And so, at last, Celtic came to the Estadio Nacional to play their match.
It was an idyllic setting. The stone, horse-shoe shaped stadium perched above the gentle slopes of a wooded valley. A grey dawn had given way to brilliant sunshine for the match.
By the time their team finally arrived, about 45 minutes before the 5.30 kick-off, most of the Celtic supporters had produced their jealously guarded tickets (prices ranged from £2 7s 6d [£2.38] for the centre stand down to 10/- [50p] for a terracing place behind one of the goals) and taken over the stadium. “The place looked perfect,” remembers Bryon Butler, “it was as if the interior decorators had been in. The stadium was white and surrounded by greenery and there were these thousands of people whose scarves and banners toned in so perfectly it looked as if it had all been planned.”
Back in Glasgow the streets were said to be empty, although the identity of the person who could actually leave his TV set to establish the fact has yet to be revealed.
Celtic’s difficulties with the bus journey proved an advantage. Little time remained to worry. Once the players had disembarked from the vehicle, examined the pitch (and been astounded by the vast number of supporters), selected their boots, and settled down to get changed the kick-off was comfortably close.
Despite his protestations Stein was still deeply concerned about Inter’s lineup. He could not shake off the suspicion that Suarez would suddenly be produced. “Ach, he’ll play,” he was heard to mumble as he prowled the dressing room. Inter attempted to delay submitting their team lines but Stein made it clear that his men would not take the field until he had been shown them. They were presented; Suarez was out, Bicicli would replace him.
The dressing room was hot and uncomfortable. It was of unorthodox construction, being split into two compartments by a central area of bath and showers. The team was accordingly forced to split into two separate sections. It was an unpleasant place to be as they felt their anticipation rise and tried to fight off the inevitable twinges of panic. The time for discussion and encouragement was gone. The words had all been used up long before.
Celtic were then in an old house on the fringes of the stadium which served as a pavilion. There was a sense of release when the time came to leave it. They walked along a tree-lined path and into an underground passage which led to the pitch. Stein had earlier reminded his side of the sacrifices made and the overtime worked to permit so many supporters to be present. It was an appeal to their sense of responsibility but in that tunnel they were to encounter more concrete evidence of the fans’ identification with the team. John Clark: “Suddenly a man came looming out of the darkness towards us. I couldn’t believe it. It was a bloke called McConville that I knew from Chapelhall. Heaven knows how he’d done it but he’d got past all the security at the biggest match in Europe to come and look for the team.”
He was eventually removed from the scene and the two sides stood waiting patiently side by side. The briefest inspection would have told you which was which. Bobby Murdoch: “I suppose the contrast must have been funny. They were sleek and tanned like film stars. On our side there were quite a few with no teeth and we had blobs of vaseline on our eyebrows to block the sweat. . .”
Some of the Celtic players, including the inveterate Beatles fans Johnstone and Lennox, were humming or singing snatches of song. Suddenly their voices were united as Bertie Auld began to sing the Celtic song: “Sure it’s a grand old team to play for …”
Sophisticated Inter looked askance at these bizarre Scots. Willie Wallace: “They couldn’t understand it. They were used to the discipline and organisation of Italian football so they couldn’t work out how-we were so carefree before a European Cup final.”
Celtic’s most detailed discussion had taken place at Parkhead earlier in the week. With a complete lack of bombast Stein had concluded it by placing a simple thought in the mind of each player. “Look boys, I think it can be us. If we play it correctly we can win.”
The game kicked off and Celtic began to discover the truth.
They bustled into life and immediately cheered their supporters.
Johnstone twisted, turned, and attempted to send Chalmers into the area. He was easily crowded out but the fans accepted the move as evidence that Celtic would not be immobilised by stage-fright.
That early encouragement was made to seem decidedly hollow by the economy and menace of Inter’s first real attack. Quick simple passes put Cappellini in space on the left. He calmly picked out Mazzola and directed a fast cross towards him. The forward did nothing wrong at all. He rose above the ball and directed his header down to the Celtic goal. There was Ronnie Simpson blocking the path with an efficient but ungainly scramble across his line; the ball rebounded from his thigh to safety.
It seemed that a disastrous pattern was being established. Celtic would do the bulk of the attacking while Inter did the best of it.
The eighth minute brought real cause for dread. In the early part of the game Mazzola had dropped off the Celtic defence and found some space in a deeper position. From there he spotted an opening in a slightly disordered back four. Cappellini made a diagonal break from the Inter left to right and had the ball deposited in his path. The situation was intelligently read by Craig who came across to cover the Inter forward. “I tried to get tight on to him on his Iefthand side so he couldn’t turn inside and shoot with his left foot. I made slight contact with my right leg and, all credit to him, he made a very good job of crashing to the ground. Penalty.”
Others suggest that Craig was clumsily attempting to tackle with his right foot when the left should have been used. No matter. The interpretation of the outcome was clear. Mazzola’s penalty might have been plagiarised from a coaching film. The ball rushed into Simpson’s right-hand corner while the keeper went left.
It was a sickening blow to Celtic’s hopes but Jim Craig could not push the personal aspects of the catastrophe from his mind. “I had a very difficult time persuading my father to go to the match because he was really afraid that we were going to lose. Eventually I talked him round and got the arrangements made. When they got the penalty I thought, I’ve brought him all this way so that he could see me do that. What must he be thinking?”
Unless his thought processes were markedly different from those of the average fan he must have been suspecting that Inter had taken possession of the match. The Italians had the perfect encouragement to retire behind their defensive fortifications for a paltry 82 minutes or so.
Necessity as well as inclination now spurred Celtic into the attack and the structure of the match acquired a classical simplicity. It did not, however, develop as Inter had expected. They had been mistaken in assuming that Celtic could be comfortably contained. The Scots were a little too bright-eyed and alert for that. Jimmy Johnstone: “They put Burgnich on me and I’d never experienced man-to-man marking quite as tight as that. I couldn’t shake him off no matter where I went. It was personally disappointing because I had wanted the final to be my stage, I had wanted to show how I could play. At the same time, though, I was beginning to think that we were in with a shout. We weren’t just going forward, we were making real chances. There was no reason why we couldn’t get a goal.”
Johnstone is too modest. It was not the occasion for a personal triumph but he was often at the heart of the action.
The game, now directed by Auld and Murdoch, was punctuated by alarms and half-chances deep in Inter’s area. Auld nearly levelled the match when he unbalanced the central defence with a little shuffle and coasted past their right-hand side. His angled shot slapped the face of the bar. There was an almost hysterical excitement about Celtic’s play.
Ronnie Simpson raced from the box to clear but was suddenly filled with dread that an Italian would charge the ball down. This attack of nerves prompted him to a response which appeared nerveless. He backheeled the ball to John Clark.
Gemmell too was exuberant and came close on three occasions. Sarti miraculously hurled himself left to push one volley away just as the laws of physics were suggesting that nothing could prevent the collision of ball and net.
Inter continued to hold out but they did so not through method but desperation. Billy McNeill: “We were the worst team in the world to try and defend against.” Half-time arrived with Celtic better placed than the bare evidence of the scoreline suggested.
The referee’s whistle did not so much mark the cessation of hostilities as the beginning of a new contest. In any match involving the Italian sides there was always the fear that the referee might have been bribed. This suspicion was not necessarily bred of paranoia. Inter’s 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their European Cup semi-final in 1964, for example, came to be viewed with scepticism when its Yugoslav referee, Tesanic, was later found holidaying on the Italian coast, allegedly at Inter’s expense. These apprehensions leapt to the forefront of the Celtic party’s minds when Inter received an early penalty.
In fact there was not the remotest reason to question referee Tschencher’s impartiality. He was entirely correct in his judgement that Craig had fouled Cappellini and while some other decisions may have been questionable they did not seem to result from a consistent policy of favouring one side.
Celtic, in a state of high alarm, could not view the matter so objectively. Stein and Herrera exchanged words at the trackside. In the tunnel some of the Celtic players rubbed thumb and forefinger together in the traditional gesture and asked Tschencher if he had been paid in lire or dollars.
Fortunately, Celtic regained their self-control before the referee was forced to take action. By the time they reached the dressing room Stein himself was once more capable of soothing troubled minds. Craig was told to forget the penalty. Despite the turmoil he must have been feeling Stein looked assured as he insisted that the goals would come if the team continued to work and play as it had done.
They were gently reminded of an aspect of strategy they had forgotten. Crosses were to be pulled back to the edge of the area so that the solid mass of defenders might be teased apart. If the ball continued to be pushed into the centre of the box Inter’s forces would all make their stand there and diminish the chances of a clear shot at goal.
Celtic had succeeded in dictating the pace of the match and it was the Latin side who were beginning to struggle in the sun. Bobby Murdoch: “It ought to have suited them to a tee but it didn’t. They may have been the tanned ones at the start but they were beginning to look a bit off-colour by the second half.”
Inter had to be asked four times to leave their dressing room at the end of the interval. Their intention was to force Celtic to wait in the baking heat but it was already clear that this was a day when their resources of energy were too great to be drained.
Celtic immediately established that the second half was to foJJow the pattern of the first. Against steadily weakening opponents the supply of chances grew but it seemed for a dangerously long time that Sarti would be equal to all of them. In a goalmouth scramble a shot actually beat him but he turned, leapt, and retrieved the ball as it reached the goal line. It would have disheartened a lesser side but Celtic had assumed a stature fit for the great occasion in which they were participating.
In 62 minutes they concocted the most exhilarating goal in the club’s history.
Craig, who had found even more space on the wing in the second half, took a pass from Murdoch and strode vigorously into the box. Defenders bunched in front of him to block a shot. Then, just as Gemmell was fearing that his screams for a pass had not been heard, Craig acted on Stein’s instructions. The ball was angled back with the precision of a scrum-half feeding his stand-off. The defenders catapulted forward but this time they could not intervene. Tommy Gemmell met the ball on the edge of the area and directly in front of the goals. Sarti’s quicksilver reactions were irrelevant. The ball was in the top right-hand corner of his goal and the human eye could scarcely tell how it had come to be there, so explosive had been the right-footed contact.
It was the shot Gemmell had been born to hit. Sarti pointed to two Celtic players in offside positions but his colleagues did not bother to take up his protest. They knew justice had been served. When Gemmell let fly no human being could have interfered with the play no matter how they tried.
Gemmell remains conscious of the random factors which made his drive successful. “As I came to shoot a defender stopped and half-turned his back on me. If he’d taken another step it would have been very difficult for me to get the ball past him. They say the book of Italian heroes is very thin and he wasn’t interested in expanding it any!”
This seems a little unsympathetic. Inter’s captain Picchi did indeed do as Gemmell describes but one doubts if the world contains a nation whose players could guarantee not to flinch in such circumstances!
Inter had been broken and Celtic were out to serve formal notification of the fact on the scoreline. This chase for the winner alarmed Stein. who feared that Inter might punish such a loss of discipline. The Italians, in fact, no longer had the strength to pose a threat. throughout the second half they had hit long balls over the Celtic central defence in the hope of putting Domenghini clear. They persisted in the tactic although, on every occasion, John Clark and Ronnie Simpson neatly tidied up between them.
Tommy Gemmell was, in any case, unenthusiastic about Stein’s prescription: “He was at the touchline telling us to calm the game down but I thought, It’s 85° out here and there’s no way I’m staying on for an extra half-hour of football if I can possibly help it!”
Inter buckled with only five minutes remaining. Murdoch, who had dominated the match despite having to protect the right foot he injured early on, created it almost unintentionally. “There was a defender in front of me but he turned away to go and cover Tommy so that left space for me to move into. Tommy pulled it back for me and I had a go with my left foot. People still tell me ‘It was going in anyway’ but it actually had more chance of going for a throw-in! Stevie got a great touch to turn it in.”
Chalmers’ winner has been underrated because of the majesty of Gemmell’s strike but it was a masterly example of the striker’s art. He had cleverly stolen into an advanced position while staying onside by a matter of inches and the unexpectedness of his rightfooted re-direction was such that Sarti made no move for the shot, “I didn’t know where I was putting it, I was just concentrating on getting a clean contact with the ball. There was hardly a day at Parkhead when we didn’t practise that situation. The ball driven low is very hard to defend against, so it was a favourite of Jock’s. He’d have the forwards lined up to try and put that kind of cross away and he’d stand at the back post to hit any we missed.”
After his uncomplaining sacrifice in Prague, there could not have been a more popular scorer of the historic goal.
The crowds massed for a pitch invasion which had clearly not been anticipated by the Portuguese authorities who made no attempt to forestall it. Celtic agonised and Stein turned his back on the pitch but their fears were only hallucinations. Inter had accepted the inevitable.
Bertie Auld displayed his special talent for this fag-end section of the match by securing pointless throw-ins and shielding the ball at the corner flag. The referee’s whistle blew and Celtic were the champions of Europe.
The stadium was consumed by ecstatic pandemonium. The uncontrollable joy of the fans sadly prevented a lap of honour but the excesses of their behaviour were easy to forgive.
The team struggled to retain a few mementoes of the occasion – their strips for example. McNeill placed an Inter Milan top in his bag but found soon afterwards that it had vanished. Bobby Murdoch solved this problem by keeping his boots on in the bath although one wonders if this didn’t rather impair the attractiveness of those particular trophies.
Not quite everyone surrendered to euphoria. Gemmell, who had looked close to exhaustion at points in the match, spotted an ice-cream seller as he left the field. Gemmell assumed that he might, in the circumstances, be allowed one on the house. Not a bit of it. The angry vendor pursued the full-back until Gemmell was able to find a journalist to pay him.
It was intended that Ronnie Simpson should accompany McNeill to collect the trophy but he was too tearful and happy to do so. Eventually the captain completed his struggle across the park and crowned the day and Celtic’s history by raising aloft the massive, coveted trophy.
On the tour through Glasgow the next day, and at Parkhead itself, Celtic took the curtain calls which had been postponed from the Estadio Nacional.
Despite that, it would require months and even years to take the measure of their achievement. Some acclaimed them as the first British side to win the European Cup but that was a statistician’s honour. What mattered most was the magnificent football they had played. People blinked in surprise, suddenly reminded of the joy which had drawn them to the sport in the first place. There was nothing avaricious in Celtic’s endeavours. The size of their win bonus had not even been discussed prior to the match. It proved to be a handsome £1,500 a man. Their performance demanded such generosity. Celtic had restored glory to a tournament which had been tarnished by cynicism.
It was a success which extended beyond football itself Scotland had been half-sedated, half-exasperated by the suspicion that it was irredeemably second rate. Because of Celtic a good many well-worn excuses for failure had to be discarded. The European Cup win was one of only two events in the Scotland of that time which impressed award-winning poet lain Crichton Smith: “’I felt there were were only two important things in Scotland: Celtic Football Club and Hugh MacDiarmid … Celtic had just won the European Cup … I’ve often felt about Scotland that there’s a kind of mediocrity you see in their football. At a certain stage they say, ‘We’re going to win the World Cup’ but they don’t. There’s a lack pf professionalism, which I feel is very important important to me in poetry that I should be professional in my attitude – and I think MacDiarmid was and Celtic Football Club was.” (Seven Poets)
Lisbon was a conclusion. On the bus leaving the stadium Stein said to Auld, “That team will never be beaten.” Auld thought it rather excessive praise and the true meaning of Stein’s words only emerged later. The line-up which had won the European Cup was given only a handful of outings thereafter. Stein would not allow his champions to risk becoming losers.
Individuals too found it difficult to provide a satisfactory sequel to a year in which they had Won every trophy open to them. Murdoch: “When we gathered for our first meeting the next season, Jock said, ‘For some of you football will never be the same again.’ He intended to provoke us into proving him wrong but it turned out that it was a simple statement of fact.”
There is pride as well as regret in Murdoch’s reflections. It takes a towering achievement to cast so long a shadow.
Almost a fortnight after Lisbon a leg-weary and slightly fractious team took the field in the Bernabeu to play Real Madrid. Only the honour of appearing in the great Di Stefano’s benefit match had tempted Celtic to accept the invitation. Real, European Cup winners of 1966, were desperate to demonstrate their superiority to the new holders. John Fallon, who had been on the bench as goalkeeping substitute in each European match that season. was given the chance to demonstrate his worth.
While Celtic struggled, he held Real at bay. As time passed Celtic’s competitive instincts began to surface once more. In the 69th minute they produced the only goal of the game. Jimmy Johnstone left half a dozen opponents in his wake and sljpped the ball through to Bobby Lennox in the inside-right channel.
Bobby Lennox: “I ran on and hit my shot from the edge of the area. The whole stadium had gone quiet and I suddenly heard one of the other players, clear as a bell, shouting ‘Goa!!””’
For a brief moment the voice of industrial Scotland drifted out over a hushed continent.
From ‘One Afternoon in Lisbon’ by Kevin McCarra and Pat Woods. Still the best book on the subject if you can get hold of a copy.