CQN continue our EXCLUSIVE extracts from Alex Gordon’s tribute book, ‘The Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary’, with a look at one of the unsung heroes of the European Cup triumph.
Today, Alex reveals the secret midfield powerhouse Bobby Murdoch kept from his team-mates during that glorious evening in Lisbon on May 25 1967.
BOBBY MURDOCH went through all sorts of agonies as Celtic gatecrashed the European big-time in Lisbon. Murdoch, thoughtful with a delightful touch as well as possessing a shot of sledgehammer proportions, had his right foot stamped on by a desperate Inter Milan defender early in the game.
The midfielder would later say: “The pain shot right through me. It was probably an accident, but it was a dull one. If there had been outfield substitutes available back then, I might have had to go off. However, as it was, we only had substitute goalkeeper John Fallon on the bench that day. Big Jock told me: “Run it off, Bobby, you’ll be fine.” As the game progressed towards half-time, I looked down and my right ankle seemed to be twice the size it was at the kick-off.
“People must have wondered why I was favouring my left foot that day. Fortunately, I was two-footed, but my right was undoubtedly the stronger of the two. I even managed to get a couple of left-footed shots on target that day, but both were saved.”
IN THE THICK OF THE ACTION…Bobby Murdoch challenges Aberdeen duo Davie Robb and Stevie Murray for the ball.
Murdoch’s midfield ally Bertie Auld remembers: “I saw Bobby grimace at one point and I asked him what was the matter. He pointed to his right foot and I could clearly see that his ankle was beginning to swell up. I said: ‘I don’t like the look of that, Bobby.’ ‘I’m no’ too chuffed myself, Bertie,’ came the reply.
“What a performance he put in that day on one foot. The Italians got lucky – could you even start to imagine what he would have done to them if he could have used both feet!”
Jim Craig backs up the story: “The fans will always remember that I was the guy who pulled the ball back for Tommy Gemmell to thump in our equaliser. However, I had an even better run and cross before that and this time picked out Bobby. I had seen him leather those sort of balls past the keeper before they had a chance to move.
“On this occasion, though, he allowed the ball to run across him onto his left foot. That gave an Inter Milan defender the opportunity to get at him and, in that split-second, the chance was gone.
“That was most unlike Bobby, but it does illustrate how uncomfortable he was with his right foot. His display against the Italians was as brave as any I have ever witnessed. Thankfully, he and the rest of us got our reward at the end.”
Murdoch was one of the most unassuming men you could have ever wished to meet. He played down his phenomenal ability and preferred praise to go the way of others.
“I’m not one for fuss,” he would often say. But Bobby was a key man with Celtic and rivals noted this. None more so than a representative of Racing Club of Argentina before the ill-fated and bad-tempered World Club Championship Final in 1967.
The South American observed Celtic over a number of games and was clearly impressed by the dynamic and powerful midfielder. When asked about what he thought of the European Cup holders, he said simply: “Murdoch – he is Celtic.”
No-one was unduly surprised when Racing Club had a two-man shadow squad on Murdoch throughout the three games. Nor was anyone shocked when they saw Murdoch being kicked very early in the first game at Hampden. Sadly, it was probably seen as some sort of backhanded compliment by the South Americans.
Murdoch, though, still managed to shine in those torrid encounters and Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in the world at that time, were reported to be getting ready to make a massive bid for his services.
In typical Murdoch fashion, he reponded: “Ach, I’m no’ interested – no way. I’m staying with the club I love. I’m only interested in playing for Celtic.”
Alas, this wonderful personality was taken from us far too early when he passed away on May 15 2001 at the age of 56.
But if you ever want to witness a midfield player in his absolute prime and doing everything with breathtaking precision, just look again at the European Cup Final of 1967.
Bobby Murdoch, with one good foot, was on the greatest platform in football and, to everyone’s delight, this wonderful and self-deprecating character played a pivotal role in the club’s most famous triumph.
TOMORROW: The Spirit of 67: The kick-off to glory.