BERTIE AULD beams brightly as he rattles through the names of his team-mates in a celebrated Celtic line-up.
But the legendary schemer-in-chief of Jock Stein’s all-conquering team is NOT recalling the remarkable formation which dismantled Inter Milan in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
That, of course, was the unique all-Scottish assembly which became the first British team to triumph in the European Cup, the absolute pinnacle of achievement for a club side.
Instead, Auld is looking back at the selection which played Hearts in a League Cup-tie in Edinburgh on Saturday, August 13, 1966 – EXACTLY FIFTY YEARS to this day when Jock Stein’s men kicked off the most significant season in the monumental history of the proud Glasgow club.
The genuinely chirpy character, now 78, said: “Little did we know what awaited us in that unforgettable campaign when we ran out of the Tynecastle tunnel on a wet and windy afternoon.
“Who could even have hazarded a guess? As we travelled back on the coach from the capital, no-one in their right mind would have believed that some nine months down the line we would be acclaimed the best team in Europe, possibly the world.
“Simply put, that would have been preposterous, utterly unthinkable. Fifty years ago, we were just content to get a victory in the defence of the trophy we had won the previous year when we had beaten Rangers 2-1.
“We overcame Hearts 2-0 that day and Ronnie Simpson – known to all of as ‘Faither’ because of his advancing years (he was 35) – was in goal and Tommy Gemmell and Willie O’Neill were our full-backs.
“Billy McNeill and John Clark were in the middle of the defence, solid as a rock those guys, and my great pal Bobby Murdoch was on the right-hand side of the midfield and I was on the left.
“Wee Jinky Johnstone was on the wing while the main goalscoring duties were shared among Joe McBride, Stevie Chalmers and Bobby Lennox. Joe scored both our goals against Hearts, one from the penalty spot.
“Nine of the players who turned out on the opening day of the season would pick up European Cup winners’ medals – only McBride and O’Neill missed out.
“Joe was particularly unfortunate. Unbelievably, he rattled in 36 goals before the turn of the year and was well on his way to blitzing the record books.
“He played in a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Christmas Eve 1966 and was then out for just about a year with a complicated knee injury.
“Big Jock bought Willie Wallace from Hearts just before Joe was sidelined. Ironically, Willie played against us that day at Tynecastle, so there were 10 players on the pitch who would win in Lisbon!
“Jim Craig came in at right-back at the turn of the year and Big Tommy switched to left-back. By the way, that was no reflection on the quality of Willie O’Neill, who was a fine and dedicated defender.
“I reckon Big Jock wanted to accommodate Tommy’s phenomenal long-range shooting power. He was two-footed, but his right might just have been the stronger.
“He was given licence to cut in from the left to have a dig and, my goodness, did he utilise that ability as he terrorised poor, unfortunate goalkeepers at home and abroad.
“I reckon we had three world-class players in that Celtic line-up – Big Tommy, Billy McNeill and Bobby Murdoch.
“Me? It was just a privilege and a pleasure to be associated with such a fine bunch of guys and a brilliant manager in Jock Stein.
“And if we put a smile on the faces of the most magnificent supporters in the world as we went about our business, then that was even more satisfying.”
That Season in Paradise is published by CQN on Monday and is available now for posting out Monday on www.cqnbookstore.com – it is sensational!