I congratulate James Dornan on securing this debate. I have no doubt that some members are wondering what on earth Christine Grahame is doing in a debate about football. As members might know, sport—whether it is participating in it or watching it—is not in my DNA, and I know little about it. I am not proud of that; it is just a fact. It is a bit overwhelming to be among so many experts on football.
However, let me take members back to 25 May 1967, when—and here is another declaration of age—a young secondary teacher, me, had a date that evening with her later-to-be husband. He was a keen sportsman—football, rugby, golf and so on. They say that opposites attract. The place for the date was the top of Dunfermline High Street, and I cannot recall the exact time, but it will become relevant.
My Dunfermline landlady, Mrs Irwin, had settled down to watch the Celtic match, so I joined her on her big sofa, just to pass the time until my evening romantic rendezvous. Soon, despite myself, I was engrossed in a match between a team that I saw as fighting Scots, as Davids against the Goliath of Inter Milan. I recall my heart sinking when that first penalty goal was scored against Celtic but, instead of leaving in despair, I found myself immersed as, time and again, Celtic tried to break down a solid wall of Italian defence. I had no idea that it was a match of—let us say—an attacking as opposed to a defensive style. Then, at long last, came the equaliser, and I was going nowhere, date or no date.
I recall the players’ struggle against fatigue, socks rolled down as they played with every sinew of muscle and determination. When that winning goal was scored, I held my breath until the final whistle. The players might have been exhausted; so was I.
Of course, I turned up late for the date. I was just about to pack it in when my boyfriend came round the corner. He, too, had been determined to see the end of the match.
Members can see how the significance of that match cannot be exaggerated. It is a match that a non-football fan like me can recall to this day. Part of the explanation for why I was so drawn to the contest, beyond the David and Goliath reference, was that, as members said, this was a team that had been forged from local players from very ordinary backgrounds, which had at its helm a man of the stature, the worldliness, the determination and the dignity of Jock Stein.
Now that football has become so commercialised and is a business that pays millions of pounds for top players from all parts of the world, with managers on a treadmill of hirings and firings, I frankly cannot see that day being repeated.
The phrase “team spirit” has been overworked, but not when it is applied to the Lisbon Lions, because it was team spirit that carried them over the goal line that day.