Simpson, Craig, McNeil, Clark, Gemmell, Murdoch, Auld, Johnstone, Lennox, Wallace and Chalmers.
These were the first Scottish men to lift the European Cup. Every player in that Lisbon Lion side came from within a 30 mile radius of Glasgow City centre.
John Fallon was an unused sub. John Hughes, Joe McBride, Willie O’Neill, Charlie Gallagher (Ireland) and Jim Brogan never made the squad. At the time Celtic did not wear shirt numbers, in fact they were sewn onto their small shorts. A second goalkeeper was the only substitute you were allowed at the time. Players didn’t listen to music through their headphones. They didn’t take selfies on their phone. They didn’t communicate via whatsapp, snapchat, or facebook messenger. They told jokes, and sang songs. The pulled practical jokes and lived a stone’s throw away from their supporters who laid awake in anticipation over the road from the team hotel the Palacio in Estoril.
Celtic flew to Lisbon as clear underdogs. The European Cup was the preserve of Latin clubs, such as Real Madrid, Benfica and of course Inter Milan and AC Milan, who had both lifted the trophy prior to 67’.
That night in Lisbon on the 25th May 1967, Celtic annihilated Inter Milan by a single goal. They did it playing football, “pure, beautiful, inventive football”. This is what Jock Stein had to say about his Bhoys after the famous victory. Prior to the game Scotland’s greatest ever manager played game’s with Helenio Herrera, who was considered to be the greatest leader in the game at the time. Two days prior to the final Jock named his team. He brought the press in, laid his cards on the table and shared what would be his European Cup winning team. The big man said, “I am now going to tell him how Celtic will be the first team to bring the European Cup back to Britain, but it will not help him in any manner, shape or form: we are going to attack as we have never attacked before,”. And attack them they did.
The Italians were cocky. They altered their training time so they could sit and watch the Glasgow bhoys. In an interview in 2007 captain Billy McNeil, Stevie Chalmers and Bobby Lennox all stated the advantage and boost that gave the players. It made them more determined, as the Italians laughed and mocked the green and white. Big Jock was aware they were watching and told his team to “muck about”. Bobby Lennox recalled that Jock had them “playing in different positions”. Lennox played left-back, Gemmell was up top and McNeil was put on the side-lines. Jock was cunning, and the cat and mouse tactics had begun. The big man played on Inters’ over-confident.
Jock didn’t allow the players to use the hotel pool, insisting that his players stay out of the sun. They were to wear clothing at all times, as to avoid getting sunburn. And Jock made sure that this time around the players would keep themselves to themselves; they wouldn’t mingle with fans, as they usually did, and they weren’t given the freedom to do as they pleased. Not this time. Nonetheless the players were happy with their preparations, and felt very relaxed.
The night before the game the Bhoys were invited for dinner at the house of Brodie Lennox. The players watched England play Spain on the telly and later that night they walked back to their hotel. John Clark remembers Celtic trainer Neil Mochan leading the team astray, insisting he knew a short cut. But it ended with the players climbing over a fence as they reached a dead-end. Could you imagine Real Madrid or Juventus players doing that in two weeks time the night before their big-game in Cardiff? I don’t think so.
The day of the game just happened to be a Holy Day of Obligation, so the players and the fans made their way to mass on the morning of the final. Jock Stein himself asked Father Bertie O’Reagan to lead the mass for his players, it was important to them. I can imagine the droves of Celtic supporters saying their prayers and dropping some extra money in the charity boxes, in the hope it would help their team succeed. The locals enjoyed the travelling supports religious ways, with many fans saying it won the locals over.
Jock lead the team talk back at the Hotel before they left for the Estadio Nacional. He told his players, “they had the chance to make history.” On the way to the stadium Bobby Lennox was sure the driver got a little bit lost, but noted that the Bhoys couldn’t give a jot as they continued singing songs at the back of the bus.
Billy McNeil recalls seeing the “magnificent” Inter Milan team in the tunnel in their “inspiring” blue and black kit. Jimmy Johnstone did the same, turning to his pal Bertie Auld he said “Look at them, wee man, they’re like film stars!” to which Bertie replied “Aye, but can they play?” Their admiration lasted only seconds when out of nowhere Bertie Auld began to sing “The Celtic Song”.
“For it’s a grand old team to play for. For it’s a grand old team to see.”
Everyone in green and white standing in the tunnel at the Estadio Nacional joined in. The expression on the Inter players’ faces was a right picture.
The Italians were very defensive. They’re man marking was exquisite but they didn’t account for Jock’s Lions who kept them busy all game. Tommy Gemmell, Celtic’s left-back had six or seven shots early on. The forwards were taking their defenders into silly areas making it possible for Gemmell and Craig to burst forward and attack. The game plan certainly had Inter on the ropes, but what Celtic didn’t want was to lose an early goal considering the Italians catenaccio style of play. The Hoops went a goal down when Jim Craig fouled Cappellini in the box and Mazzola converted the penalty just six-minutes into the game. Inter didn’t make much of an attempt to double their lead, they truly thought that one goal would be enough. This allowed Celtic to continue their siege on Giuliano Sarti’s goal. Auld hit the woodwork, Johnstone’s header was saved, Gemmell hit the woodwork, his free-kick saved by Sarti and the Hoops were even denied a penalty.
Ironically, the keeper Sarti was marked by Stein as Inter’s weak link. But the guy was having a blinder. He had to right enough, because Inter couldn’t get out of their own box. It was 9-men behind the ball, the bus was parked and Celtic was probing.
The second half begun; the two Celtic full-backs, Gemmell and Craig, had got up the park at the same time, this should never have happened. Craig passed to Tommy and like a bullet being fired from a gun the ball was in the back of the net. The equaliser was scored and everyone knew Celtic were going to become European Champions. The belief was there, the hunger was evident. Inter had no chance. A thunderous strike from 25 yards out; it was unstoppable. The Estadio Nacional erupted!
Sarti was helpless, there were five minutes left to play when Chalmers poked in Murdoch’s drive. It was 2-1, and Celtic were about to become the first British European Champions. Stevie Chalmers notes that this is a move Stein made him practice at least three times a week. Lennox concurred stating: “Stevie must have done that a thousand times in training – the ball came through and he pushed it in the corner of the net.”
CELTIC WERE CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE.
After the final whistle supporters flooded the field. They ripped grass from the pitch, took players boots and jerseys, the claw marks on Billy McNeil’s neck was one of the most unsavoury souvenir’s the captain received. The pitch invasion meant that the European Champions could not be presented with the trophy on the pitch. Instead, captain Billy McNeil was ushered around the stadium, protected by armed guards, to received the trophy on top of a podium in the stand. It remains to this day to be one of the most iconic images in sport. In fact I am looking at it right now as it hangs from my wall in work.
This incredible feat, this extraordinary journey was courageously done by local Glasgow men. When you consider the magnitude of it, it really is enough to bring a tear to your eye. Look at the squad and you’ll know it almost certainly should not have happened. Jock Stein was fortune enough to be asked back to Celtic Park in 1965, following a dismissal from his job as Celtic youth and reserve coach. Stein was dismissed on the grounds that he was a Protestant and therefore would not go further in his position at the club. Imagine? The match winner, Stevie Chalmers, almost died in his early 20s. He was given three weeks to live following his tuberculosis-meningitis diagnosis. Bobby Lennox may never have become a footballer, at all, had he not got over his shyness as a child. As a young man he was embarrassed to play in front of his peers.
The team were back in Glasgow the following day. Supporters turned up at the airport to celebrate their European triumph. The Hoops sang “Hail, Hail” with the supporters as they left Glasgow airport. Over 65,000 supporters greeted their heroes on the stands and terraces at Celtic Park. The team were taken around Glasgow on the back of a lorry and were waved, cheered and celebrated by the people of Glasgow. The city belonged to Celtic.
They were the greatest team in Europe. Jock Stein’s Celtic entered five competitions that season, and won all five. Two weeks after the final Celtic were invited to play against Real Madrid for Di Stefano’s testimonial. Real had won the European Cup in 1966, and were bumping their gums about how they were the still the best team in Europe. So for good measure we beat them as well. Bobby Lennox scored the goal in front of 135,000 at the Santiago Bernabeu. After that, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Glasgow Celtic was the best team in Europe.