SO THE Saturday Night Mob have scooped British football again. Every Saturday, when the day’s work is done, Jock Stein has Bill Shankly on the telephone and usually Don Revie, and there is a three-way exchange of views and ideas and gossip, and now among them they have won the Scottish League and the Scottish Cup and the English League and Cup.
The inference must not be that because they talk they have won everything but rather each recognises the qualities of the others and maybe with nobody else could they talk football at the level at which they operate and in a sensible, down-to-earth way.
Stein, Shankly and Revie are basic, pragmatic football people. None affects the jargon of the coaching schools and each is plentifully endowed with good commonsense and they play the game from that ground. They are so similar in background, in talk and in attitude that they are happy in each other’s company. They respect each other, so that each is humble in the other’s presence.
We used to hear of great generals having this sort of relationship away from the battle and of fighter pilots fraternising out of respect for a worthy foe and it seemed romantic rubbish, but here in football, before our very eyes, we see it happen.
Their similarity spills over from the field of play. Each has this great gift of being able to speak to people at every level of society and being able to do so naturally and to their amusement. Each handles his players as human beings and knows their problems, personal and professional, and can apply native wit to resolving them and knows their families and is interested in them and proud of them.
Stein once told me that the greatest satisfaction for him was to see one of his players come from poor circumstances and marry a good girl and buy a fine house and have nice children. He could have been speaking for them all.
Of course, they know more about football than anyone else in Great Britain and this morning we hold them up as an example to players who might let a bit of success go to their heads. The Saturday Night Mob have shown that these days managers win trophies and championships and they are managers who keep their feet on the ground.
On Saturday, Jock Stein at Hampden Park showed relief above the ordinary at Celtic winning yet another Scottish Cup. He had explained beforehand that this cup had to be won to stop the talk that Celtic did not win cup finals.
What he did not explain beforehand and for obvious reasons was that the team were in a bad way. They had brought back a bug from that depressing trip to Madrid. Several were showing distress at Seamill. Connaghan and Murray were barely fit on Saturday and McGrain would not normally have been called upon to play.
Such were the doubts about the fitness of the players that an economical plan had to be set and it involved avoiding elaboration in midfield and instead throwing long balls to the runners. It was a pattern which was not spectacular, for, especially in the first half, the midfield was by-passed by Celtic and that is where the excitement of their play is usually manifest.
Still, it was a plan which took Celtic into a two-goal lead after 25 minutes, for the Dundee United defence proved too uncomfortable turning and chasing. Hood and Murray struck scores when they were in disarray from the runner’s work.
Before the goals, Dundee United had a lot of the ball but without troubling Connaghan. It was neat possession football which took the play all over the midfield but it was play for that area and not directed at goal. They found the square pass to the man coming on easy, but when it came to putting the ball through, that was a different matter.
It was good drilling which gave Dundee United the appearance of having control, but really what was being demonstrated was that, as the manager, Jim McLean, had hinted, they were in the final too soon and before their players were ready.
The young ones showed a distressing lack of experience and there was that embarrassing situation in which the young ones would have had to carry some of the more experienced who were finding the going heavy. Young Graeme Payne never was able to reproduce his true form and Andy Gray found Billy McNeill nearly insourmountable.
Yet Gray was a great trier and he it was who raised the excitement just after half-time, when Dundee United were so unfortunate not to score. Connaghan’s saving of his close-in header was breathtaking and then Knox’s firmly hit shot struck McNeill on the head as he sat on the ground.
That was the only time Celtic were really in trouble and the second half became dreary indeed and they sat comfortably on a two-goal lead, concerned more with winning the cup than with the spectacle. And so the final became an occasion for yawns rather than roars.
It was disturbing to see so many of the Scotland World Cup players lacking in sparkle, but perhaps that was the result of the Spanish bug ennervating them. Dalglish did not show the sustained brilliance we have come to expect from him. Hay was dull and McGrain latterly had to be taken from the field and will not be in the party at Largs this week but will join the pool after the match against Northern Ireland and be available for the Welsh and English games.
Jimmy Johnstone was not spectacular, but he was good. He put away more neat, perceptive passes than anybody on the field and he could bring out the trickery when needed. He was handicapped by Celtic not using their usual build-up in the midfield for such would have brought him more into the game. He was not suited to chasing those long passes from defence.
The Dundee United manager thought that when Deans scored the third goal in the last minute that was hard on Dundee United. It was not really. They made a good try but they were not ready for this Celtic, whose sustained success is taking the thrill of the unexpected out of the game.
The Cup and League double used to be the height of club achievement. It used to be the Everest of football, but now Stein has won the league and cup double five times and it is so very ordinary, at least for him. The last thought is that Stein has just himself in Scotland. In England, Shankly and Revie have each other, so there is some measure of competition.
Celtic: Connaghan, McGrain (Callaghan), McNeill, McCluskey, Brogan, Johnstone, Murray, Hay, Dalglish, Hood, Deans.
Dundee United: Davie, W Smith, Copland, D Smith, Kopel, Gardner, Knox, Fleming, Houston, Payne (Traynor), Gray.
Referee: J Paterson.