Celtic’s European Cup Win (50th Anniversary)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25 May 2017.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I thank James Dornan, as it is a pleasure to hear the speeches and experiences in today’s debate, and to give my own.

By now, there is hardly a person who does not know about the historic and incredible victory in Lisbon 50 years ago. The players were 11 working class men of home-grown talent and they were the best footballers of their generation or probably even of this one.

Celebrated by Scots and internationally, it was the nation’s victory and it will never be repeated.

Like many Glasgow Catholic Celtic-supporting families, we were brought up on a diet of Celtic victories and defeats. For years, we thought that we must be related to Billy McNeill, because of the number of times that he was mentioned at home. Like George Adam, the immortal Jock Stein was a household name to us, a god, a genius manager and—importantly—a bridge over the sectarian divide.

We used to wait with bated breath for the latest letter back from Celtic Park. My dad was a prolific letter writer and he had a campaign. Celtic was his first or second love, but Frank Sinatra was another of his great loves, and he used to write to Celtic Park every week to say that he would rather that they played the Sinatra version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. However, to my knowledge, that never happened.

It is not just a story of a football team that, as the underdogs, took on the champions Inter Milan and brought with them the wide Celtic support that had never before been experienced by the world. It is a tale of a football club that was formed to save the lives of poor Irish people who were fleeing from famine and persecution for their faith, and who wanted to be accepted on equal terms.

I have quite a few quotes from Kevin McKenna and I give him credit as he has written some excellent articles on the subject. Of the many documentaries that were on last night, I caught one that gave an account by Bobby Lennox. He said that, the night before the match, Jock Stein had decided to take the players to the prestigious house of a contact that he had in Portugal. They could not work out how to get in the front door of the large house so they were all dreepin over the walls to get in. Bobby Lennox said that it would be inconceivable now for footballers to be climbing over walls the night before a European final. There could have been all sorts of disasters.

The Inter Milan players were allowed to look on at a pre-match Celtic training session. They said in amazement that it was incredible how relaxed the Celtic team was in “a kick-around”, as they described it. I think that that was all down to the way in which Jock Stein managed the team.

Jinky Johnstone was, by all accounts, the greatest Celtic player of all time. We thought that he was a superstar, and we were amazed that my dad was pictured with him. I still have that picture on my desk. Kevin McKenna wrote:

“Premature death and health inequality have stalked” those communities, and

“The traditional afflictions ... have not spared the men who became their champions.”

He said that the players won 22 trophies from 1965 to 1975, and

“They were feared and saluted throughout Europe, yet they were ill-rewarded for their labours. Celtic raked in untold riches on the back of their endeavours but the players saw very little of it.”

Jim Craig, whose pass set up Tommy Gemmell’s goal, said:

“there was no question of our players receiving life-changing amounts of money”.

As we have heard, those men were part of their communities. They saw their supporters every single day, and perhaps were better men for that.

It is worth noting that many think that the Rangers team of that era would also have been a match for other European teams.

Kevin McKenna wrote that the historian Tom Devine:

“says the cultural and social impact of Celtic’s Lisbon triumph can never be underestimated and that it still resonates to this day. ‘That team and their achievements gave such a boost to working men all over Scotland but especially to the Irish-Catholic community in west central Scotland, whose story ... had been characterised by discrimination ... though this was beginning to fade.”

What a team it was. A year later, in 1968, Celtic’s reputation was further embellished when, having been drawn to play in Hungary in a European cup tie, the club protested at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia by refusing to play.

Chalmers’s winning goal six minutes from the end of the final will never be forgotten. A leading Swiss journalist said of the team that we must all now play football that way—the Celtic way—with eight forwards.

The rest is history.