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Football News: Great Teams Part 1: The Lisbon Lions

Great Teams Part 1: The Lisbon Lions
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Great Teams: Part 1

The Lisbon Lions

The Celtic team from 1966-67, which earned the nickname 'The Lisbon Lions', seems to be more famous due to being composed of locally born players, all except one being born within 10 miles of Celtic Park and that one was born within 30miles, than they are for what they achieved and the manner that they achieved it in. It is almost as if that is held against them and it has begun to be regarded as a miracle, even lucky, that they won the biggest trophy in Europe despite the handicap of being a team of local players. There is far more to it than that, it was not a lucky break to win the trophy that earnt them their sobriquet, they won trophies because they were a great side and produced outstanding football. Manager Jock Stein, who was colloquially known as 'Big Jock', had previously been reserve coach at the Glasgow giants, before the then chairman of the club told him that he would never go any further than reserve coach because he was a protestant. The club had realised their mistake a few years later, as Rangers dominated the Scottish league they ended that outdated sectarian thought and appointed Stein in March 1965 to lead them. He set about building the greatest team in Scottish football history, whose achievements have not been equalled, let alone beaten, in the 50 years since.

Surprisingly, considering how modern day teams make complaints about having to travel abroad for pre-season tours, a lot of the credit for their amazing season has been given to a 5 week tour of North America that the squad went on. At least most of the squad went on it, right back Jim Craig stayed behind as he was a dentistry student and had university exams to take in that summer. It took Craig a while to win a place in the team afterwards, as the tour created a close team bond. Stein introduced a style of football, an attacking breathless style of play that was described as "like the Dutch speeded up" by star winger Jimmy Johnstone. That style gave Celtic their first trophy of the season in October as they scored 35 goals on their way to lifting the Scottish League Cup, including an 8-2 hammering of St. Mirren, beating Rangers 1-0 in the final. A week later Celtic made it two trophies out of two entered with a 4-0 victory over Partick Thistle in the Glasgow Cup final.


April saw the Scottish Cup added to their trophy cabinet as they beat Aberdeen 2-0 to secure that cup while keeping a perfect defensive record and scoring 20 goals. The Scottish League itself came down to the penultimate fixture, against Rangers at their home, Ibrox, with Celtic only needing a point against their bitter rivals to lift the trophy. Two goals from the man they called 'Jinky', Jimmy Johnstone, earned a 2-2 draw and the fourth trophy in four attempts, with just the big one left, the European Cup. No team from Scotland, before or since, have even reached the final of the European Cup, and this was Celtic's first attempt to win a trophy that so far had never been won by a British team. In fact only Real Madrid, Benfica, AC Milan and Inter Milan had lifted the trophy and it was to give the team its nickname. The 1st Round saw FC Zurich dispatched 2-0 in Glasgow and 3-0 away in Zurich, FC Nantes-Atlantique were the victims in the 2nd Round, as Celtic beat them 3-1 home and away.

At this point Celtic faced their first setback as top scorer Joe McBride suffered a season ending knee injury in a Christmas Eve match against Aberdeen after scoring 35 goals in just 26 matches. New signing Willie Wallace, a club record £30,000 transfer, stepped in after arriving from Heart of Midlothian and the juggernaut stormed on. Next up was a quarter final match with Yugoslavian club Vojvodina Sad and a 1-0 away defeat was overturned with a 2-0 win at Celtic Park to set up a semi final clash with Czech side Dukla Prague. After a 3-1 win at home, Jock Stein, for the first and only time, abandoned his attacking principles to go ultra-defensive in Prague and earn a 0-0 draw. It never sat well with Big Jock though, it was never a moment he looked back on with pride in later years, but it had the desired effect. In their first time in the European Cup Celtic were in the final, to be played in Lisbon against the legendary catenaccio of Helenio Herrera's Inter Milan side, who were in their 3rd final in just 4 years. Inter had already won the European Cup twice in the last 3 years under Herrera.

Stein took match preparation very seriously, which meant that the team, who were staying in the Palacio Hotel in Estoril with, as the players remember it longingly, an excellent swimming pool but they were banned from using it for fear of catching the sun. The full details of the Celtic players' hotel rooms, including phone numbers, were published in the Portugese press, who encouraged readers to phone up the players for a chat. Jock Stein had his own take on mind games and told the press exactly what his team would do, in order to show Celtic were not scared of the mighty Inter, two days before the game in a statement aimed at Herrera: "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. Cups are not won by individuals. They are won by men in a team, men who put their club before personal prestige. I am lucky - I have the players who do just that for Celtic."


He also announced his team that same day, though he was able to use that to his advantage the next day when Inter watched them train at the stadium. Stein had all his players playing in the wrong position in order to confuse Inter. That night, the night before the final, the team headed off to the villa of a Scottish ex-pat to watch England v Spain on TV and quickly became lost, spending some time wandering around the Portugese countryside, trying desperately to figure out where to go after a shortcut went wrong. Which turned out to be a precursor for the trip to the stadium the following day as the bus driver also got lost after he took a wrong turn!

The Celtic team did manage to make the stadium in good time but, as the coaching staff went out to the pitchside they found that the Inter Milan staff were sat on the bench that was meant for the Celtic staff. With it being the one in the shade, the Italians had got out there early in the hope of gaining a small advantage, however Jock Stein would have none of it and forced them to move. Meanwhile the two teams lined up in the tunnel, the Inter team bemused as Bertie Auld of Celtic started singing 'The Celtic Song' and the rest of the team joined in as they waited to walk out onto the pitch. On the pitch Billy McNeil said that, as he was exchanging flags with the Inter Captain Picchi, "am looking at these Italians standing there, their blue and black outfits, their tanned faces, good looks and I turned round and looked at our mob and said 'they must think this is a pub team they're playing!'"

Facing Helenio Herrera's great team, the last thing you want to do is concede early and allow them to sit back and defend for the rest of the match, but that is exactly what Celtic did. Jim Craig, the dental student, brought down Renato Cappellini in the penalty box and Alessandro Mazzola stepped up to score the resulting penalty in the 7th minute. As usual that saw the Italian team retreat deep and look to defend, beginning to use time wasting tactics as early as the 14th minute. The pattern for the game was set as Celtic began wave after wave of attack, later called by a French reporter 'L'Orage' (the storm), by the end of the match they had managed 41 attempts at goal, hitting the crossbar twice, while Inter keeper Giuliano Sarti made 13 saves.

However even catennacio had its weaknesses, namely their man-to-man style was left in a mess as Celtic's forwards dragged their markers out of position to leave gaps for others to run into. This created the space for Jim Craig to make amends by getting forward and laying off a ball for Tommy Gemmell's 63rd minute equaliser. With Inter still pegged back, Celtic sniffed victory and pushed harder, eventually breaking through once more in the 83rd min as Gemmell was given space and played a ball to Bobby Murdoch who hit a long-range shot which was deflected in by Steve Chalmers. That was enough for the first and only Scottish team to ever reach the final of Europe's premier club competition to lift the trophy in front of a crowd said to number almost double the official 45,000 attendance figures.


What followed was chaos as Celtic fans invaded the pitch to celebrate and try and get themselves souvenirs of the occasion, there was many a windowsill in Glasgow with a patch of grass from the pitch growing in a pot afterwards! The pitch invasion led to the cancellation of the trophy presentation that had been planned for the pitch, but the players themselves were more bothered about making sure they got their false teeth back from goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson's cap, where they had left them before the game, than they were about any ceremony. Instead the police took Billy McNeill around the outside of the stadium and onto the podium where it was presented with little fuss.

Jock Stein said, at the final whistle: "There is not a prouder man on God's Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, aye, but it was the way we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football, pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads. Inter played right into our hands; it's sad to see such gifted players shackled by a system that restricts their freedom to think and to act. Our fans would never accept that sort of sterile approach. Our objective is always to try and win with style." Even Inter manager Helenio Herrera seemed to agree as he called Celtic's win "a victory for sport".

The Lisbon Lions had won every competition they entered that season, scoring a world record 196 goals along the way. As Bill Shankly told Stein after the match, which he had been there to watch, "John, you're immortal now", as are the team in the eyes of Celtic fans. However it was not all plain sailing for the players, who were later made to feel unwanted and unloved by the very club that they had brought so much glory to. It got so bad in the 1990's that a Celtic director actually publicly derided them as 'mercenaries'. It was only the intervention of another legend of the club, Tommy Burns, that saw bridges built and the Lions returned to their rightful place as beloved heroes celebrated by all in green and white.


Just a quick thank you to Ed007 for the proof read!

Written by Tris Burke January 27 2018 08:12:29