BOBBY LENNOX REMEMBERS LISBON 1967

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BOBBY LENNOX concludes CQN’s exclusive tribute to Celtic’s European Cup heroes by giving his verdict on the team that made history 51 years and seven days ago.

The man known as ‘The Buzz Bomb’ because of his electrifying pace tells his side of the story as it appeared in Alex Gordon’s book, ‘Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary’, which was published by Black and White in 2007. 

 

I RECKON Stevie Chalmers did Inter Milan’s players a massive favour when he stuck that winning goal in their net with only five minutes remaining in Lisbon. Really, the Italians should have overtaken any Celtic player in the race to congratulate Stevie.

If that game had gone to an extra 30 minutes, we would have hammered them, believe me. I am utterly convinced we would have notched up a scoreline that would have embarrassed the Italians. They were out on their feet nearing the end of that wonderful game. They were shattered after chasing shadows for 85 minutes and they didn’t look as though they were up for some of the same in a bout of extra-time.

It would only have been a matter of time before we scored again and the way we were playing that day I don’t think we would have known how to take our foot off the gas. We wouldn’t have had the inclination, either. We would just have kept on going, no matter what the score might have been.

CELEBRATIONS…Bobby Lennox is congratulated by Harry Hood and Jimmy Johnstone after netting another goal.

Their goal had led a somewhat charmed life although, to be fair, their keeper, Giuliano Sarti, should have got some sort of individual medal for his bravery as he kept the scoreline respectable. But even he would have capitulated in the event of another half-hour. He simply couldn’t have replicated his efforts in the regulation time.

So, when Stevie sidefooted that one in from six yards, it put Inter Milan out of their misery. That is not meant to sound big-headed or arrogant. Anyone who knows me will tell you that is certainly not my style. I’m just stating a fact. The Italians were on the verge of collapse. Meltdown was minutes away. I think the stretcher-bearers might have been working overtime during any extra-time period. Thankfully, we didn’t need it.

Our fitness levels in Lisbon were awesome. We were primed and ready to go. The hard work, the preparation, the dedication and the resilience all came together at the right time and we were unstoppable.

Jock Stein always demanded a lot from his players. He never asked anyone to do something he didn’t believe was in their locker, but when he did order you to do something, he expected you to give it your undivided attention and 100 per cent commitment. Our tactics in Lisbon were basically quite simple. He looked at Willie Wallace, Stevie Chalmers and myself and said: “Keep on moving, make runs for the midfielders coming through. Take defenders with you, continue to make space for others.” He might have added: “If you want to chuck in a goal or two, then fine!”

NOT THIS TIME…Bobby Lennox is thwarted by Hearts keeper Jim Cruickshank.

We were a very mobile team. There was a lot of pace about the place and another thing that was very important and must have worried Inter Milan manager Helenio Herrera when he watched us or had his spies looking at us was the fact that the goals were spread throughout the team. The side did not rely on me to score. Or Stevie. Or Wispy.

With the exception of Ronnie Simpson in goal, of course, and John Clark, as our defensive rock, everyone else was capable of getting a goal or two. Tommy Gemmell, to my mind, was an exceptional left-back. He revolutionised that position in our team. Funnily enough, for a guy who was principally a defender, he used to admit he couldn’t tackle too well. He didn’t have to, other teams used to fear him as he bombed forward, threatening to use that mighty right peg of his.

I could go through the team. Jim Craig might not have claimed many goals, but he certainly set up his fair share. Bobby Murdoch could score goals from distance. Billy McNeill was known to get the odd headed goal or two. Bertie Auld knew where the opposition’s net was. Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Wallace, Stevie Chalmers and myself were always good for double figures during the season. If I had been Herrera I would have wondered how to stop this side. The Italians were big fans of man-marking, of course, but how on earth do you man-mark an entire team? Running through that line-up it is still fairly difficult to believe we had played so defensively against Dukla Prague in the Czechoslovakian capital to get to Lisbon in the first place.

I think, after four decades, I am about to become the first man to give Dukla huge credit for how they performed against us. Yes, Big Jock had come up with a strategy that was foreign to all of us and we were going to make sure the backdoor was bolted firmly shut. My pal, the Wee Man, just about played the entire game standing beside Cairney at right-back.

I spent an awful lot of my 90 minutes keeping Big Tommy company over on the left. That’s not exactly how it was planned. Dukla, a fine team, pinned us back for lengthy periods of that game. They took control in front of their own fans and they made a real contest of it. They made it hectic for all of us and we were forced to defend to the very end.

TAKING A REST…even ‘Buzz Bomb’ Bobby Lennox had to take a breather every now and again.

The only guy who wasn’t given any defensive duties that day was Stevie Chalmers. I remember Big Jock telling him: “Chase everything.” And, you know, he did. From start to finish, Stevie put himself about all over the place. The Czech defenders must have hated the sight of him. He never gave them a moment’s rest. He was a one-man forward line. Somehow, it seemed so fitting that Stevie should get the winning goal against Inter. He earned it with his exhausting stint in Prague.

People often ask me what was my favourite goal in that European Cup run. Well, it wasn’t one of mine! As it happens, I only scored two, in both legs of our 6-2 aggregate win over Nantes in the Second Round. Neither, I have to say, was particularly spectacular. However, Big Billy’s winner against Vojvodina Novi Sad was something special altogether. What a thrilling climax to a truly eventful evening.

Naturally, I was overjoyed for all the obvious reasons, but I was also doubly pleased because we had stuck two past their goalkeeper, Ilija Pantelic. I would like to believe I am a fairly easy-going type of bloke, but I really hated that guy. I know making a comment like that is way out of character for me, so please let me explain why I disliked the Vojvodina No.1 so much. In the first leg of our quarter-final in Yugoslavia, I made a challenge for a 50/50 ball as I was quite entitled to do.

JUST CHAMPION…Bobby Lennox is swamped by his Celtic team-mates after his winner against Morton to clnch the 1967/68 league title.

I did it every week in Scottish football and no-one complained. Pantelic didn’t like being disturbed, though. I slid in, my momentum took me forward and the goalkeeper collapsed on top of me as he collected the ball. It certainly wasn’t a foul, but Pantelic wasn’t too happy. He got to his feet and motioned to help me get up, too. It was all very sporting, but if anyone had bothered to take a closer look they would have seen the Slav had a handful of my hair as he ‘helped’ me back up off the ground.

I’ve got a sense of humour, but that was no laughing matter. Mind you, I should get in touch with him just in case he still possesses clumps of my hair – I could do with it now!

I know all the other Lions rated Vojvodina and I did, too. I wasn’t a huge fan of the town of Novi Sad, though, that’s for sure. It’s pretty well-named, if you dropped the Novi. The game was played on March 1 and I’ve got to say that particular part of Yugoslavia isn’t heaven on earth at that time of the year. It was a dreich, dreary place and we were all happy to escape after the match and get home. It certainly made me appreciate Saltcoats a lot more!

We were also fairly satisfied with the result although, of course, it’s never ideal to lose by any margin in Europe against first-rate opposition. However, as we travelled back, we were all convinced we would overturn their one-goal advantage. Me? I just wanted to stick one or two behind a certain Mr.Pantelic to welcome him to Glasgow in no uncertain fashion.

Alas, I didn’t get my wish, but we still beat them and that was the main objective all along. However, if you see footage of our first goal by Stevie Chalmers have a look at what I’m getting up to. I’m right in the goalkeeper’s face and giving it ‘Yahoo!’. Normally, I would run to the goalscorer to offer my congrats and give him a pat on the head, but I just couldn’t help myself for making a beeline to their crestfallen keeper and letting him know exactly how I felt.

I’m sorry, I had to do it. If I was happy then, you can imagine my feeling of sheer elation a minute from time when Big Billy sauntered forward in that manner of his and got his head to Charlie Gallagher’s beautifully-flighted right-wing corner-kick.

My friend Pantelic was caught in no-man’s land as the ball soared high into the net. I kept away from him that time, I didn’t want to push my luck! He was a big guy, after all, and his side had just been sent reeling out of Europe. I must say in his favour, though, we shook hands at the end of the game and he wished me all the best for the rest of the competition. I appreciated that.

HAMPDEN HAPPY DAYS…Bobby Lennox celebrates after scoring against old foes Rangers.

Before Jock Stein returned in March 1965, I had played a few games wide on the left, but he brought me in from the wing and I could never thank him enough for that. I much preferred to play alongside the centre-forward in an effort to try to poach a goal or two. A lot was made of my pace and Big Jock realised I could utilise it more through the middle.

I have to admit I did work on my speed levels and I was a regular visit to the beach at Saltcoats where I would run up and down the sand. Bertie Auld once told me: “See you, Lennox, you would chase paper on a windy day!” I’m not sure if that was a compliment or a complaint. Anyway, I worked on the theory if you could handle running on sand, you could certainly cope with performing on grass. Have you ever tried to race in sand? It’s not easy, believe me.

So, when you were asked to go out and play on a lush, level playing surface it was heaven. Getting out there and getting into your stride on that thoroughly superior pitch of the Estadio Nacional in perfect conditions in Lisbon was just a wee bit different from the sand dunes of the Ayrshire coast.

I scored a few good goals in my career, 273 in in 571 games, in fact, and naturally enough, one of the questions I am often asked is which is my favourite. That’s a difficult one. They were all welcome in their own way, but, searching my memory banks, there are a few that come to mind as being that little bit extra-special. I recall a goal against Aberdeen where I hit my shot with such force that the ball stuck up in the stanchion in the roof of the net. Another that means something to me came against Rangers in a Glasgow Cup-tie at Ibrox in 1966. The tournament might not have been the most prestigious in world football, but that didn’t matter and we were all aching to get at our old rivals to make up for our Scottish Cup Final defeat against them two months earlier.

So, when the Glasgow Cup First Round tie came around, we were well up for it. Big Billy scored the opening goal with a low shot from an angle after Rangers failed to clear a corner-kick. That set the tone for the evening and I was fortunate enough to score three in an emphatic, one-sided 4-0 triumph. The one I recall was our second goal, my first-ever against the Ibrox side. That was memorable enough, but I am glad to say it was a real belter. I got the ball about 35 yards out inside on the right. I just took off, got away from John Greig and hit a left foot effort from the edge of the box. Billy Ritchie had the good grace not to bother even going for it as it rattled high into the roof of the net.

Winning became a good habit back then. I was really enjoying my football and Wee Bertie and I struck up quite a good partnership. With Bertie and Bobby Murdoch feeding me with defence-splitting passes, it would have been criminal not to score so many goals. Both those guys were quality. I liked to run onto the ball and Bertie and Bobby realised that. I always wanted to use my pace. Danny McGrain once said I was born quick. I think I know what he meant. Anyway, there was little point of dropping a pass short to me that would have had me coming out to accept it and then about-turn and head back for goal. Put the ball in front of me and I was off. I knew that the first couple of yards were crucial. If I could get away from a defender there was little chance of him catching me. So, I suppose, I got my fair share of the goals, but, like I said, an awful lot of that was down to the quality service I got from Bertie and Bobby.

It was an absolute pleasure to be in the same side as these guys. Bertie was super confident. I know he meant it when he declared he didn’t care at all about who he was facing in any game. “Let them worry about me,” was Bertie’s message and I don’t suppose that is a bad outlook. Bertie was deceptively fast, you know. He had started his career as an outside-left and speed was a prerequisite to play in that position back then. You might not have noticed how fast Bertie was moving until you realised the defender was going at full pelt beside him and getting left behind.

I loved playing alongside the Wee Man, Jimmy Johnstone. Really, he had it all. He was first-class company off the pitch, too. I’m sure people used to think we were joined at the hip. We always roomed together and that was unusual because Big Jock liked to chop and change to freshen up things, but he never once separated the Wee Man or myself. We were seen as a double-act and we were both happy with that.

I miss him. Of course, Jimmy put in a thoroughly professional 90 minutes in Lisbon, as we all did. As I said right at the start, the Inter Milan players must have been happy to see the back of us that evening. How did I spend my bonus? Very quickly! I came home to get married to Catherine, so by the time we had a honeymoon and bought some bits and bobs for the new Lennox household, that was that. Money well spent, I think you’ll agree.

We deserved to win in Lisbon. After I scored against Motherwell to make sure we won the 1966 league title, our first in 12 years, I recall Big Jock saying: “We mustn’t look to the past at the legends who have gone before us – we must build our own legends.” How prophetic were those words?

HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Celtic team group from the early seventies. Back row (left to right): Davie Hay, Jim Craig, John Hughes, Evan Williams, Billy McNeill, John Fallon, Tommy Gemmell, George Connelly and Tommy Callaghan. Front row: Bobby Murdoch, Jimmy Johnstone, Harry Hood, Bobby Lennox, Stevie Chalmers, Willie Wallace, Bertie Auld, Lou Macari and Jim Brogan.

Yes, it was great to make history in Lisbon. Nothing will ever top that feeling.

I will always remember the referee blowing that final whistle and I just turned round to see who was the nearest team-mate. It was John Clark and we just threw ourselves at each other. Honestly, we were like a couple of schoolkids.

“We’ve won! We’ve won!” We yelled our heads off as Inter Milan players walked disconsolately past us, heads bowed in defeat. Then I remembered my false teeth were in Ronnie Simpson’s cap in the back of his net. I saw all those supporters racing onto the pitch and I suddenly thought: “I better get my teeth!” I ran to Ronnie, picked up my gnashers and the Lennox smile was ready for the cameras.

I do like a happy ending.

 

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