Friday, 19 December 2014

Not a prouder man...

Not a prouder man

Jock slipped his jacket back on, not because he was cold, quite the opposite in fact. It was to hide the perspiration on his white shirt, a sure sign that he was feeling the pressure. He looked at himself in the mirror, ‘We’ve come a long way,’ he mumbled to himself as he tidied his tie, slipping the knot up towards his throat. ‘Don’t let them see anything but confidence, not today of all days.’ He slipped his sun glasses into the pocket of his jacket and exhaled. ‘Let’s go.’ He walked the few yards along the corridor towards the dressing room where he could hear the familiar banter and laughter of his players from behind the door. He had fostered their sense of comradeship, got them fighting for each other. They were a real team, friends as well as team mates. He was proud of them all, they were like his sons and he’d brought them so far this last couple of years. Now they faced their last mountain to be climbed and it was a big one. He fixed a confident little smile onto his face before he turned the handle and entered the room.

The laughter and noise subsided as they saw him enter. Bright, intelligent eyes regarded him, watched him to see if that old confidence he had instilled in them was still on his face. He made sure it was. He glanced along the line of players who seemed to be almost glowing in their pristine green and white hooped shirts. He had worn that shirt himself a decade earlier but good as some of his team mates were in the 1950s, few if any of them would get into this Celtic side. He waited for silence, his little pauses often added to their sense that he was about to say something important. ‘Right, listen up boys,’ he began as silence fell around the room. ‘We’ve already had a season to remember and I want to ask you to make one last supreme effort today. We know this lot we’re facing today have been over the course. We know they’re good players but you’re better than them.  You’re fitter, stronger and you’re a better team. You also play the game the way it’s meant to be played. We’ve achieved so much this year but we have a chance to make history today. No Scottish team has ever done what you can do today. No British team has ever done it and I want you to be the first. I want the history books to remember you as a great side 50 or 100 years from now. We might never have an opportunity like this again so seize it! If you're ever going to win the European Cup, then this is the day and this is the place. But we don't just want to win this cup, we want to do it playing good football - to make neutrals glad we've won it, glad to remember how we did it. We must play as if there are no more games, no more tomorrows. Don’t come off that pitch with any regrets, give it everything you’ve got and I know that’ll be enough to win.’  He turned to his imperious skipper who sat regarding him with rapt attention, ‘Right Billy, lead the boys out. Lead them into the history books!’  The young captain jumped to his feet and snarled at his comrades, ‘Right, you heard the Boss, let’s get out there and win this!’ There was roar from the assembled players, a guttural masculine growl. The players stood as one and followed their captain out the dressing room door. Stein watched them as they left, Murdoch, grim faced and determined, Johnstone, eyes glowing ready for battle. Auld, fists clenched like a boxer, tense as a coiled spring. Last to leave was Lennox, focussed like a greyhound ready to spring from the trap. When the last player had passed he glanced at his dependable deputy, ‘Well Sean, it’s up to them now.’ Fallon nodded and replied in his broad Sligo accent, ‘They’d follow you anywhere Jock, they’re ready.’ Jock nodded, ‘We’re so close Sean, I can almost touch it! We can make real history today and even those in the English press will have to say we’re a real team to be reckoned with!’ Fallon could see how desperately his friend and colleague of many years wanted to win this match. ‘Jock, you’ve filled those lads with belief, you’ve trained them, coached them, given them a shoulder, kicked their arses when they needed it but now you have to do one last thing… Trust them!’

The two old friends left the dressing room and stood behind the two teams who were lined up in a narrow tunnel below the pitch. Stein looked at the Italians, tanned, toned and exuding confidence. His pale Scottish lads eyed them nervously, as a consummate psychologist, he was about to say something when he heard the familiar Glasgow tones of midfielder Bertie Auld, ‘Right lads, let’s give them a song while we’re waiting!’ As the astonished Italians looked on Bertie began to sing…

‘Hail Hail the Celts are here,

what the hell do we care,

what the hell do we care

Hail Hail the Celts are here,

what the hell do we care now!

For it’s a grand old team to play for…..

The song spread along the line of green and white clad players until it filled the tunnel. It reverberated off the walls and suddenly it was Inter who looked unsure. Striker Mazzola glanced at a team mate and then at the player opposite him, a small red haired winger called Johnstone who belted out the song, eyes closed, face a picture of determination. Fallon glanced at Stein as he watched this astonishing display of confidence and solidarity, the big man was not given to displays of emotion but his eyes gleamed. His boys were ready alright, he knew that now. When the song was finished the German referee appeared and led the players up the steps and into the beautiful brightness of a Portuguese afternoon. The players walked across the pitch as a roar emanated from the thousands of fans who had followed them from Scotland. Stein headed for the side lines, he had done all he could. Now it was up to the players, this was their chance to shine as all of Europe looked on, their chance to put the name of ‘Celtic’ up there with the great clubs of football. He glanced briefly at the clear blue sky and exhaled, it was in the hands of the players now. A shrill whistle announced that the game had begun. The next couple of hours would decide all their fates.


His heart was bursting with pride as he answered the questions of the waiting press, most of whom were delighted at his team’s display. ‘How do I feel?’’ he beamed at a well-known Scottish reporter…"There is not a prouder man on God's Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, aye, but it was the way that we have won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads. Inter played right into our hands; it's so sad to see such gifted players shackled by a system that restricts their freedom to think and to act. Our fans would never accept that sort of sterile approach. Our objective is always to try to win with style."

He had trusted his boys and they had repaid him with a display of dazzling attacking football which not only blew Inter away but signalled that the sterile ‘Catenaccio’ defensive system was dead forever.  Those proud men in green and white had played in that quintessentially Celtic way. They had played pure, beautiful, inventive football and no one was prouder than Jock Stein.


  1. Replies
    1. We always need a different slant on events we are so familiar with. Lisbon was an astonishing achievement for Celtic. No one thought a Scottish club could play that way and so dominate a seasoned Italian side, half of whom were in the Italy squad which won the 1968 Euros. The Lisbon Lions are rightly regarded as one of the best European teams of the era.

    2. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  2. You've done it again. Superb as ever.

    1. I honestly enjoy writing these tales as much as many seem to enjoy reading them, I'm just a Bhoy at heart Andrew HH

  3. Magnificent. My father has told me great things about a great team 🍀

    1. Thank you for reading, the Stein years were incredible. Hail Hail