IN THE HEAT OF LISBON (AND MILAN!)…
“Why it’s Big Tommy Gemmell, of course,” grinned Alfie, eyes twinkling. “That’s the player who will win it for Celtic. Who scored Celtic’s first-ever goal in the European Cup? Tommy Gemmell against Zurich. Who was the first player to score three goals in the competition? Tommy Gemmell when he got another two in the second leg in Switzerland. Technically, not a hat-trick, of course, but still a notable achievement for a left-back. Remember, too, only one of those efforts was from a penalty-kick. Who set up the vital equalising goal in the quarter-final against Vojvodina while they were leading 1-0 with only half-an-hour so to go? It was Tommy Gemmell who slung over the cross from the left that saw Stevie Chalmers get the equaliser and that paved the way for Caesar’s winner.”
He paused and beamed again.
“You seem to know an awful lot about our big defender, don’t you? Anything else you would like to add?”
“Well, have you forgotten who sent the ball out of defence to land at Wispy’s feet for him to lob the Dukla Prague goalkeeper for our second goal at Parkhead? Tommy Gemmell, of course.”
“I’m greatly impressed, sir,” said the inquisitor. “When you put it like that, it’s easy to see why you would go for Big Tam. Aye, good luck with that. We’ll all keep an eye on his performance today.”
Alfie drained the last of his water and prepared to leave the bar. His wife finished her lemonade and she, too, rose to her feet. “There’s a nice little taverna up the road,” said Alfie. “Better get the wife a bite to eat before we head for the stadium. Great talking to you, lads, and I hope you are all celebrating tonight. Mark my words, Tommy Gemmell can swing this game for us.”
The supporters toasted the couple as they headed for the door. “Certainly knows his Tommy Gemmell,” said one admirer.
As Alfie and Margaret made their way across to the eaterie, the wife looked admiringly at her husband and laughed: “Do you think we should have told them we’re Tommy’s mum and dad?”
The street urchins were especially pleased to welcome the garishly-attired groups to their city. They would perch around the corners of the bars when the plonk was going down by the tidal wave. The combination of cheap wine and persistent sunshine would often bring on an unscheduled afternoon nap to the imbibing visitor. The unsuspecting, drowsy individual would stir from his unrehearsed stupor to often find his scarf had been removed. The sneak thieves had been at work. The opportunistic and mischievous youths realised the green and white colours of Celtic perfectly matched those of Sporting Lisbon. The garments would then change hands for a few escudos. What a friend gets is no loss, right?
But in the midst of the hurrahs there is always heartache, so please spare a thought for a nineteen-year-old Paisley lad who thought he was in with a chance of getting a place with his work’s team on their flight to Lisbon. He believed he was guaranteed a ticket, too. The Celtic-crazy youngster, seen as an emerging talent, recalled: “I knew the team manager had plans to take some of the younger players to Portugal to give them some experience of football at that level.
“You could say I was just a wee bit excited at that prospect. Sadly, it was not to be, though. The travelling squad was announced and my name wasn’t on the list. I had left it too late to make travel arrangements or even get a ticket, so the next best thing was to watch it on the television. But I would have given everything to have been there to sample the atmosphere first hand.”
Eventually, a youthful Davie Hay got over his disappointment and even played in the European Cup Final for his beloved Celtic three years later in Milan, but that is a completely different story, of course. And it is one that still rankles with a man who went onto become manager of the club.
“My good friend Davie Cattenach was in both squads for Lisbon and Milan,” recalls the likeable Hay. “Davie was a handy guy to have around, but, unfortunately for him, didn’t play in either final. However, he has always insisted the difference in the club’s attitude – from Big Jock through to the players – was night and day. Everything seemed so much more relaxed before the game against Feyenoord in the San Siro. Obviously, I can’t talk about Lisbon, but my mate has always said the anticipation and preparation were very different for both finals.
“Yes, I’ve heard it said we might have been a bit complacent against the Dutch. Possibly, we thought we had done the hard job by beating Leeds United home and away in the semi-final. Against Inter Milan, Celtic were underdogs. Against Feyenoord, we were odds-on favourites and, as we all know, the bookies rarely got it wrong. Whatever the reason, that was without a doubt the worst memory of my playing career. We never got started and were turned over by a team that showed a lot more hunger on the night.
“Yet it all kicked off so well when Big Tommy rammed in the opener in typical fashion, a blistering shot from just outside the box. Rinus Israel equalised for them within two minutes and that shook us a bit. If we had held on to our lead until the interval I’m sure we would have done so much better in the second-half. Mind you, we were only two minutes or so from the end of extra-time and were still level when Ove Kindvall scored their winning goal. Believe me, if we had taken that game to a replay we would have won. No-one in the team that night will tell you differently. We were caught with our guard down and Feyenoord, in fairness, were a much better team than we expected.
“Evan Williams was our top performer against the Dutch. When was a Celtic goalkeeper our best player? That just didn’t happen because the action was, more often than not, down at the other end of the pitch. There was a strange atmosphere in the ground, too. You could hardly hear our support because of the klaxons that were being used by the Dutch fans. I had never witnessed these things before and they just drowned out our fans. All in all, it was a truly awful experience.”
However, turning the clock back three years to Lisbon as the fans headed towards the Estadio Nacional, one carload was treated to a spontaneous rendering of the famous Sam Cooke song from the Fifties, “They Try To Tell Us We’re Too Young”. It was coming from the coach in front and Hughie Cumming, a veteran of The Jungle, recalled: “The bus was rocking from side to side and most of the windows were open. We could hear the words quite clearly. We were singing along when a pal pointed to one of the warblers on the bus. I had to rub my eyes. It was Jimmy Johnstone. He was giving it pelters and everyone else was joining in. There wasn’t long to go until kick-off time and we thought the players would already be at the stadium. But while we were stuck in traffic, I would have paid good money for that concert.”
Has time lent enchantment once more to a faulty memory bank? Tommy Gemmell has the answer. “Jinky used to lead off all the sing-songs back then. I think me wee pal was a frustrated Cliff Richard, but, yes, that would have been us. Jinky picked the songs and we just followed the bouncing ball. To be honest, I can’t recall if we belted out “They Try To Tell Us We’re Too Young” or not, but it would have been a distinct possibility. The fans didn’t expect us just to sing Celtic songs, did they? We did that in the tunnel before the game and frightened the hell out of Inter Milan. They looked at us and thought we were a collection of nutcases! And the supporter has got it right – we SHOULD have been at the stadium at that point. Our driver took a couple of wrong turns coming out of Estoril and then we got caught up in the traffic congestion. I believe we made it to the ground just forty-five minutes before the kick-off. It didn’t do us any harm, did it? We weren’t too worried about being a wee bit late; we figured they wouldn’t start without us!”
There is also the story that persists, but no-one will support it, of the Celtic team official who had celebrated just a tad too much after the game on the fizzy stuff. The players were in the coach and eager to get back to the hotel before travelling on to the official function where, after a few hours’ delay, they would be presented with their medals. One snag – there appeared to be no sign of the driver. “I’ll drive,” offered the beaming official. Thankfully, before he created any foreign incident, motoring offence or got anywhere near the wheel of the vehicle, the driver materialised and was thrust into his seat with extreme haste by another of the boardroom elite.
The history books show goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers wiped out a first-half penalty-kick from Sandro Mazzola to earn Celtic’s place in the history books. But that was hardly the end of the Lisbon story for many. It was clear that for some fans arrival in the city was the prime objective and the only consideration. Simply put, they hadn’t attempted to budget for the journey home.
The British Consulate in the Portuguese capital also hadn’t prepared for such an eventuality. Such financial recklessness of a visitor to their city would have been unthinkable. Possibly, there may be the odd tourist every few months who may have misplaced or lost a wallet, but the doors of the building almost came off their hinges as their offices were swamped by around one hundred fans without the means of getting out of Lisbon. Those who may have had the insight to secret some cash upon their person for the trip home would have been sorely tempted to splash out on the local cheap wines and give it yahoo with the rest of their fellow-supporters. Many must have given way to the impulse and lived for the day and the moment.
One Consulate executive, his waxed moustache twirling with every syllable, snorted haughtily: “It is bad enough that these people turn up with no money, but some individuals have no trousers, no kilts, no shirts, no vests and no footwear.”
No trousers? No kilts? Sometimes it’s best not to know; ignorance, indeed, can be bliss. Eventually something in the region of £4,000 was “loaned” to those in distress to help them continue on the outward-bound journey of the Great Adventure.
The story goes of a Glaswegian wondering through the glass panelled doors of the immaculate Consulate building and weaving merrily towards a rather prim female sitting at the reception desk. Straightening himself up to his full 5ft 4in, he muttered: “Hey, hen, is this no’ the place where they gie ye the free money?” Her reply is not known.
Another Consulate worker moaned: “I’ve filled in enough forms to wallpaper Buckingham Palace.”
The legacy of Lisbon, of course, is entrenched in football, on and off the field. The victory for Celtic over Inter Milan released the shackles that had threatened to throttle the beautiful game. Suddenly, coaches were aware that teams could be successful while performing in an enchanting, entrancing, entertaining manner. A bright new era followed.
Away from the action, there are still stories being told about the fabulous fanfare when the Celtic supporters came visiting. Can it be true that the mere mention of “Celtic” and “Jeemy Johnstone” in any bar in the vicinity of Lisbon, years later, ensured an extra drop of whisky in your glass?
However, the most prophetic words must go to the Lisbon Chief of Police. He went on record as saying: “The wonderful Celtic fans can come back any time. We have never had so much enjoyment from anyone.”
There is little doubt Lisbon was in its own way the perfect dress rehearsal for the Celtic Movement to Seville thirty-six years later.
FROM SEVILLE – THE CELTIC MOVEMENT from CQN Books. Available at www.cqnbookstore.com
This is chapter 1 and was written by Alex Gordon.