During my studies here in Poland we have spent some time exploring how folk tales can become myths and fables, how fallacies become realities, and how these stories become ingrained and indeed influential in modern day cultures and society.
As a young boy growing up in London, raised by Glaswegian parents, and surrounded by family (my grandfather, aunties, and uncles having also moved down south) originating from Scotland’s finest city, it was not fantasy and fairy tales that captured my imagination. It was the tale of legends. Eleven local Bhoys, led by the immortal Jock Stein, to triumph on the greatest stage of all.
Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.
Their names forever etched into sporting history.
1967. This was not a time when teams from the British Isles dominated European football. From its inception until that sunny day in May, the European Cup had been won by only four sides; Real Madrid, Benfica, Milan, Internazionale.
When Celtic stepped onto the pitch to face Europe’s most formidable defence, most did not give them a chance.
The captivating Bertie Auld recalls those majestical moments in the tunnel, as the Lions prepared to enter the fray, looking across to their dashing, Italian counterparts. The peerless Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone, turned to Bertie and said, “Look Bertie, they’re like film stars.”
His response was simple, “I know, but can they play?”
These eleven Celts were not there to make up the numbers, they lived not in fear of their more experienced and renowned opponents, they believed in their own ability. Their style of play was innovative; a team built on the DNA of playing pure, beautiful, inventive football.
It may not have been until around 35 years after the event that I, at last, got to witness our most celebrated day via my old VHS, but even then, watching for the first time, I was filled with excitement as Celtic bombarded the Inter goal with wave after wave of attack.
Officially the formation was 4-2-4, but with Ronnie Simpson pulling off back heels outside his box, and the full backs continually bursting down the wing, this was a game of complete domination. Inter camped at the edge of their own box.
Their fame and strength was built on holding on to narrow leads. Their defence was believed to be impenetrable. The Catenaccio. A style famous throughout football; synonymous with the Italian art of defending.
Once Inter took an early lead through a 7th minute penalty, most experts would have written Celtic off.
But Lions do not shy away in the face of adversity.
Before the match Jock Stein declared, “Celtic will be the first team to bring the European Cup back to Britain… we are going to attack as we have never attacked before.” And his prophecy was true in every aspect.
The match statistics highlighted Celtic’s attacking supremacy; 42 attempts on goal, with 24 saves made by Giuliano Sarti. Whilst the scoreline didn’t reflect the nature of the game, this was an annihilation.
Once Tommy Gemmell fired in the equaliser there was only ever going to be one winner.
In the heat of Lisbon those eleven local Bhoys, Jock Stein, and Sean Fallon forever became legends.
This is our past, our present, and our future. The Lisbon Lions are eternal.
I grew up on the tales of Jimmy Johnstone tormenting full-backs across Europe, the Bernabau watching in awe as he stole the limelight from Alfredo Di Stefano at his own testimonial.
At home on my shelf sits a vinyl record of Pink Floyds “The Wall”, scribed on the inside is the starting line-up from Lisbon, eleven Lions graffitied by my grandfather onto the cover. These are the moments to be appreciated, to be treasured, to be celebrated.
I was not born when Celtic lifted the European Cup, but that does not stop the 25th May 1967 being the greatest day before my life.