BILLY McNEILL yesterday kicked off CQN’s special tribute to the Celtic heroes who won the European Cup in Lisbon 51 years and one day ago.
The exclusive edited extract from Alex Gordon’s ‘Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary’ book, published by Black and White in 2007, gave the legendary captain’s version of the glorious day in the Portuguese capital.
Today, right-back JIM CRAIG, who set up Tommy Gemmell for his breathtaking equaliser in the 2-1 triumph over Inter Milan on May 25 1967, looks back at that never-to-be-forgotten achievement…
PEOPLE have often approached me to say they thought I was the quiet man in the Lisbon Lions line-up and I would accept that was a fair assumption. I’m not a particularly noisy character and in a busy dressing room it was never easy to get a word in edgeways, anyway, with guys such as Tommy Gemmell and Bertie Auld around.
I preferred to do my talking when you could actually be heard. I didn’t go overboard in my protestations when the referee awarded Inter Milan a penalty-kick in Lisbon after my tackle on Renato Cappellini. What would have been the point? The referee was hardly likely to change his decision once he had pointed to the spot.
Let me say here and now, though, that it was never a penalty-kick. Absolutely no way. It doesn’t matter now, of course, but I still hold the belief that the referee got it totally wrong. Folk have said I tackled with the wrong foot. Others have said I should have tried to play the Inter Milan centre-forward offside. Everyone is welcome to his or her opinion, but, 40 years down the road, I am as convinced as I was back then that it was no penalty-kick.
Cappellini was a big bloke, but he went down like a sack of tatties when I challenged him. Of course, he was looking for a penalty and the referee didn’t disappoint him. He couldn’t wait to point to the spot. I’ve lost count of the times I have replayed that incident in my mind and I always come to the same conclusion – the referee made a bad call.
You could say that I helped to make a game of it! How would the remaining 83 minutes have panned out if Inter Milan hadn’t got that penalty-kick? Who knows? But it certainly handed the impetus to Celtic and we knew exactly what we had to do in an effort to turn things around. I think we achieved our goal fairly well.
One interested spectator that day as the Estadio Nacional was my Dad. He was a manager in the furniture department of Glasgow South’s Co-op and, as a result of this, he worked on a Saturday and could only get to midweek matches. However, he really floored me by saying that he did not want to go to Lisbon. I couldn’t believe my ears and asked him why. He was quite honest about it.
READY FOR BUSINESS…Jim Craig takes to the field.
He said he thought Inter Milan would be too strong for us and he did not want to go over there and see us being beaten. I accepted that, but, just in case he changed his mind, I held a ticket for him and booked a seat on the plane. As the days passed, I worked hard on Dad, but he only changed his mind at the last minute. However, I had the ticket and the seat all ready, so off he went on the great adventure.
Dad couldn’t have been too happy when I was involved in the penalty incident, that’s for sure. I had been assured that Cappellini was, in fact, all left foot, so when he ran in on goal from the right hand side, I assumed that at some point he would want to put the ball to his stronger foot. I decided that I would block any attempt to do so, but when the challenge came, he went down rather like an ageing actor and I believe the referee was completely conned by it.
A question I am often asked is: “What does a player think about in a time like that?” Well, in my case, I can assure you that my thoughts were with my Dad up in his seat. I had spent time persuading him to come over against his better judgement and now he had to sit through it all.
Dad told me afterwards: “I didn’t think it was a penalty-kick, to be quite honest, because the Italian player wasn’t going towards goal and I think he had over-run the ball. Probably, the referee was as nervous as the players and over-reacted. What worried me more was that might be the only goal of the game and my son would get the blame for the defeat. In retrospect, it probably helped a lot because the Italians just fell back into defence and Celtic were allowed to take control.”
Actually, I still laugh at the recollection of Big Jock at half-time. Of course, we were all disappointed to be 1-0 down despite bossing the first-half after that goal. I wasn’t too enamoured by the fact that I had been adjudged to have given away the penalty-kick. Jock came over, threw an arm around me and said: “Don’t worry, Cairney, that was never a penalty. Never in a million years. Don’t worry. Don’t blame yourself. Put it behind you. Show them what you can do in the second-half.”
At the end of the game, though, Big Jock sidled up to me and said: “What on earth were you thinking about at the penalty? What a stupid challenge. You almost cost us the European Cup with that daft tackle.”
THAT WINNING FEELING…Jim Craig with fellow-Lisbon Lion Willie Wallace.
Thanks, boss! That was so typical of Big Jock, though. He knew the right buttons to push at the right time. That was part of his make-up and I suppose that’s what made him so special. He could have taken me apart at half-time, but that would hardly have done my morale or confidence any good. He waited until that silverware was heading for the Celtic Park trophy cabinet before he told me what he really thought.
I still don’t believe it was a penalty, though. And, at least, I had the satisfaction of laying on the equalising goal for Tommy Gemmell. In fact, if you are going to talk about penalties, can I mention the one we didn’t get when their excellent goalkeeper Guiliano Sarti hauled down Willie Wallace in the second-half?
Sarti actually grabbed Wispy’s leg and pulled him to the ground as he was about to roll the ball into a gaping and inviting net. It was like something out of WWF, but, on this occasion, the match official, a certain Herr Kurt Tsenscher, was not impressed and waved play on. Yes, it was an injustice, but it simply made us all the more determined to win that match. Nothing was going to prevent us. Nothing or no-one.
I was on £30-per-week back then. I think I was the poorest paid player of the Lisbon Lions. The rest, I believed, were picking up £40-per-week with Billy McNeill getting an extra £10 for being captain. That meant a difference of £20 between me and Big Billy and, believe me, that was one helluva differential.
You know, I can’t remember how I spent my £1,500 bounus for winning the European Cup. I know some of my colleagues bought cars, put down deposits on houses, went on luxurious holidays. Me? Can’t remember, but I do know I would have enjoyed spending it.
If you are earning £30-per-week then you are bound to go just a little bit crazy when you suddenly pick up something in the region of a year’s wages. I was rich beyond my wildest dreams!
* Edited extract from ‘Celtic: The Lisbon Lions: 40th Anniversary’ by Alex Gordon. Published in 2007 by Black and White. Look out for more EXCLUSIVE extracts from the players who made the impossible dream come true over the next few days. Only in your champion CQN!