The 1967 International Cup between Racing of Argentina, the Copa Libertadores winner, and Celtic, the European Cup winners, was a truly memorable three legged series, most of which was marred by so much violence in every match that it has been called a battle.
Cards didn’t matter in these matches since it wasn’t a sanctioned match, so Racing forward Humberto Maschio going into the first match, and Jinky Johnstone going into the second leg, could play. Another weird rule for the games was that aggregate goals didn’t matter, just points after a match. So there were two points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. The legs in the match had to be the home of each club and if needed, there would be a third match.
The gate for the match in Scotland came out to be 60,000 pounds which was a record for the time. If Racing won the series of matches they’d bring home 2,000 pounds, almost a third of their annual salary, that could have aided to their actions in the series. Jock Stein, the famous Celtic manager, fielded the same side for the first match that he did in the 1967 European Cup Final with the exception of John Hughes who came in for Steve Chalmers. John Hughes missed the final because he was injured. Racing were looking for the draw from the get go, they fouled the Glasgow giants from the start – eight minutes in Johnstone was fouled as he raced for goal by Alfio Basile. The Spanish referee thought it was outside the penalty area, so a free kick was given. Racing spent most of the first half kicking, fouling, and spitting at the Celtic players – lovely!
The only goal would come late in the second half when in the 69th minute Billy McNeill scored after a great delivery from a corner by Hughes. The second half was a lot like the first, with players getting hit, kicked, and both teams defences cancelling each other out. Subsequently, Stein said that every player needed some type of treatment for a knock during the match.
The return match was a different sort of battle. Racing were on a four game losing streak, and hadn’t scored in the streak either, so they didn’t sit back, they pressed and attacked, and really went for it. This match was played in Buenos Aires, on the first day of November. The crowd was hostile, even firing stuff onto the field. While taking his spot in goal Ronnie Simpson, the Celtic goalkeeper was struck by something which knocked him out. Simpson thought it was a bottle, while others thought that it was a rock from a sling shot. Either way, Celtic captain Tommy Gemmill scored a penalty 23 minutes in, where even the Argentinian press behind the goal were trying to distract him when he stepped up to take the spot kick! The match was kept under check, due to a referee keeping good control. The Argentine club ended up winning 2-1, to force another match.
There was some call to not play the game. The chairman of Celtic at the time, Bob Kelly, was against the third match, but Jock Stein, being the true competitor he was, went ahead with the third match, which would go down as the Battle of Montevideo.
The match was a very violent contest, just like the first encounter, to the point where Paraguayan referee Rodolfo Perez Osorio had to stop play after 23 minutes to warn both sides of their behaviour. There were 30 fouls given to Celtic, and only 21 to Racing. However, just fourteen minutes after the meeting between the captains and the referee, Johnstone was taken down harshly by Juan Ruli. While Johnstone was down on the ground in pain John Clark ran over to Ruli and Alfio Basile with his fists up. Such a melee broke out that the Uruguayan police had to rush on the pitch to break it all up. Eventually, Basile and Bobby Lennox were sent off, with Lennox’s sending off is still under question. It still bamboozles me as I sit here in America now – just how was Bobby Lennox sent off? I’ll never get it! After 48 minutes Ruli was finally sent off for holding Johnstone back but, sadly for Celtic, just six minutes later Racing got what proved to be the winning goal with a goal by Cardenas from 25 feet out.
The match and the atmosphere deteriorated much further, when the police had to break up another melee, which resulted in Bertie Auld getting thrown off. Auld actually never left the field, and played out the rest of the match. During all of this, Tommy Gemmill kicked one of the Racing players in his nether region, which the referee never saw, much like he did for most of the match! Racing held onto their lead and went on to win the match. During the lap of honour the Uruguayan fans, who came out to support Celtic, threw anything they could find at the Racing players.
Unsurprisingly, following the match, Jock Stein vowed never to bring Celtic to South America again. Since that encounter, many other ties in the Intercontinental Cup turned violent, leaving many European sides to skip the tournament all together.