After watching Chelsea win the Champions League last Saturday night, many fans will think it was great to see another British club win Europe’s biggest prize. Over the years many British clubs have tried to win the “big cup” but have fallen short. For Chelsea this was their second final and after losing on penalties to Manchester United in their previous final, perhaps it was a fitting way for the London club to win it.
It may seem strange that you don’t have to actually win your league but you could still qualify to play in the Champions League, this is so true in Chelsea’s case but still it was a remarkable achievement. Money and TV now plays and big part of how, when and where football is played and which teams will take part in it.
Some will call it greed, others may say that it gives a wider range of clubs a chance to win Europe’s premier competition but does it make it a better achievement to win the old European Cup as it was then, or the Champions League as it’s called now?
Some great British sides have won the old European Cup, Liverpool, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest, but the side who started it all off for the British sides was a team from Glasgow, the men in Green and White called Celtic.
May 25th 1967 was the day that the Lisbon Lions were born when the Glasgow club became the first British team to win the European Cup, beating favourites Internazionale Milan 2-1.
An estimated crowd of 70,000 crammed into the Estádio Nacional in Lisbon to witness the Glasgow side lift the greatest prize in club football.
Inter had been champions of Europe three times and came with a big reputation, but Celtic had a reputation of their own as they swept all before them aside in Scotland, they were not here just to make up the numbers or admire the opposition.
Celtic had been well prepared by legendary manager Jock Stein on route to the final, he knew what was at stake at what would be required if Celtic were to overcome their Italian rivals.
No matter if it was Sea Mill or Lisbon you could be sure that big Jock would have his team prepared in the best possible way and relaxation and fitness were top of the big man’s agenda and his players knew that.
Jock was also wise to the media and knew that Celtic getting to the final of a European competition would mean the club would be getting attention from the European media as well as the Scottish or British media so a few days at Sea Mill were in order and a few rounds of golf were the order of the day as well as some hard training, these boys had a big match to play!
Celtic captain Billy McNeill recalls the build up to the final in Lisbon. He said: “Big Jock had done everything brilliantly, very careful about the choice of hotel, which was magnificent with a beautiful swimming pool on the grounds.
“We went to the ground for training in the morning and we were supposed to go first but Inter went first so that they could watch us train in case they could learn anything from us.
“We had an attitude back then and nobody will ever convince us were the best eleven individual players in Europe but collectively and as a team, we had a determination about ourselves and if we played to our best we knew that we would be a handful for anybody.
“As the final loomed even the locals looked to have warmed to Celtic and their supporters, could it have been they liked backing the underdog or perhaps the hordes of Celtic fans that made the trip had convinced the locals they would be on to a winner backing a side with such flair and talent such as Celtic.”
According to the Celtic players, Stein told his players to “go out and enjoy themselves” at the start of the match.
Although within minutes of kick-off, big Jock would have been doing anything but enjoying himself as defender Jim Craig felled Renato Cappellini and Alessandro Mazolla netted the resulting penalty.
Lesser teams would have folded in the heat and knowing that the Italians would such up shop such was their style of play but not Celtic, this made them more determined.
McNeill added: “We did get the bonus of them scoring the first goal. When I say the bonus, we were all annoyed at it and it had us up in arms and if you look at it, we hit the bar a couple of times and funny enough their keeper Sarti, who we believed would be their weak link was their best player!
“We did think it was an injustice, but it was possibly the best thing that could have happened to us, because that meant that we had to take the game to them.
“It suited us because we had the players that could do that. We had wee Jinky that could take the ball to people. Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox up front and Willie Wallace who could get up and help the forwards and we had two full backs in Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig who were at their best going forward.
“When you consider it, the first goal that we scored, Jim Craig cuts the ball right across the edge of the 18 yard line and Tommy comes and sticks it in the net.
“Tommy scored in the first match in Europe that year and he scored in the final as well.”
Milan held onto their early lead until half-time. But shortly after the break Celtic full-back Tommy Gemmell scored the equaliser.
The goal gave Celtic the inspiration the players needed. They continued to attack the Italian goal until Gemmell again stormed up the left-wing, passed back to Bobby Murdoch who sent a powerful shot towards the goal, which was deflected into the net by Stevie Chalmers to give the Hoops side a 2-1 lead.
Jock Stein, said: “There is not a prouder man on God’s Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, but it was the way that 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.”
But the chaos inside the stadium meant that the Celtic players could not be presented with the trophy on the pitch, club captain Billy McNeill had to be ushered round the outside of the stadium under armed escort. He then climbed the stairs to the presentation podium where he finally held the trophy aloft to enormous cheers from the crowd.
1967, Scottish Football reached a pinnacle of success in Europe which has yet to be surpassed in the modern era, when Glasgow Celtic Football Club, under the leadership of manager Jock Stein defeated e of Milan 2-1 at in Lisbon to Celtic became not only the first and only Scottish team to date to win the European Cup, they were the first British club and the first non-Latin club to lift this magnificent trophy, a superb achievement with an all Scots team.
Celtic had it all. They had a great team bond, a good mixture of characters who were as good off the pitch as they were on it, a team filled with flair and skill, entertainers like Jimmy Johnstone who would go past defenders two or three times for fun – such was his talent – and of course they had good leaders on and off the pitch.
Captain Billy McNeill was strong and commanding in the air and a good leader of men who was respected by team mates and opponents alike and last but by no means least they had a Manager who was up there with the best of them, a tactical genius in the late, great Jock Stein.
Celtic dominated the final and the only surprise was that the final score line was only 2-1, but that was mainly due to Sarti and a master class in goalkeeping but due to Celtic’s never say die attitude there was only ever going to be one winner.
When Stevie Chalmers scored for Celtic to win the European Cup for the club, he surely could never have dreamed what it would have meant to so many fans all these years on!
The players have come through some really tough times but their friendship and camaraderie has seen them through many a match and situation.
“Our football club was more associated with the Labour party, we could argue amongst ourselves but nobody else could get involved in it,” said McNeill
“Whatever arguments we had, we kept them amongst the group and often people would try and poke their nose in to it. But it was just like hitting a dead wall and I honestly think that what made it difficult coming from elsewhere because they were entering a group of players who had won the ultimate European prize and the Lions could never accept people who could not have played along with them.”
Being captain of a club like Celtic, Billy McNeill knows what it is like to win Europe’s top prize but he also pays tribute to the other Scottish clubs who have had success in Europe and is optimistic about another Scottish success in Europe.
“Anything can happen, we won the European Cup, Rangers won the Cup Winners Cup, Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup, so from that point of view these three teams have proved that success in Europe can be achieved again but it has got to be an exceptional team because if you look at those three teams, they were exceptional teams and all credit to everybody involved.”
“But going back to our achievement in winning the European Cup, consider a club with a population of only 5 million in the country could beat all the big knobs in Europe, I think that this was quite astounding.”
Looking back on Celtic’s magnificent achievement, Billy knows that the 25th May 1967 will be a night that he can look back with a sense of pride an achievement, will also be tinged with feelings of sadness, knowing that some of the players indeed his friends are no longer be able to celebrate this success with him and the rest of the Lions as each year goes by.
“That is something that we recognised and there was a period when we thought that we were invincible. Unfortunately Bobby Murdoch, Ronnie and wee Jinky have left us and that has been particularly sad for us. We would have liked nothing better than all of us together, but unfortunately maybe the big man needed a player or two!”
In the heat of Lisbon,
The Celts they came in thousands,
To See the Bhoys Become .. Champ-i-ons 67!
The days of winning the European Cup with home-grown talent have long gone for British clubs and I wonder if we will ever see a Scottish club lift the Champions League trophy again with a team made up of home-grown players as the Lions did in Lisbon?
A Celtic fan (Mr Andy Hutton) pointed out to me that the SFA and UEFA may have a problem next season as the Champions League final is played on Saturday May 25th an omen perhaps for Celtic fans, but the Scottish Cup final will be played the very next day and should Celtic reach the final of both competitions it could cause some problems!