The Lisbon Lions: A Celebration of the European Cup Campaign

Ever since our first edition we’ve published exclusive extracts from the book ‘The Lisbon Lions: A Celebration of the European Cup Campaign 1967’ by Andy Dougan, published by Virgin. The extracts have been adapted exclusively by the author for The Cynical. After a long campaign, Jock Stein’s team is set to take on Inter Milan on a balmy May night in Lisbon…

It was just after five on the afternoon of May 25, 1967. In Glasgow the streets were empty; not a soul to be seen. In Lisbon, in the tunnel of the National Stadium the journey which began on a pre-season tour of America was about to reach a dramatic conclusion as Celtic faced Inter Milan in the final of the European Cup.

The team that day was one that every Celtic fan should be able to recite from memory:

Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch. McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox

They were all local boys – Bobby Lennox was the furthest travelled, from Ayrshire, and they faced one of the finest teams in Europe, twice winners of the trophy. The battle of wills began even before they got on the pitch. Jim Craig remembers:

‘The Italians were standing there like gods. Their vertical stripes made them look taller whereas our hoops made us look squat. They’re toned and massaged, and gleaming with oil; staring straight ahead treating us with contempt. Then I looked up and down our lot. There’s Ronnie up front with no teeth and a receding hairline and everyone else’s teeth in his bunnet. Bertie’s standing their bow-legged and wee Jinky is shouting across to Fachetti: ‘Hey big man, you and me, after the game, swap jerseys okay.’ They must have thought we were mad.’

They were moments away from entering the stadium and everything fell quiet. Then the stillness was broken: ‘Hail, hail, the Celts are here…. what the hell do we care now….’

Jim Craig again:

‘It was wee Bertie who started The Celtic Song. It was absolutely typical of him, and we all joined in. So there we are, going out to play the biggest game of the season, and we’re singing. I’m sure the Italians thought they were playing a pub team.’

The Celtic players take to the field to the strains of the much-loved Glen Daly tune now, but it was never so important as it was on that afternoon in Lisbon. The Lisbon Lions went on to the park laughing and joking and the Italians didn’t know what to make of them.

Celtic’s good humour was short-lived however. Craig made a tackle on Capellini in the box, he went to the ground like there was a sniper in the stand and the Italians persuaded the referee to give the penalty. Mazzola stepped up and in seven minutes Celtic were a goal down.

The Italian style of catenaccio dictated that the game was now over; they would defend stoically for the remaining 83 minutes and that would be that. However accepted wisdom is not always accurate, and Billy McNeill believes, despite appearances, the referee had done them a favour with the dodgy penalty.

‘We thought at the time we had been done an injustice with that penalty. We had a wee bit of a nip about it and there was nothing for us to do but attack. After they scored they fell back and to be honest John Clark and I had nothing else to do for the rest of the game. We could have gone and sat in the stands. We had nine players on our side who had scored goals and we had 83 minutes to score them in.’

As wave after wave of Celtic attack rained down on the Italian goal they were defied by keeper Sarti having the game of his life; ironically Jock Stein had suggested he might be the weak link in the Inter side.

Going in a goal down at half time Stein encouraged his players not to lose heart. He did however make one tactical change. He thought the crosses from the wings were going too far forward and he wanted them to be cut back. In 63 minutes the tactic paid off, Craig had gone down the right, he spotted Gemmell making a run inside him and cut the ball perfectly into his path. Gemmell, just outside the penalty box, hit an unstoppable shot that left Sarti stranded.

Gemmell admitted he was actually out of position; if Craig went forward he stayed back and vice versa. And there was one more stroke of good fortune as he remembered.

‘If you look back at that goal you’ll see there’s an Italian defender who comes out as I’m lining up to shoot. And he stops about two yards away from me and turns his back. If he takes one more pace and blocks that shot then no one has heard of me. I’m glad he turned his back because it gave me a place in Celtic history.’

The Italians were despondent, but Celtic were elated. It may not have seemed like it but, even though Stein thought they could take it to extra time, the result was not in doubt. Inter were out on their feet and Celtic were given a new burst of energy.

Five minutes from the end Gemmell went forward again on the left. Auld spotted him and sent a perfect pass which Gemmell picked up and beat two defenders before slipping the ball to Murdoch. The midfielder hit a fierce shot which seemed to be slipping past the post until, at the last second, Chalmers stepped in to side-foot it into the net. Celtic were 2-1 up and about to be European champions.

Steve Chalmers says there was an element of luck in the goal but, as Gary Player insists, the harder you practice the luckier you get.

‘Big Jock made us do that kind of thing all the time in training. He’d have all the players down the wing and have me and Bobby Lennox or me and Joe McBride in the middle, then they would just fire these diagonal balls across and we would smack them past the keeper.’

Players of the Scottish football club Celtic throw up their arms in jubilation after Stevie Chalmers, number 9, had scored their second goal in the European Cup Final match against Inter-Milan, in Lisbon, Portugal, May 25, 1967. Celtic defeated Inter 2-1. (AP Photo)

Players of the Scottish football club Celtic throw up their arms in jubilation after Stevie Chalmers, number 9, had scored their second goal in the European Cup Final match against Inter-Milan, in Lisbon, Portugal, May 25, 1967. Celtic defeated Inter 2-1. (AP Photo)

The Italians had no response; the referee blew his whistle and Celtic had won the European Cup; the first British team to do so and the first northern European side to break the domination of southern Europe.

There were scenes of pandemonium in the stadium. The Celtic players fought their way through hordes of adoring fans to reach the safety of the dressing room. The Celtic dressing room was off-limits to everyone but the team but there was one special guest – legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. One of Stein’s closest friends in football he embraced the Celtic manager.

‘John,’ he said, ‘You’re immortal’.

They all were and wherever Celtic fans gather or wherever football is discussed the names of Lisbon Lions are enshrined in the pantheon:

Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch. McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox

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

Stein statue


Andy Dougan is the author of 'Celtic: The Lisbon Lions and The Glory, Glory Bhoys'. He is also the author of 'Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev' which was long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. He has written acclaimed biographies of Robert De Niro, Robin Williams and Martin Scorsese. He can be found on twitter under @andydougan


'The Lisbon Lions: A Celebration of the European Cup Campaign' have no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

© 2018 90 Minute Cynic. All rights reserved.