Throughout 2017 we’ll be bringing exclusive extracts from the book ‘The Lisbon Lions: A Celebration of the European Cup Campaign 1967’ by Andy Dougan, published by Virgin. The extracts are adapted exclusively by the author for The Supplement. In this edition the focus is on the first round of Celtic’s European adventure, against the Swiss part timers FC Zurich.
Celtic could not have been in better shape for the start of their European adventure. They had played 11 games in six weeks and were unbeaten; including a 4-1 win over a Manchester United side containing Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best and a 2-0 win at Parkhead against Rangers. In fact, it would be November before they dropped a point in the league.
The world was a smaller place in those days and the European Cup was contested by the champions of the member nations of what would become UEFA; just 32 teams in total. Celtic began in the first round against FC Zurich, a part-time side but one with solid European experience. It was an eminently winnable tie but Zurich were not going to be pushovers.
Celtic had been naïve in their earlier European forays. They had thrown away a 3-0 lead against MTK Budapest in 1964 and in the previous year’s Cup-Winners’ Cup semi-final they should have dealt with Liverpool comfortably at home instead of losing the tie controversially. This side, under Jock Stein, were much better prepared. Tommy Gemmell recalls:
‘The games against Liverpool gave us a lot of confidence in our own ability, and let us know that we were there.’
Celtic were drawn at home in the first leg which took place on September 28, 1966. Stein had the problem that every manager would love; too much choice. He had bought Joe McBride with the European Cup in mind feeling that Celtic were short of firepower. Now after McBride had survived an injury scare the previous week against Dundee he was going into the tie with twelve fit players and only eleven places. That inevitably meant a forward was going to miss out; Billy McNeill recalls that Stein never changed the defence, only the forwards.
An astute man-manager, Stein would invariably make a fuss of the player who was for the chop, as Gemmell remembers:
‘It was a standing joke at Barrowfield. The boss would go up and throw an arm around Stevie Chalmers and as soon as you saw that you knew he wasn’t playing.’
And, for Chalmers who was indeed the man on the bench for the Zurich tie the experience was doubly difficult. As part of the arm round the shoulder routine Stein would have told him how good he was. But then, as Chalmers remembers, that usually meant he was a substitute:
‘But what was worse than that, while you were sitting there next to him on the bench, he’d be tearing strips off whoever had replace you and asking why you weren’t out there.’
No European tie, even in 1966, took place without the usual mind games. Stein told reporters on the morning of the game that he genuinely didn’t even know who would start. His opposite number, the very experienced Ladislav Kubala, said on the day before the game that they expected to lose the tie on the opening leg.
Kubala said he wanted to leave a good impression on Scotland but in the end the only impression his men left was on the Celtic players as they kicked everything above the grass. Some weak refereeing by Fred Hansen meant that several running battles erupted all over the pitch. As they had shown in the US tour Celtic were no shrinking violets, as Tommy Gemmell recalls:
‘We could all look after ourselves. Bertie could handle himself and all the guys at the back could look after themselves. Stevie was a lot harder than he looked, as a few people found out to their cost. Nobody would ever ask Bobby Lennox to kick anyone but, if anyone needed sorting out with regards to him, one of us would take care of it.’
In the midst of all the fighting a game of football broke out and Celtic ended up winning comfortably enough. Celtic’s first European goal came from Gemmell himself, a trademark 35-yard pile driver in 64 minutes and five minutes later Joe McBride added a second. In the last minuteof the game McBride headed a third but it was disallowed by Hansen who, incredibly, claimed he had blown for full time before the ball crossed the line.
Celtic were happy with the result but very unhappy with the referee. The authorities took no chances and Concetto LoBello, who was one of Europe’s most experienced referees, was in charge for the second leg the following week.
In between Celtic had a bizarre win against Hibs at Easter Road. They found their unbeaten run under threat at 3-2 down, but they rallied to win 5-3 with four goals from McBride. All things considered they were in good heart going to Switzerland while Zurich had so many injury problems that Kubala himself ended up playing.
Although LoBello controlled the game more effectively Celtic were rampant in a match that took place on the manager’s 43rd birthday. Stein was quoted in the press, in uncharacteristically romantic prose, as wanting only one thing. He said:
‘Nothing made of solid gold from the vaults of the banks of Zurich. One goal and one European Cup victory will do.’
Although they didn’t give him the early goal he had asked for, his players obliged with a comfortable 3-0 win with two goals from Gemmell and one from Chalmers who had been given the nod for this game. Afterwards Stein reflected with pleasure on the 5-0 aggregate win:
‘I’m not worrying about our next opponents. If the boys do as well, no one inside Parkhead, or on the terracing, will blush with shame.’
Celtic had passed their first test in the European Cup and with some style. Their accomplished style of play meant that bigger names than Zurich would be taking notice and hoping to avoid them in the next round.
The Lisbon Lions: A Celebration of the European Cup Campaign 1967, by Andy Dougan, can be bought on Amazon and through other outlets. If you’re interested in Andy’s other work on Celtic, football and film, you can visit his Amazon page