Some footballing greats can be precious about memorable exploits from their playing career. Precious isn’t a word that would ever be associated with the ebullient Bertie Auld.
As a midfielder possessing sass and steel, the 78-year-old was an integral member of Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions. In recent weeks, that side have been regularly invoked for more than the 50th anniversary – now only months away – of the European Cup win that earned them their moniker,
In racking up 24 domestic games unbeaten since the start of the season, Brendan Rodgers’ team are only two matches from equalling the longest such sequence in the post-war era that was set by Stein’s all-conquering side in 1966-67.
The fact that Rodgers hasn’t lost to another Scottish team in his first six months in the country means the Irishman has enjoyed a dominance over domestic opponents longer than that enjoyed by any manager since the Second World War.
Auld wants that to continue so that the Lions’ 26-game unbeaten domestic start to the season is eclipsed when Celtic host Hearts on 29 January.
That will be their 27th encounter on the home front of the campaign and will only matter to the record if they avoid defeat against Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup at the Excelsior Stadium a week on Sunday, and then St Johnstone at Parkhead three days later.
In truth, across a season of swashbuckling football that brought an unparalleled quadruple – with the domestic clean sweep preceding Stein’s team becoming the first British winners of the Champions Cup – the domestic unbeaten run was hardly a top-line feat.
“If they were to beat it, it would be magnificent,” said Auld of the current Celtic side.
“I would be over the moon, I promise you. I love the football this season. Getting entertained is what it’s all about for a Celtic fan. When Jock came back to the club [in 1965] that’s what he told us. That we had to entertain the crowd as they had paid good money to watch us. I’d say Brendan Rodgers’ team is true to that ethos.
“But you can’t compare this team to us. We didn’t have substitutes back then. Now they’ve got that many substitutes on the bench that they’d be better off letting the supporters sit in the dug-out and put the subs into the stand.”
There are more significant departures from the two eras, of course. Until they lost 3-2 away to Dundee United on Hogmanay in 1966, Stein’s men were unbeaten in all competitions.
They progressed to the quarter finals of the European Cup by winning all four games of the two rounds in knock-out competition then required to reach the last eight – a far cry from Rodgers’ men winning three games of the 12 they played merely to exit at the last-32 stage.
On the domestic front, the two teams’ domination of domestic opponents has been similar. Celtic have won 23 of their 24 games on Scottish soil, Stein’s side won 22 across the same span.
Right now, no Scottish side look capable of defeating Celtic. In 1966/67, United proved the only team to do so and, indeed, claimed the scalp of Stein’s team both home and away. Their second 3-2 win came in Glasgow only three weeks before Internazionale could not live with Celtic in Lisbon.
“For us it wasn’t about the beginning of the season or the middle of the season. It was about the end. And we wouldn’t have changed anything in 1966/67, even for those defeats.
“Jock told us it was a different era and we had to make history. And we did that.”
Rodgers is on the brink of creating history by making much more of the talent already at the club when he arrived. He has revived the careers of the likes of Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest, and made only two key signings, in Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair. Maximising abilities was a fabled Stein trait. The Celtic that languished domestically for years was transformed merely by Auld returning, and the signings of Ronnie Simpson and Willie Wallace.
Auld is a fully paid-up member of the Rodgers’ fan club.
“I love him. Celtic asked me to represent them when they played Liverpool in Dublin a few years ago [in an August friendly in 2013].
“We gubbed them 1-0. I spoke to Brendan for quite a time and what I liked about him was that he was an honest guy.
“He told me there and then, ‘Bertie, this is a club I want to manage at some time in the future’.
“I don’t think he thought it would come about as quickly as it did. It just shows you.”