'Who have we got?' a supporter enquired urgently of the Celtic captain and centre-half.
'Leeds,' McNeill said.
'Aaw, no]' came the reply.
The anxiety felt by many among Celtic's following was understandable. Not Feyenoord or Legia Warsaw, the other semi-finalists, but Leeds, by consensus one of the most powerful clubs in Europe and favourites for the trophy that Don Revie, their redoubtable manager, prized above all others.
Though Revie respected Celtic and greatly admired Jock Stein's management, especially the tactical nous that had done for Internazionale and brought about Britain's first success in the competition three years earlier, he thought Leeds had come out of it well.
Not only was there the psychological advantage gained from defeating Celtic in a pre-season match that drew a capacity crowd to Parkhead, but there would be none of the difficulties imposed by an unfamilar style. 'They know us and we them,' Revie said. 'So it's about ability and attitude. On both counts I think we are superior.'
Everybody knew enough about historical rivalry to think of it as a British Championship in everything but name. Never before had the champions of England and Scotland come together in such a contest.
For McNeill, now a publican in Glasgow, the memories remain vivid. 'It seemed that hardly an hour passed without somebody asking how I thought we'd get on, and of course the papers were full of it.'
Maintaining a famously provocative style, an English sports columnist wrote: 'Celtic have now won their extremely domestic title five times in a row, which merely establishes them as the biggest fish in surely the smallest pond ever dug. The Celtic fans obstinately refuse to recognise that England regards their rantings with only tolerant smiles. Now Celtic play Leeds in the European Cup and they had best look out - Revie's lads are not due to lose again until next Pancake day.'
If such statements fuelled the resolve of his players, Stein was best encouraged by the strain Leeds were coming under in an attempt to pull off a unique treble. In the week before the first leg at Elland Road they finally overcame Manchester United in the second replay of a bitterly contested FA Cup semi-final. They were then refused permission to postpone a League game against Derby County on the Monday before meeting Celtic.
Revie, bristling with contempt for the League's administration, responded by sending out his reserves. Asked to explain this, he said: 'I was acting on medical advice. We have played seven cup-ties in 32 days. It's asking too much.'
As he remembers it now, Jack Charlton, the Republic of Ireland manager who was at centre-half for Leeds and would go with England to the World Cup in Mexico that summer, did not feel any great pressure. 'We were having a tremendous season, and I felt that with reasonable luck we could win everything. The cup-ties against Manchester United had been very hard, but getting through to the FA Cup final had given us a great lift and I was confident of beating Celtic well enough at home to give ourselves a real chance.'
While the Leeds players flipped through the dossiers Revie distributed on the eve of every game, Stein, probably the most astute manager British football has ever known, came to a bold decision. 'Usually we're the favourites,' he announced publicly. 'We won't be favourites tomorrow, and that doesn't worry us at all. It means that some of the burden is lifted from our shoulders. Even people who think well of us believe that Leeds will win. Well, we'll soon see.'
Privately, Stein had decided to attack Leeds.
This did not astonish McNeill. 'Jock was never afraid to gamble, and was as fly as they come,' he said last week. 'Leeds had grown used to dominating their home games. Nobody was inclined to go for them at Elland Road. Jock's plan was to get at them from the start, before they could settle and establish a rhythm.'
It could not have worked better for Celtic. With barely a minute played, they went in front when George Connelly sent in a powerful shot that was deflected past Gary Sprake. Charlton was stunned. 'The thing that got to me most was that Paul Madeley, our most reliable player, had made a bad mistake. I couldn't believe it.'
Nobody contributed more to Celtic's 1-0 victory than Jimmy Johnstone, a devilish dribbler who achieved such a peak of form that Terry Cooper, the England left- back, was driven to distraction. 'I don't think Jimmy ever played better for us,' McNeill added.
Much took place before the second leg at Hampden Park on 15 April. Celtic lost to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final. Leeds were taken to a replay in the FA Cup final, drawing 2-2 with Chelsea after threatening to overwhelm them.
Leeds took heart from their form at Wembley. 'We played so well that I was more confident about the match at Hampden,' Charlton said. McNeill was brooding over a nasty injury that prevented him from joining Stein's squad for a break on the Ayrshire coast. 'I was struggling,' he said. 'There wasn't a chance that I would recover in time, but Jock decided to take a chance. My ankle was heavily strapped and in order to keep this from Leeds he told me and three other players to put on tracksuit bottoms for the warm-up.'
The official attendance at Hampden fell short by 10,000 of the British record of 146,433, established at the same venue in 1937 when Celtic met Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final. But McNeill is convinced that a new record was set unofficially, that many thousands more were in the ground. 'That's what I have been told and I believe it,' he said. 'The atmosphere was incredible.'
Norman Hunter, unfit for the first leg, was back in the Leeds defence and Paul Madeley moved to right-back in place of Paul Reaney, who broke a leg in a League game at West Ham. Celtic brought John Hughes into their attack in place of Willie Wallace.
This time it was Leeds who got off to a great start when Billy Bremner levelled the aggregate score with a marvellous goal after 13 minutes. Simultaneously both centre-halves, men of vast experience, sensed the importance of Bremner's strike. Charlton shouted: 'Come on, another one and we're through on the away goal.' McNeill bellowed a warning to his team. He was being unduly pessimistic. Bobby Murdoch, at the brief peak of his powers, and Bertie Auld gained control of the midfield from Bremner and John Giles and the tide began to run against Leeds. Hughes scored. Three minutes later, Gary Sprake, the Leeds goalkeeper, was carried off, to be replaced by David Harvey. Harvey had not touched the ball before a shot from the rampant Murdoch tore past him.
The effect of those momentous occasions was considerable. Celtic lost to Feyenoord in the European Cup final, taking them to extra time, but in truth outclassed. 'We completely underestimated them,' McNeill said. More likely they had worn themselves out against Leeds.
Leeds collapsed, losing the FA Cup final to Chelsea at Old Trafford, and finishing as runners- up in the championship, nine points adrift of Everton.
Later, in Leon, when Sir Alf Ramsey sent on Norman Hunter for Bobby Charlton against West Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals, Jack Charlton left his seat and wandered outside. 'I was convinced that nothing good could happen for a Leeds player that year,' he said. By the time Charlton returned England, after leading 2-0, were on their way out of the competition.
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