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 is only one round away from the dream of Lisbon.
After the nail-biting win against Vojvodina in the quarter finals, Celtic were only two games away from an historic appearance in the European Cup final. They had been drawn against Dukla Prague, champions of what was then Czechoslovakia, while Inter Milan faced CSKA Sofia in the other semi. Celtic had the advantage of being drawn at home first and Jock Stein was keen for a two-goal cushion to take to the away leg. But Stein was aware of the potential pitfalls:
”The danger now is that some of the boys may go a little stale with too much football. We will be stepping down the training a little and doing just enough to keep them at their peak mentally and physically.”
For Stein and his players that meant regular trips to Seamill Hydro on the Ayrshire coast. The squad golfed, larked about, and generally relaxed and it brought to mind echoes of the pre-season trip to the United States which had done so much to build the team. Bobby Lennox says Seamill was Celtic’s secret weapon:
”Seamill was great. There was a bit of grass out front and we had five-a-side games on that. There was never anybody about, so we had the place to ourselves. The boys would be doing a bit of golfing to relax and Jinky and I – because I didn’t play in those days – would run around the course throwing the golf balls into bunkers. Great fun.”
With more than a month between the Vojvodina and Dukla ties Celtic needed to stay sharp; they played five league games and three cup games in that period they scored 21 goals and conceded only six. Also, something of an injury crisis in that period forced an element of rotation on Stein who was able to field the same side only twice in those eight games.
As the semi drew nearer Celtic started to focus on the Czechs. Jim Craig, who says they were incredibly naïve in those days, insists they were in no doubt of the danger posed by Josef Masopust, one of the legendary Mighty Magyars. At 36 he was in the twilight of his career but that meant little to Craig and the others_
”When we played Vojvodina they were a good side but they had no stars but we knew that Prague had Masopust.”
The big issue of team selection before the game was whether Stein would play Lennox or John Hughes on the wing. Hughes favoured softer ground and since the weather had been dry for a few days before the match the assumption was that Lennox would play. Stein gave nothing away but in a piece of classic kidology he chose Hughes. He had made his mind up days earlier but by keeping his cards close to his chest he forced the Czechs to come up with two different plans to cope with the differing styles of Hughes and Lennox.
Stein hoped that the guile of Johnstone and the power of Hughes would give the Czechs something to think about. As it was, Hughes had a poor game and Celtic had to rely on the nimble Wallace who scored two goals in a 3-1 win with Johnstone getting the other. Although Stein had his two-goal cushion the game was tighter than the result suggests, and Celtic suspected they would have a game on their hands in the return leg.
International commitments, specifically the famous 3-2 Scotland England game at Wembley in which four Celts played, meant that Celtic had only one domestic game between the two European ties. The goalless midweek tie against Aberdeen would be forgotten except for one thing; the Celtic team sheet that night. It read: Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch. McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.
This is the most famous line-up in the club’s history, but it was only the second time they had taken the field together; the first was a game against St Johnstone in January. To be fair it was a side that almost picked itself; the only real issue was on the left wing where Stein seemed genuinely torn between Hughes and Lennox. There was no doubt that Lennox would play against Dukla, even though Stein insisted he would choose ‘five forwards from six’. Hughes’ poor performance in the first leg meant Lennox would play. And in doing so it meant that the team that would become the Lisbon Lions had their first foray in Europe in the European Cup semi-final.
The game, which was played in bitterly cold conditions, was goalless which was the ideal result for Celtic but for a team renowned for its attacking, it was a heroic defensive performance. Billy McNeill had one of his best games in a Celtic shirt and stood like a colossus in defence repelling attack after attack. Tommy Gemmell was in awe of his performance and also that of Steve Chalmers in a very unfamiliar role.
”Steve Chalmers was incredible that night. He played up front on his own and Jock told us just to stick balls up to the corner flag on the right and left. He said to Stevie ‘Just you chase them’. He was marvellous.”
When the final whistle went amid scenes of jubilation on the pitch Chalmers remembers just how much the result and the performance meant to the manager.
”He ran the length of the pitch to find me. When he got to me, he threw his arms round me and thanked me. I was never one of his favourites, but he went out of his way to thank me.”
So, Celtic were in the final of the European Cup at the first time of asking and the last word should go to Billy McNeill who explained their winning ways:
”People talk about good losers, but good losers don’t win anything. You’ve got to be bad losers. If you’re a professional that’s the essence of the sport, and we had people who would sell their souls to win.”
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