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

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CELTIC celebrated the 53rd anniversary of their unforgettable European Cup triumph in Lisbon on Monday.

Today, CQN is celebrating the historic achievement with a series of EXCLUSIVE extracts from the late, great Tommy Gemmell’s autobiography, ‘All The Best’, co-authored by Alex Gordon.

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 Two of this CQN special.

JIM CRAIG flummoxed Big Jock. Our manager could never understand why our right-back had a profession outside football.

Jim, of course, was a dentist and combined both trades fairly well. How many dentists do you know who have a European Cup winner’s medal in their possession? The man known to us as Cairney must be unique. Cairney? Back then, there was a Scottish actor called John Cairney who starred in a TV series called This Man Craig, so we simply switched names.

To be honest, I don’t think Cairney ever received the praise he deserved. I’m probably to blame to a certain extent. The supporters would see me bombing up and down the left flank and, if I was lucky, walloping in a goal or two. Scoring goals wasn’t Cairney’s forte, though. What he provided was remarkable athleticism on the right.

He didn’t go on eye-catching mazy runs, but he certainly contributed to the cause. You should have seen him on the track during training. He was amazing. He could run all day and leave the rest of us in his slipstream. He had the stamina to be an Olympian. I really mean that. On top of that, he was extremely reliable.

Like myself, he rarely dived into a tackle. That would have been a last resort. He knew he had the pace to keep up with any winger, so if they nipped the ball past him there was every chance he would recover and get in a tackle. Jim was the University-type. I’m sure he thought the rest of his team-mates were half-footballer half-imbecile.

He probably believed an amoeba had more brain cells than the lot of us put together. I never tired of telling him he wasn’t the only one who possessed grey matter in the team. I had won the Dux medal at Wishaw High School Senior Secondary, after all.

People used to get the wrong impression about Bobby Murdoch. Obviously, he struggled with a weight problem and in Glasgow that can only mean one thing – he likes a bucket. Bobby did like a pint or two, like the rest of us, but he was no boozer. As a matter of fact, Bobby suffered from a fluid retention problem and that’s what bulked him up. So, it was grossly unfair when I heard some critics talking about him not taking care of himself. It just wasn’t true.

Bobby trained as hard as the next guy, but could do little about his medical condition. He was no speed merchant – even when he was breaking into the team as a teenager – and that probably fuelled the speculation that he wasn’t doing his bit in training. His team-mates knew where the problem lay, of course, but Bobby kept his secret to himself.

Big Jock used to send Bobby off to a health farm every now and again to see if that would help him. Bobby went to a place in Tring, Hertfordshire, where they put him on a special diet. There was one snag, though. Jock would send Jimmy Steele, our masseur, with him to keep him company and once Bobby had had his healthy breakfast, his healthy walk and his healthy dinner, they would both go to a pub nearby for a couple of pints. All the good work was probably undone in half-an-hour standing at the bar!

My old team-mate was one of the finest passers of the ball I have ever seen. ‘Why run sixty yards with the ball when one pass can do it in seconds?’ he would say and who could argue? His vision was extraordinary and his touch was first-class. He killed the ball in an instant before launching another inch-perfect pass forward.

He could tackle, too. He didn’t really require a burst of pace because his anticipation was exceptional. I’m not sure Bobby would have been any more influential if he could have run all day. For me, even without the speed, he was just perfect. Bobby may not have been a great goalscorer, but he was the scorer of great goals. He could fizz in pulverizing shots from long distance that must have frightened the life out of goalkeepers.

I did my bit, too, I hope in terrorising rival No.1s.

TOMORROW: LISBON LOOKBACK: Tommy Gemmell continues his memoirs.

 
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