CELTIC PARK was awash with nostalgia on Saturday, May 1 1971 – exactly FIFTY-TWO years ago today.
After making certain of the sixth successive championship, Jock Stein had selected the final game against Clyde as the last hurrah of the Lisbon Lions.
A crowd of 35,000, paying thirty pence admission, turned up at the ground, minus a main stand, for the event. The players, delicately avoiding all sorts of rubble, made their way from the dressing room, down the steps and onto the pitch.
Ronnie Simpson, of course, had already been forced into retirement with his recurring shoulder injury, but he also took a bow before Evan Williams went into goal.
FOLLOW THE KEEPER…Ronnie Simpson makes his last appearance on the pitch at Celtic Park as he leads out the Lisbon Lions on May 1 1971.
THE LIONS’ FINAL FAREWELL…the greatest-ever team in Celtic’s history acknowledge the supporters.
At kick-off time, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Celtic followers realised they were watching the curtain coming down on the club’s most magical line-up, a collection of colourful characters it had been their privilege to witness through the spectacular turnaround during the turbulent sixties and into the seventies.
It was the end of a golden era and, as you might expect, the players said cheerio to the adoring crowd with a fair degree of aplomb.
Bobby Lennox fired in a hat-trick, Willie Wallace added two and, fittingly, Stevie Chalmers, the matchwinner in Portugal four years earlier, added another. The Lions were paraded at the end of the 6-1 victory.
THE GOAL-DEN TOUCH…Stevie Chalmers fires an effort past Clyde keeper Tommy McCulloch.
If the old main stand hadn’t already been razed to the ground, the raucous applause of the fans could have saved the demolition crew the bother of looking out the wrecking ball. The place rocked with raw emotion.
Bertie Auld was lifted onto the shoulders of Billy McNeill and Tommy Gemmell and five days later the thirty-four-year-old midfield man, who had typified the spirit of the club as they re-emerged as a genuine power in the game, was on his way to Hibs on a free transfer.
In the summer, Chalmers, 34, and John Clark, 30, joined Morton and, within a year, Jim Craig, who had just turned twenty-nine, went to South African side Hellenic.
CHEERS – AND CHEERIO…Tommy Gemmell embraces his wee pal Bertie Auld.
Tommy Gemmell, at 28, moved to Nottingham Forest in December for £40,000 which would have been a down payment for his services only four-and-a-half years beforehand. John Hughes, 28, and Willie Wallace, 31, joined Crystal Palace two months ahead of him in a bargain £50,000 double deal.
Auld is among those who is of the belief Jock Stein emptied the dressing room too swiftly.
He said: “I often wonder what would have happened if we had won the European Cup in 1970. I ask because I believe Big Jock was just a bit too hasty in breaking up a team that had been good enough to reach soccer’s summit, beating Leeds United twice along the way, but was dismantled a year later.
BYE BYE, BERTIE…Celtic’s midfield genius Bertie Auld is carried shoulder high by team-mates Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Billy McNeill.
“Some of the lads were still young enough and in their prime to do a turn for the club.
“Look, I know when the time is right to make way for new players and Jock had bought the likes of Harry Hood, Tommy Callaghan and Stevie Murray.
“There was the emerging talent of Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, George Connelly and Lou Macari, among others, coming through from the reserves. Time catches up with everyone, but I still find it difficult to get my head around the fact that so many left over such a short period of time.
“We hadn’t all become duds in the space of twelve months or so.”