Throughout 2017 we will publish 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 Celtic have progressed to the second round where they face the French champions Nantes.
Having won against Zurich, Celtic had to wait several weeks for the draw for the next round. In the perfect world they could draw Linfield, one of the weaker sides remaining, but the likes of Liverpool, Inter Milan, and Atletico Madrid were also potentially lying in wait. In the end they drew Nantes; no minnows but certainly within Celtic’s compass since there was a perception that the French side were in a bit of a slump.
There was League Cup business in between. Celtic comfortably beat Dunfermline in the quarter finals, then Airdrie in the semis before facing Rangers in the final. It’s worth remembering that this was a strong Ibrox side who would reach a European final of their own that year, losing in the European Cup Winners Cup final to Bayern Munich. The League Cup final was a tight game but Celtic won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Lennox to lift the first trophy of the season.
The Celtic side was developing a winning feeling and, according to Tommy Gemmell, there was a growing self-belief about the league
‘‘We thought ‘There’s every chance we can win the league here’. It was the same with Europe. After the first two rounds we were thinking ‘There’s every chance we can get to the semis’. In fact as the season progressed we started to feel we might go all the way.’’
Like most footballers the Celtic players were superstitious. Billy McNeill always took the same route to the ground. Jock Stein chose a tie and wore the same tie until they lost – he only got through 4 all season. Jim Craig would never talk of winning for fear of jinxing things but Gemmell, Jimmy Johnstone and some of the others had no such qualms
It seemed that Gemmell was tempting fate. Celtic dropped their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw against St Mirren on November 5 to leave Rangers breathing down their neck. Stein was furious. Two weeks later there was another narrow escape in a 5-4 win against Dunfermline, however by the time the Nantes game came around the ship had been steadied.
Celtic were drawn away first and the game took place on St Andrew’s night at Nantes’ Malakoff stadium. In one of his more bizarre press conferences Jock Stein highlighted that strange things can happen on foreign soil. Stein said:
‘‘If we do happen to lose by one goal I am completely confident that we will score often enough to win the tie in Glasgow next week’’
Again in a departure from the norm Stein even named his side in advance saying that the team would be the same as the one which had won comfortably against Hearts on the previous weekend.
Celtic’s normal game plan in Europe was to hold their ground for 20 minutes then open up and start to play their own game. The plan was almost thwarted when it was discovered that Joe McBride had turned up at the ground without his boots. As Billy McNeill recalled the striker had left them at the hotel
‘‘It was quite funny in a way but once we found out we were all scared to tell the Big Man.’’
Stein was predictably not pleased. ‘The boss was absolutely raging’, recalled Bobby Lennox. A taxi was duly sent to the hotel and the boots were recovered. Whether the incident had upset Celtic’s rhythm Nantes surprisingly went a goal up in 17 minutes. McBride, reunited with his footwear, levelled in 24 minutes then second half goals from Lennox and Chalmers made it 3-1 to Celtic.
The game between the Nantes ties, a goalless draw against Kilmarnock, highlighted Celtic’s need for a striker but moves were already afoot to bring in Willie Wallace of Hearts. A spectator in the return against Nantes, Wallace would soon be needed. Joe McBride had a knee injury which meant Stein named a 15-man squad for the return which included Charlie Gallagher and Davie Cattanach along with John Hughes and John Fallon. In the end the additional players were something of a smoke screen since Chalmers took McBride’s role at centre forward with Charlie Gallagher playing at inside right.
The game started as expected with Johnstone putting Celtic ahead in 13 mins, but Georgin equalised for Nantes who were making a game of it and came close to scoring again. The score at half-time was 1-1 however in the second half Johnstone, under instructions, ran at the French defence and pulled them all over the park. He created space for first Chalmers to score and then Lennox. It was 3-1 on the night and 6-2 on aggregate, but not quite as easy as it sounded.
The quarter finals were not until March and Stein had planned for Wallace and McBride to bed in as a striking partnership, but this didn’t work out. The pair only played together twice before McBride injured his knee against Aberdeen on Christmas Eve and was out for the season. In the end Steve Chalmers made the number nine his own, which would pay dividends the following May as Billy McNeill pointed out.
‘‘It’s quite ironic, but if Willie and Joe had played together then Stevie would have been relegated to the supporting cast. But it was Stevie who ended up as top scorer in the European campaign that year as well as scoring the winner in the final.’’
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