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The Serpent of Complacency - Falling to Feyenoord
For all Celtic’s wonderful victories as underdogs they retain an agonising knack to let you down when you least expect it. Celtic are notoriously uncomfortable favourites. But never has that ability to self-implode been so painful and far-reaching as in the European Cup final of 1970.
This was Celtic’s chance to cement their place at European football’s top table. To show they were not just guests at this level but permanent residents. However Feyenoord would ensure that this occasion was every bit as sour as Lisbon was sweet.
It perhaps says everything about the talent and expectations of Celtic in 1970 that a European Cup final defeat was a disaster. In 2003 just reaching the UEFA Cup final was deemed cause for celebration. Even after defeat in that final it was an event worthy of a DVD release and countless merchandising cash cows. In 1970 the loss of a European final was simply a cause for mourning.
Having convincingly defeated the supposedly invincible Leeds United in the semi-finals Celtic had every reason to enter the game against the Dutch in confident mood. They had dismantled the English champions over two legs and were rightly installed as favourites for the final at the San Siro.
Despite taking the lead Celtic would slump to a 2-1 defeat. The cold written facts state it was a 2-1 extra-time victory for the Dutch. But the stats do not reflect the true picture of a game in which Feyenoord were the masters from start to finish. It was a scoreline which flattered Celtic every bit as much as the Bhoys 2-1 victory in 1967 flattered Inter Milan.
Defeated and dejected the Celtic team trailed off the San Siro pitch. They were well beaten by a side Billy McNeill would later admit had been badly under-estimated by the Celtic camp. Jock Stein had prepared his team well but mentally the Bhoys did not seem as focused or as hungry as their opponents. There was talk about a row over commercial deals for the players and there was a sense that all Celtic had to do was turn up and the European Cup was returning to Glasgow.
Jimmy Johnstone would recall nobody had rated Feyenoord and that there had been a sense that the European Cup was won with the defeat of Leeds. As Tom Campbell would state in The Glory and The Dream – The seprpent of complacency had entered Paradise.
The final whistle at the San Siro did not just mark the end of the game. It signalled the beginning of the end of the most glorious chapter in Celtic’s history. A period of five years when the club’s stylish attacking football had made them the darlings of European football.
Jock Stein – who was left questioning his own judgement – was left to rebuild a demoralised team and an ageing squad which perhaps no longer had the fierce hunger for success they once possessed. It would be a massive task to take Celtic back to the top of European football. So massive that despite a valiant attempt it would prove even beyond the reach of Stein.
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