Armadale winger hit Arsenal's first goal in Europe

AS precocious teenagers farmed out by Hibernian in 1956 to the tough junior schooling ground of Armadale Thistle, Johnny Macleod and Joe Baker would bet each other a couple of shillings who would win the sprint races at training. Honours were even, but later in their careers it was Macleod who would beat his great friend by 13 minutes to the distinction of becoming Arsenal's first goalscorer in European football.

The date was 25 September, 1963, and it was the London club's first taste of competitive football abroad – an away match in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup against the hybrid Danish team Stvnet, a select side who played their home ties in Copenhagen.

Macleod, the Gunners' flying 5ft 5in winger, had modelled his game on his boyhood idol and predecessor at Hibs, Willie Ormond, combining pace and directness, and he helped open Arsenal's European account in the ninth minute.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Back 'home' from Salisbury visiting relatives in Edinburgh on the eve of Arsenal's Champions League semi-final with Manchester United, 70-year-old Macleod recalled: "I had a very good game that night, and we beat them 7-1, but I fell out with a couple of their players quite early in the game.

"After I had scored, these big Danish boys were lathering in to me. They were part-timers but early in the game they were knocking us all over the place. I said to the referee, who was Irish, 'are you going to give us any protection?'. But he turned round to me and said 'eff off you little Scots bastard' – he alluded to my height and my nationality, insulting me in any way he could!"

Baker, inevitably, got in on the act and put Arsenal 2-0 up in the 24th minute on his way to a hat-trick, with strike partner Geoff Strong also supplying a treble in a glorious 7-1 win.

Macleod was understandably delighted with his contribution, but was dropped by manager Billy Wright for the return leg the following month. "I had got involved in a bit of scrapping with these Danish boys," said Macleod. "He (Wright] said they would be out to get me and he didn't want to see me injured."

Baker was on the scoresheet again, but he could not prevent Arsenal losing 3-2, and though the Gunners still comfortably progressed, their maiden European adventure was ended by RFC Liege in the next round.

Macleod and Baker could at least console themselves that they had already experienced spectacular Fairs Cup success while team-mates at Easter Road two years earlier.

"The highlight of Europe for me was undoubtedly Barcelona, and scoring in the Nou Camp," said Macleod, fondly remembering Hibs' 4-4 draw in the Catalan capital on 27 December 1960. "I remember the whole game vividly, the size of the crowd for a start – absolutely enormous."

Baker also scored twice and Tommy Preston scored the other, and while a 4-4 draw in Barcelona was regarded as a seismic result, Hibs actually led 4-2 until Barca clawed back a draw in the final six minutes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The stage was set for a pulsating return leg at Easter Road on 22 February 1961 which has gone down in folklore as much for the disgraceful reaction of the Barcelona players as the enormity of Hibs' 3-2 win, sealed by a Bobby Kinloch penalty. "That would have to go down as one of Hibs' great nights," said Macleod. "I put Joe through for his goal and I got brought down for the penalty. It was a hell of a game.

"My big dread was Bobby Kinloch taking the penalty – nothing to do with his ability, more because of the amount of sawdust he had piled up on the spot. But he still managed to lash it in and that was good enough. Then, of course, all hell broke loose.

"I got chased up to the Lemonade (Dunbar] End by a couple of their players. One of them was called Jesus – what chance did I have? But three Hibs supporters jumped the wall and got between me and the two big boys and spared me any retribution."

Hibs were in the semi-finals, but after drawing twice with Roma, home advantage for the play-off was sacrificed for a fast buck, and the Italians thrashed Hibs 6-0. "The Roma tie was handled very badly by the board. Hibs could have gone all the way," lamented Macleod.

Mention of Hibs chairman of the time, Harry Swan, sends a cold shiver up the spine of Macleod, as he has never forgiven the domineering director for the manner in which he engineered his exit, having already "marked his card" when he failed to offload him to Luton Town as a teenager. Hibs ruthlessly sold Baker to Torino then Macleod to Arsenal within weeks of each other in the summer of 1961 for daring to ask for pay rises more in keeping with their talent – just 5 in Baker's case and a paltry 2 in the case of Macleod, who had just won four Scotland caps.

"Hibs didn't need the money, and what did they use it on? They put another four railway sleepers up the top of the terracing, which were called 'Baker's Heights', with four urinals called 'Macleod's lavvies'. They didn't buy anybody," said Macleod. "To me it was such a waste selling Joe and I."

Macleod was born and raised in Colinton Mains, Edinburgh, and educated at St Peter's Primary School in Morningside and St Anthony's in Leith, and after catching the eye of Hibs while training with his high school at Lochend he joined his boyhood heroes. "The Famous Five were my heroes and my grandfather used to take me," he said. "He used to have a ritual that when we walked under the bridge at Abbeymount on the way to the game, we had to do so in silence. If I'm driving under that bridge, to this day I will still turn the car radio off and refuse to utter a word."

Macleod graduated from the Edinburgh Thistle feeder team and soon found himself rubbing shoulders with his idols. "When I was still nowhere near the first team you would find Gordon Smith practising at Easter Road and I would be cheeky enough to ask for his advice about corner kicks," he said. "But he was such a gentleman and so correct in every way. I would go home and tell my dad 'Gordon spoke to me for 20 minutes'."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Macleod and Baker were sent out to Armadale for "toughening up", but Macleod's dedication to his national service with the RAF ultimately cost him a place in the 1958 Scottish Cup final, with defender John Fraser used in his place on the right-wing in Hibs' 1-0 defeat to Clyde.

When Hibs decided Macleod was to be sold, he had to choose between Manchester City and Arsenal, and one look around Highbury made his mind up. "When you saw Highbury, the marble halls, the bust of Herbert Chapman, the heated floors of the dressing room, you thought 'blimey'," he said. "It was still a hell of a move for me at that time. I was engaged and when you're young you think that maybe a place in Dunbar is about as far as you'll go. I went with a slight degree of reluctance because I thought I could have done a lot more at Hibs."

Although they went their separate ways in 1961, Macleod was reunited with Baker at Highbury a year later following the striker's ill-fated move to Torino. "When Billy Wright asked me what this Joe Baker is like at Torino, I said: 'If you can get him, GET him!'

"Joe Baker was all that you read about and more – he was dashing, the 'Roy of the Rovers' of his generation. Joe was the finest finisher that I played with ever."

Macleod would go on to make 112 appearances in three seasons for Arsenal, scoring 27 goals, before history repeated itself and he was once again sold against his wishes, this time to Aston Villa, where he teamed up with Hearts and Hibs idol Willie Hamilton.

"Billy Wright just told me he was breaking the team up and needed the money," he said. "That was absolutely horrible because we were well settled. Again, I thought 'what have I done to deserve this?'

I don't want to speak ill of the dead but (Billy Wright] was a very poor manager. I was forced out. He wasn't pleasant, he told me he would make life bad for me if I resisted him.

"But I had a lovely time at Arsenal, I loved the supporters, the whole experience and we were just so happy there, and while Villa wasn't a disaster by any means it wasn't quite the same."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Baker, who died in 2003, soon followed Macleod out of the Highbury door, but the pair would never be team-mates again, Macleod finishing his career at Raith Rovers via Mechelen in Belgium before forging a successful career in the financial sector. Sadly, for such a gifted pair of footballers, silverware eluded them both.

They at least played their part in Arsenal's historic first foray into Europe and Macleod remains a friend of the club to this day. He was present at the club's last game at Highbury in 2006 and visits the Emirates two or three times a year with one of the four sons he and his late wife Veronica had. "Highbury was a great stadium abut the Emirates, too, is marvellous. It just reflects the way the club is run. It's a properly-run club and I credit Wenger for that. Arsne Wenger has his head well screwed on."

It is a description that Macleod could just as easily apply to himself.

Related topics: