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THAT SEASON IN PARADISE: MAY: THIRTY-ONE SECONDS FROM GLORY

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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, the author talks us through Tommy Gemmell’s equaliser against Inter Milan in Lisbon on May 25 1967 – Celtic’s most important goal  ever, according to Bertie Auld.

FOR reasons of accuracy, I put a stopwatch on the precise moment Willie Wallace took the shy to the exact second the ball bulged the Inter Milan net. Here is how I wrote it in the Lisbon Lions: 40th Anniversary book.

‘Thirty-one seconds. One throw-in. Six passes. A thundering shot. That’s all it took for Celtic to turn football on its head on that magical, memorable, exhilarating day in Lisbon on May 25 1967.

‘For over an hour the marauding green-and-white legions had battered away at the Inter Milan goal without success. Goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti had been seen as a possible weak link in the Inter Milan defensive armoury which was otherwise festooned with seasoned internationals. But his was an extraordinary act of defiance that day; an impressive one-man barricade standing in the way of Celtic and destiny. He repelled raid after raid with one of the most astonishing goalkeeping performances ever witnessed.

‘Bertie Auld, sensing a rare opening, clipped the crossbar with a cunning left-foot effort while running at speed. Shots and headers rained down on the black-clad No.1 who dealt with everything with an annoying assurance. Jock Stein ventured to the touchline, his massive left paw pointing the way for his troops. “Keep going,” he urged. “Keep moving forward.”

‘Sixty-one minutes. Still Sarti and Inter were standing firm. Sixty-two minutes. Still nothing doing. Sixty-three minutes. Celtic had a shy thirty yards from the bye-line on the left. Willie Wallace, confronted with the daunting frame of Giacinto Facchetti, was looking for a team-mate in a good position. Facchetti held his ground. Wallace shaped to throw it and changed his mind. Tommy Gemmell loomed into view to offer an option. The ball duly dropped at his right foot. He switched it across the park to Jim Craig on the right.

‘Craig rolled it inside for Bobby Murdoch who was crowded out on the edge of the box and the ball was retrieved by Jimmy Johnstone, on the left. He touched it back to John Clark who thrust it forward again to Murdoch, this time in the old inside-left channel thirty yards from goal. The Italians, methodical as ever, refused to be put off their stride. They regrouped, covered, picked up a man, shut down space. Celtic continued to show commendable patience as they passed the ball around.

THE EQUALISER…Tommy Gemmell fires in his unstoppable drive from the edge of the penalty area.

‘Murdoch slipped a simple pass in front of the galloping Craig. He controlled the ball as he gathered momentum heading for the danger zone. Another touch – three in all – before he squared it across to Gemmell. There was no break in his stride as he reached the eighteen-yard box with precision timing before clubbing the ball high past Sarti. The unbeatable was beaten at last. Hallelujah!

‘Thirty-one seconds. A throw-in. Six passes. One thundering shot. That’s all it took.’

Stevie Chalmers has always been the first to admit his matchwinner wasn’t quite in the same category as Gemmell’s cracker. He recollected, ‘I might be the guy who got the winning goal, but, believe me, being involved all the way through the competition and playing in every game is something that will live with me forever.

‘Okay, how did I feel when I netted against Inter Milan with only five or six minutes to go? Exhausted! Cramp was coming on, but that evaporated as soon as that ball hit the back of the net. 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 diagonally 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.

THE WINNER…Stevie Chalmers sidefoots the European Cup-clinching goal beyond the helpless Giuliano Sarti.

‘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.

‘People have said they thought Bobby’s effort might have found the net without my help, but Bobby himself would have told 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.’

Bobby Lennox reckoned his mate did the Inter Milan players a massive favour with his winning goal. He reasoned, ‘Really, the Italians, if they had any puff left, should have overtaken any Celtic player in the race to congratulate Stevie.

‘If that game had gone to an extra thirty minutes we would have hammered them, believe me. I am utterly convinced we would have notched up a scoreline that would have embarrassed the Italians. They were out on their feet nearing the end of that game. They were shattered after chasing shadows for eighty-five minutes and they didn’t look as though they were up for some of the same in a bout of extra-time.

‘It would only have been a matter of time before we scored again and the way we were playing that day I don’t think we would have known how to take our foot off the gas. We wouldn’t have had the inclination, either. We would just have kept on going, no matter what the score might have been.

‘Their goal had led a somewhat charmed life although, to be fair, their keeper, Giuliano Sarti, should have got some sort of individual medal for his bravery as he kept the scoreline respectable. But even he would have capitulated in the event of another half-hour. He simply couldn’t have replicated his efforts in the regulation time. So, when Stevie knocked that one in from six yards, it put Inter Milan out of their misery.

‘That is not meant to sound big-headed or arrogant. Anyone who knows me will tell you that is certainly not my style. I’m just stating a fact. The Italians were on the verge of collapse. Meltdown was minutes away. I think the stretcher-bearers might have been working overtime during any extra-time period.’

TOMORROW: ‘My Lisbon disappointment’: Bertie Auld’s revelation.

 
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