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  • Jim Craig: Five games that changed my life

    Jim Craig: Five games that changed my life

    By: Mark Henderson on 26 Mar, 2016 09:59

  • LISBON Lion Jim Craig will always be considered a Celtic great for helping the club become ‘Kings of Europe’ in 1967.

    Along with that glorious triumph over Inter Milan in the Estadio Nacional, the right-back enjoyed many other memorable matches during a distinguished Hoops career.

    He broke into the first-team in 1965, just as the Hoops were about embark on their golden age under the masterful guidance of Jock Stein.

    He made 231 appearances for Celtic over the next seven years, winning an abundance of trophies, including the greatest club prize of them all.   

    And the 72-year-old took part in this season’s Celtic View feature in which former Celts look back on their life and reveal the five games that had the biggest impact on them.

    Celtic 3-2 Aberdeen, St Mungo Cup final, Hampden, August  1, 1951

    My Dad was a Hibby as he came from Leith and had supported them since he was a wee kid. He was at the 1924 Scottish Cup final when Hibs lost to Airdrie. I had nagged him about taking me to a Celtic game so he took me to the St Mungo Cup final when he was on holiday at the start of August. I was eight-years-old and Celtic beat Aberdeen 3-2. I was impressed as it was my first big football occasion and my first big Celtic occasion, and I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd and the amount of people crammed into a small space. It was an overwhelming day for a wee boy. I don’t remember seeing much of the play to be quite honest as I probably couldn’t see over the crowd! It was just an amazing day in my life. I talked about it for weeks afterwards.

    Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, European Cup final, Hampden, May 18, 1960

    This is the only one not involving Celtic. I had just turned 17 and had been picked for Scottish Schools to play England. It was played at Burnley’s Turf Moor and unfortunately we lost 1-0. The European Cup final was in Glasgow, and because I was in the team I got the opportunity to get a ticket in the schoolboys’ enclosure. Most of the team went that night. Andy Roxburgh and myself always mention it as he was the best-known name out of that side, and the two of us can remember being there. I had never seen football being played that well before. Real were just outstanding in the way they stroked the ball about and the amazing thing for me was everyone seemed able to do it. Traditionally, full-backs tended to biff the ball forwards and midfielders or inside-forwards would try to pick it up, so it was amazing to see Real stroke the ball around like that all the way from the two full-backs and right the way throughout the team. It was an incredible performance. What I remember is that hardly anyone left the ground. Normally, some people will leave with 10 minutes to go to get their train or bus, but it was such as a wonderful occasion that few did. The vast majority of the crowd were supporting Eintracht at the beginning of the game but by the end of the game, everyone was supporting Real and the atmosphere had changed completely and it was quite evident in the schoolboys’ enclosure as well. It was an amazing night.

    Celtic 2-1 Inter Milan, European Cup final, Estadio Nacional, Lisbon, May 25, 1967

    What else can you say that has not been said before? It was an amazing day in my life, reaching the European Cup final, one of the biggest occasions in football. To put on the performance as we did over there and win it was absolutely amazing. I don’t need to repeat what I have said before. It was an incredible day and everything went well. And when I came back the following day, I met my future wife, Elisabeth for the first time – so it was a good couple of days!  There was just the euphoria of having done it and the context it was put in came later on. We had surprised the whole of Europe as everyone felt Inter would be too strong for this wee team from Scotland but we showed them and world football that you can win and play attractive, attacking football at the same time, as Inter had won it previously using the defensive ‘Catenaccio’ system.

    Real Madrid 0-1 Celtic, Alfredo di Stefano Testimonial, June 7, 1967

    This one may surprise some people. We got a great deal of praise after Lisbon but there was always that hesitation from a few people, particularly the English papers, that Inter had had a bad day and didn’t rise to the occasion. When it was announced we were going back to play in di Stefano’s testimonial, not everyone was happy. The reluctant flyers in the team didn’t want another flight and there were a few of them. There were also those who felt it was crazy to put our European title reputation at stake straight away against a team like Real Madrid. Those two opinions were being raised quite openly, but Jock came down like a hammer and told us we were going. In retrospect, it was one of the best things to do as on the night we were superb, absolutely superb, every single player rose to the challenge. We just played really excellently and got even more praise for our performance that night. We attended a banquet afterwards in di Stefano’s honour. It was a huge room in this hotel and at one end of the room he had trophies from all over the world. Organisations and associations had sent him cups and plaques. It was absolutely amazing to see the number of things people had sent to him. I had seen him play seven years before in Glasgow and knew how good he was but it really dawned on me at that point what a big personality he was. The main thing was that on the night we were absolutely brilliant and wee Jimmy gave their left-back an absolute doing. He went towards him near the end and the guy held his hands up and just said, ‘no’, as he had been beaten every way possible. Although there was some initial resistance to going to Spain, it was one of the best things we ever did.

    Celtic 4-0 Rangers, Scottish Cup final, Hampden, April 26, 1969

    In the 1969 Scottish Cup final we got the chance to avenge being beaten by them three years earlier and it worked out brilliantly on the day. On the morning of the game, I had gone down to breakfast and Jock Stein was sitting at a table. When I came in, he looked up and said, ‘Cairney I have something to show you here’, and he lifted up the paper and flicked it towards me. He then said, ‘read McKenzie and then stuff it down his throat later on’. I picked it up and he had written that Orjan Persson who was playing left-wing for Rangers would be too quick for me. I was quicker than him with the ball and certainly without the ball. One thing he couldn’t afford to do was go down the line as I would catch him. So that was me set up for the day. There was a huge crowd there on a beautiful afternoon and it was the happiest dressing room I had been in at half-time as we were 3-0 up. Jock Stein said just be careful when you go out there again as they would be determined to come back and he was met with a burst of laugher. That’s true. There was no chance they were coming back. We all knew we had them. Willie Johnston and I get criticised for not liking one another but we got on fine off the park and he told me nine years later that they were shell-shocked at half-time and we had won it by then. We knew that. To beat your great rivals like that in the showpiece for Scottish football was fantastic. Winning the league is probably the more important thing nowadays but sometimes you win it several games before the end and there is no finale. In a cup final, however, it’s the final game of the competition and you are on a stage. It’s a big day in your life to play in an event like that. 

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