Article by Giorgio Pirelli
European soccer has produced very few sensations in its history on knock out competition running back to the mid nineteen fifties. In the early years, teams from the Iberian Peninsula dominated the competition, and from the early sixties onwards the Italians took over, and teams from that country won the competition for the next three years consecutively. Things didn’t look to change that much as the 1966-67 competition got under way. The press in England as ever was bemoaning the fact that an English team was yet to win the competition, and that maybe this would be the season that soccer justice would be seen to be done.Meanwhile Glasgow Celtic, playing in their familiar green and white soccer uniforms and fielding a team made up entirely of players from the West of Scotland were working there way through the tournament.. Backed by their hugely partisan crown in their huge and archaic home stadium of Parkhead in the East End of Glasgow, the “Bhoys” were playing some really remarkable attacking football. Coached by their enigmatic manager, the late Jock Stein, they were slowly raising the eyebrows of soccer fans throughout Europe as they defied the odds and beating some of the strongest teams in Europe of that time. English hopes were dashed as the season’s contenders, Liverpool, were dumped from the competition by the highly underrated Ajax of Amsterdam. However Celtic just kept on winning till they made it to the Final, held in Lisbon in late May 1967. Their opponents were to Internazionale of Milan, who was widely expected to finally show these Scottish upstarts who the masters of soccer were and send them back to Glasgow with their tails between their legs. The late Jimmy Johnston, among the best Scottish footballers of all time, recalled the few moments waiting in the tunnel before the game kicked of “We were waiting, and all of a sudden the Internazionale players began to appear. I looked up and they all seemed so well groomed and tall. The aroma of hair oil and after shave in the tunnel was overwhelming.””Spontaneously all the Celtic players began to sing some of our Glaswegian street songs, and the Italians looked at us as if we had just fallen out of a tree. But there was a fear in their eyes.” he summed up.Things looked bad for Celtic after they fell behind to a soft penalty just a few minutes after the game kicked off. Instead of trying to press their advantage, the Italians began to withdraw into their traditional defensive posture. Celtic and Jock Stein refused to be overawed and responded by mounting wave after wave of attacking football, combining the individual skills of Johnston and exceptional teamwork of his teammates.It seemed that the Italian defense would stand firm, until late in the game Celtic drew level with a cannonball shot from outside the area from full back Tommy Gemmell. It looked like extra time as Inter packed their penalty box and Celtic pressed on relentlessly looking for a chink in the Inter defensive shield. And it came with a minute to go from a simple tap in from Willie Wallace. A minute later the final whistle blew. The impossible had happened. Glasgow Celtic had become the first British team to win the European cup. This was indeed, a remarkable achievement; one that can never be taken away from them. Celtic’s victory proved two major points. First, that Italian football’s invincibility was exaggerated, and that one of the top English clubs would be the first UK team to win the trophy.Street parties went on both in Lisbon and in the east end of Glasgow on a night that will never be forgotten. The night the legend of the Lisbon Lions was born.
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