I congratulate my friend and colleague James Dornan on bringing this important debate to the Scottish Parliament to commemorate the 50th anniversary—today—of a wonderful achievement by Celtic Football Club when it won the European cup in Lisbon in 1967.
I am naturally appreciative that James Dornan also mentioned my own team, Kilmarnock, and its achievement that same year. Fifty years ago yesterday, we played in the semi-final of the fairs cup—which then became the UEFA cup and is now the Europa league—losing out narrowly to a wonderful Leeds United team. I attended that game as a young boy, just as I attended all the European matches that came to Rugby park.
The Celtic achievement in 1967 was pretty incredible when we consider that they finished eighth in the league a couple of seasons earlier, when Kilmarnock were champions. The key, of course, was the arrival of Jock Stein as manager in 1965. To go from eighth in the Scottish league to winning the European cup two years later, and then nine championships in a row, is an unbelievable achievement and marks Jock Stein out as one of the all-time great football managers in the world.
Apparently, Jock had managed to get Bertie Auld and Ronnie Simpson to Celtic even before he officially became the manager of the club. He went on to assemble a talented group of players, most of whom lived near the ground—Bobby Lennox was furthest away, in Saltcoats. In fact, one street in Saltcoats can boast nine Scottish cup winners’ medals. Kilmarnock’s Ray Montgomerie has one and Bobby Lennox has the other eight, on top of his European cup medal and other medals, but that is a different story.
The journey to the final of the European cup in those days was a straight home-and-away aggregate knockout—there were no leagues, as there are today—and it was only champions who got into the competition.
I am indebted to Mr Albert Gonnella, an old friend and colleague, who sadly passed away only last year. Some years ago, he very kindly let me copy the match programme for the final that he brought back from the game, on which are the autographs of both the managers and most of the players. He managed to get them on the way back home from the airport, so it was signed by big Jock and Herrera, along with the whole Celtic team, including Charlie Gallagher, as well as Mazzola, Sarti and most of the Inter team. It is quite a privilege to have it.
The programme shows us that Celtic beat four teams on the way to the final—FC Zurich, FC Nantes and Vojvodina, and then Dukla Prague in the semi-final. It is interesting that Linfield from Northern Ireland also made it to the quarter finals that year, losing out to CSKA Sofia.
The final, which was on a Thursday, just like today, kicked off at about 5.30 pm. I remember watching it on the TV at home, in black and white—it seemed a pretty hot day there.
One of the funniest stories that I have read about the game is Billy McNeill’s description of both teams in the tunnel before the game: Inter were all tall, athletic and tanned, and Celtic were all peelie-wally white—some of the team with no teeth. Bertie Auld then started singing the Celtic song, which must have been a huge motivation for the players before they came out on to the park.
No sooner had the game started than Inter were awarded a slightly dodgy penalty to go up 1-0, but as the game developed, it looked to me as if Celtic could have been three or four up in the first half. As a young boy used to seeing my own team winning regularly in those days, it became clearer as the game wore on that Celtic were miles ahead in both skill and stamina. When the equaliser went in in the second half, there was only one outcome, and the winner duly arrived with about five minutes to go.
The Scottish team who had no chance against the fabulous Inter Milan played them off the park, and by the end it was the Inter players who were looking to get hold of Celtic strips for souvenirs.
The great Bill Shankly summed it up when after the game he told Jock Stein that he was now immortal.
It was indeed
“In the heat of Lisbon
The fans came in their thousands
To see the Bhoys become
I once again thank James Dornan for bringing this debate to the Scottish Parliament and for allowing some of us to share our memories and to offer our congratulations to Celtic on a magnificent achievement.