Declan McConville with A Celtic State of Mind – The Masterclass in Madrid

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This month marked 53 years since Celtic took on Real Madrid in Alfredo Di Stefano’s testimonial. I caught up with my good friend and Lisbon Lion, John Fallon to look back on the encounter. The team had been given a few day off before travelling to Spain as the game had been arranged previously. John recalled that on the day of their departure from Glasgow the Six-Day War broke out between Israel and the neighbouring state of Egypt.

At the Bernabeu, Celtic trained the evening before the match as usual with Jock Stein making it clear to everybody that there would be changes made from the team that played in Lisbon. The feeling coming from the manager was that he expected to be beaten which is why John thinks he changed the team around with himself and Willie O’Neill coming into the side for Ronnie Simpson and Stevie Chalmers.

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After the hosts being in control for the first twenty-odd minutes, the newly-crowned champions of Europe began to hold their own at the Santiago Bernabeu. John said, “Wee Jimmy was brilliant that night and it was a great move for the goal that Bobby scored.” One of the other memories that sticks out is when Willie O’Neill was nutmegged by the great Di Stefano. Apparently, nobody nutmegged O’Neill and, as the years went by, the distance has got longer… Bertie Auld for example once said ‘Pumper’ had been nutmegged from forty yards!

When the players were leaving the field of play, the Celtic Chairman Robert Kelly greeted the substitute goalie and said, “Well played, John!” This match is well up there in John Fallon’s career as he played well and the whole squad felt even more uplifted having won the European Cup and shortly afterwards had beaten Real Madrid, the previous year’s champions, and in their own backyard.

Declan McConville

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