Throughout 2017 we’ll be bringing 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. The first edition covers Celtic’s pre-season tour of the US before that historic season
When Celtic went to the United States in the summer of 1966 for an epic five-and-a-half-week tour, football was in the process of evolution. Alf Ramsey and his ‘wingless wonders’, his World Cup winning England squad, had changed the game. The traditional ‘W’ formation was giving way to 4-4-2 with an emphasis on skill and possession; it was about exploiting space rather than hoofing it forward. Jock Stein was a fan of the new outlook according to Steve Chalmers.
Jock was very keen on having us run into space. He believed you could do as much damage without the ball as with it. Bobby Lennox and I would practice diagonal runs – decoy runs – day in, day out in training.
Stein used the American tour to change Celtic’s style completely. After more than a year in charge he knew which players were out of position, but more important he knew where they would do best. On that tour, he put theory into practice.
The North American tour was supposed to be a break for the players and it started that way with a stop-over in the Caribbean. But the team played eleven games in five weeks and were undefeated. They faced quality opposition including Tottenham Hotspur, Bayern Munich, Bologna, and Atlas, the champions of Mexico.
They played Spurs three times – winning twice and drawing once – and drew with Bayern Munich in a game that was notable for a fight between two unlikely combatants; Gerd Muller and Steve Chalmers. Celtic skipper Billy McNeill is adamant it was all Muller’s fault.
Stevie went in and challenged the goalkeeper. It was perfectly fair but they were annoyed. Muller had a go at him and Stevie wasn’t having any of it so Muller started to run. Stevie started to chase him – and I should say he was so far forward he was on his own – and half the German team started to chase Stevie. Of course, by this stage we had set off after the Germans. The referee lost the place completely and it was like something out of Monty Python.
The hapless ref blew for time early with the score at 1-1, a good result for Celtic against the German Cup holders who had a sprinkling of World Cup finalists in their squad.
There was a definite sense of team spirit being nurtured by Stein in this squad. Steve Chalmers says the atmosphere on that tour made eleven players into a team.
He was very keen on us looking the part. We were always neat and smartly dressed because we were ambassadors for the club. He was also very much against bad language, which was perhaps unusual for a man who might have heard his share of industrial language growing up in a mining community. He could curse up a streak himself when he had to but he didn’t like to hear it from others; there was more than one person pulled up for use of bad language.
On paper, the Celtic squad was a volatile bunch but Stein was beginning to mould their differing temperaments and disparate talents into a unit. For McNeill, it was a tour that cemented relationships. These were not choir boys and tensions were inevitable but all disagreements were kept in-house.
But when we came out to face anyone it was with a united front, as Gerd Muller and a few others found out to their cost. I think Jock Stein encouraged that.
The players received their most rapturous reception at Kearney, New Jersey an expat haven for the Irish in America and a hotbed of Celtic support. Most of the members of the Kearney Celtic Supporters Club had emigrated when Celtic were in the middle of a trophyless drought with no end in sight. However, when the players arrived they did so as conquering heroes with three trophies in a little more than a year.
The good folk of Kearney gave the squad the American equivalent of a Roman triumph. Even Stein got in on the act. On one evening at a social club he took the microphone and treated the audience to his party piece, Auld Scots Mither Mine, guaranteed to wring blood from an expatriate stone. The community singing, as Bobby Lennox explains, became an integral part of the team building process.
The boss was a good singer. He also sang Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage as well as Auld Scots Mither Mine. Joe McBride was good as well, and so was Wee Jimmy and Bertie Auld. They all had their party pieces. Ronnie Simpson sang The Star o’ Rabbie Burns, Big Tam would do From Russia with Love or Anything Goes, Bobby Murdoch did Little Old Wine Drinker Me; Billy gave us Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and from John Clark it was always St Theresa of the Roses. Wee jimmy was great. He could sing anything but Maggie May was a favourite. Willie Wallace did When I Fall in Love and Bertie Was great with On the Street Where You Live. Jim Craig, Stevie and myself would usually just join in.
With community singing and practical jokes – someone discovered that the patch pockets of the official club blazer were just the right size to accommodate an opened tub of mustard – the Celtic bandwagon rolled on with McNeill recalling Kearney-style receptions everywhere they went.
I don’t want to give the impression that we were a bunch of altar boys – we played hard and we lived life to the full – but by the end of that tour we really felt we could challenge anyone and everyone.
By the end of the 1966-67 season stretching before them the captain’s premonition would become staggeringly accurate.