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THAT SEASON IN PARADISE: MAY: ‘HE WENT DOWN LIKE A SACK OF TATTIES,’ CRAIG’S PENALTY-KICK VERDICT

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CQN continues its enthralling and EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s book, ‘That Season In Paradise’, which highlight the months that were the most momentous in Celtic’s proud history.

Today, right-back Jim Craig reveals how he believes the referee blundered by awarding Inter Milan an early penalty-kick in the unforgettable European Cup Final on May 25 1967 in Lisbon.

JIM CRAIG was involved in a key moment only seven minutes into the game. He recalled, ‘I didn’t go overboard in my protestations when the referee awarded Inter Milan a penalty-kick after my tackle on Renato Cappellini. What would have been the point? The referee was hardly likely to change his decision once he had pointed to the spot.

‘Let me say here and now, though, that it was never a penalty-kick. Absolutely no way. It doesn’t matter now, of course, but I still hold the belief that the referee got it totally wrong.

‘Folk have said I tackled with the wrong foot. Others have said I should have tried to play the Inter Milan centre-forward offside. Everyone is welcome to his or her opinion, but I am as convinced as I was back then that it was no penalty-kick.

‘Cappellini was a big bloke, but he went down like a sack of tatties when I challenged him. Of course, he was looking for a penalty and the referee didn’t disappoint him. He couldn’t wait to point to the spot. I’ve lost count of the times I have replayed that incident in my mind and I always come to the same conclusion – the referee made a bad call.

‘You could say that I helped to make a game of it! How would the remaining eighty-three minutes have panned out if Inter Milan hadn’t got that penalty-kick? Who knows? But it certainly handed the impetus to Celtic and we knew exactly what we had to do in an effort to turn things around. I think we achieved our goal fairly well.

‘One interested spectator that day at the Estadio Nacional was my Dad. He was a manager in the furniture department of Glasgow South’s Co-op and, as a result of this, he worked on a Saturday and could only get to midweek matches. However, he really floored me by saying that he did not want to go to Lisbon.

‘I couldn’t believe my ears and asked him why. He was quite honest about it. He said he thought Inter Milan would be too strong for us and he did not want to go over there and see us being beaten. I accepted that, but, just in case he changed his mind, I held a ticket for him and booked a seat on the plane.

‘As the days passed, I worked hard on Dad, but he only changed his mind at the last minute. However, I had the ticket and the seat all ready, so off he went on the great adventure.

‘Dad couldn’t have been too happy when I was involved in the penalty incident, that’s for sure. I had been assured that Cappellini was, in fact, all left foot, so when he ran in on goal from the right hand side, I assumed that at some point he would want to put the ball to his stronger foot.

‘I decided that I would block any attempt to do so, but when the challenge came, he went down rather like an ageing actor and I believe the referee was completely conned by it.

BY THE RIGHT…Jim Craig’s challenge on Inter Milan striker Renato Cappellini that led to the controversial spot-kick.

‘A question I am often asked is, “What does a player think about in a time like that?” Well, in my case, I can assure you that my thoughts were with my Dad up in his seat. I had spent time persuading him to come over against his better judgement and now he had to sit through it all.

‘Dad told me afterwards, “I didn’t think it was a penalty-kick, to be quite honest, because the Italian player wasn’t going towards goal and I think he had over-run the ball. Probably, the referee was as nervous as the players and over-reacted. What worried me more was that it might be the only goal of the game and my son would get the blame for the defeat. In retrospect, it probably helped a lot because the Italians just fell back into defence and Celtic were allowed to take control.”

‘Actually, I still laugh at the recollection of Big Jock at half-time. Of course, we were all disappointed to be 1-0 down, despite bossing the first-half after that goal. I wasn’t too enamoured by the fact that I had been adjudged to have given away the penalty-kick. Jock came over, threw an arm around me and said, “Don’t worry, Cairney, that was never a penalty. Never in a million years. Don’t worry. Don’t blame yourself. Put it behind you. Show them what you can do in the second-half.”

‘At the end of the game, though, Big Jock sidled up to me and said, “What on earth were you thinking about at the penalty? What a stupid challenge. You almost cost us the European Cup with that daft tackle”.

‘That was so typical of Big Jock, though. He knew the right buttons to push at the right time. That was part of his make-up and I suppose that’s what made him so special. He could have taken me apart at half-time, but that would hardly have done my morale or confidence any good.

‘He waited until that silverware was heading for the Celtic Park trophy cabinet before he told me what he really thought. I still don’t believe it was a penalty, though. And, at least, I had the satisfaction of laying on the equalising goal for Tommy Gemmell.

‘In fact, if you are going to talk about penalties, can I mention the one we didn’t get when their excellent goalkeeper Guiliano Sarti hauled down Willie Wallace in the second-half? Sarti actually grabbed Wispy’s leg and pulled him to the ground as he was about to roll the ball into a gaping and inviting net.

‘It was like something out of a wrestling match, but, on this occasion, the referee was not impressed and waved play on. Yes, it was an injustice, but it simply made us all the more determined to win that match. Nothing was going to prevent us. Nothing or no-one.’

GUESSING GAME…Ronnie Simpson goes the wrong way as Sandro Mazzola tucks away the seventh-minute penalty-kick.

Ronnie Simpson recalled the spot-kick scenario like this, ‘Sandro Mazzola sent a magnificent ball through our defence, past Billy McNeill and John Clark, and right into the path of the running Renato Cappellini. The centre-forward was well inside the box and lining up his shot when Jim Craig came across and tackled him from Cappellini’s left side. Down went the Italian as he went over Craig’s right leg.

‘A blast of the referee’s whistle and I realised he had awarded a penalty-kick. I just couldn’t believe it. The tackle had seemed fair enough to me. But a penalty it was, despite protests.

‘I decided immediately that I would dive to my left when the kick was taken. Mazzola was the Inter expert and he made a good job of it. He hit it to my right-hand corner, while I threw myself to the left. I guessed wrongly and Celtic were a goal down.

‘I did feel, however, that even had I dived to my right I would not have stopped it as the ball hadn’t left the ground and had entered my net a few inches from the post. In other words, a perfect penalty-kick. Craig was very unhappy about all this and said so at the interval.

‘But he was quickly silenced by the rest of the boys who said, “Forget it.” I thought that Craig had done exceedingly well to come across and get in his tackle. He was unlucky, that was all.’

Craig added, ‘I’ve often been asked who I thought was Celtic’s Man of the Match in Lisbon. Wee Jinky? Bertie Auld? Bobby Murdoch? Modestly, I believe the two full-backs, myself and Big Tommy, did rather well. Seriously, though, it was all down to team work.

‘We had some smashing individuals, but Lisbon on May 25 1967 was a time and place for all of us to stand up and be counted. No-one shirked his responsibility and we won as a team.

‘It would have been wonderful for the players to have been awarded the European Cup and been allowed to take a lap of honour, not just for the fans present in Lisbon, but for the many thousands watching on television throughout Europe.

‘The presentation of our medals was also anti-climactic, to say the least. At the banquet following the game an official came up and placed two containers of medals on our table. We more or less helped ourselves to them.

‘It was a rather strange end to such a fantastic, unforgettable day. But, hey, we were the champions of Europe and, at the end of the day, that was all that mattered.’

TOMORROW: The four-goal humiliation that inspired John Clark.

 
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