For one to describe a particular football event as ‘romantic’ takes something very special. Leicester’s fantastic league triumph in 2016, Pep Guardiola’s wonderful footballing Barcelona team of 2011 are fairly recent examples of the term being used to paint the unimaginable football triumph.
Scotland is fortunate enough to have romantic footballing history but very few deem no better than the tale of Celtic’s 1967 European Cup success. A wonderful story of how a squad of players within a thirty mile radius from Celtic Park, played incrediblely attractive football, winning every competition they entered, won the greatest prize in European football- on the 25th May that season.
In the run up to the final Celtic had overcome Zurich, Nantes, FK Volvodina and Dukla Prague. Those standing in their way of the happy ending to the story were the mighty Inter Milan- a strong team who won the trophy in back to back seasons in 1964 and 65. Italian football was dominating Europe. Out of the previous eleven European Cup finals, five featured an Italian club- each constructing unbroken defending with the philosophy of you did not concede a goal then you can not lose the game.
The final was to be held at the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon. After arriving in Portugal, the Inter players unexpectedly came to watch Celtic train the night before the match, with this sudden appearance Stein instructed his team to “show them nothing”. Ordering his players to practice passing and running to keep Inter guessing as to what intensity of play Celtic were capable of reaching.
The aura around the arena on the day of the final was felt as Stein and the players were walking on the turf a couple of hours before kick-off. Jock however was stressing to his squad of the importance this match would be in the club’s history. Before kick-off the Lisbon’s arena was almost covered in green and white, as though Glasgow had decamped to Lisbon. This was not a simple walk or bus journey through the Gallowgate today, but an adventure thousands of miles away. Though distance would not to diminish the Celtic faithful determined to watch their team. Already Celtic were the victors in terms of support; the Celtic contingent greatly outnumbered their Italian counterparts. Nerves were creeping in, butterflies were fluttering, the tension in the dressing room was felt by all. Though Jock made it quite clear, “We have not come here to lose”. The Italian club may have had all the glamour and press but the Celtic manager was determined that his club (not least in the eyes of his players) should not be viewed as a doormat to Inter. It is common knowledge amongst the Celtic support that as the team approached the tunnel, they were met with the “calm, rich, good looking Italians”. In that moment, Bertie Auld decided to play choir leader; beginning to chant ‘the Celtic song’, causing a wave of participation for the men in green. All of the Celtic men were in chorus together now. The Italians looked on edge; this behaviour was not the norm from any opposition they had ever come across. Their calmness quickly faded. Another win for Celtic before a ball was even kicked.
Then came the walk to the centre of the pitch. Inter Milan in the famous black and blue, Celtic in the green and white. An all Italian Inter against an all Scots Celtic side would go toe-to-toe for the most prestigious trophy in Europe.
A match-worn Jimmy Johnstone jersey on display in our Museum.
The match commenced at 5.30pm with Celtic on the back-foot. The supposedly defensive-minded Inter were direct from the first whistle, winning a free-kick early on the left side which was caught by Simpson. It appeared Inter were administrating to move the ball around slickly to unleash early blows to Celtic. The first fifteen minutes belonged to the black and blue; soaking up the pressure and reflecting it back on the Celtic defence. The role of Chalmers and Wallace was to invite Craig and Gemmell further up the pitch; by dragging the defenders away from the centre area. Celtic were now finally coming into their stride.
Just as it seemed Celtic were adjusting to their first European final, a trip from Craig on Cappenini won a penalty for the Italians. Mazzola stepped up and fired the ball past Simpson’s right as he went down to his left. A sickening blow for Celtic. Inter then took the encouragement to retire behind their defensive foundations for the rest of the match. Though their plan was to be tarnished.
Inter had been mistaken assuming Celtic could be comfotably contained. One-on-one marking was proving to be a real struggle, Johnstone was skipping past Burgnich at every opportunity. Auld and Murdoch were now taking centre stage, with the former hitting the bar after a little shuffle and unbalancing the central defense. Gemmell too came close on three occasions but a breakthrough was not found before half time.
Inter were asked four times to leave their dressing room before the second half. Their intent was to leave Celtic baking in the heat but it was becoming clear that destiny would have this to be Celtic’s day. The Celts immediately reminded Inter the second half was to follow the pattern as the first. Chances grew for the Scots, surprisingly it was the Italians who seemed to be struggling to cope with the sun. On the 62nd minute, Craig found space on the wing, then just as Gemmell thought his claims for the ball were ignored, he found the ball rolling to his feet outside the box, unleashing a ferocious strike. Sarti was helpless. His reactions would offer little to prevent this goal. The Italians looked stunned at this explosive shot. 1-1 the score- the Inter defence had finally been broken.
Tommy Gemmell’s boots from the European Cup final on display in our Museum.
Throughout the remainder of the match, Inter would lose their strength and hit long balls up-field in order for Domenghini to hold and finish, though Clark and Simpson were in control of these tactics; brushing off every potential counter attack.
Then it happened. The blow Inter were desperately defending against for the remainder of the match. From the left side Murdoch received the ball back from Gemmell and decided to shoot with his left foot in order to protect his right which he injured earlier on, the ball came low and hard across the box. To many the ball was already on its way in, but Chalmers touch made sure it hit the back of the net with six minutes remaining. This move was a constant act on the training rota. The ball being drilled low and hard in the centre for Chalmers, Lennox or Wallace to finish near once they found space. A procedure deemed so simple but very effective with the Italians giving not an inch to the Celtic forwards. Chalmers’ strike may not have been as glamorous as Gemmell’s but it is certainly Celtic’s most important ever goal.
The referee’s whistle blew and Celtic were the champions of Europe. The authorities clearly did not anticipate any idea of a pitch invasion, but there was no malice in the charge. Just sheer joy and jubilation. Players clothing were stripped by the souvenir hunters, only Ronnie Simpson made the dressing room with his full kit intact. Due to this invasion however, a lap of honour with the Cup was not possible, only Billy McNeill, with the help of assistant Sean Fallon, eventually was able to collect the trophy. For the first and only time in the competition’s history, the final had been won by a team wearing green.
The Celtic squad with the trophy.
Indeed, it is over fifty years to the day of the fantastic night in Portugal, yet, the achievement from the Celtic team still remains their greatest day since the club’s founding. It appears, though, the spirit of the Lisbon Lions doesn’t just flow within their commercial department these days but side-by-side with the players on the field of play. Celtic’s season under Brendan Rodgers has been almost flawless and fitting fifty years on to the men- within a thirty mile radius of the stadium- brought the biggest prize in European football up one of the poorest parts in Western Europe; becoming the first British club to win the competition. A fantastic fairy-tale which will be idolised and shared by the masses for many years to come. Some of these Celtic heroes have sadly passed or unwell to attend such anniversaries though their legendary status will always live on.
The Lisbon Lions case on display in our Museum.
Celtic: Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.
Inter Milan: Sarti, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bedin, Guarneri, Picchi, Domenghini, Mazzora, Cappellini, Bicicli, Corso.