Football’s Greatest: The Lisbon Lions – Celtic

 

 

Legendary figure Jock Stein retransformed an ill-fortuned Celtic into an unconquerable force during the 1966/67 campaign. The Hoops prevailed in five major tournaments and became the very first club in history to win the league, domestic cup and European treble.

Celtic supporters of that time will never forget that iconic, triumphant and incomparable night in Lisbon. Internazionale headed to the Portuguese capital to reclaim their prize, but the underdogs conquered the Italian giants to consolidate their rise amongst the elite.
The team was overflowing with attacking flair, unfiltered passion and exceptional talent. Internazionale, who’d won the European Cup in 1964 and 1965 respectively, undermined the quality of Stein’s men and therefore suffered defeat as a consequence.
In a period spanning from 1965 to 1977, Jock Stein won 31 major trophies at Celtic, including 10 Scottish League titles; but one trophy shone brighter than any other, and that was their solitary European Cup from 1967.
Failure is a prerequisite for success and this adage is befitting for the story behind Celtic’s rise from desolation to exaltation. Jock Stein masterminded their escape from adversity and cemented the iconic “Lisbon Lions” nickname into European folklore.
Stein was peerless in his industry in Scotland and he illustrated his tactical adventurism and positive mentality on the European stage. The tournament had previously been dominated by Iberian and Italian clubs, such as Real Madrid (5), Benfica (2), Internazionale (2) and AC Milan (1).
The notion that Northwestern European clubs could outplay the teams most synonymous with the European Cup was simply unthinkable. But Celtic were the pioneers in the alteration of the footballing landscape, and their courageous, exciting and incessant attacking style inspired numerous clubs over the following years.
Liverpool (4), Ajax Amsterdam (3), FC Bayern Munchen (3), Nottingham Forest (2), Feyenoord (1), Hamburg (1), Aston Villa (1) and Manchester United (1) triumphed in the European Cup over the following seventeen years.
Sadly, Celtic have been unable to add to their solitary European Cup, although they reached another final in 1970. But they will forever remain the first club to win the Continental Treble and the only Scottish club to achieve such success!

The Stein Rescue Mission

Euphoria spread rapidly amongst Celtic supporters when they were crowned Scottish League champions for the twentieth time in history. Celtic had ended a dismal run of 16 years without a league championship and they were expected to revive their intense challenge with Rangers. However, they failed to seize the initiative once again and crumbled into an unsatisfactory world of failure.
It was an excruciatingly painful period to be a Celtic supporter during the early 1960s. They’d reluctantly witnessed Old Firm rivals Rangers win five league titles to extend their overall tally to 34 Scottish League championships.
Something needed to change and the change needed to be quick before the collapse was exacerbated into an unrecoverable position. In March 1965, Jock Stein was appointed manager, after creating a respectable reputation at Hibernian.
Working as manager of Celtic had always been the ultimate dream for Stein, but chairman Bob Kelly was originally reluctant to offer him the role. Instead, Kelly opted to offer him compromising roles as assistant manager and joint-manager, but he was unable to resist handing him over the keys and he would reap the rewards for his decision in the coming years.
Hibernian announced his departure from the club on 31 January 1965 and Stein immediately started planning for his future at Celtic. He signed Scottish midfielder Bertie Auld, who’d previously scored 17 goals in 74 appearances for Celtic between 1955 and 1961, from English outfit Birmingham City for a fee of £12,000.
The winning feeling at Celtic had evaporated over the past decade. They had gone eight years without silverware, bar the Glasgow Cup, and a further eleven years without winning the Scottish League title. Stein had a mammoth task on his hands, but he’d proven his quality at previous clubs Dunfermline and Hibernian and was willing to accept the challenge with grace, enthusiasm and optimism.
Stein ended Celtic’s eight year trophy drought, after defeating Motherwell over two matches to set-up a Scottish Cup final against his former employers Dunfermline. He was implementing an uncommon attacking system, which consisted of four defenders, two midfielders and four attackers. His approach was deemed courageous and risky in equal measure and their vulnerability to the counter-attack was exploited when Dunfermline stormed into a 2-1 lead. Auld extended his tally to two goals to equalize for The Bhoys and Billy McNeil grabbed an iconic winner to seal victory for Celtic.
Bertie Auld believed the Scottish Cup final victory was “the most important game because it was his (Stein’s) first cup final.” To expand on his comments, Stein had attained a taste for victory for the first time in his managerial career at Celtic and this set the tone for an incessant run of triumphs.
The Bhoys concluded the 1964/65 campaign with yet another trophy. The Glasgow Cup, which is now defunct, was a fiercely contested competition during the 1960s. Celtic, Rangers, Partick Thistle, Clyde, Third Lanark and Queen’s Park were all vying to be crowned the most superior team in the city. Celtic met Queen’s Park in the Glasgow Cup final in 1965, but Queen’s Park proved no test for Stein’s rampant players and Celtic recorded an emphatic 5-0 victory to clinch the trophy.
Jock Stein persisted with his predominantly attacking style of play during the 1965/66 campaign, but added a valuable member to his frontline. Joe McBride was a refreshing bundle of energy in the final third and grasped the attention of Stein, after finishing as Motherwell’s top goal scorer for three consecutive seasons.
McBride may have arrived at Celtic for a substantial fee, but he repaid every penny, by finishing as joint-top goal scorer with a certain Sir Alex Ferguson on 31 goals. Celtic comfortably marched to their first Scottish League title in twelve years and also recorded famous 7-1 and 5-1 victories over Aberdeen and fierce local rivals Rangers respectively in the process.
Celtic also translated their prodigious domestic form onto the European stage by manufacturing a memorable run in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. They reached the semi-final stage and placed themselves in a favourable position by defeating Liverpool at Celtic Park in the First Leg. However, The Reds subsequently booked their ticket in the final by virtue of a 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture at Anfield. Stein ended his first full season at Celtic with two trophies under his belt. The Scottish League and Scottish League Cup had been sealed, but Rangers temporarily spoilt the party with victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final.

1966/67: Supremacy Sealed in Lisbon

Stein had a tingling sensation ahead of the 1966/67 campaign that Celtic would have a memorable season. He’d assembled an exceedingly formidable squad over his primitive phase in Glasgow and was prepared to inspire his players to attain an immortal legacy amongst supporters. William Wallace was the only high-profile signing at the beginning of the campaign, but Stein made numerous alterations to benefit team performance. Tommy Gemmell, who originally played at right-back, was deployed on the opposition channel at left-back.
Jim Craig was able to attain more playing opportunities and sealed a first team place at right-back, due to the intelligent repositioning of Gemmell. Ronnie Simpson, whom Stein had a problematic relationship with at Hibernian, had ousted John Fallon from his previously undebatable choice as first-choice goalkeeper.
Simpson seized his opportunity and was an essential barrier behind Celtic’s unyielding defensive pairing of Billy McNeil and John Clark. The quality of the goalkeeper and the two central defenders was imperative due to the attacking mind-set of Craig and Gemmell.
Bobby Murdoch and Bertie Auld occupied the two central midfield positions in the starting line-up and were responsible for creating a barrier in front of the defensive line, whilst also driving the ball forward and utilizing their tireless work rate to operate in defence and attack.
Celtic had the choice of four forwards capable of bagging goals with Stevie Chalmers, William Wallace, Yogi Hughes and Joe McBride. This enabled Stein to utilize his entire squad and guaranteed that Celtic would be able to sustain their attacking quality in all competitions through the season.
The rise of the prodigious Jimmy Johnstone added superstar quality in the first team. He was the most entertaining player in Scotland of that time and dazzled in the iconic green and white stripped jersey with his proficient footwork and unassailable confidence.
Bobby Lennox was equally as talented on the left channel and the combination of Johnstone and Lennox created an unconquerable threat on the wings. The key to success for Celtic was undoubtedly the man at the helm. Jock Stein had generated an incredible team spirit, combined with talented players and a revolutionary attacking system.
Celtic placed themselves in pole position to defend the Scottish League title by winning 14 matches in a 16 match unbeaten run. They also clinched two trophies by the end of 1966 to head into the New Year with an optimistic mentality.
Meanwhile, Celtic were progressing in Europe and eliminated Swiss opponents FC Zurich and French outfit FC Nantes to reach the quarter-final stage. Tommy Gemmell was unstoppable against FC Zurich in the First Round, scoring three goals over two legs. Celtic also comfortably disposed of FC Nantes by a 6-2 aggregate score-line, but their trip to then Yugoslav club FK Vojvodina would prove the most challenging encounter.
FK Vojvodina carried a one-goal advantage into the Second Leg at Celtic Park, after narrowly claiming victory in Novi Sad. The dream of a potential treble was beginning to fade into an unrealistic goal, until Stevie Chalmers and Billy McNeil converted to rescue them from elimination and propel them into the semi-final.
Dukla Prague, who’d beaten Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam on route to the semi-final, were played off the park in Glasgow. Willie Wallace grabbed a brace and Jimmy Johnstone netted the other to send Celtic into the reverse fixture in Prague with a favourable lead.
However, Stein opted to implement a more pragmatic system in the Second Leg, and Celtic booked their ticket to their first ever European Cup final against Internazionale. It was uncharacteristic of Celtic to play in such a negative manner and Stein vowed never to play in such a way ever again.
The Hoops defeated Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final to resume their unique season and added their fourth major trophy four days later. Rangers required victory to remain in the title challenge, but a draw in the Old Firm derby in the penultimate fixture confirmed Celtic’s second successive Scottish League title. Celtic had just one more hurdle to pass and the final in Lisbon promised to be an entertaining tactical battle between the attacking juggernauts from Glasgow and the defensive masters from Milan.
FC Internazionale stole into an early lead when right-back Jim Craig hacked down Renato Cappellini inside the penalty area. Sandro Mazzola converted the resulting penalty kick to break the deadlock inside six minutes, but the Italians opted to retreat into a deeper position after taking an early lead.
It proved to be a detrimental mistake from the Milanese outfit and Celtic raided their goal on a number of occasions without success. Tommy Gemmell equalized just after the hour-mark with a sweetly struck effort from outside the penalty area and Stevie Chalmers bagged the winning goal in the dying stages.
The victory was momentous and kick started a period of British dominance over the following twenty years. Supporters invaded the pitch, which meant the Celtic team was unable to be presented the trophy on the pitch. Billy McNeil held the trophy aloft in the stands alone, which was unfortunate for the players, but they more than made up for it when parading the trophy across Glasgow in the following days.
Jock Stein maintained Celtic’s form over the next decade and even reached another European Cup final in 1970. Celtic failed to emerge victorious against Feyenoord in Milan, after losing in the dying stages of extra-time, but that victory in Lisbon will forever be ingrained in the club’s DNA.
Celtic achieved continuous success after their triumph in Lisbon, and won a further 17 trophies between 1968 and 1977, including eight Scottish League titles. Stein became an immortal amongst Celtic supporters and the players will forever be remembered for their achievements in a golden era, especially on that iconic night in Lisbon.

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