Glasgow Celtic won the European Cup on the 25th of May, 1967.
On the 25th of May, 1967, Glasgow Celtic became the first British football club – and the first non-Latin club – to win the European Cup, with goals by Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers, in a famous win over Inter Milan. Celtic, managed by the legendary Jock Stein, defeated Inter Milan 2-1 in front of an estimated 70,000 spectators in the Estádio Nacional in Lisbon.
One aspect of the winning team, which might well surprise a lot of people, given the cosmopolitan nature of most of today’s top teams, was that it was made up of eleven native Scots. That’s a fact that wouldn’t have been as surprising back then as it is now. All the Celtic players were local boys, with Bobby Lennox having the farthest to travel, from thirty miles away on the Ayrshire coast. The rest of the team lived virtually next door to the ground, all within a twelve mile radius of Celtic Park, and all of them came ‘through the ranks’ at Celtic.
Before Jock Stein took over at Celtic, in 1965, it was described as “a club with a great past, but no future”, however, his magic ensured that, within two years, the team was able to reach the pinnacle. The players that ran out on that night in Lisbon were: 1 Ronnie Simpson in goal, 2 Jim Craig at right back, 5 Billy McNeill as captain and centre back alongside 6 John Clark, 3 Tommy Gemmell at left back, 4 Bobby Murdoch and 10 Bertie Auld in midfield, 7 Jimmy Johnstone on the right wing, 8 Willie Wallace and 9 Stevie Chalmers as central forwards and 11 Bobby Lennox on the left. Don’t forget, that in those days, teams weren’t allowed substitutes; never mind the plethora of players on the bench these days. Yes indeed, the game wasn’t as ‘namby-pamby’ as it is now.
Celtic was an all conquering team that season of 1966-67, winning every competition it entered, losing only three games, and with its players scoring 200 goals in a total of 64 games. Really, it was the club’s most glorious year. The trophies the team carried off that season were: Scottish League, Scottish Cup, League Cup, Glasgow Cup and the European Cup. To cap off a wonderful season, Celtic even beat the legendary Real Madrid, the previous year’s European Cup winners, two weeks after lifting the trophy themselves. It was a testimonial for Di Stefano, in Madrid, but despite that, a very competitive game in front of 135,000 Madrid fans. Bobby Lennox scored the winner and after that, there was no doubting that Celtic was a worthy champion of Europe.
Before the final, Inter was the sure fire favourite in most people’s minds and especially in the minds of the Italian players. Inter had won the European Cup twice in the previous three years and it had also won the World Club Championship. For sure, it had a lot of good players such as Facchetti, Mazzola, Bicicli, and Burgnich. A lot of the men in the line-up of the Italian side were top internationals at the time.
Unusually, the kick-off was at five o’clock in the evening and after Jock Stein’s team talk, when he told the players that each and every one of them had the chance to make history, they came out of the dressing room and were lined up alongside the Italian team to wait a wee while before getting onto pitch. I think Billy McNeill later recollected that the Inter players looked “absolutely magnificent” in their “inspiring strip”, with the blue and black stripes, the black shorts, and black stockings. He was also impressed by the athleticism of the opposing team and their handsome, tanned Italian faces, compared to the rough looking coupons of the Glasgow boys. The Celtic players weren’t fazed by any means, and when Bertie Auld suddenly burst into ‘The Celtic Song’, all the rest joined in. The Italians must’ve got the shock of their lives, hearing such a racket moments before one of the biggest games of their careers.
According to a BBC news report after the game, 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.” And Helenio Herrera, coach of Inter Milan, said, “We can have no complaints. Celtic deserved their victory. We were beaten by Celtic’s force. Although we lost, the match was a victory for sport.”
Celtic didn’t get off to the best of starts as, within seven minutes of the kick-off, Jim Craig tripped Renato Cappellini and Alessandro Mazolla scored the resulting penalty. Milan held onto that early lead until half-time, but shortly after the break, Celtic fullback Tommy Gemmell scored the memorable equalizer, with a long range shot at the 62 minute mark. As it happened, Stein had told the players at half time to shoot from outside the box as Inter, playing the stifling catenaccio defensive formation the Italians were renowned for, didn’t leave much room for manoeuvre inside the penalty area.
Gemmell’s goal gave Celtic the inspiration the players needed and they continued with attack upon attack until Gemmell once again stormed up the left wing and passed back to Bobby Murdoch. Then, in a practiced move, Murdoch sent a powerful shot rifling towards the goal in the direction of Stevie Chalmers who skilfully deflected the ba’ into the net on 85 minutes. Stein’s genius in pioneering overlapping fullbacks in an era of sterility should not be underestimated. His vision led to the swashbuckling performances of the marauding Craig and Gemmell in particular, and the breathtaking variety of Celtic’s forward play.
Stevie Chalmers threw some light on Jock Stein’s tactics when he said that one of Celtic’s plans was for the forwards to lead the man-marking Inter Milan defenders to daft positions, leaving spaces for Gemmell and Craig to attack. In the first half, before Inter’s breakaway penalty goal, Tommy Gemmell had six or seven shots on goal. I think the speed, fitness and channelled aggression of the Celtic players really surprised the Italians and the fact that they just kept on mercilessly attacking. By the end of the game, Celtic had clocked up twenty-four shots on target.
After the final whistle, the chaos inside the stadium meant that the Celtic players could not be presented with the trophy on the pitch. Billy McNeill had to be ushered round the outside of the stadium under armed escort, before he famously climbed the stairs to the presentation podium and held the trophy aloft in that tree lined Lisbon amphitheatre, to enormous cheers from the crowd. Afterwards, the eleven players became known as the ‘Lisbon Lions’ and entered the pantheon of legends. Four years later, many of them were back in the final, however, that time they lost, after extra time, to the Dutch champions, Feyenoord of Rotterdam.