Remembering Celtic Glasgow's legendary side - the Lisbon LionsCeltic have a very unique place in the history of football. While they are often mentioned as one of the most successful clubs in the entire world, they are often on the lower echelons of that group, which is saying a lot. However, the Scottish giants have a massive achievement that can't be denied and that is what they accomplished as the Lisbon Lions back in 1967.
The Lisbon Lions were the Celtic side that won the European Cup back in 1967 but the truth of the matter is that there is a lot more to unpack when it comes to this memorable team. This was a squad whose structure and accomplishments are something that is very unlikely to ever happen again in Scottish football, which is why it deserves a lot more recognition.
The contextOne of the most interesting aspects of this legendary Celtic Glasgow team is that the manager, Jock Stein, is often credit for the club's success in this period and he definitely deserves a lot of praise. However, it is also quite fascinating that he had only arrived two years prior to the European conquest in 1965.
This is very important because it suggests that Stein had to mostly work with what he had and that assumption would be correct. He had worked in Celtic's reserves as manager back in the mid-50s and several of the players he had coached back then were already part of a squad that was mostly filled with local talent.
In fact, the only player who was part of the Lisbon Lions and wasn't born ten miles away from Celtic Park, the club's stadium, was one of Stein's signings, Bobby Lennox from Hearts. He had been born thirty miles away from Celtic Park, in Saltcoats. This alone marks the club's place in the history books because there is a very good chance that no other side is going to win the European Cup with a squad structured this way.
It is also worth pointing out that Stein was a huge defender of playing fast, attacking football with a lot of intensity. In fact, one of the team's best players, Jimmy Johnstone, once said that Stein's orders were quite clear: "Play like the Dutch, but speeded up."
It was something that definitely played a huge role in the club's success: Dutch football, through the early success of Ajax in the mid-60s, was beginning to become a lot more influential and Stein understood that. He combined the focus on technique and attacking mindset of the Dutch with the more direct and fast-paced approach of British football, developing a mix that proved to pay a lot of dividends.
Facing "El Grande Inter"Celtic's rivals in the final were manager Helenio Herrera's Inter Milan. Back in those days, Inter were the team to beat, they were the defending champions, and this was the team's third European Cup in the last four years.
Furthermore, if Stein wanted fast-paced, attacking football, Herrera was his direct opposite. The Spanish manager has become known for being one of the coaches who popularized "Catenaccio", which focused on scoring first and then giving away the ball to focus on defending. While Herrera also gave a lot of freedom to his wing-backs for brilliant transition football, the truth of the matter is that this Inter side wasn't easy on the eye.
However, entertainment wasn't Stein's biggest concern since this Inter Milan side was extremely competitive and had the quality to back it up. Bobby Lennox himself was very vocal about it in an interview many years down the line:
"They were the stars; they were the European Cup holders, the Club World Cup holders. And we were the wee guys from Saltcoats, Kirkintilloch and Hamilton, who were gonna play against the giants of the world."
The final and the achievementIt is also worth pointing out that Celtic would go on to have a local treble this season too, which meant they won the league and the two cups. So they were not only having the possibility of being the first-ever British side to win the European Cup but also the first-ever team to win the quadruple.
The final took place in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 25, 1967, and while the Scottish had a very clear, which was pressuring and attacking Inter from the get-go, the worst-case scenario happened earlier in the final: a penalty was given to the Italian giants in the seventh minute and club legend Sandro Mazzola scored it, giving the lead to the current champions. It seemed like an impossible mountain to climb since Herrera's side never gave away leads like this.
Bertie Auld, a midfielder who had played for Celtic in the 50s and had rejoined the side in 1965, talked about the final a few years later, pointed out how Inter were so willing to sit back early in the game after having scored:
"Even when they went one up, they couldn't change their play, they were so defensive. And that was the thing about that Celtic side. We had flair that no one else had seen."
That they did. Celtic kept pushing and finally found their reward in the 63rd minute, with Thomas Gemmell scoring the equalizer. Funny enough, it would be another Thomas, this time Thomas Chalmers, who would score the historical winning goal in the 84th minute, giving Celtic the lead and breaking the Italians' spirit after holding to their own goal for so long during the match.
It would be a legendary achievement, with that Celtic side still being, as of this writing, the only Scottish team to ever win the European Cup and the only football club to ever win the quadruple. And that is why people are never going to forget the Lisbon Lions.
If you want to see highlights from the final, you can find it at the UEFA homepage here.