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The Lisbon Lions
The rightful reverence given to that famous night in Lisbon's Estadio Nacional is primarily in acknowledgment to the fact that a home grown team from the west of Scotland should achieve the seemingly impossible by lifting European football's greatest prize. That feat alone is of course worthy of celebration but in truth it is just part of what makes the story of Jock Stein and the Lisbon Lions so special.
Because what the Bhoys achieved on May 25th 1967 is something which was a cause for celebration far beyond Scotland, Ireland and those other traditional Celtic strongholds across the globe. The reason for that is simple. Celtic's victory was a victory for football. It was a victory for the so-called small people. The dreamers.
To fully comprehend the magnitude of this feat you have to understand exactly what Celtic had to overcome in the heat of the Portugese capital. Helenio Herrera's Inter Milan v Celtic should have been a mismatch. It wasn't so much David v Goliath as David v Goliath's big brother.
Inter Milan were no ordinary football team and Helenio Herrera was no ordinary football manager. But to the surprise of many they finally met their match in Celtic and Jock Stein.
Former Barcelona coach Herrera had moved to Italy where he had been lured by club president Angelo Morrati. An oil billionaire Morrati's dream was to build a club which would wrestle from Real Madrid the title of the most successful football club in Europe. His appointment of Herrera was the moment when that dream started to become a reality
With money no object Herrera and Morrati set out on building a team to conquer a continent. Money obviously helped pay for the finest material, but the real key to success was Herrera, the man who was to become the architect and master builder of a team which would be christened ‘Grande Inter’ – the Great Inter. With Herrera at the helm Inter soon became the dominant force both in Italy and Europe.
Between 1961 and 1967 the Milanese side won three league titles (63,65,66), two European Cups (64, 65) and two Inter-Continental Cups (64, 65). During this period they never finished out of the top three in Seire A. It wasn’t just silverware they collected though. Their success on the continent ensured the club developed a nationwide fan-base which saw Inter fans springing up in villages, towns and cities across Italy. As the lyrics to the classic Celtic song Willy Maley proclaim, this truly was "…the team all Italy adored".
There negative and defensive approach – Catenaccio – however won over few neutrals.
As manager of Dunfermline Jock Stein himself had travelled to Italy in 1963 to spend time studying Herrera's methods. Herrera was impressed by the energy of the man from Burnbank who he christened 'The Big Ant'. Stein's trip to Italy had been paid for by a newspaper and there is no doubt he took a lot from the experience.
Certainly come May 25th 1967 Herrera would be impressed with much more than just the energy of his rival.
Herrera's frequent boast that his team often won games before even stepping onto the pitch could so easily have applied to that beautiful day in Lisbon and the pre-match preparations. As Celtic arrived at the stadium to train on the evening before the final they were met by the Inter team just finishing their session. Instead of retiring to the showers the Italian players and their manager congregated on the touchline and there they stayed until Celtic's practice session ended. It was classic Herrera.
The next day, with minutes remaining to kick-off, the two teams were.standing together in the tunnel, waiting to enter the arena.The Celtic players couldn't help but be impressed by their opponents. Athletic and tanned they looked every inch the footballing sophisticates. Jimmy Johnstone commented to his team-mates that the Inter players all looked like movie stars. They didn't only look the part, they had the medals to prove they had the substance to match the style.
For all Celtic's domestic dominance that wonderful season it paled into insignificance in comparison to the achievements of these men who had conquered Europe and the World. It is no idle boast to say most teams would have been beat before a ball had been kicked. Celtic were not most teams.
Bertie Auld's response to this moment of apprehension and tension has of course gone down in Celtic folklore. His leading of the players in singing 'The Celtic Song' as they began the long walk up the tunnel sent not just a message of defiance to Inter but one of inspiration to Celtic. Inter may well have been Grande, but Celtic were also a grand old team to play for.
Stein struck a psychological blow when he got reserve keeper John Fallon to claim the bench nearest the halfway line. This did not impress the Inter officials. It was a small, seemingly trivial act of defiance. But what was clear to all was that this club which had for so long represented the underdog would not now, in its finest hour, be bullied by anyone.
When the players emerged from the tunnel the Celtic players appeared blinking in the sunshine like miners emerging from the bowels of the earth after another shift in the darkness. Stein, who followed his Bhoys out of the tunnel, would have been forgiven for thinking back to his days as a collier. He had come a long way. From toiling underground at Earnock pit to guiding Celtic to the summit of European football. He was close to completing a most remarkable journey. But the giant of European football - Helenio Herrera - stood between him and this majestic peak. Was it really possible?
Of course it was. What happened over the next 90 minutes is written in the heart of every Celtic fan. Indeed of everyone who appreciates and loves attacking football. Stein and Celtic did not defeat Grande Inter. They destroyed them. The score line was 2-1 but the reality was that this was a beating which left Inter and Herrera battered and broken. Catenaccio was savaged by what Big Jock described as 'Pure, beautiful, inventive football'.
After Inter took the lead with an early penlty they sat back and defended. And defended. And defended. How sweet that it was a rampaging full-back who hit the cannonball shot that eventually breached Inter's resiliant defence. That fine Tommy Gemmell strike was of course followed by Stevie Chalmers late winner. It was a goal which brought justice.
What Celtic and Jock Stein achieved in the Portuguese capital was much more than win the European Cup - fantastic achievement that it was. They heralded a new era in football. They were a green and white whirlwind which blew away the football establishment and their old, negative ways. Almost 80 years from the day they were founded to feed the poor in Glasgow's east end Celtic FC had struck another blow for the underdog. The football world celebrated the end of Catenaccio and the victory of football the Celtic way.
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