Harmless old men. The 1974 scum age gracefully

Billy McNeill’s description of the 1974 Atletico Madrid side that kicked Celtic out of the European Cup semi-finals as “Scum” has provoked a mixed reaction in Madrid. The official response of the Spanish club has been injured innocence and comments like “We do not understand why they are harping on about a match played 37 years ago. We would rather concentrate on the present.”

Panadero Diaz and a defensive colleague from 1974

But one of the players from that towsy first leg match in Glasgow in the 10th April 1974 has come out with a more spirited direct response. Panadero Diaz, the giant Argentinean centre half was one of the three Atletico defenders sent off during the game, after a particularly atrocious tackle on Jimmy Johnstone, who as Panadero honestly admits “was leading me a merry dance and driving me mad”. Panadero describes his offence as kicking Jinky in the ribs and accepts he deserved to be sent off. But he defends the overall conduct of his team. “In that era teams played much harder and more physically than they do nowadays” He accepts Atletico were a hard team but emphasised that Celtic were no saints. And as one tough centre half to another he said “McNeil might not have forgotten what we did to them, but we have not forgotten what he did to us.”

Panadero made it clear he resented the title of ‘scum’ and claimed that Atletico Madrid of that era were one of the finest teams in the world, on a par with Barcelona and Real Madrid. And in one sense what he says is correct. In the European Cup Final against a Bayern Munich side, containing world class stars like Beckenbauer, Brietner, Hoeness, Maier and Muller, Atletico were one minute away from winning the European Cup. And in Bayern’s absence they represented Europe in the Intercontinental Trophy beating Copa Libertadores champions Independiente over two legs to be crowned as “World Club Champions”

So how justified is Billy McNeil’s use of the strong phrase “scum”.

Panadero Diaz now. Ready to admit his errors and call Lorenzo a monster

I am aware that few if any Celtic supporters under the age of 50 will have any direct memory of that torrid encounter from 37 years ago but there must be still many of the 70,000 plus spectators other than myself who have vivid memories of an unforgettable evening. 2 years previously Celtic had lost at the same semi-final stage to Inter Milan, on penalty kicks and most of the enormous crowd were confident that this time, against Atletico they would go a stage further and reach their third European Cup Final. As I took my place in the jungle, I knew Atletico would be no push-overs. I also knew that the Atletico Manager Juan Carlos Lorenzo, El Toto, was a ferociously competitive Argentinean, the manager from the 1966 World Cup team that had been called ‘animals’ by Alf Ramsey, and that he was famous for using psychological pressures on his players to ensure they stayed winners, at any cost.

37 years on Panadero Diaz  describes Lorenzo as  “a monster” and remembers Lorenzo telling him well before the game to let his beard grow long  and to show his teeth, the better to frighten the Celtic players

Even so, along with the rest of the capacity Celtic Park crowd I was amazed at the degree of ferocity unleashed by Atletico throughout the 90 minutes. I have never before or since seen such sustained brutality practised by a whole team for a whole game. The Turkish referee booked 7 of the Atletico players and sent 3 of them off, including Panadero Diaz. All for tackles that would have been criminal assault in any other context. The Celtic players were not physically intimidated and while they responded physically they did not lose the place. But incredibly it was their rhythm and concentration rather than Atletico’s that suffered most from the constant stoppages, and even the ever increasing numerical superriority could not be turned to their advantage. The game ended goal-less, the restrained Celtic crowd booed the Atletico team off the pitch, and mayhem broke out in the tunnel as a score or two was settled, reputedly with the help of the Glasgow police.

Juan Carlos Lorenzo The manager that created scum out of good Atletico players

Thanks to the wonders of You Tube the worst highlights can be seen by googling Celtic v Atletico Madrid 1974 so if you weren’t there, take a look and marvel. Three of the tackles on Jimmy Johnstone will horrify any sensitive soul, and remind everyone that the wee man was not only highly skilled but extremely brave, to carry on taking such abuse without ceasing to run at them. While universal outrage at the degree of cynical violence practiced by Atletico swept the whole continent, UEFA took no other action bar banning the three players sent off from the second leg and fining Atletico a derisory amount. Some people urged Celtic to pull out of the second leg but I think the decision to play was the right one, even if the outcome was a tame defeat.

Atletico will not approach Thursday’s game with anything like the same ferocity. Current Manager Manzano is a gentleman, the squad contain no notable hatchet men like Diaz, Heredia and Eusebio, and the atmosphere is likely to be relatively friendly. The Atletico team that won the Europa League in 2010 has been dismantled with Simao, Forlan and Aguero all gone. While replacements like Falcao from Porto and Miranda and Diego the Brazilians are top class, the team have not yet blended together and Celtic should not be too overawed. Nor should they be bothered by being there only as a result of a successful off-field  appeal. Last season  Celtic’s favourite Spanish club, Villarreal reached the semi-finals after not originally qualifying for the tournament at all. So Celtic just need to concentrate on the football, forget the recent past, forget the distant past, and focus on getting a good result