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But of course he was mortal

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Stein Herrera half time
Caption this, Stein and Herrera at half time in Lisbon.

“John, you’re immortal”, but of course he was mortal. Bill Shankly’s words from 1967 recorded the moment Jock Stein went from being merely a successful football manager into the greatest icon the Scottish game will ever have, but 30 years ago today, Jock’s mortality came as a shock to the world. A massive heart-attack, while managing Scotland at a World Cup qualifier at Ninian Park, Cardiff, ended the story of Jock Stein, aged 62.

He was 29 before he arrived at Celtic Park as a player after a career with Albion Rovers and Llanelli Town. By all accounts he was a decent central defender and a more than decent leader on the park. He quickly became vice-captain, then captain, and in 1954 led Celtic to their first double in 40 years, and their first league title in 16 years. Injury forced him out of the game as a 33-year-old. Celtic gave him a job coaching the reserve team, where he would work with some future Lisbon Lions.

In 1961, a year after becoming Dunfermline manager, he led them to their first Scottish Cup, beating Celtic in the final. In four years he transformed Dunfermline from the bottom of the table team he inherited, into a team who recorded astonishing victories in European football.

A meritocratic year at Hibernian then followed, at least part of which he spent discussing his future with Celtic chairman, Bob Kelly, before Kelly made one of the most inspired decisions in sport and offered Jock the Celtic manager’s job.

The rest, is literally history. In 13 years he took 10 league titles, winning all of his first nine. In his first five seasons he only lost three of 15 domestic trophies, but most important of all, in May 1967, his Celtic team became the first British club to reach, and then win, a European Cup final.

That European Cup win was enough in itself, but the manner of the win would mean Stein’s legend grew far wider than it otherwise would. Opponents Inter Milan were the most dominant team in the game. They were going for their third European Cup in four years and their fourth Italian title in five.

Celtic blew them away. It was the most comprehensive single goal victory in sport. The Italians were exhausted at the end, having defended 43 attempts at goal, seldom managing to cross the halfway line. The underdogs had triumphed, Celtic were instantly respected and adored across Europe, while Stein was viewed as having almost mystical powers.

So what did he really achieve? The Celtic you know today would be unrecognisable without him. Had he stayed at Hibs, they could be a bigger club than Celtic today. Our decades in the wilderness, which started in the 1920s, would have continued into the 70s and who knows thereafter. His gift to you, is Celtic. That’s why his statue is outside the ground.

It wasn’t all sweetness and light. Stein was a hard authoritarian, consistent with the style of the time. Football also caught up with him. Those first five years at Celtic, five league titles, five League Cups, two Scottish Cups, two European Cup finals, European semi-finalists a remarkable three times, were imperious, but some lights went out after losing to Feyenoord in the 1970 European Cup final.

After a fifth place finish in 1978 Celtic decided to sack Jock, offering him a position on the board, which he initially accepted but only later realised his responsibilities would be limited to Celtic Pools.

Football is a results business and looking back, the decision to sack The Big Man in 1978, should not be regarded as controversial. I certainly remember many Celtic fans of the era questioning his decisions, but the way the termination was handled was shoddy. Stein had lost his mentor, then Sir Robert Kelly, seven years earlier, while the pick of his second team, Hay, Macari and Dalglish, were sold for huge fees which were never invested in the squad. Or the stadium, training facilities or anything else an aspiring football club would invest in.

He grabbed the first offer out of Kerrydale St, but only 44 days later couldn’t wait to leave Leeds United to take up the Scotland job, where he returned to his earlier form. That night in Cardiff, Scotland stood on the verge of qualification for their fourth successive World Cup, two of which were under Stein.

The nation watched him being carried into the Ninian Park tunnel live on television. Even then, no one expected him to die.  We thought Jock was immortal.

 

Foundation call: Walfrid and Directors’ Box hospitality, thanks to Intelligent Car Leasing, ebay auction here. More on this tomorrow.

SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Apologies for server problems over the last couple of days, I’m on it….

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  1. macjay1 for Neil Lennon on

    Said Jock to Helenio.

     

    Caption……..

     

     

    ” You can stick yer catenachio up yer ………..”

  2. Yes the greatest manager of our time…Big Jock.

     

     

    Or just one word and you know who your speaking of STEIN

     

     

    Ayrshire is Green and White

  3. Paul67 –

     

     

    “SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Apologies for server problems over the last couple of days, I’m on it…. –

     

     

    ———

     

     

    Well get off it then. That’s probably why it’s under so much strain :-)

     

     

    Do you not have a chair to sit on instead?

  4. macjay1 for Neil Lennon on

    SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Apologies for server problems over the last couple of days, I’m on it….

     

     

    A minor fault in a humanitarian service .

     

     

    No apology required.

     

    :-)

  5. Paul67

     

     

    Always thought it was Bill Shankly who uttered those words to Jock in the Estadio Nacional dressing room?

  6. The Battered Bunnet on

    Finally found a little time this past couple of weeks to read MacPherson’s biography of Stein. Much of it has been disseminated widely since it was first published, but a number of matters were new to me, and doubtless more to come as I’m only at 1970.

     

     

    For example, Bob Kelly’s first offer to Stein was as Assistant to Sean Fallon. Stein kindly declined the offer.

     

     

    Kelly came back with a “co-manager” suggestion. Again KB-ed.

     

     

    MacPherson is pretty clear that while Kelly wanted Stein, there was significant opposition from the Board on the basis of Stein’s background. Kelly was trying to manage politics as well as a football team. Whatever plaudits each man is due, we oughtn’t escape the fact that Stein’s religion was a considerable barrier to him getting the job, and each contributed to a sea-change at Celtic in their own ways.

     

     

    Another, perhaps equally notable and lesser discussed matter is an incident during a match against Bari during the US tour of 1970. The first half was played in a wholly aggressive manner, with players trading punches and all manner of unsporting behaviour. At half time, Stein launched himself into the opposition dugout and battered 3 shades of the proverbial out of the Bari manager.

     

     

    He then skyed the park and caught a flight home, missing the second half, which was abandoned due to the continuing violence on the pitch.

     

     

    A few of the players had a ‘wee night out’ in Kearney afterwards, leading to two being sent home in disgrace and others heavily fined. There’s no record of what, if any, disciplinary action Jock took against himself though.

     

     

    Good book, enjoying it, painting as it does a fallible man doing remarkable things in the Game, and bringing to light some lesser known aspects of a Giant of the Game.

  7. Afternoon Timland from a hot hun free mountain valley.

     

    Paul67

     

    DeJa vu

     

    ” Stein had lost his mentor, then Sir Robert Kelly, seven years earlier, while the pick of his second team, Hay, Macari and Dalglish, were sold for huge fees which were never invested in the squad. Or the stadium, training facilities or anything else an aspiring football club would invest in.”

     

    HH

  8. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    “Had he stayed at Hibs, they could be a bigger club than Celtic today.”

     

    ———

     

    Crikey, Paul. Fair puts things in perspective when you put it like that.

     

    Very good tribute by the way.

     

    Thank you Jock.

  9. Terrific article. I remember that night well. Live football on TV was still a real treat. Watched the game at my Gran’s, got home and the family sat up till we heard the news that he had died.

     

     

    Mortal, briefly. Immortal, absolutely.

  10. Bill and Bob were brothers of course…but it was Bill who uttered the ‘immortal’ words. And it’s true. I still see him every other week outside Celtic Park…and we are still talking about him. Jock was and still is the greatest Celtic manager ever.

  11. In late(?) 1964 Big Jock was approached by a well-known fitba journo who asked him, allegedly, if he would be interested in the Wolves job.

     

     

    At the time they were one of the top English sides.

     

     

    Apparently Bob Kelly got word of this and shortly thereafter offered him the Celtic job.

     

     

    HH!!

  12. lennon’s passion on 10th September 2015 12:29 pm

     

     

    So far, proving to be a better manager than the man in your moniker.

  13. “Haw, listen, Helenio, ah’m tellin’ ye, they’ll go bust within 50 years ae us winnin’ this the day!”

  14. Caption this, Stein and Herrera at half time in Lisbon.

     

     

    (Hey you is that broon brogues and an Armani suit, that’s no gonna help you in the second half YA DOBBER.)

     

     

    HH

  15. Big Jock was before my time. just.

     

     

    If there’s an accolade that goes beyond the over used ‘legend’ then he is it.

     

     

    Thanks.

     

     

    HH

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