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  • Thursday, May 25, 1967 - the day that history was made in Lisbon

    Thursday, May 25, 1967 - the day that history was made in Lisbon

    By: Paul Cuddihy on 25 May, 2020 09:01

  • AS dawn broke over the Portuguese capital on Thursday, May 25, 1967, the stage was set for Celtic to make history. They would become the first Scottish, British and non-Latin side to lift the European Cup since its inception back in 1955, if they could see off the might of Inter Milan, who had already lifted the trophy twice.

    The competition’s roll of honour was already an impressive one, and Celtic would be in extremely good company if they did win. Real Madrid (6), Benfica (2), Inter Milan (2), AC Milan (1).

    It was also a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic calendar – the Feast of Corpus Christi – and the day began for many of the Celtic players and supporters with Mass before attention turned fully to the game taking place that afternoon. The task for Jock Stein and Sean Fallon was to keep the players relaxed, yet focused on what lay ahead.

    Before too long, however, it was time to head to the Estadio Nacional, and as they boarded the bus which would take them to the game, they spotted Alfredo Di Stefano talking to Jock Stein, the legendary Real Madrid forward having turned up to wish the Hoops good luck; that might have had something to do with the fact he wanted Celtic to be the opposition for his upcoming testimonial match at the beginning of June.

    Bizarrely, the coach driver, having picked up the Celtic squad, initially started driving in the wrong direction, and so the team arrived at the stadium about an hour before kick-off.

    As Bobby Lennox explained in his autobiography, the delay actually worked in Celtic’s favour. ‘Habitually, we would get to the ground a good bit earlier than that, but our latecoming did us good. By the time we had had a walk on the pitch – which was in excellent condition – and got changed, it was time for the match to begin. There was no sitting around and no time for a build-up of nerves.’

    The players had already been acquainted with the Estadio Nacional from their training session at the stadium earlier in the week but now, when they returned, the stadium was full of supporters, many of them having successfully made the journey from Scotland, including family and friends who were there for this momentous occasion.

    Back in the dressing-room, which was divided in two by a shower in the middle which meant that the defenders were changing in one section and the attackers in another, the last few words of encouragement were offered by their manager before the Celtic players made their way across a courtyard to line up alongside the Inter Milan players.

    The tunnel at the Estadio Nacional was actually underground and at one end of the stadium, to the left of one of the goals, and the players would emerge out of the ground and into the searing Lisbon heat before walking across the pitch to the centre-circle.

    It is built into the legend of Lisbon that, while both teams were lined up that tunnel, seeing the sun shine down the stairs and drawing them towards the arena where battle would commence for the greatest prize in club football, they were eyeing each other up. Well, the Celtic players were, observing the pristine, well-groomed appearance of their Italian counterparts, stern, focused, like catalogue models.

    It took the Glaswegian gallusness of Bertie Auld to puncture the aura of superiority that was beginning to take root in the tunnel when he burst into the opening lines of The Celtic Song. He was quickly followed by the rest of his team-mates, their voices strong, proud and confident bouncing off the walls and bemusing the Inter players. They would never have encountered anything like it before.

    Whether it unnerved them or made them think they were facing a team of jokers is not known, but Auld’s impromptu singalong dispelled what vestiges of nerves remained in the Celtic squad. They were ready for the game and, more importantly, they were ready to win.

    It was Inter who got the game underway and the 10,000 Celtic supporters in the Estadio Nacional, and the millions watching or listening around the globe offered up one final prayer for the cause.

    The early exchanges between the sides did not necessarily give an indication of how the game was going to unfold, given that it was Inter who had the first chance in the match, Sandro Mazzola’s header from the edge of the six-yard box well saved by Ronnie Simpson.

    However, Jimmy Johnstone was proving a handful for the Inter defence, despite having a constant shadow wherever he was in the pitch in the shape of Tarcisio Burgnich, the full-back given the thankless task of trying to stop Celtic’s No.7. First, Johnstone had a left-foot shot before his header from a Lennox cross was saved by Giuliano Sarti in the Inter goal, which produced the first corner of the game.

    Those chances were encouraging for Jock Stein’s side but on seven minutes disaster struck when West German referee, Kurt Tschenscher, gave the Italians a penalty, deeming a challenge by Jim Craig inside the box on Renato Cappellini to have been an illegal one. 

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    Sandro Mazzola, Inter’s experienced and prolific striker, duly stepped up and rolled the ball coolly into the right-hand corner of the net as Ronnie Simpson dived to his left. Given Inter Milan’s skill in deploying Catennacio to defend slender leads, it certainly wasn’t how Jock Stein would have wanted the game to pan out, but the loss of the early goal did not deter or deflate Celtic.

    Instead, it only served to galvanise the Scottish champions, who launched wave after wave of attacks on the Inter goal, though finding their opponents’ defence and, in particular, goalkeeper Sarti, to be impregnable foes.

    Half-time saw Inter disappear back below ground at the tunnel with their one-goal lead still intact, while the Celtic players would have wondered just how they could break down the Inter defence and get back into the match. Jock Stein was pleased with his side’s first-half performance, and encouraged his men to continue in a similar vein in the second forty-five minutes, telling the players he sensed Inter Milan were wilting and that it was only a matter of time before the equaliser came.

    It duly arrived just after the hour mark – sixty-two minutes to be exact – and it was the two Celtic full-backs who combined, with Jim Craig sliding a pass across into the path of Tommy Gemmell who blasted home a shot from the edge of the Inter box in to the top corner of the net, leaving the excellent Sarti with absolutely no chance of stopping it.

    Celtic were level and while the players celebrated the goal with a visible determination to press home their advantage, the Inter players looked drained. They had managed to stem the Celtic tide up until this point, but having lost one goal, it looked as though they realised the game, and the European Cup, was slipping away from their grasp.

    Still, Celtic continued to attack without getting a second goal, but just as it looked as though extra-time was looming, Stevie Chalmers scored what proved to be the winning goal, and the most important in the history of Celtic, nudging home a Bobby Murdoch shot with five minutes of the match remaining.

    The players celebrated, Jock Stein and the Celtic bench celebrated on the touchline, the Celtic fans in the Estadio Nacional hugged and kissed friends and strangers, and all across the world, Celtic supporters jumped for joy. The team formed by Irish immigrants to raise money to help alleviate poverty in the East End of Glasgow were now on the verge of becoming the best team in Europe.

    A tense, nervous five minutes followed, but the full-time whistle brought scenes of jubilation in the stadium as Celtic fans leapt over the moat which surrounded the pitch and flocked on to what was now hallowed turf to celebrate with the players.

    While the only statistic that ultimately matters in any game of football is the final scoreline, the match statistics for the 1967 European Cup final do tell of Celtic’s domination, where the scoreline might suggest to anyone who hasn’t seen the game that it was a closely-fought affair.

    Celtic had a total of 45 shots, to Inter Milan’s 3, with 16 of those shots on target to Inter’s 3. Celtic also had 29 shots off target which included three which hit the woodwork. Jock Stein’s side enjoyed 64% possession, while they had 10 corners to Inter’s grand total of 0. They also delivered 40 crosses into the Inter penalty area, while their opponents managed just 4. Celtic had 310 successful passes, compared to 224 for Inter, while they only passed back 7 times to the goalkeeper (in the days when keepers could pick up the ball from a passback), while Inter made 20 passbacks.

    As Celtic manager Jock Stein famously put it: ‘We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football.’

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