When I was young, I used to devour the Saturday-night papers, ‘the Times, News and Citizen’. My grandmother spent her Saturdays shopping in Glasgow and visiting her niece, returning about eight o’clock. She always had two things for me: a Mars Bar and the final edition of the Glasgow Evening Times.
I used to pore over that paper, and studied the front page for hours. It contained every senior result in Britain: in the three Scottish Leagues, the English First Division, Second Division, Third Division North and Third Division South. I ‘supported’ a team in each league, and was usually faithful to them, without ever having seen most of them: Celtic, Alloa Athletic, Derby County, Liverpool, Stockport County, and Plymouth Athletic. There was little rationale for my choices, although I had once seen Derby County win the F.A. Cup on the Pathe News; I remember they had Peter Doherty and Horatio Carter as inside-forwards.
When I emigrated to Canada in 1956, I liked to watch hockey even on black-and-white television. Back in those innocent days, there were only six teams in the National Hockey League (NHL) and they played each other fourteen times in the season; in the play-offs the first-place team played the third in a best-of-seven series; similarly, the second played the fourth.
Naturally, obeying a life-time habit, I had to adopt a team, and my choice was the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had an intense rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens. They were the only two Canadian outfits in the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers being the others.Listen to JAMES CANT with A Celtic State of Mind here:
For obvious reasons 1967 was my favourite year, and not just for Celtic’s European Cup triumph; the Maple Leafs, rank outsiders, won the Stanley Cup by beating the Canadiens four games to two in the final. The last game at Maple Leaf Gardens took place on May 2nd, about three weeks before Celtic’s day in Lisbon.
“Rank outsiders”? Definitely. Throughout the season almost every player in the squad was on bad terms with the irascible coach and General Manager, ‘Punch’ Imlach. In fact, during one particularly bad spell, they had lost ten games in a row. One obvious problem was that it was an ageing team. The Leafs had a roster of thirty players, and nine of them were over thirty years old, while two were over forty; of the nine thirty-year-olds, six were well over thirty-five years old. Hockey, it might be recalled, is considered sports’ fastest game and a hard, physical, contact sport – a young man’s game.
Imlach was an abrasive personality, notoriously tight with his dollars, and he did not believe in pampering his players: he seemed to take a perverse delight in tormenting his star player, high-scoring left-winger (Frank Mahovlich) by mis-pronouncing his name and despite the player’s history of frequent depressions; another player (Eddie Shack) he discovered could not read or write and the coach’s sympathy extended only to one sentence – “I signed you up to play f’n hockey, not to write the f’n Encyclopaedia Britannica. Just put an ‘X’ there.”
I remember those players: Mahovlich, No. 27, ‘the Big M’ and who later was appointed to the Canadian Parliament as a Senator for Ontario … the captain George Armstrong, of Indian extraction and nicknamed ‘The Chief’ … ‘Red’ Kelly, at 39 years old and having played most of his career with the Detroit Red Wings as an All-Star defenceman but who had suddenly emerged as one of the best centres in the NHL (and who was also serving as a Liberal M.P. in Ottawa) … and the veteran goal-tenders, Johnny Bower at 42 and Terry Sawchuk at 37, both of Ukranian origin and in a glorious twilight of their careers (Bower played in four of the final series games against the Canadiens while Sawchuk stopped forty-one of forty-two shots in the last 3-1 win) …
And the one player whose name might be recognized in Scotland, the rugged defenceman Tim Horton, another thirty-seven year-old who was preparing for retirement by opening a modest chain of donut shops (and who would die in a high-speed traffic accident two years later after a game at Maple Leaf Gardens) …
Fifty-three years on, I remember that early summer very well and rejoiced in the triumphs of Celtic and the Leafs. Sadly, neither of them have been able to repeat those exploits, and there are other parallels: Celtic won the European Cup when it was limited to the champions of their countries, and the Maple Leafs won that 1967 Stanley Cup when the NHL consisted only of its traditional six member clubs (instead of today’s bloated thirty-one franchises).
While I sometimes struggle to remember who scored Celtic’s goals last Saturday, I have no difficulty in visualizing Tommy Gemmell’s thunderbolt at Lisbon nor George Armstrong’s goal into the Canadiens’ empty net to seal a 3-1 victory with only seconds left.
And there were other things to celebrate. That year (1967) was Canada’s Centennial and it was a joyous celebration of a young country, a time of hope and promise. I was living in Ottawa, the nation’s capital … and the focus of the celebration. There was also Expo ’67, the World’s Fair held in Montreal, only 110 miles down the road and, in Canadian terms, the next-door neighbours … and one controversy when Canada decided on a new flag (amid considerable opposition from the expat British traditionalists). However, by the end of the year the new and iconic maple-leaf flag was being accepted almost universally.
1967? Definitely a great year.
Tom CampbellWatch A Celtic State of Mind at the Stevie Chalmers Auction here: