Jock Stein, CBE, miner, footballer, manager and legend, was born on the 5th of October, 1922.
Jock Stein was a legend of the game of Association Football. There is can be no doubt about it, because that’s what another one of that long line of great, Scottish football managers, Bill Shankly, once said. Stein didn’t achieve a great deal of distinction as a player, but as a manager, he had few equals. The scandalously un-knighted Jock Stein ranks alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and the trophy laden Rangers manager, Bill Struth, as one of the most successful of Scottish football managers. In a recent poll by the Sunday Herald to find the fifty greatest managers in Scottish football history, it’s fair to say that Stein rightly beat Ferguson into second place. It’s fair, because as far as comparisons go, evaluating Stein’s era in contrast to the monetary excesses of today is unfair – to the candidates of either period. The astonishing contribution Stein made to the game of football was achieved with local talent and without a large chequebook. His success and his reputation are primarily down to his association with Glasgow Celtic, the club he managed for the thirteen years from 1965 until 1978. Yet, it’s a case of Jock Stein having made Celtic the club it is, rather than the other way round. Quite simply, Jock Stein was Celtic and his legacy shall surely forever remain. Strangely enough, Stein was a supporter of Rangers and when he joined that club’s ‘Old Firm’ rivals, his father refused to speak of it, and many of his friends and acquaintances in Burnbank turned their backs on the ‘turn coat’.
Of course, his greatest achievement was in guiding Celtic to its European Cup triumph in the Estádio Nacional, in Lisbon. Famously, on the 25th of May, 1967, the underdogs of Celtic beat the overwhelming favourites and previously two-time cup winners, Inter Milan, managed by the legendary Helenio Herrera. That 2-1 victory was gained in only Stein’s second season at the club and the feat served to place both Celtic and Stein firmly upon the World football map. Never mind BC, BS as in ‘before Stein’, Celtic weren’t recognised beyond the UK and barely caused a ripple outside the borders of Scotland. It’s a fact that the Celtic team was comprised of players who were all born within thirty miles of the centre of Glasgow. Somehow, Stein had transformed those players into a major force in European football – at the first attempt. They played attractive, attacking football, which won universal admiration and earned the team its nickname; the 'Lisbon Lions'. As Stein said after the game, “We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads.” And the humbled Herrera admitted, “Celtic deserved their victory. Although we lost, the match was a victory for sport.”
John 'Jock' Stein was born in the Lanarkshire mining village of Burnbank on the 5th of October, 1922, and entered football following a brief career in a carpet factory and later as a coal miner. He made his first professional appearance on the 14th of November, 1942, as centre half for Albion Rovers and over the next eight seasons, whilst still working as a miner, he played 236 games and scored nine goals for the ‘Wee Rovers’. In 1950, he left Cliftonhill for non-league Llanelly Town, but that was a complex and acrimonious, not to say illegal, affair that ultimately resulted in Stein returning to Scotland with the intention of giving up football and returning to a life down the pits. Thankfully for Celtic and Scotland, Jimmy Gribben ensured Celtic's chairman, Robert Kelly, invited Stein to come home. Jock became club captain when Sean Fallon broke his arm during the 1952-53 season and by the time he retired on the 29th of January, 1957, Stein had played 147 games. His crowning glory in Celtic’s ‘hoops’ as a player was the League Championship and Scottish Cup double of 1954.
In 1960, Stein’s first management job was that of rescuing Dunfermline from relegation. He was such a resounding success that he guided the club to its first Scottish Cup trophy. Ironically, Dunfermline beat Celtic 2-0 in a midweek replay after a goalless draw at Hampden. Then, in probably his most unheralded success, Stein’s team sent a shockwave around Europe in 1962-63, when it clawed back a four goal deficit from the first leg of an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup encounter with Spanish giants Valencia. Spectacularly, the ‘Pars’ notched up an incredible 6-2 scoreline at East End Park to take the match to a play-off, prophetically, in Lisbon. Stein then spent a year at Hibernian, before returning to Celtic, and his destiny, in 1965. During Stein’s reign, Celtic's dominance of Scottish football became supreme. He first guided his team to the 1965 Scottish Cup, giving Celtic its first major win since 1958. Under his management, the club then went on to win its first ever domestic treble and together, they set a phenomenal Scottish football record of nine successive league championship titles in a row from 1966 to 1974. Celtic won ten League Championships in total under Stein, eight Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. In terms of European football, Celtic reached the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1966, when it was eliminated on away goals by Liverpool. Then, following up its 1967 win, the club reached the final once again in 1970, only losing after extra time to Feyenoord. And along the way was that unforgettable two-leg semi final against Leeds United, a team Stein later managed for a mere forty-five days before leaving to take up the Scotland job.
Jock Stein took Scotland to the World Cup Finals in Spain in 1982 and his record as Scotland head coach is second only to Craig Brown's: played 68; won 30; drew 13; and lost 25. He certainly left his mark on the game and many of today's top managers owe something to Stein's tactical genius. Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson, in particular, took something from Jock’s fiery temper, which could silence a dressing-room full of cocky, young stars in an instant. Stein was a gregarious character, with presence and unique man-management skills. Stories abound also of his network of spies, dedicated to keeping tabs on the likes of Jimmy Johnstone in order to curtail his more unruly escapades.
Jock Stein died on the 10th of September, 1985, at Ninian Park in Cardiff. His death came after Scotland had drawn 1-1 with Wales to secure a play-off against Australia, which would lead to qualification for the 1986 World Cup. There had been signs before and during the game that Stein was unwell and at the end of the match, the 44,000 crowd and a million or so television viewers witnessed the distressing image of Stein being assisted from the bench. It transpired that he hadn't taken his diuretic pills that day and had succumbed to a build-up of fluid in his lungs. What more fitting tribute can there be than the words of Bill Shankly, when he told Stein after Celtic's historic win in Lisbon, “Jock, you're immortal now.”