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, John Clark, sweeper supreme, and Willie Wallace, bright attacker, give their recollections of the glorious triumph over Inter Milan in the European Cup Final on May 25 1967 in Lisbon.
JOHN CLARK didn’t have far to look for inspiration before taking the field that day in the Portuguese capital. The Celtic sweeper possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of world football and a memory bank to go with it.
He recalled the x-certificate performance against MTK Budapest in second leg of the European Cup-Winners’ Cup semi-final in Hungary as a motivational tool – if, indeed, one was required.
He said, ‘It took utter humiliation in Hungary to make absolutely certain there was going to be a lot of partying in Portugal when we lined up to face Inter Milan. As we prepared for the game, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to Budapest three years earlier when we blew the opportunity of playing in the Cup-Winners’ Cup Final.
‘We arrived for the second leg on April 29 1964 with a handsome three-goal advantage from the first semi-final at Celtic Park. Stevie Chalmers, with two, and Jimmy Johnstone had scored against MTK Budapest and we believed – stupidly, not arrogantly – we held an unassailable lead over our opponents. How wrong we were!
‘The history books will show the Hungarians won 4-0 and every single Celtic player was totally embarrassed. Devastated is probably a better word. We had thrown away a massive advantage and we had no-one to blame but ourselves.
‘The pitch was okay. The referee was fine. We were awful, naive in the extreme. We were lucky there wasn’t the live coverage on television of European football that we have today.
DANGERMAN…Sandro Mazzola is watched by Tommy Gemmell and John Clark.
‘A few us might have thought it would be preferable to spend the rest of our lives in the Hungarian capital rather than come home and face the wrath of our raging support after an appalling, wretched display.
‘Back then, though, all the TV audience in Scotland saw were some flickering black-and-white images that lasted only a matter of minutes. There were no panels of so-called experts pouring over our every error, highlighting a blunder here and a clanger there.
‘Believe me, this was one for those connoisseurs of calamity. MTK played well enough, but we should never have lost 4-0. Tommy Gemmell, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, Stevie Chalmers and I played that night. I say ‘played’, but I’m using the term loosely. We were all on the pitch, but we hardly performed.
‘Remarkably, all six of us would be in the side three years later that conquered Europe.’
WILLIE WALLOP…Celtic ace Willie Wallace fires a shot at the Inter Milan goal.
Willie Wallace also revealed the part Inter Milan’s left-back Giacinto Facchetti, a genuine sportsman, unwittingly played in the lead-up to Tommy Gemmell’s wonder strike.
He said, ‘I am glad to say I had a hand, quite literally, in big Tommy’s equaliser. I took the shy that moved the ball around the field before it finished behind the redoubtable Sarti. I recall I was going to throw it into the penalty box, but their giant defender Facchetti blocked my view.
‘Big Jock used to hammer it into us to play the ball into the opposing team’s box because you couldn’t be offside at a throw-in. If you had a guy, for instance, standing right on the bye-line your opponents would be forced to cover him because he would be onside.
‘By that reckoning, their defence would fall back and that would give someone else the opportunity to be played onside if there was a flick on or a rebound. So, in effect, I should have pitched the ball into the mix.
‘But Facchetti prevented that and I actually threw it back to Big Tommy. I thought, if nothing else, it would be better for us to keep possession. And from that came our leveller.’
TOMORROW: The thirty-one seconds that pushed Celtic towards history.