LISBON LION Tommy Gemmell was one of the most colourful and flamboyant characters in football during his Celtic heyday.
The goalscoring full-back was immortalised when he swung back his mighty right boot to thump a ferocious drive into the Inter Milan net to throw Jock Stein’s side a lifeline in the unforgettable European Cup Final in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
The Parkhead side had huffed and puffed in their quest for an equaliser for over an hour before Gemmell’s famous breakthrough strike. It set the scene for Stevie Chalmers’ late winner as the Hoops made history as the first UK team to conquer Europe.
The irrepressible Celtic great, who sadly passed away at the age of 73 on March 2 2017, also had a tale or two to tell during his days as a Scotland international.
Gemmell revealed all to his long-standing friend and author Alex Gordon in his best-selling autobiography, ‘All The Best‘, which was published by CQN in 2014.
I SCORED over sixty goals for Celtic – not all of them penalty-kicks, I hasten to add – and that’s not bad going for a left-back.
However, while I was playing for Scotland, I only netted two. Embarrassingly, one of them was in my own net! And, even worse, it was against my old mate Ronnie Simpson.
Honestly, you don’t need comedy scriptwriters in football. We’re all masters of improvisation. So, how did it come about? Sadly, I can’t even blame the conditions at Hampden on that sunny Wednesday evening of May 10 1967 when we faced the USSR.
Our opponents didn’t need a helping hand with players such as Albert Shesternev – known as ‘Big Al’ during the World Cup Finals in England the previous year – Josif Sabo, Valerij Veronin, Igor Chislenko and Eduard Malofeyev in the team.
They also had one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time gracing Glasgow that night, the legendary Lev Yashin, known as the Black Octopus. He was the first goalie to wear an all-black kit that so many others copied in the sixties. Octopus? Well, he seemed to have more arms than was considered the norm.
WALLOP…Tommy Gemmell thunders a penalty-kick past Rangers keeper Erik Sorensen at Ibrox.
Yashin was at the veteran stage at that time and it must have been a rare occasion when my old mate Ronnie wasn’t the oldest man on the pitch. Ronnie was 36 and his Soviet counterpart was a year his senior.
Well, how did my mishap occur? Good question. I blame Ronnie! Only 16 minutes had been played when I was tidying things up at the back. The game had started off at a genteel pace and maybe I was a bit slow to get into the flow.
Anyway, without even looking over my shoulder, I turned to flick a high pass back to our keeper.
Imagine my horror, then, when I heard a howl from the Hampden terracings and I swiftly looked round. Ronnie, for whatever reason, had wandered onto his 18-yard line. I turned to see our keeper scampering back trying to catch the ball as it sailed serenely into our net.
BEST OF FRIENDS…Tommy Gemmell and Ronnie Simpson stride onto the Wembley pitch before the 3-2 win over England in April 1967, but a month later at Hampden there was a little misunderstanding between the iconic duo.
I looked at Ronnie and said, ‘Why didn’t you give me a shout? Why weren’t you on your line?’
Ronnie was always good at returning fire. ‘Why the hell didn’t you look where you were putting the ball?’
Thankfully, the man known as Faither was never a big curser. Mind you, he might not have been too delighted when I said, ‘Faither? You should be known as Grandfaither after that goal!’
It didn’t get any better when Fedor Medved netted another just before the interval and that’s the way the scoreline finished. We had beaten England 3-2 at Wembley the previous month and, quite possibly, we had gone well into overtime overindulging that success.
I also had to face the wrath, not only of Ronnie, but also another five of my Celtic colleagues who had figured in the game – Billy McNeill, John Clark, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and Willie Wallace.
THREE CHEERS…Billy McNeill, Ronnie Simpson and Tommy Gemmell before the kick-off in Lisbon on the historic evening of May 25 1967.
We all had better fortune, I seem to remember, in a club game that was played in Portugal 15 days later.
At the end of the match, there was the usual scrum of newspaper reporters waiting to talk to the players. They selected me for the main question.
They chorused, ‘What on earth were you thinking about at the own goal?’
I had to think fast. I answered, ‘I looked up and saw an old guy coming out of goal and I thought it was Lev Yashin, so I decided to lob him.’
I don’t think anyone bought into that.
* TOMORROW: The day a Lisbon Lion prevented a Rangers star from scoring for Scotland. Don’t miss more EXCLUSIVE international revelations from Tommy Gemmell.