CELTIC fans embarked upon the journey of a lifetime as they followed their favourites into the history books 55 years ago.
Author Alex Gordon, who has penned fifteen Celtic books, including ‘Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary Celebration’, concludes a week-long collection of edited extracts from his introduction for CQN’s 2014 publication, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’.
The hitherto little-known tales help to embellish a glorious odyssey for the club and the supporters.
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?
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 had the answer. “Jinky used to lead off all the sing-songs back then. I think my 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 vino 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, strategists 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.”
Amen to that.