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  • Happy 82nd Birthday to Stevie Chalmers

    Happy 82nd Birthday to Stevie Chalmers

    By: Paul Cuddihy on 26 Dec, 2017 10:01

  • WHILE Christmas Day is the main focus of festive celebrations, in the Chalmers household, Boxing Day is just as special, and today Stevie Chalmers celebrates his 82nd birthday.

    The Celtic legend is one of our greatest ever goalscorers and the man who scored the most important goal in the club’s history, and the whole Celtic Family wishes Stevie a very happy birthday.

    Stevie scored 231 goals for Celtic during a 12-year career with the club, making him the fourth top goalscorer of all-time. Only Henrik Larsson (242), Bobby Lennox (277) and Jimmy McGrory (468) have scored more goals for Celtic.

    Yet that trio of legends can’t claim to have score the single most important goal in Celtic’s history. Stevie Chalmers can. It came on Thursday, May 25, 1967 at the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon. With just five minutes of the European Cup final remaining, Chalmers knocked home a Bobby Murdoch shot into the Inter Milan net to give Celtic a 2-1 victory and ensuring they became the first club from Northern Europe to lift the prestigious trophy.

    It was the crowning glory for the club, the manager, the group of players he assembled and, of course, for the supporters who, just two years before, had seen their side finish eighth in the league. It also ensured that Stevie Chalmers’ name will forever be remembered by Celtic fans.

    ‘It didn’t immediately hit me just how important that goal was when I scored it,’ Chalmers admitted in his autobiography, The Winning Touch. ‘You don’t want to think about it too much until the game’s finished.’

    If Lisbon was the pinnacle, then there were many other highlights for the forward who had made his debut as far back as 1959. He netted a league hat-trick against Rangers, the last Celt to do so up to 2015; only Bobby Lennox in the Glasgow Cup and Harry Hood in the League Cup have matched that feat. Chalmers also scored in the 1969 Scottish Cup final, hit five goals in a game against Hamilton, when Lennox also scored five that night, and was top scorer in four seasons.

    Many supporters have, down through the years, visited the famous stadium in Lisbon where history was made, standing on the spot where Chalmers connected with the ball, or re-enacting that moment. Only one man did it for real, and it accorded him legendary status.

    Like so many that had come before him, Stevie Chalmers’ pathway to Paradise came via the Garngad. As the area had produced the great Jimmy McGrory, Chalmers had a lot to live up to but soon caught the eye of Celtic after a fruitful junior career during which he turned out for the likes of Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and Ashfield. His arrival at Celtic in the February of 1959, coincided with the emergence of youngsters such as Billy McNeill and John Clark who would soon be joined by the likes of Jimmy Johnstone, John Hughes and Tommy Gemmell, a group who were given the moniker of the Kelly Kids after the then Celtic chairman Robert Kelly, and would form the spine of Celtic’s most successful ever team.

    Recalling his pre-Celtic years, Chalmers said: ‘An early memory that I have of Celtic which immediately comes to mind is as a junior player at Rob Roy. One of our league games had just finished and they announced over the tannoy that the result from the League Cup final was Rangers 1 Celtic 7. There was a stunned silence and I could hardly believe it myself. I was a Celtic supporter, but the club I was playing for couldn’t be described as ‘Celtic-minded’ so I think the result shocked a few people that day. I still remember that announcement as clear as day and the looks on a few people’s faces. That was in 1957 and two years later, I had joined the club myself.’

    Stevie Chalmers’ first start would see him take to the field against Partick Thistle in the spring of 1959 where the 23-year-old’s tireless running soon lit up the Celtic support. Described as a raw talent in the first team, he had all the attributes of a world-class striker, such as the ability to set up goals as well as score them. Indeed, this attribute and understanding of the game, allowed him to bring other players into the game – a skill that would be greatly utilised following the arrival of Jock Stein.

    In his autobiography, Chalmers admitted: ‘It’s a funny thing, but it was not until my second game for Celtic, which took place six months after my debut, that I felt as if I truly arrived. A lot of that was because it was an away match, against Fife side Raith Rovers at Starks Park … Travelling on the bus alongside several Celtic greats of the 1950s, such as Bobby Evansm Bertie Peacock and Neilly Mochan, with them all having me on about different things and having a great laugh, albeit at my expense, made me feel great. It made me feel as though I was among people who really wanted me to be there.

    ‘I also scored two goals, which always helps, in a 3-0 win. I enjoyed that game a lot more than my debut. I felt as though I was much more integrated into the scene, and the team. It felt, to me, like my first real start at Celtic Park.’

    The absolute highlight for Stevie Chalmers, along with his team-mates, came on May 25, 1967, with the European Cup triumph in Lisbon. He won a total of 15 trophies with Celtic, and was in the team which lifted the Scottish Cup in 1965, the club’s first trophy under Jock Stein. He scored 231 goals for the club, and he was the last player to net a league hat-trick against Rangers, the treble coming on January 3, 1966 in a 5-1 derby demolition. He was also part of the Celtic team which swept their Glasgow rivals aside in the 1969 Scottish Cup final to secure a domestic treble. Yet, for the striker, it always comes right back to Lisbon and that goal.

    Reflecting on the events of May 1967, Chalmers said: ‘That goal has brought me nothing but happiness; it has had nothing other than good effects for me. It meant a lot to my family too in the immediate aftermath; my brothers and sisters would go into work and people would congratulate them on my action. My only tinge of regret is that my father never got to see it; he had passed away shortly before we got to the final in Lisbon. It would have been lovely for him to see that.’

    The 12 years Stevie Chalmers spent at Paradise can be characterised around the central figure of Jock Stein. Prior to the manager’s arrival he and Celtic had struggled to turn their ability on the field into trophies, with Chalmers often cutting a lonesome figure up front. Chalmers would remark how frustrating it was to see Celtic run like a ‘small business’ during this time, with often only two footballs provided for training. There were disappointing league campaigns, poor cup runs and occasional final defeats. That would only change with the arrival of Stein in 1965. The lowest point of Chalmers’ time at Paradise was the broken leg sustained in the 1969 League Cup final against St Johnstone - an injury that all but ended his Celtic career.

    Like so many of the Lisbon Lions, Chalmers’ time at Celtic would come to a gradual end as the emergence of the Quality Street Gang soon challenged the first-team regulars at Paradise. As he battled back from a broken leg, the striker would have to contend with competition from the likes of Vic Davidson, Lou Macari, and a young Kenny Dalglish for a striking starting berth. In typical fashion though, Chalmers the hero of Lisbon would sign off from the Bhoys in typical goal-scoring form against Clyde in a league encounter at Celtic Park in May 1971. It was the Lions’ last stand as they defeated their neighbours 6-1.

    Recalling that occasion, Chalmers said: ‘Celtic Park was packed that day – Jock’s announcement of the final collective appearance had doubled the crowd for what had otherwise been something of a dead rubber … We were 5-1 ahead and the game was coursing towards its conclusion when Tommy McCulloch, the Clyde goalkeeper, saved my shot from inside the six-yard box but failed to gather the ball. I followed up to put the rebound into the net. It was surely fitting that the scorer of the winner in Lisbon should also net the final goal for the Lions … I had scored in what proved to be my final league match for Celtic, even if I did not know it at the time.’

    Stevie Chalmers would attempt to continue his football career as he left Celtic by taking up a player/coach position with Morton before finally hanging up his boots at Partick Thistle. During his time at Cappielow, he was reunited with his former Lisbon Lions team-mate, John Clark.

    He said: ‘When Jock sent me down to Greenock to play with Morton, I was taking all the training with John Clark and we had to play as well, but I realised then I couldn’t keep myself fit while I was trying to keep other people fit. I couldn’t do the two at once and it came back on me. It seemed hard, but the hardest thing was leaving Celtic in the first place. No disrespect to Morton, but leaving Celtic Park to go to Cappielow was hard for me.’

    Stevie Chalmers’ first steps on his pathway to Paradise were influenced by father, David, who was his idol. Having started his career at Celtic but not made a first-team appearance, David Chalmers would go on to turn out for Clydebank. It was during this time that he would take to the field alongside Jimmy McGrory, who was on loan at the club, allowing the young Chalmers to be brought up with countless stories about the skills of the Celtic legend.

    He recalled: ‘My Father, David, was a professional footballer and he, very quietly, was always there to help me. He taught me how to kick the ball and trap the ball and I always remember that he used to take me up to Springburn Park and would place the ball and try and hit the crossbar. He was quite accurate at it and he encouraged me to practice and do the same. He played for Clydebank, back when they were more of a prominent senior team and he actually played alongside Jimmy McGrory. My Dad was a major influence on my career and I had always wanted to play football, I never really wanted to do anything else.’

    The winning goal in Lisbon may have seemed, to some observers, an opportunistic chance by a striker inside the box. It was not. Instead, it was the result of countless hours of practice on Celtic’s training ground, as Bobby Lennox explained: ‘Stevie scoring the winning goal in the European Cup final is my outstanding memory of him. It was the type of goal he had scored a thousand times in training, and while it might have looked as though Stevie just luckily got his toe to it, it was no surprise to any of us that Stevie had been the one to put the ball in the net. He was expert at knowing just how to get into the right spot and get that vital touch on a ball – that was the result of years of practice.’

    There have been very few players to have netted a hat-trick in a derby match against Rangers, and each treble is remembered in its own right. When Stevie Chalmers achieved it on January 3, 1966, it was the first hat-trick by a Celt against the Ibrox club since Malky MacDonald did so in 1938.

    Stevie Chalmers said of his derby treble: “Scoring a hat-trick is great for a striker but managing it against Rangers was a wee bit special and I’m amazed that it hasn’t been repeated since then. I know there’s been a couple in cup competitions – wee Bobby in the Glasgow Cup and then Harry in the League Cup – but it’s been a long time in the league. It’s something that really stands out because it has been so long and I’m quite surprised that Henrik Larsson never managed it.’


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