Sunday, 6 January 2013

'We did it playing pure, beautiful, inventive Football' (Jock Stein)

Don’t Let it be Forgot…
Celtic Legend Stevie Chalmers often told the story of a time when he was racing onto a through ball at Tannadice one snowy winter’s day in the early sixties. Celtic were struggling badly and losing again and as Stevie reached the ball and was about to shoot, his foot slipped on the treacherous pitch and he fell to the grass, the chance gone. Hard bitten Celtic fans behind the goal groaned and a few even laughed. Celtic, the team they loved so deeply, was in the doldrums, going nowhere and it hurt. All of that was to change when a burly ex miner from Burnbank showed up at Parkhead and moulded this team of talented underachievers into a well-oiled machine which played scintillating attacking football and conquered Scotland and then Europe. That ex miner was of course, Jock Stein. Much has written about their famous victory over Inter Milan in 1967. Few at the time dreamed it was possible for a team of pale Scots to conquer Europe in such a convincing manner. Celtic didn’t just beat Inter Milan, they destroyed a team famous for its ‘catenaccio’ defensive system. In Italian ‘Catenaccio’ means ‘Door Bolt’ and Inter, twice European Champions in the previous three seasons had beaten Real Madrid home and away with on their way to Lisbon with this system. They knew Celtic were an attack minded team but felt this would play into their hands as their lightening counter attacks would nail the naive Scots on the break.  Little did the Italians realise that Celtic would sweep them aside with a display of attacking football and determination that was awesome to behold. Celtic had 42 attempts on goal that day in Lisbon to Inter’s  five. Even losing an early penalty didn’t deter the men in green and white as they tore the much vaunted Inter defence apart. The effect of this demoralizing and relentless Celtic attacking was mentioned by seasoned international defender Tascisco Burgnich. Here was a man who had made 467 appearances for Inter and appeared in the 1970 World Cup Final and yet he recalls in the book ‘Inverting the Pyramid’ the realization Inter were ‘destroyed’ and that Celtic would not be denied their date with destiny…

"I remember at one point Picchi turned to the goalkeeper Sarti and said 'Giuliano, let it go, just let it go. Sooner or later they'll get the winner'. I never thought I would hear those words. I never imagined my captain would tell our keeper to throw in the towel. But that shows how destroyed we were at that point.”

Stein’s team didn’t merely beat Inter in a football match. They destroyed the catenaccio system forever and opened the way for attacking football to dominate the game again. It was a victory for football over anti-football.  It is the reason those who know the game recall Lisbon fondly and remember the great Lisbon Lions as one of the finest football teams to grace the beautiful game. Stevie Chalmers, the man some laughed at on that snowy day at Tannadice a few years earlier, scored the winning goal that legendary day. They weren’t laughing now.  It was reported in the Guardian Newspaper the following day that their reporter witnessed Tommy Gemmell, finally freeing himself from jubilant fans after the game and racing up the tunnel after Ronnie Simpson. Gemmell roared at his team mate…
"Hey, Ronnie Simpson, what are we? What are we, son?" He stood there sweating, showing his white teeth between parched lips flecked with saliva. Then he answered his own question with a belligerent roar. "We're the greatest. That's what we are. The greatest."  Simpson came running back and they embraced for a full minute.

‘We’re the Greatest’ big Tommy Gemmell had shouted at Ronnie Simpson and by God they were. Lisbon was the pinnacle of Celtic’s achievements. It can never be erased from memory or the history books that 11 lads from the west of Scotland took on the most experienced and expensive team in Europe and destroyed them with all the flair, skill and spirit that is the trademark of Celtic FC. In those far off days one of the great musicals of the time and a favourite of President Kennedy was called Camelot. In it King Arthur reminds his assembled Knights that even if time moves on and things change, their ideal, their achievements would never be forgotten. He might have been speaking of Lisbon on that hot day in May 1967 when he said…

‘‘Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot that for one brief shining moment, was Camelot’’

Celtic football Club illuminated the beautiful game with their display in that European Cup Final in 1967. It was football as it was meant to be played. It was football played the Glasgow Celtic way.

That brief shining moment will never be forgotten.


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