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LISBON REWIND THE BIG DAY: RONNIE SIMPSON’S STORY

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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 keeper Ronnie Simpson 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.

“I WAS crying. I couldn’t stop myself. The tears came rolling down my cheeks. I was standing in the lingering sun of Lisbon in the Estadio Nacional, completely helpless in my emotions.”

The words belonged to the remarkable Ronnie Simpson.

The veteran shotstopper was overcome at time-up and admitted: “The European Cup Final of 1967 was over. Referee Kurt Tschenscher, of West Germany, had blown for the last time and Celtic were champions. Champions of all Europe for the first time at their first attempt. And I, Ronnie Simpson, at the age of thirty-six and seven months, had become the first British goalkeeper to win a European Champions Cup medal. I couldn’t believe it. I was overcome.

“I wasn’t alone for long. In seconds I was smothered in the arms of manager Jock Stein, then reserve keeper John Fallon, the player who had stripped for every European tie and never been called up. The three of us were locked together, crushing each other, scared to open our mouths in case we all burst into tears again.

“Suddenly, I realised there were more people running around us than there should have been. Our supporters were on the field. This was their greatest moment as it had been ours and they were going to make the most of it. But the fastest man of all at that moment was Bobby Lennox. He came sprinting straight at me and I held out my hands, thinking he was coming to join in the goalmouth celebrations. But Bobby kept going right into the back of the net. Then it dawned on me.

HELPLESS…Ronnie Simpson has no chance as Inter Milan striker Sando Mazzola strikes the perfect penalty-kick.

“Before a match, I take out my false teeth and stick them in my cap which I keep in the back of the net. It’s a habit I have adopted in important matches just in case I have to meet someone at short notice or at the end of a game. Then I can always pop my teeth in. Bobby noticed this habit of mine and, as he also had false teeth, he asked me before the Lisbon Final to keep his set of choppers inside my cap. And this was what Bobby was racing for – and I suddenly knew why!

“The fans, Celtic, Portuguese, Italian and the others were desperate to get some sort of souvenir from this remarkable Final. Players were getting jerseys and pants torn from them bodily, fans were cutting lumps out of the turf, the corner flags were already on their way to places well away from Portugal. My cap, with two sets of false teeth, was too obvious a trophy.

“Bobby won his race, grabbed his teeth and ran for the tunnel leading to the dressing room. I quickly grabbed my cap and teeth and tried to make it – and did so after what seemed an eternity. I was half-strangled and almost crushed as a tug-of-war went on for my jersey. But this was one jersey I was keeping. I fought with all my remaining strength to make the tunnel and I made it with my jersey, cap, pants, boots, hair, gloves, false teeth and body intact.

“I was met in the dressing room by Bob Rooney, our physiotherapist. He threw his arms around me, dumped me on a seat and the two of us burst into tears. We couldn’t help it. The happiest moment of my life and I couldn’t raise a smile!

“The joy of beating Inter Milan was a strange experience. Had the tension been so great? Had I put in so much concentration into this match that I had no strength at the finish? Or was it sheer emotion that had made me lose control? I don’t really know. It was just so hard to believe I was a member of the Celtic team which won the twelfth European Cup tournament.”

Talking about last-minute instructions from manager Jock Stein before the players left the dressing room, the evergreen keeper added: “He made one other point. He impressed upon us that should we lose to Inter Milan, we were to lose like true sportsmen. He asked us to play it clean no matter what happened.

“He wanted Celtic to come out of the Final with credit, no matter whether we won or lost. He didn’t dwell too much on this, but he made his point very plainly. With the game on television, to be seen throughout Europe, he wanted Celtic to be seen as a team fit to grace a European Cup Final. Fit to win it – or fit to lose, with dignity.”

 

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