GETTING kicked up and down the pitch by Atletico Madrid’s cynical players in the first leg of the European Cup semi-final at Parkhead in 1974 was hard for Celtic enforcer Davie Hay to bear.

As was conceding two late goals to the Spaniards in the rematch in the Vicente Calderon Stadium a fortnight later, losing the second leg and the double header 2-0 and failing to progress to a second final in four seasons.

However, getting knocked out of the European Cup Winners’ Cup by the same opponents 11 years later after he had taken over as manager made those difficult experiences feel mild in comparison.

The Herald: Brendan Rodgers will attempt to get a result which boosts the Scottish champions’ hopes of European football after Christmas in a Champions League group game in the Metropolitano Stadium this evening.

Avoiding defeat against Diego Simeone’s side in front of a largely hostile 70,000-strong crowd on their home turf will, even though Callum McGregor and his team mates drew 2-2 in Glasgow last month, be quite an accomplishment.

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But Hay showed it can be done back in 1985. His side, which comprised Pat Bonner, Danny McGrain, Paul McGugan, Roy Aitken, Tommy Burns, Peter Grant, Murdo MacLedo, Paul McStay, Davie Provan, Mo Johnston and Brian McClair, ground out a valiant 1-1 draw which gave them an excellent chance of progressing to the second round of the competition.

The former full-back cum midfielder got his tactics spot on. Johnston netted his first European goal when he got on the end of a Provan cross. Bonner then saved a penalty. The visitors finished the 90 minutes level despite there only being 73 away supporters in attendance.

However, not having any fans at all inside Celtic Park for the second leg, the result of a UEFA punishment for crowd misbehaviour at the Rapid Vienna game at Old Trafford the season before, proved calamitous. The hosts lost 2-1 to go out.

The Herald: So Hay, who is now a Celtic ambassador and regularly attends games at Parkhead, has more reason than most for wanting to see Atletico get a bloody nose in the Group E encounter against the La Liga outfit this evening. 

The 75-year-old, though, is only interested in seeing the Scottish champions perform as well as they did in their previous meeting with their opponents and increase their hopes of a place in either the Champions League or Europa League knockout rounds.  

“I would say the European Cup semi-final against Atletico was about as bad a match as I was ever involved in,” said the man who was given the nickname The Quiet Assassin by former Scotland manager Tommy Docherty during his playing days.

“It was that kind of game. Let’s put it this way, it was pretty unusual for an outside left to get sent off against me! Ruben Ayala was one of three Atletico players who got sent off that night. I think if another of their players had been red carded we would have been awarded the game.  

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“The tactics they used showed they wanted not to win at all costs. They wanted to stay level going into the second leg. We knew we were up against it going over to Spain. But, having said that, it was late on in the game before they scored.

“They had an Argentinian manager, Juan Carlos Lorenzo. Jock Stein did tell us not to get involved in anything beforehand. When Celtic played Racing Club in the World Club Championships play-off in 1967, their players retaliated to the treatment they received and they were perceived afterwards as being just as culpable for the trouble.

“He was determined that nothing untoward came from our end, that we didn’t let the club down, that we couldn’t be seen to be retaliating. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to say. Who knows?

“We won the Scottish title and the Scottish Cup and got to the European Cup semi-final that year so we were not a bad team ourselves. But there were fewer of the Lisbon Lions in that side than there had been in the final four years earlier. No team compares to the Lisbon Lions. 

“It was disappointing. But the biggest disappointment of my football career was losing the final to Feyenoord in 1970. It didn’t compare with that disappointment.”

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Hay added: “We played Atletico in the European Cup Winners’ Cup when I was manager. We actually drew 1-1 with them in Madrid and then lost 2-1 in Glasgow. But the reason for that was there were no Celtic fans inside Parkhead. Celtic without fans? For me, that was why we lost. We had done so well in the first leg over there.

“But I have moved on. I think in life you have to move on. When you look at what is going on the world just now, you do think that maybe if people could come together a bit more there would be fewer problems. Nothing I say will change the result.

“The memories of the 1974 game were still quite fresh going into that double header. But now it is nearly 50 years ago. What happened probably shouldn’t have happened, but it is in the past. I am sure Celtic will feel that way and Atletico for that matter.”

The Herald: Hay has been pleased by the steady progress which Celtic have made under Rodgers since the Northern Irishman returned to the East End of Glasgow to take charge of his boyhood heroes for a second time in June and is hopeful it continues with a positive away result in Europe. 

“They did well against Atletico at home and I am sure we will see further improvements going forward,” he said. “But it is difficult, it is a high level. Just one slip cost them last time out. You get punished at that level.

“The standard of opposition they face in Europe is far greater than what they face in Scotland and they can’t afford any lapses in concentration, especially any defensive lapses. They have to be tight when the opposition have got the ball.

“But Brendan has most of his strongest players available. The team almost picks itself now. That wasn’t the case at the start of the season. I hope that Celtic get a result, but I also hope it is a match that is played fairly and well.”