Lis­bon Lions the pride of Scottish foot­ball

New Straits Times - - Sport -

GLAS­GOW: These are heady days for Celtic sup­port­ers but even in the eu­pho­ria of an un­beaten season the club’s past is be­ing remembered with rare pride.

Celtic have just fin­ished their Scottish Pre­mier­ship season un­beaten through­out the cam­paign.

A sixth straight league ti­tle is in the bag and to­mor­row, they could com­plete the do­mes­tic tre­ble with a Scottish Cup fi­nal win over Aberdeen.

Records have been smashed through­out a re­mark­able season of dom­i­na­tion from Bren­dan Rodgers’ team and yet, while suc­cess has been duly toasted, the thoughts of the green and white faith­ful this week have been turned to the past.

Yes­ter­day, it was 50 years since Jock Stein’s Celtic be­came the first Bri­tish club to be crowned cham­pi­ons of Europe.

The 2-1 vic­tory over In­ter Mi­lan in the Lis­bon fi­nal of the Euro­pean Cup is the sin­gle great­est achieve­ment in Scottish foot­ball his­tory and led to the team be­ing dubbed the ‘Lis­bon Lions’.

Around Celtic Park, be­fore the fi­nal game of the season against Hearts last Sun­day, there were re­minders of Lis­bon ev­ery­where: the statue of skip­per Bill McNeill hoist­ing the Euro­pean Cup high above his head stands at the en­trance to Celtic Way, the fig­ures of Stein and the mag­i­cal winger Jimmy John­stone are also rep­re­sented in bronze by the main en­trance to the ground.

In­side, a sta­di­umw i d e c h o r eographed dis­play paid trib­ute to the Lions and the crowd roared what has be­come a hymn to their club’s great­est night: “67, in the heat of Lis­bon, the fans came in their thou­sands, to see the Bhoys be­come — cham­pi­ons.”

“The Lis­bon Lions mean every­thing, every­thing,” said Celtic fan Thomas McTaggart, who shortly af­ter see­ing the cur­rent Celtic team pre­sented with the league tro­phy, headed to Glas­gow air­port to catch a flight to Lis­bon where he will spend this week hon­our­ing the Lions and cel­e­brat­ing near the Es­ta­dio Na­cional.

McTaggart and his friends are re­trac­ing the steps taken by thou­sands of Celtic fans who half a cen­tury ago de­scended on Lis­bon in num­bers never seen be­fore in Euro­pean foot­ball. The In­ter sup­port­ers were to­tally out­num­bered as the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal turned green and white for the night.

“I was amazed when I walked out to see all those Celtic scarves in the sta­dium. At the time we were say­ing ‘we’ve got to win this game be­cause look at the sup­port we have got’. It wasn’t just a case of win­ning it for Celtic Foot­ball Club be­cause of all that sup­port,” Jim Craig, right-back in the 1967 side, said.

Singing, as op­posed to sim­ple foot­ball chants, is cen­tral to the Celtic fan cul­ture and as a ner­vous group of 11 Scots­men, 10 of them born within 20 kilo­me­tres of their sta­dium in Park­head, pre­pared for the game, mid­fielder Ber­tie Auld broke into the ‘Celtic song’ which, ac­cord­ing to Craig, set­tled the team’s nerves, al­low­ing them to fo­cus not on their il­lus­tri­ous op­po­nents but on the pas­sion needed to beat them.

“That took the edge off the nerves... it was a very in­tel­li­gent thing to do to break the ice and made us feel very much bet­ter,” he added.

‘Il Grande In­ter’ had es­tab­lished them­selves as the top team in Europe un­der Ar­gen­tine coach He­le­nio Her­rera, win­ning the Euro­pean Cup in 1964 and 1965 as well as three Serie A ti­tles. The pre­vi­ous year they had reached the semi-fi­nals, where they lost to even­tual winners Real Madrid.

The Euro­pean Cup had been dom­i­nated by south­ern Euro­pean teams since its in­cep­tion in 1955-56. Real won the first five edi­tions, Lis­bon’s own Ben­fica had claimed two ti­tles and AC Mi­lan had grabbed the crown im­me­di­ately be­fore In­ter’s glory years.

When Celtic went a goal down to a sev­enth-minute San­dro Maz­zola penalty, the chances of an up­set looked slim. Her­rera’s tac­tics were well-es­tab­lished and in­volved a blan­ket de­fence once an ad­van­tage had been gained.

But play­ing fluid, at­tack­ing foot­ball, Celtic cre­ated a se­ries of chances and fi­nally equalised through a thun­der­ing Tommy Gem­mell drive. Then six min­utes from the end Ste­vie Chalmers turned in the win­ner.

Celtic fans poured on the field at the fi­nal whis­tle and, in the chaos, skip­per McNeill had to raise the tro­phy alone, with his team­mates in the safety of the dress­ing room. But there was to be plenty of op­por­tu­nity for the en­tire squad to savour the cel­e­bra­tions.

On their re­turn to Glas­gow air­port the team were mobbed and thou­sands thronged the streets as their bus made its way to Celtic Park where the first ever Scottish, Bri­tish and North Euro­pean winners of the con­ti­nent’s top tro­phy were greeted by their deliri­ous sup­port­ers, mem­bers of the same com­mu­nity that pro­duced the play­ers.

“These days most of the play­ers are play­ing for who pays them .... but most of our team were Celtic sup­port­ers. To play for the team you’ve al­ways sup­ported is some­thing spe­cial,” said Craig.

“It re­ally is as­ton­ish­ing that a team that won the Euro­pean Cup should come from such a very small area of what is quite a small coun­try. That makes the enor­mity of what we did even bet­ter.” Reuters

It re­ally is as­ton­ish­ing that a team that won the Euro­pean Cup should come from such a very small area of what is quite a small coun­try. That makes the enor­mity of what we did even bet­ter.

Jim Craig Celtic right-back in the 1967 side

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