STEVIE CHALMERS REMEMBERS LISBON 1967

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LISBON matchwinner Stevie Chalmers is today’s Celtic European Cup hero to reveal his thoughts on how Jock Stein’s team made history in the Portuguese capital on May 25 1967.

Billy McNeill, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, John Clark and Willie Wallace have already had their exclusive say of that memorable day 51 years and five days ago.

This is an edited extract of Stevie’s story from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘Lisbon: The 40th Anniversary’ which was published by Black and White in 2007. 

JOCK STEIN used to con me rotten. I can never thank him enough for that! He was a master manipulator, that’s for sure, and Celtic would never have won the European Cup without him.

He really shook things up when he arrived at Celtic Park in March, 1965. His eye for detail was simply amazing. He knew how to get the absolute best out of a player and I should know because he worked his psychology on me time after time. He would leave me out of the first team and take me aside to tell me: “Look, I know you should be playing. You are better than that mug who’s in your position, but I’ve got to play him. You should be keeping him out of the side, but he’s in and you’re not and it’s up to you to do something about it. Force me to play you.”

What I didn’t know was the fact Big Jock would be saying the same to the other players. If I was playing, he would grab Joe McBride or whoever and say: “You should be playing, you’re better than that Chalmers.” It worked a treat, too, didn’t it? Everyone wanted into that first team and, even when you were dropped, you were geed up because The Boss thought you were better than the player in your position and you just had to work that wee bit harder to get your place back.

LEADER OF THE PACK… Stevie Chalmers is out in front as the Celtic players lap the track at Parkhead.

I must have done something right because I played in all nine games in our European Cup run in 1967 and that, for me, was fairly impressive. I might be the guy who got the winning goal in Lisbon, but, believe me, being involved all the way through is something that will live with me forever. Okay, how did I feel when I netted against Inter Milan with only five minutes to go? Exhausted! Cramp was coming on, but that evaporated as soon as that ball hit the back of the net.

Okay, it may not have been as spectacular as Big Tommy’s effort, but, for me, it was special because it was part of a routine we worked on day in, day out at training at Barrowfield. Big Jock would get myself, Joe McBride, Willie Wallace, Bobby Lennox and John Hughes to line up around the six-yard line and he would get Big Tommy, Bobby Murdoch, Bertie Auld, Jim Craig and Charlie Gallagher to hammer over crosses from the left and, after that, the right. Then he would vary the routine with Big Tommy playing the ball back from the line to, say, Bobby to hit the ball diagionally across the face of the goal.

He would then do the same on the right with Cairney laying the ball back for someone to hit a similar effort into the penalty box. This would go on for hours until you knew off by heart where you were expected to be in the penalty box whenever a move was developing. It was no fluke, believe me, that I was standing where I was when Big Tommy pulled the ball back to Bobby to thump in his shot from the edge of the box.

HISTORY BHOY…Stevie Chalmers turns the ball into Inter Milan net for the European Cup winner.

People have said they thought Bobby’s effort might have found the net without my help, but Bobby himself would tell anyone his shot was heading for a shy! I simply sidefooted the ball past Giuliano Sarti, Inter’s superb goalkeeper, and the European Cup was heading for the east end of Glasgow. You’ll see pictures of Sarti appealing for offside – well, he would, wouldn’t he? – but there was no way I was off. I was well onside when I got my touch to the ball. Big Jock always hammered into us the importance of being aware of where you were in the opposition’s box. He didn’t want a move breaking down because of a lapse of concentration on anyone’s part.

The whole European Cup run was one great adventure and, like I said, I was just delighted to have played in every single minute of every single game. Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Murdoch, Billy McNeill, John Clark and Jimmy Johnstone were the others who emulated that feat. Obviously, scoring the most historic goal in the legend of Celticis something I treasure, but I would like to think I also played my part in beating Vojvodina Novi Sad in the quarter-final. And I am not talking about my goal that made it 1-1 on aggregate and set up the grand finale for Big Billy to head in the last-minute winner.

Our skipper was accused of fouling their goalkeeper Ilija Pantelic, but I can now confess he didn’t come close to touching him – because I did! It wasn’t a foul, though, I hasten to add that. It was something that happened all the time in penalty boxes and I was blocked off a few times myself. However, on this occasion, I took a wee step in front of the keeper as he left his line in order to cut out Charlie Gallagher’s right-wing corner-kick.

It was only a half-yard or so, but it managed to put Pantelic off his stride. He couldn’t get anywhere near the swirling ball and Big Billy, as he did so often, got his head to Charlie’s cross to bullet an effort high into the net. Celtic Park erupted! The Yugoslavs were pointing fingers at everyone. They shouted at the referee, but he was having none of it. The goal was good.

These things happen in football. I got knocked around a few times and, of course, I will always remember our semi-final against Dukla Prague in Czechoslovakia. That was the one and only time I was banned from entering my own team’s half of the field. Big Jock laid it on the line: “Keep busy, Stevie. Let them know you’re out there.” Thanks, boss! I was never afraid to put myself about and, as I recall, a few players bumped into my elbows that afternoon! It’s a man’s game, after all. I just kept going for the entire 90 minutes and the Dukla back lot weren’t pleased. It was one of the hardest shifts I ever put in, but we were 90 minutes away from the European Cup Final and if that doesn’t give you momentum then nothing will.

ACTION MAN…Stevie Chalmers.

Obviously, Dukla wanted to give me a hard time. They tried to get me to retreat back into my own half beside my team-mates, but I was having none of that. I had a job to do and that was to get about their defence and keep them stretched. Not the most glamorous role in the team, I’m sure you’ll agree, but one that was vital in that game. The Czechs were a very good team and they liked to build from the back. They used their captain Josef Masopust a lot, passing the ball through the midfield.

So, that’s where I came in. I was asked to harry them, chase them and make sure they didn’t get the opportunity to dwell on the ball. If that’s what Big Jock wanted, then that’s what Big Jock would get. I was desperate to stay in his first team! But Dukla did pin us back by their attacking play. They had scored that vital away goal and they must have thought a win against us was within their scope. They may even have been heartened to know we had thrown away a three-goal advantage in Budapest against MTK only three years earlier. But this was a different Celtic team with an entirely different attitude.

Ironically, Big Jock actually looked a bit disappointed at the end of that match against Dukla. Sure, he was delighted that Celtic had become the first British club to reach the final of the European Cup. However, he realised we hadn’t done it in our normal fashion. The flair, the ambition, the adventure wasn’t in evidence and those facets of our play were very important to him. He gathered us around him in the dressing room and said: “We will never play like that again. I will never ask you to play all-out defence again.” He was as good as his word. If we were defending in games after that it was because we were being pushed back, it was never a pre-arranged tactic.

Lisbon was made all the sweeter because I had been at Celtic eight years before then, signing from Junior club Ashfield, and life was fairly tough until Jock Stein walked back through those doors. He turned the whole place upside down and pointed us in the right direction. He went into everything in minute detail. He seemed to enjoy training sessions and he worked us hard, anyone caught slacking would find himself doing an extra few laps.

There was absolutely no way I could have ever believed Celtic would one day conquer Europe when I signed for the club on February 6, 1959. I made my debut just a month later, an instantly forgettable 2-1 defeat from Airdrie at Celtic Park. Imagine that. One month I was turning out for Ashield in a Junior game and the next I was playing for the famous Glasgow Celtic! Couldn’t happen today, could it?

BRING ON THE NEW SEASON… Celtic at the start of the 1961/62 campaign as they prepare for a League Cup-tie against Partick Thistle at Firhill. Back row (left to right): Dunky McKay, Jim Kennedy, Frank Connor, John Kurila, Billy McNeill and John Clark; front row: Bobby Carroll, Mike Jackson, John Hughes, Johnny Divers, Stevie Chalmers and physio Bob Rooney. Celtic won 3-2 with goals from Jackson (2) and Hughes.

After Lisbon, I came home to spend my bonus money. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about my so-called spending spree. The wife, Sadie, would have got something, of course, and I probably spent the rest on things around the house. Not exactly Flash Harry, eh? But winning the European Cup was not all about money. It was about football and putting Celtic’s name on the European map. We managed that and, of course, Big Jock was smiling afterwards because we did it in the Celtic manner.

Ach, I suppose we weren’t a bad side.

* Edited extract from ‘The Lisbon Lions: 40th Anniversary’ by Alex Gordon. Published in 2007 by Black and White. Don’t miss Bertie Auld’s EXCLUSIVE thoughts tomorrow – only in your champion CQN!

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