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Tommy Gemmell, there is no measuring what the man achieved

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The most striking element of the Lisbon Lions was their common cause, no one man above another, no one left to fight their own battles. Even now, when you see them together, this camaraderie is in evidence, but on their defining day, one stood out.

On 26th May 1967, the day after Celtic’s European Cup win against Inter Milan, the Italian press raved about Tommy Gemmell. They had never seen a player like him. This was the era before Man of the Match awards, but the Italians were clear, Tommy was the stand-out performer on the day.

Defenders of his physical stature were invariably centre halves, not full backs. Full backs were defenders, not auxiliary wingers, but this was Tommy. You will read about the ascent of overlapping full back affecting the game in subsequent years, they were following Tommy Gemmell.

He was fast, could climb, had levels of stamina to allow him to get up and down the wing all game, and he was hard. Rock hard. Originally a right back, he blossomed when moved to the left back position. This allowed him to cut inside onto his strongest foot, and shoot. And he could shoot like no one else.

He scored the 60th minute equaliser in Lisbon from the inside left position, which he had taken up against team orders. Only one full back was supposed to be up field at a time, so when right back Jim Craig looked up to play a pass, the only player he should not have been able to see was Tommy Gemmell.

What Tommy did that day was overload Inter all down their right hand side. He could do this but still had the speed and engine to get back into position. This gifted Celtic a spare man in attack which Inter was unable to combat throughout the game.

And as if that wasn’t enough, he scored in his next European Cup final, against Feyenoord in 1970. A full back, scoring in two European Cup finals. In his era, he was peerless, at home or in Europe. The Continent’s very best knew this. Later decades would see the tall, fast, full back, but how many were as physically intimidating? How many possessed a fearsome ability to score from outside the box?

I got to know the great man personally in recent years. I spent time with him, he got to know my kids and they got to know him. People will tell you that the Lisbon Lions are the most ordinary people you will ever meet when you get them one to one. It’s true. Tommy, like his former team-mates, would remember details about the boys and ask about them with sincere interest.

The news of his passing today comes years after we were first prepared for this moment. He was hospitalised after a fall and given little hope of returning to his sheltered accommodation in Dunblane, but his fortitude saw him through and he was back on his feet before anyone expected.

His Dunblane flat was modest, but there was a wall of photographs, memories of when Tommy was a sporting great on the world stage. The wall prompted stories, the away tie against Dukla, what a moment they celebrated, 11 Scots on a field in the Czech capital, the first British team to qualify for a European Cup final.

Eusebio was his physical match, so Tommy enjoyed their numerous encounters. Cruyff, not so much. The Ajax player was so fast, so strong, “You didn’t know whether to get close to him, leaving space for him to exploit, or stand back and let him collect the ball before turning on you”.

I listened to as many stories as Tommy would tell and couldn’t believe that someone from the Lanarkshire streets of Craigneuk, a few miles from where I lived, had gone toe-to-toe with the game’s timeless heroes.

When he returned to his Dunblane flat from hospital a few years ago, we heard he was listening to Celtic games on the radio as he didn’t have subscription TV. CQN’ers answered the call and WinningCaptains sorted this out for him. He was incredibly touched by this gesture and remained a great friend to the blog.

His later years in particular were lit by a close friendship to CQN correspondent Alex Gordon, who with his wife, Gerda, visited Tommy more than anyone. They were there for the great man when he needed them.

His health slowly deteriorated over the last month. I knew this day was coming but feel upset nonetheless. There is no measuring what the man we lost today contributed to what we are able to enjoy in the current Celtic team. Without Tommy and his pals, none of what we have would be here.

Rest in peace, Tommy.

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  1. Stood on the slopes in Lisbon and marvelled.

     

     

    Tragedy that Tommy did not reach the 50th anniversary.

     

     

    Paul, on a sour note. Could not get into the article for ages because of an LG advert.

  2. Tommy Gemmell R.I.P

     

     

    Mr Gemmell you are immortal.

     

     

    Sitting alone when the news broke,the 1st place i thought of coming was CQN,Not a bad wee place for the Celtic family to come together.

     

    Hail Hail

  3. A sad day for the Celtic family losing one of its heroes.

     

     

    I always remember my dad exhorting Tommy to welly the ball up the park v Dukla.

     

     

    He did and Willie Wallace latched on to the high ball and scored.

     

     

    To his dying day my dad claimed credit for making that goal, but with the kind of twinkle in his eye that Tommy Gemmell possessed.

     

     

    R.I.P Tommy Gemmell and thanks for those memories.

  4. I was only three when Celtic won the big cup and didn’t realise the significance of Celtic’s achievement until I was in my twenties. Reading back and hearing of Tommy Gemmell’s sad passing comes as a real and genuine shock.

     

     

    Ar dheis láimh Dhé go raibh a anam uasal.

  5. Rhetorical: Sorry about confusion last night. The thought that there might be plenty of spares amongst them had occurred to me earlier in the day.

     

     

    Thanks to those who vouched for my non-hunness:-)

     

     

    Great news is that I have secured the three tickets I was looking for so I will introduce Ruairí to the corner on the twelfth.

     

     

    Now, anyone got two tickets for Melbourne’s finest Tim?

  6. Met the great man on a few occasions , a true gentleman , RIP Tommy Gemmell , Celtic Legend .

  7. GlassTwoThirdsFull on

    Just heard the sad news. Not a good week for our Lions.

     

    RIP Tommy. You have given us all something to remember.

  8. Big Georges Fan Club - Hail, Hail, Wee Oscar on

    Another hero fallen, but never forgotten

     

     

    Hail Hail Tommy Gemmell

     

     

    BGFC

  9. RIP Tommy Gemmell your legend lives on. The Celtic community is a sadder place today for it’s loss HH.

  10. non dee ploom on

    Well said Paul I’m sure you many of us agree with your thoughts.

     

    R.I.P. Tommy.

  11. VFR800 is now a Monster 821 on

    Lovely tribute Paul; as I said in the previous article Tommy was my favorite player in that era.

     

     

    I vividly remember watching him score that historic goal on 25th May 1967; my house was always mobbed (12 children in the family) and that was supplemented by others in to watch the game. Uproar and bedlam ensued only to be followed later when the winner went in!

     

     

    A fantastic memory, just one of many. the big man gave us.

     

     

     

    KTF

  12. weebobbycollins on

    Stand tall…stand proud Tommy…true Celtic legend…you will live forever within all of us. My Celtic world is so much darker today…

     

    Rest in peace big man…

  13. Gutted to hear this news. What a player and man Tommy was. Thankfully I’m old enough to remember him on the pitch. Pre Fifa and computers, me and my dad used to play ‘Striker’ a hugely enjoyable football game with plastic players who pinged steel balls around the plastic pitch. He always picked the same team. There was a guy he played at the back who roamed forward and never missed the target, firing balls into the goal, almost taking the net and goal apart with its power and accuracy. He called him Tommy Gemmell.

     

     

    What is a fantastic tribute you have written, Paul, capturing the humanity of the guy, a man who reached the pinnacle of club football but retained a modesty and wonderful sense of humour. Sadly, I never had the privilege of meeting Tommy but saw him many times on tv and he was larger than life and just irrepressible. If I can, would thoroughly recommend Tommy’s chapter in this book, a superb read, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Celtic-Minded-Religion-Politics-Identity/dp/1902831691

     

     

    Rest in peace Tommy.

  14. .

     

    Paul67 etal.

     

     

    Sorry to hear that big Tam has passed away,Great team player and scored some great goals,Rest in Peace big Man,You will never be forgotten.

     

     

    Excuse me if my grammar isn’t up to scratch,but here is some thought’s I have at this moment in time.

     

     

    I’ve been watching Celtic for a few years now and at times you get uplifted by certain years when watching Celtic, the first year that that happened was 66-67 when they started playing like they were knitting into a good team.

     

    I remember around March 67 saying to my brother that we have a great chance that we could get to the final that year, well it come to fruition and we went to Lisbon and made history that day,A day that has lasted all those years forever stamped in my mind,, I now can’t remember what happened last week never mind as far back as 1967.

     

     

    I now have that same feeling again, the last few weeks has me thinking that Celtic can do it again, if we can hold onto this team for a couple of seasons I may be be going on my travels again next season, I feel it in my blood that glory will happen again for the Tic next season, if wishes come true, I’ll be on the road again next season.

     

    Maybe wishful thinking on my part but it gives me the incentive to live another year.

     

     

    Celtic have given me the incentive to live a few years more, I got it in the last couple of weeks, With Celtic building this new Hotel it’s a big incentive to live long enough to be booked in the first night even if there is no game that week, I hope to be there on opening day, (wishful thinking) but if dreams come true, we will be in the EU Cup final next year, and beyond, maybe again (wishful thinking)But dreams will come true again.

     

     

    By the way the game was great to watch last night, talent abounds with this team, and Celtic WILL give me my dreams.

     

     

    Written before I heard about the sad passing of a great Celtic Player. Sad, Sad, Day.

  15. saltires en sevilla on

    Paul67

     

     

    Well said. What we all feel.

     

     

    Tommy was a Titan in a team of Titans.

     

     

    The first proper football book I ever read was The Big Shot. i probably learned more about football and the Celtic I love, from that wonderful insight into the heart of a beautifal man.

     

     

    I still have the original, and the first thing I’m going to do is wipe away a put the kettle on, wipe away a tear and read it.

     

     

    God bless and rest you Tommy.

     

     

    Celtic Legend extraordinaire!!

     

     

    You will be remebered forever!

  16. Old Tim

     

    Excellent. No need for you to apologise for anything. You are to CQN what each of the Lisbon Lions is to Celtic .

     

    All the very best.

     

    Cheerio for now,

     

     

    JJ

  17. Hunderbirds are Gone on

    Well done Paul. A great tribute to a great man.

     

     

    The tears are literally running off of my face as I type. Tommy was my first Celtic hero. In those seventeen a side games at playtime and lunchtime, and after school, I was always Tommy Gemmell. Myself and a school friend would practice the free kick routine for his “other” European Cup Final goal, long after darkness had descended and our tea was oot.

     

     

    I was lucky enough to meet Tommy, briefly, on more than one occasion. When I was a student at Strathclyde in the late 70’s, early 80’s, I spoke to him a few times in the Press Bar in Albion street. He was such a lovely man, generous with his time, and happy to talk to us starstruck mortals.

     

     

    It was during this period that I got to tell him he was my hero in my younger days, he just laughed. I am glad that I got the chance to let him know that, I really am. I last saw Tommy about ten years ago, in the Highland village where I live, in Tesco’s. He was still the same, happy to spend a few minutes chatting to myself and Mrs H.

     

     

    I was alerted to the news of Tommy’s passing by a text from my daughter this morning. She is only 22, and of course saw nothing of Tommy Gemmell the player. But she knew that his death would be a cause of sadness to me, and the wider Celtic family of which we are all a part. In this way Tommy Gemmell will never die.

     

     

    “The Big Shot”. The big shot indeed. Tommy Gemmell was a giant of a man, in every sense of the word. I am 57 years old now, but I can close my eyes, and still be running around with a mob of boys and wishing I was Tommy Gemmell.

     

     

    Deepest condolences to all of Tommy’s close friends and family, and may he rest in peace.

     

     

    HAIL HAIL Tommy Gemmell – a true Celtic legend.

  18. Old Tim, You shouldn’t be making a stupid ol’ git like me to start greetin at this time of the day.

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