To play Football the Glasgow Celtic Way
Jock Stein led Scotland to one of their more memorable victories in the autumn of 1965 when 101,000 roared them to an unlikely but deserved win over the excellent Italian side of the era. The new manager of Celtic had agreed to help the national side out on an interim basis as they were close to qualifying for the 1966 world cup in England. Only the powerful Italians stood in their way and that win at Hampden saw everything rest on the match in Naples a few weeks later. Injuries and call offs left Stein with a weakened team for the vital game in Italy but the Scots travelled with some hope. The atmosphere inside the Stadio San Paolo was intimidating as the Italian fans realised that it was winner takes all. Scotland, with centre half Ron Yeats up front, held their own until 38 minutes when Pascutti slammed a loose ball home. The crowd was at fever pitch as the Scots struggled to stay in the game and were thankful for the half time whistle which gave them some respite. In the second half Scotland steadied the ship but as the half wore on they were again pushed back and the Stadio San Paolo sensed that Italy were in for the kill. The talented Italian side swept forward in blue waves and sealed the deal in 74 minutes in style. Talented attacking full back Giacinto Facchetti picked up a loose ball 25 yards from goal and clipped a floating shot over the head of the Scottish goalkeeper and into the net. The Italians would add a third in the dying seconds and Scotland’s dream of playing at the World Cup in England in 1966 was over. It was no disgrace to lose to such a fine side but Scotland’s fine crop of 1960s players had again failed to qualify for a major finals. Stein was now free to concentrate on Celtic having done his best and bringing Scotland so close.
In a Hotel near Naples the burly ex miner spotted Italian full back Giacinto Facchetti at the bar and shook his hand wishing him well at the following summer’s world cup. Stein, who had travelled to Italy in 1963 to study the methods of Helenio Herrera, sat beside the tall Italian and asked him to describe why Italian sides were so adept at defending. Using a mixture of broken English and drawing diagrams onto napkins, Facchetti outlined the basic theory of the ‘Door bolt’ or ‘Catenaccio’ system of defence. Stein listened eagerly and learned how the best Italian defences could erect an impregnable wall around their goal using a 1-4-4-1 formation. The key was the use of a sweeper or ‘Libero’ who played behind four defenders who man marked the attackers with all the tenacity and ruthlessness Italian defenders are famous for. The Libero recovers loose balls, helps double mark tricky forwards and scans the game in front of him looking for danger. This solid foundation allowed the team to draw the opposition on before hitting them with lightning counter attacks. It was not attractive to watch but it was effective. Facchetti’s club Inter Milan would win two European cups using the system and earn the name ‘Il Grande Inter.’ (The great Inter) Stein filed all he learned in that formidable footballing brain of his and even pocketed the napkins. He and Giacinta Facchetti sat discussing football until the wee small hours before parting with a friendly handshake. The Italian might have wondered if he’s cross paths with the inquisitive big Scot again. The way Stein saw it he had added to the sum of his footballing knowledge, to be the best you hard to learn from the best.
As 1965 turned to 1966, Stein’s budding young Celtic side were racing towards their first Championship in 12 long and bitter years. When it was sealed on an emotional day at Fir Park, Motherwell, Stein’s mind was already racing ahead to the prospect of Celtic playing in the European cup for the first time. On 28 September 1966, a crowd of 47,604 fans watched Celtic beat a stubborn FC Zurich at Celtic Park. Tommy Gemmell scored Celtic’s first ever goal in the Champions Cup in 61 minutes and Joe McBride made it 2-0 eight minutes later. Celtic didn’t relent in the return leg and beat the Swiss 3-0. Few who watched those ties would have thought Stein’s team could go all the way with teams such as Liverpool, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan in the mix. However as first Nantes and then the tough Vojvodina fell to Stein’s team, Celtic fans started to believe. Dukla Prague who had eliminated Anderlecht and Ajax along the way would prove equally difficult for the Celts to overcome but Stein’s reassuring way calmed the team at half time after they had watched Johnstone’s goal cancelled out by Strunc. Two goals in the second half by Wallace put Celtic in the driving seat and a hard fought 0-0 draw in Prague had them astonishingly in the European Cup Final at the first attempt. Waiting for them was Inter Milan who had bundled out a series of useful sides including holders, Real Madrid using their infamous catenaccio system.
The day before the 12th European Cup Final Stein led his Celtic side to watch Inter Milan go through their paces at training. As the pale Scots watched in the blazing Portuguese sun, a tall, sun tanned Italian approached them. He made straight for Jock Stein, ‘Napoli, you remember?’ Stein shook Giacinto Facchetti’s hand, ‘Aye, I remember all right son. Good to see you again.’ They chatted briefly, Facchetti using his broken English, Stein trying to curb his Lanarkshire accent. As they parted, Stein said, ‘See you tomorrow.’ The big Italian smiled and nodded, ‘Si, Domani.’ Stein watched him join his team mates who no doubt quizzed him about why he was talking to the Celtic Manager. Stein knew the system Herrera would play the following day but knowing it and being able to overcome it were two different matters. Stein knew that the Catenaccio system left room for the opposing full backs to push forward and that this would draw Inter defenders out and create space in the centre. He had just the men to do this in Jim Craig and Tommy Gemmell and he was certain he could break through Inter’s fortress like defence. He glanced around at his pale faced young warriors who were watching the Italians train. They showed interest and respect but no fear. ‘We’ll see what tomorrow brings,’ he said quietly to himself before rejoining his team.
24 hours later Stein and his team smashed the defensive formation of Inter Milan with a performance of high paced attacking play which had all of Europe applauding. "It felt like there were 22 Scottish players shooting at us from every direction," said Inter centre-back Aristide Guarneri. As Stein limped from the touchline, leaving his players to enjoy their triumph he glanced back at the pitch and saw the forlorn figure of Giacinto Facchetti, head bowed and stunned by what had just occurred. The elegant Fachetti would say later, ‘We were shocked, this was not supposed to be happening.’ That a Scottish club could play such wonderful football was no doubt a surprise to him but it was no surprise to Stein who had moulded one of the most formidable teams in Europe. The ‘door bolt’ system was over, the Lions had kicked the door down and there was no going back.
Years after the destruction of Inter Milan in the heat of Lisbon, defender Burgnich revealed just how demoralised they were as the Celtic onslaught swept over them on that May day in 1967, He said:
‘At one point Picchi turned to our goalkeeper Sarti and said, ‘Guilliano let it go, just let it go, It’s pointless, sooner or later they’ll get the winner. I never thought I’d hear those words. Never thought I’d hear my skipper tell the keeper to throw in the towel. It showed just how destroyed we were at that point. It was as if we didn’t want to prolong the agony.’
Jock Stein had listened and learned. He had created a team which had swept aside the defensive football of Inter Milan by playing their own version of total football. Others such as Ajax would follow in their wake but it was Stein who had created the template for a new brand of football, It was fast, attacking football, it was football played the Glasgow Celtic way.