LISBON REWIND THE BIG DAY: TOMMY GEMMELL’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 his long-time friend Tommy Gemmell in an edited chapter from his tribute tome ‘The Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary’, which was published by Black and White in 2007.

Please enjoy the walk down memory lane.

TOMMY GEMMELL invited me to his comfortable abode in Dunblane while I was researching my book, ‘That Season in Paradise‘. Quite by chance, one of the Sky sports channels was showing a thirty-minute feature of great European teams and the focus in this programme was on the Lisbon Lions.

My notepad was instantly discarded and, thanks to the generous hospitality of my host, replaced by an accommodating large glass of cold white wine. I knew from the offset this would be a tough book to write! The legendary Celt and I settled down in front of his TV set to wonder at some of the magic for the umpteenth time over the past forty-nine years.

I sneaked a look at my big friend as his sixty-third minute shot flew high into the net for the equaliser. Gemmell smiled and said: “Aye, it wasn’t a bad wee goal, was it?” I’m sure I detected a small tear in his eye as he added: “You know, I still get a tingle every time I see that goal. I’ll never tire of watching that moment.”

This is an extract of a chapter devoted to the player which appeared in the ‘Lisbon Lions: 40th Anniversary Celebration’ book. It was 2007 and he travelled back in time to recollect: “As we prepared for Lisbon, Big Jock took me aside and told me: ‘You’ll get the freedom of the left wing. That Italian Domenghini won’t chase back – he doesn’t know how to tackle. I know what his game is all about. He’ll want to do his tricks and flicks at the other end of the pitch. The hard work will be left to the guys behind him. You’re going to enjoy this game’.

“Sure enough, Big Jock, as usual, was absolutely spot on. Domenghini was a seasoned and gifted Italian international and, yes, he was exceptionally dangerous going forward, but he didn’t want to know about defending. When I received the ball I never had to look over my shoulder. I knew he would simply be standing there, hands on hips, waiting for one of his colleagues to get the ball off me and feed it forward to him.

“He was a bit precious, as they say in football. Porcelain, even. Around my part of the world we would have labelled him a lazy beggar! He may have possessed bundles of skill, but he would never have been in any Celtic team managed by Jock Stein, that’s for sure. So, certain in the knowledge that I would be unhindered throughout the ninety minutes, I launched into as many assaults on the Inter Milan defence as was possible before complete and utter exhaustion would have set in.

IT TAKES TWO…goalscorers Stevie Chalmers and Tommy Gemmell with Celtic’s lucky mascot.

“In domestic games, it had become a bit of a habit for rival teams to mark me. I suppose I should take it as the extreme compliment, but it was a pain in the backside. It was difficult enough being a defender, so when you got the opportunity to get forward you wanted some freedom. Once I got a bit of a reputation, though, I suddenly found these sorties being blocked. Wingers were being asked to defend first and attack only if they got the opportunity.

“That’s why I thoroughly enjoyed Lisbon. I could join the attack safe in the knowledge that Domenghini would not be tracking me and, basically, making a nuisance of himself.

“If you watch that goal again, keep your eye on the Inter Milan No.6, Armando Picchi, who charges out from defence as Jim Craig passes the ball inside for me. Picchi, who was the Inter captain, comes at me at pace, but, for whatever reason, he hesitates and turns his back just as I am about to pull the trigger.

“I have to admit that if he had kept his momentum going, then there would have been every chance he might have blocked my effort. If he had come out with his foot up or to the side he might have made contact with my shot. Maybe he was thinking of his manhood, marriage prospects or whatever, but, thankfully, he had a swift change of mind and got out of the way.

“As I recall, I was screaming at Cairney to put the ball in front of me. I was timing my run and I didn’t care one whit if Domenghini was with me or not. Nobody or nothing was going to get in my way. At last, Cairney put the pass in – perfectly weighted, may I say – and, well, the rest is history. Wonderful, wonderful history. Just before I pulled the trigger, I noticed that Picchi was in their keeper’s line of vision and Sarti would not have got a great view of the shot until it was too late.

DANGERMAN…Tommy Gemmell fires in a left-wing cross.

“He still made a spectacular effort to keep it out, though. I’ll give him that. Actually, I thought then – and I still do now – that my shot was a goal all the way. It was destined to hit the net. You instinctively know these things. I belted it right on the money. It was a sweet strike alright and, of course, I had been fortunate enough over the years to knock in a few from distance. Most of the times you know there is nothing the goalkeeper is going to do to keep it out.

“I have to say, though, that Giuliano Sarti had looked unbeatable that day. He was immense throughout and sometimes you start to believe it is just not going to be your day. We hit him with everything, but he thwarted us time and time again. He patrolled his area with so much confidence and composure. He looked pompous and even a wee bit arrogant.

“It took us until the sixty-third minute to get that goal and, yes, as legend has it, I did swear at the gaffer shortly afterwards. He was yelling from the touchline: ‘Keep it tight – we’ll get them in extra-time’.

“I looked over and shouted back: ‘Eff off, Boss, it’s 85 degrees out here and we’re going to finish it here and now’. Thankfully, that’s what happened and Big Jock never once mentioned our little bout of touchline verbals afterwards!”

 

 

 

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