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LISBON LOOKBACK: TOMMY GEMMELL’S MEMOIRS (Day Seven)

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CELTIC celebrated the 53rd anniversary of their unforgettable European Cup triumph in Lisbon last week..

Today, CQN continues to celebrate the historic achievement with another EXCLUSIVE extract from the late, great Tommy Gemmell’s autobiography, ‘All The Best’, co-authored by Alex Gordon, and published in 2014.

It was, of course, Big TG who walloped in the equaliser against Inter Milan to put Jock Stein’s great side on their way to victory on May 25 1967 in the Portuguese capital.

Gemmell, who sadly passed away in March 2017 at the age of 73, had a keen sense of humour and it comes across in these memoirs.

Please enjoy Day Seven of this CQN special as he continues his Hoops revelations.

WILLIE WALLACE may have been too small to play in goal, but that guy could operate in just about every other position on the football field.

I recall a game where our right-back – I think it was Jim Craig – was sent off and Big Jock immediately dropped Wispy into the void in our defence. He performed there like that had been his position all of his career. He actually played most games as a main striker alongside Stevie Chalmers and scored 135 goals from 234 appearances since signing from Hearts in December 1966.

On this occasion, he simply slotted into the No.2 position. We were walking off the pitch at the end and I said, ‘Great game, Wispy. How many times have you played at right-back?’ Nonchalantly he replied, ‘Just the once – today.’

He was a superb all-round performer who sacrificed personal glory for the team. He had played wing-half, outside-right, inside-forward and centre-forward with his previous clubs Stenhousemuir and Raith Rovers as well as Hearts. I recall a photograph in the newspapers the day after he completed his £30,000 signing.

It showed Wispy sitting in our dressing room with five pairs of shorts hanging on the pegs behind him. They were the numbers seven, eight, nine, ten and eleven and the headline was, ‘CELTIC SIGN A FORWARD LINE’. They could have added a number two, as well, a couple of months later.

Wispy must have wondered if Big Jock was pulling his leg before we took on Dukla Prague in the second leg of our European Cup semi-final in 1967. We were 3-1 ahead from the first game and Big Jock was out to make absolutely certain we wouldn’t give anything away in the Czech capital. Wispy had scored two of our three goals in the first game and Dukla might have thought he would be playing up front again in the next game. In fact, Wispy hardly even crossed the halfway line that day.

Our manager handed him a thankless task of shadowing Josef Masopust, the Czech side’s main orchestrator in the middle of the park. The former 1962 European Footballer of the Year may have been at the veteran stage of his career, but he was still their main man, the guy who pulled the strings. Wispy had never played in that position, either, but he didn’t complain.

He told me before the game, ‘This is going to be interesting, Tommy. I’ve no idea what to expect. But Big Jock thinks it’s a role I can take on board, so let’s see if it works.’ After our goalless draw, we were getting our photographs taken, leaping around like lunatics after cementing our place in the European Cup Final in Lisbon. I asked Wispy, ‘How did you enjoy that?’ He replied, ‘I must have done okay because Masopust has just refused to shake my hand.’

I got on very well with Wispy, of course, and I liked him even before he joined Celtic. I remember a game against Hearts at Tynecastle in January 1966. That was a match we were ordered to play by the SFA and the Scottish League, despite just getting back from our European Cup-tie against Kiev Dinamo on the Friday night. Atrocious weather conditions delayed us from getting out of Moscow and we were grounded until the weather relented.

Then we managed to get to Stockholm before returning home. Obviously, we weren’t in the best of nick for a tough game in Edinburgh. Certainly, I wasn’t feeling great after one of their defenders, George Miller, took me out with an over-the-top tackle. It would be a straight red card these days and slow motion TV replays would leave Miller without any hope of an appeal. He did me, alright, and he knew he had, as well. He got off with it, too.

I managed to stay on the field for the rest of the game, but I was in a fair bit of pain. When I took off my boot at the end my foot just about exploded. My ankle and my right foot both went up like balloons. However, as were coming off the field, after losing 3-2, I appreciated Wispy coming over to see me.

‘That was a sore one, Tommy,’ he said. ‘Will you be okay?’ I replied, ‘I hope so, but I don’t think I’ll be going to the dancing tonight.’ It was a nice touch from the Hearts man and one I never forgot.

Mind you, I should have told him to eff off – he scored two of their three goals that day!

TOMORROW: LISBON LOOKBACK: Tommy Gemmell continues his exclusive memoirs.

 
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