides of the same field. Whilst nowadays, the Intercontinental Cup, often now termed as the FIFA World Club Championship, is a structured, disciplined and well organised tournament, the early years of its existence were much less so, and the confrontations between Glasgow Celtic and Racing Club of Buenos Aries is very much a case in point.
The competition itself had begun in 1960 when Real Madrid defeated Uruguay’s Peñarol 5-1 across two legs; all of the goals came in second leg at the Bernabeu after a goalless draw in Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario – a stadium to which this tale will return later. This format remained in place until 1980, when sponsorship requirements took a single game to Japan to decide who would be able to call themselves the best club side on the planet. By this time, a revamp was very much called for as the idea had declined in popularity due to a number of circumstances, not least of which was the time and cost of transatlantic journeys and the inherent problems of attitudes on the pitch. After the change, and later developments, the competition both grew in stature and became much more sanitised. It was a necessary development and a consideration of the 1967 encounter offers an illustration as to why that is the case.
Celtic had triumphed in Lisbon in 1967 to become champions of Europe, overcoming Inter Milan 2-1, as a goal from Tommy Gemmell and a late winner from Stave Chalmers outweighed an early penalty by Sandro Mazzola. Although victorious in the end, the type of game as deployed by the Nerazzurri’s Argentine manager Helenio Herrera was difficult for the Scottish champions to overcome. Going up against a team from Herrera’s own country would take that to another level.
Racing had come through two sets of groups – only defeating Club Universitario de Deportes of Peru in a play-off in the second groupings – before winning a play-off for the title against Uruguay’s Club Nacional de Football after two legs had been played out without a goal being scored. The two continental champions would now play each other for the right to consider themselves world club champions. The format of home and away legs was not governed by aggregate scores however. Two points were awarded for a win, and one for a draw. Therefore, even a 6-0 win would be balanced out by a 2-1 defeat in the second leg, meaning a play-off would be required. According to the rules, that play-off would take place in a neutral country on the same continent as the second-leg game. After the initial legs had been completed in the 1967 games, Jock Stein, manager of Celtic was less than enamoured at the thought of a third encounter against the Argentine club, but after the events of the earlier games was determined to see it out, not necessarily to win, but to prevent Racing from doing so. That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves though.
The first leg was played at Hampden Park, rather than Celtic’s home ground and more than 83,000 – producing record receipts of more than £60,000 – crammed into the stadium to watch the game between a Scottish team, made up entirely of Scottish players with a Scottish manager, and an Argentine team containing only Argentinians and with a manager from the same country. Although a club game, it was as a Scotland v Argentina line-up.
Racing’s arrival and preparation for the game was intentionally low key and the club were keen to project a courteous and polite demeanour. The courtesy even extended to each club supporting the other’s efforts to put their best team on the pitch. Racing’s forward Humberto Maschio who, along with Antonio Valentín Angelillo and Omar Sívori acquired the nickname of ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ after they left to play in Italy for a decade or so – Maschio would return to Racing in 1966, was under suspension. At the time however, the Intercontinental Cup was not sanctioned by FIFA, so technically any suspension was irrelevant. Racing’s manager, Juan José Pizzuti, was moved to play him, and Stein declared that he had no objection as he wanted Racing to have their best players out there on the pitch. It was a courtesy returned for the second leg. The Scottish FA had levied a suspension against Celtic’s winger, Jimmy Johnstone, meaning he would miss the game in Buenos Aries. The SFA would insist that Johnstone should not play, but Pizzuti stated that he saw no reason why the player should be omitted. Stein defied his home association and selected Johnstone. If these sorts of pleasantries suggest that the games would be played in a well-mannered way, such assumptions really couldn’t be much further from the truth.
With the pre-match pleasantries around player availability completed, both managers were happy that they had their best players available on the field. Pizzuti fielded the team that had triumphed in the play-off over Universitario de Deportes. other than Juan José Rodriguez playing instead of João Cardoso. Stein was able to select ten of the players that had overcome Inter. The only exception being that John Hughes was selected ahead of Lisbon hero Steve Chalmers.
Ahead of kick-off, the teams lined up alongside Spanish referee, Juan Gardeazábal, and his compatriot linesmen, and as the whistle was blown to signal the teams to take to their own halves of the pitch, the Argentines turned and waved to the crowd, receiving polite applause in return. At the conclusion of the game, few of the players would be in line with the referee and the crowd would be much less inclined to offer similar plaudits.
At 8.00pm on 18 October, on a cold autumnal Glasgow evening, Celtic kicked-off the game and after the initial skirmishes it quickly became clear that the visitors had very much come for the draw and would go to great lengths in pursuit of their aim with massed ranks in defence, time-wasting at any opportunity and a cavalier attitude to the laws of the game. Less than ten minutes had passed when Johnstone appeared to be free on goal, but a foul from Basile stopped the winger in his tracks. Grainy television pictures suggest that the offence may well have taken place inside the penalty area, but the referee awarded the free-kick just outside. It set the tone for the game. A string of cynical fouls was accompanied by a number of reported cases spitting at Celtic players.
At the break winger Johnstone is reported to have returned to the dressing-room with bruised and battered legs and his red hair flecked with the sputum that he had been assailed with. The half itself was a frustrating mix of stop-start with Celtic unable to gain any momentum or flow to their game as the Argentinians would break up any threatening moves with cynical trips and often blatant kicks. Celtic had much more possession and pressed consistently but, thanks to some wayward shooting, with little real penetration. It was no surprise that the half ended goalless.
After the break Celtic seemed more attuned to their task and although the South Americans maintained their approach, the Scottish side pressed more intently. A Johnstone run was cruelly brought to a halt by a scything lunge by Basile before, as the little winger hit the turf, a follow-up by Maschio was delivered for good measure. The reaction of the Celtic players was understandably angry and as Racing players responded in kind, for a few seconds the game teetered on the edge of a pitched battle. The crowd howled their anger as the Spanish referee and linesmen gradually restored order. As Johnstone received attention, the referee was in animated conversation with a number of Racing players. At least they had a common tongue.
The physical battle was something that skipper and centre-half Billy McNeil was more than capable of handling and from the resultant free-kick by Bertie Auld, he found space in the box, but his header from around the penalty spot struck the post with the goalkeeper a mere spectator. It was a golden opportunity for such an accomplished header of the ball. As the centre-half jogged back to take up his defensive position, he must have been lamenting the miss. Fifteen minutes later, he would have more success.
Slack play at the back saw Racing squander possession just outside of their penalty area, but the resultant shot was probably narrowly heading wide of the near post when Agustín Cejas plunged to deflect it away, conceding the corner, when he could surely have let the ball drift wide. It would be an expensive error. The corner from the right was swung into the penalty and rising some distance beyond the far post, McNeil powered a header back across goal, high over goalkeeper Cejas, to drop into the net inside the far post. Film of the game shows the delight of the Celtic players, knowing they had the precious lead and something that would hurt their opponents. As they celebrated, there’s a brief second when a group of Argentine defenders move towards the Celtic players. Whether there was retribution on their minds or not is unclear but, in the end, nothing happened. This time as the Celtic skipper trotted back, there was a spring in his step.
Celtic continued to press for a second goal that would surely tie up the game, but despite a half-decent appeal for a penalty, they couldn’t increase their advantage. Indeed, a couple of late sorties forward by Racing nearly brought an unexpected leveller. A shot from the edge of the box narrowly cleared Simpson’s bar, and then a counter-attack saw Juan José Rodríguez clear in front of goal, but Simpson plunged to block the effort and the ball was cleared. As the final whistle went, Celtic’s lead was still in place.
The victory came at a cost though. Billy McNeill had suffered a black-eye, some reports suggest courtesy of an Argentine elbow. The gnarled defender though would probably be happy to swap that battle honour for the goal he scored. Auld had been struck on the side of his head and Stein related that very few of his players wouldn’t be in the treatment room the following day. It had been a hard-earned victory, but the return leg in Argentina on the first day of November lay in wait. At the time it wouldn’t have felt like an enticing prospect.
There was plenty of time for Celtic’s players and officials to contemplate what lay ahead as they travelled to Argentina. The flight took over 20 hours but if the party were expecting a hostile reception upon landing, they were to be pleasantly surprised. Smiles and handshakes greeted them as they disembarked from the plane, headed through the airport and on to the hotel. By the time they reached the stadium for the game however, the mood had dramatically changed.
Although officially titled as the Estadio Juan Domingo Perón, Racing’s home ground is popularly known as El Cilindro (The Cylinder), due to its circular design when viewed from above. The layout means that although, at the halfway line, the pitch is a good distance from the fans, behind the goals it is far less the case. Try dropping an oblong inside a circle and you’ll see what I mean. The implications of this were quickly visited upon the Scottish players.
Entering the pitch, the reception was fiercely partisan as more than 120,000 fans packed into the stadium roared in favour of the home team. It was an atmosphere that even the hard-nosed Billy McNeill would later describe as “horrific.” More belligerent acts were to follow though. Ahead of kick-off, Ronnie Simpson took up position in goal, awaiting the start of the game. A cheer went up from the section of crowd behind the goal. Turning to see what had happened, the Celtic players saw their goalkeeper lying flat out on the turf. It transpired that he had been struck by an object from the crowd. Some reports suggest it was a bottle, whilst others say it was a stone fired from a catapult. Whatever was the case, it meant that the dazed Simpson could not take part and reserve ‘keeper John Fallon was called in to take his place. Twenty-seven years old at the time, although reserve to Simpson, Fallon was no rookie and well experienced. That said though, it must have been with some trepidation that he stepped between the sticks.
Ahead of the game, Racing had experienced a slump in form. Including the first leg game in Scotland, they had lost their last four games, without scoring in any of them. It was hardly the confidence-boost that they’d have wanted to take them into the game, and their morale was hardly helped when a reaction to a painkilling injection ruled rugged defender Miguel Mori out of contention. When Uruguayan referee Esteban Marino blew to kick-off the game however, any suggestions of the home team being cowed were quickly dispelled.
Forsaking the defensive demeanour of the first leg, Racing attacked with vigour, seeking the early goal that would ignite the match and set things in their favour. Brazilian forward João Cardoso had been brought into the line-up replacing Juan Carlos Rulli, and his effort on goal brought a save from Fallon as the early pressure built. The momentum of the game however also created opportunities for Celtic and Jimmy Johnstone had the ball in the back of the net, but his header past Cejas was correctly ruled out for offside. Midway through the first period though, Celtic would go ahead.
Johnstone had been a constant threat in the first leg with his jinking dribble, which had often been brought to a halt by a juddering challenge or a calculated trip, and he appeared to be in a similar mood again. Driving into the box, he was felled by Cejas for a clear penalty. As Tommy Gemmill lined up to take the kick, the collected ranks of photographers amassed at either side of the goal, many of whom, taking their lead from the crowd, gesticulated and waved to put the Scot off. Unperturbed, Gemmill drove powerfully low to the goalkeeper’s right, and despite a gallant effort from Cejas, he couldn’t keep the ball out and Celtic were ahead.
As they celebrated, the Celtic players quickly became aware of a number of people running onto the pitch. As first fearing it was some kind of retribution, it then became clear that it was the photographers who were now running around them to take pictures. It looks a strange scenario to anyone not used to such things, as did an apparent radio commentator nabbing Cejas for a quick bit of mid-game comment. Eventually, all bar players and officials vacated the pitch and the game could restart.
As Celtic sought to defend their lead, Racing redoubled their efforts and they brought a relatively quick riposte. The lead would only last a mere dozen minutes. A long punt downfield by Cejas was collected just inside the Celtic half and swept wide to the right, reaching Humberto Maschio. As the cross came in, Norberto Raffo who was in his one and only season with Racing before moving on to Atlanta in 1969, threw himself forward to loop a header over Fallon and into the net. If the Celtic players had been surprised by the photographers swarming onto the pitch after their goal, there was now a much larger invasion. Roars from the crowd and wild celebrations followed. Fortunately for all concerned no one approached Fallon for his observations of the goal.
With ten minutes remaining of the first period, both teams then battened down their hatches to see things to the break with the scores level. Just three minutes after the restart however, things would swing massively in favour of the home team. An incisive pass from Rulli, as he cut in from the left, found Juan Carlos Cárdenas running free into the box. The striker who would play more than 300 games for Racing drove low across Fallon and into the net to give Racing the lead. Cue pitch invasion again and either a fan, or a photographer who had lost his camera, lifted Cárdenas into the air in celebration. Despite their apparent poor form going into the game, Racing had now turned the score line on its head, coming back from a goal behind to lead 2-1. From this point forward, they would also dominate the remainder of the game as Celtic began to flag and their attacks lost any intensity. At the final whistle, Racing were worthy victors. Due to the rules of the competition however, with one win each, it meant a third and deciding game would be required to settle the issue, to be played in South America.
In marked contrast to the game at Hampden Park, and indeed to events before kick-off involving Ronnie Simpson, the game had been played in a much better spirit; still not perfect but much less of a battle than the first leg. A lot of the credit for this was given to the Uruguayan referee who seemed to have a firmer understanding of the South American way of playing and how to control it. After the game, however, it was a different story. The Celtic dressing-room was invaded by Argentine fans and there were pitched battles outside of the stadium between home supporters and groups of Uruguayans who had made the short journey to cheer on Celtic against their traditional rivals. Despite the improvement in officiating at the game, somewhat understandably, Jock Stein was not enamoured by the prospect of a third match bemoaning to reporters that, “We [Celtic] don’t want to go to Montevideo or anywhere else in South America for a third game. But we know we have to.”
The game was scheduled for three days later in Montevideo, capital of Uruguay. With the location thus settled and the improvement in the conduct of the teams in the Buenos Aries game, it surely would have made sense to retain the services of Esteban Marino who had officiated that leg and would have been on home soil. The job was however handed to a Paraguayan official, Rodolfo Pérez Osorio. As things transpired, it was not an upgrade.
Perhaps fearing the worst, Jock Stein took a front foot approach to the game with regard to any over physical intimidation, declaring that his players would not be bullied and, whilst not looking to initiate trouble, were fully prepared to give as good as they got if things cut up rough. The Estadio Centenario at least offered more protection for his players from the crowd. Whereas in the Buenos Aries game, the massed ranks of supporters were in easy missile range – witness the fate of Simpson, who would also miss this game – here, there was a moat and steel barrier to keep any potential interlopers in their place. When the game started though, there was more than enough violence from the players on the pitch without any help from outsiders.
Just a couple of seconds after kick-off the referee blew for the first foul. He would need to do so many, many more times before the game ended. The pattern had been set and an ongoing series of niggly fouls, only interrupted by more robust offences and mini-battles as players faced up against each other regardless of where the ball was took hold. If some had been set in train by Racing players, there were also certainly cases of Celtic players getting their retaliation in first. Such was the nature of the game that, midway through the first period, the referee halted proceedings, called on an interpreter and warned both captains that unless things improved he would dismiss players. The plea apparently fell on deaf ears.
Ten minutes ahead of the break, the dam burst. Johnstone was hacked to the floor by Rulli, and as he lay on the floor, a number of his team-mates sought retribution. Inevitably others joined in from both sides and for around five minutes anarchy broadly ruled. The situation was only brought under control when riot police were called onto the pitch to control the incident. Feeling compelled to act, despite the mixed ranks of belligerent players making it virtually impossible to isolate who was the most culpable, the referee dismissed Celtic’s Bobby Lennox and Racing’s Alfio Basile. Claiming mistaken identity Stein encouraged Lennox to stay on the pitch, but the dismissal was eventually enforced by a police officer carrying sword. Perhaps wisely, Stein relented. Somehow, the game got to half-time without any further dismissals, but just three minutes after the restart, that would change.
After Johnstone was fouled by Rulli for the umpteenth time, the fiery winger’s composure evaporated in the Uruguayan sun. Lashing out at his persistent tormentor, referee Osorio leapt on the chance to reduce numbers further and dismissed the bruised and battered diminutive Scot. As Celtic’s composure fell away, worse was to follow. With a strike totally out of keeping with the quality of football on display hitherto, Cárdenas, who had scored the lead goal three days previously netted with a superb strike that flew past Fallon into the top left-hand corner of his net. Not only were Celtic down in numbers, the goal count was now also against them.
The game was now almost secondary in importance to the pugilistic battles that continued to rage around, and despite of, the referee. Celtic were facing a mountainous journey if they were to get back into the game, and there seemed little prospect of it as Racing shut things down as best they could by wasting time and falling back into a defensive shell.
Scottish frustration boiled over with around 15 minutes to play, when John Hughes kicked a fallen Cejas. He became the third Celtic player to be given his marching orders, and just four minutes later, Rulli punched John Clark and he too was sent to the sidelines. By this stage, Celtic were down to eight players and Racing had nine. There was however no letting up in the aggression and with just a couple of minutes remaining, another eruption of violence was flared involving players from both teams. Again, the police were required to restore order and the referee somehow concluded that Bertie Auld had been the major culprit and Celtic were down to seven players. Well, actually they weren’t. Despite official records for the game showing that Auld had been dismissed, such was the lack of control by the referee and the chaotic state of affairs that the Celtic player decided to ignore the sanction and remained on the pitch until the final whistle.
At the end of the game, seemingly the most irrelevant statistic was that Racing had won the Intercontinental Cup after a 1-0 win. Any victory celebration on the pitch was however cowed by the mood of many of the Uruguayan spectators who sought to hurl whatever they could at the Argentine club’s players, including Nelson Chabay, a Uruguayan. The disturbance necessitated the Racing players to stay in the centre circle – complete with their trophy – until the police could create a safe corridor to allow them to return to the dressing rooms.
The raw statistics were that Celtic had – officially – seen four of their players dismissed and Racing had their numbers reduced by two. Referee Osorio had awarded a total of 52 free-kicks across the game, the majority against Celtic, but such was his lack of control that probably twice that number had been missed or ignored. Jock Stein would later vow never to return to play in South America again, no matter what financial inducement was offered. The ‘Battle of Montevideo’ as the game became known had been the boiling point of a contest that had simmered across the first two games and was described as such by a mainly condemnatory press. Reuters labelled it akin to, “a bar-room brawl” whilst L’Équipe said it had been a, “sad and lamentable” encounter.
To the victor go the spoils. Back in Argentina the Racing players were hugely feted and rewarded with cash bonuses and cars. In Scotland however an entirely different view was taken. Club chairman Robert Kelly said that deciding match had “contained no football” and expressed disappointment that his players had “descended to that level to defend themselves.” His disappointment would find expression in fines of £250 for each player who took part in the Montevideo match.
For Celtic it was a sad conclusion to a sorry episode, and one that would live long kin the memories of those involved. The three games contested to decide the winners of the Intercontinental Cup were poor adverts for the game and even poorer inducements to continue the events. Nevertheless, over the following few years, when many similar brutal encounters were played out in pursuit of the trophy, it continued, eventually maturing into the more sanitised version that we see today. Looking back on this encounter however, leaves one wondering just how.