CQN continues its EXCLUSIVE look at Celtic’s biggest day in history – the 2-1 European Cup Final victory over Inter Milan exactly 54 years ago today.
Author Alex Gordon, whose fifteenth Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, is out now, spotlights brave midfielder Bobby Murdoch in an edited chapter from his tribute tome ‘That Season in Paradise’, which was published by CQN in 2016.
Please enjoy the walk down memory lane.
BOBBY MURDOCH was a genuine working-class hero from Rutherglen. Not for him the flash cars, the snazzy clothes or the crazy hairstyles. He lived with his family in a comfortable, but hardly ostentatious, home in Cambuslang and shunned the twinkling lights of nightclubs in preference for a beer with his team-mates and long-time friends at the local.
Months after his mesmerising performance in Lisbon, Argentina’s Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in the world at that time, were reported to be getting ready to make a massive bid for his services. In typical Murdoch fashion, he responded: “Ach, I’m no’ interested – no way. I’m staying with the club I love. I’m only interested in playing for Celtic.” And you just knew that he meant every word of it.
One of his prize belongings was a gift from Celtic a couple of months after the victory over Inter Milan in the Portuguese capital. He said proudly: “Every member of the first team pool that year was given an eight-millimetre colour film of the highlights of our European Cup Final which runs for some forty-five minutes.
“I regularly run it through at home when friends drop in for a spot of supper or a natter and I never cease to marvel at some of the football the boys turned on. This film is one of my most treasured possessions.”
Murdoch recalled the countdown to that special day in his club’s history. He said: “There was something about Jock Stein leading up to that game in Lisbon that I found impossible to put my finger on. He was a confident individual, of course, but this was different. Our manager looked as though he was utterly convinced we would win the trophy.
“And, remember, this was the guy who would get all his players around him and insist: ‘There are no easy games, they all need to be won’. It didn’t matter who Celtic were playing, he thumped out the same advice. Complacency in the Celtic dressing room was a huge no-no.
“I got the impression Jock genuinely believed he had taken us to a level where we couldn’t be beaten. No stone had been left unturned in his preparation for the game. And I mean none. He had gone through the Inter Milan team, man by man, dissected their tactics, told us what every player would be asked to do, how they would set up, which player favoured which foot.
“The only thing he couldn’t have predicted was the performance of their goalkeeper. Many actually thought Giuliano Sarti was the team’s Achilles’ Heel and, frankly, that made no sense to me. They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, don’t they? It didn’t sound right that Sarti was second rate.
BY THE LEFT…Bobby Murdoch fires in a drive with an Inter Milan player up in arms.
“Inter’s obvious strength was their ability to defend in depth. Would a manager such as Helenio Herrera, with his incredible reputation and eye for detail, continually choose a last line of defence who could have been seen as suspect? That went against the very ethos of his thinking. You would have thought his ideal outline would be the spine of the team starting with the goalkeeper, going through his centre-half, central midfielder and through to his centre-forward.
“Sarti was thirty-three at the time of the Cup Final and had played only eight times for Italy. A lot of us had watched the 1966 World Cup Finals in England the previous summer and there had been no sign of Sarti in the squad. Their keeper was Enrico Albertosi, of Fiorentina, and the Inter No.1 hadn’t been rated good enough to get a place as one of the two back-up keepers.
“We weren’t fooled, though. We wondered what Inter Milan’s players might have thought about our own Ronnie Simpson. A player who cost virtually nothing from Hibs, thirty-six years old – three years Sarti’s senior! – and with two international caps. But we all knew how important Ronnie was to Celtic.
“But I have to say Sarti’s performance against us in Lisbon bordered on the unbelievable. We bombarded that guy, but he stood up to everything we launched at him. I thought I had scored with a header from about six yards. It looked a goal as soon as it left my forehead, but I couldn’t believe it when the keeper caught it in mid-air with one hand.
“I almost applauded that effort myself. We knew it would take something special to beat him and, thankfully, Tommy Gemmell came up with the answer. It was a long time coming, though – far too long!”
Indeed, there was genuine agony among the ecstasy for Murdoch during the encounter. The midfielder had his right foot stamped on by an Inter Milan defender early in the game. He said: “The pain shot right through me. It was probably an accident, but it was a dull one. If there had been outfield substitutes available back then, I might have had to go off.
“However, as it was, we only had stand-by goalkeeper John Fallon on the bench that day. Big Jock told me: ‘Run it off, Bobby, you’ll be fine’. As the game progressed towards half-time, I looked down and my right ankle seemed to be twice the size it was at the kick-off.
BY THE RIGHT…Bobby Murdoch gets in a cross as Mario Corso attempts to block the ball.
“People must have wondered why I was favouring my left foot that day. Fortunately, I was two-footed, but my right was undoubtedly the stronger of the two. I even managed to get a couple of left-footed shots on target against Inter, but both were saved.”
Murdoch’s midfield ally Bertie Auld remembered: “I saw Bobby grimace at one point and I asked him what was the matter. He pointed to his right foot and I could clearly see that his ankle was beginning to swell up. I said: ‘I don’t like the look of that, Bobby’.
“‘I’m no’ too chuffed myself, Bertie,’ came the reply. What a performance he put in that day on one foot. The Italians got lucky – could you even start to imagine what he would have done to them if he could have used both feet!”
Captain Billy McNeill recalled: “As Bobby said, we didn’t have a substitute to cover for him if he had gone off. Listen, there was no way Bobby was going off that day. No chance. He would have played on with his leg hanging off if need be!”
Bobby Lennox added: “I thought Bobby was Celtic’s best player in Lisbon. I can’t give him a higher tribute than that, can I? Of course, he had plenty of competition for that honour with my wee pal Jimmy Johnstone, Bertie Auld, Tommy Gemmell and anyone else you care to mention really turning it on that day.
“But it was Bobby for me; a real ten out of ten performance.”