Celtic 1967 – the only quadruple winners

JOCK STEIN said it all really: “I want to be remembered for the football we played”. He was referring to Celtic’s first European Cup final appearance against the formidable Inter Milan in Lisbon and the possibility of defeat, something that Stein’s side were unaccustomed to experiencing.

Fifty years on, the quality of Celtic’s football in that glorious season and the scale of their achievements is still being talked about. Celtic and Jock Stein pointed the way ahead for European football and although they never won the competition again, they will forever be remembered as the team that broke the stranglehold of the infamous catenaccio.

Europe had become bored of Italy’s vice-like grip on the major prizes. Inter and AC Milan had won three European Cups in four years and the defence-minded style of Italian clubs was stifling the life out of football. From 1963 to 1967, Italy’s Serie A was characterised by cautious – although highly technical and skilful – football that yielded fewer and fewer goals. Just consider that in 1966-67, the average goals per game in Italy was just 2.0 – compared to 3.00 in England, 2.73 in Spain and 2.92 in Germany.

Goals were plentiful at Celtic, in fact, in 1966-67, they netted 111 in 34 Scottish First Division games. Stein preached attacking football that was fast, cultured and richly entertaining. He believed that making a good team into a great team relied on injecting unpredictability into the equation. In players like Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch and Bobby Lennox, Celtic had the flair and guile that took an efficient and consistent team into the stratosphere.

But as well as individualism, Celtic’s big strength was the way the player with the ball was supported by the entire team. You could argue that Stein’s Celtic were the forerunners of Dutch “Total Football”.

Celtic’s success in 1966-67 came in Stein’s second season in charge at Parkhead. A modest footballer by all accounts, he became Celtic’s first protestant manager when he took over in 1965. In that first campaign, Celtic won the Scottish League and Scottish League Cup and were runners-up in the Scottish Cup and semi-finalists in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. It was a very good start.

Nobody could have foreseen just how dramatic 1966-67 would become. Celtic warmed up for the serious business with two important pre-season victories, 4-1 against Manchester United and 1-0 away at Real Madrid. Once the league got underway, Stein’s men went 16 games unbeaten before Dundee United beat them 3-2 on New Year’s Eve. By then, Celtic had already won the Scottish League Cup, Bobby Lennox’s goal proving enough to beat Rangers 1-0.

They had also reached the last eight of the European Cup, the competition that Stein described as, “the one that matters”. They had worked their way through the first two rounds with few problems, beating FC Zurich and Nantes home and away.  Johnstone was in irresistible form in France as Celtic won 3-1, prompting the media to nickname him the “flying flea”. Johnstone, who was more commonly known as “Jinky” in recognition of his tricky runs down the flank, was only 22 at the start of 1966-67, but he had already been capped by Scotland. Stein initially considered that he was too much of a luxury player, but Johnstone won him round and it is often forgotten that in 1967, he finished third in the European Footballer of the Year poll.

Bill Shankly said it all when he told Stein he had become immortal

Johnstone was not the only player who could provide that spark of genius. Bobby Murdoch, complimented by Stein as “Just about the best player I had as a manager”, was a sophisticated performer. Another youngster, Murdoch stayed with Celtic until 1973 when he joined Middlesbrough because he needed fresh challenges. He had won everything you could as a Celtic player by the age of 22.

Most of Celtic’s team were yet to reach their prime. Goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson was heading for 37 after a career in England with Newcastle United, where he won the FA Cup twice in the 1950s. But Jim Craig (23), Billy McNeill (26), John Clark (25), Tommy Gemmell (23), Murdoch (22), Johnstone (22), Willie Wallace (26) and Bobby Lennox (23) had years ahead of them. Steve Chalmers was 31 at the turn of the year.

They had to rely on skipper McNeill, who acquired the nickname “Cesar”, a reference to the 1960 film, Ocean’s Eleven, to get them through the quarter-final of the European Cup against Vojvodina. Celtic lost the first leg 1-0 in Yugoslavia and it was a last minute goal from McNeill that gave them a 2-0 turnaround in the second leg. “We had an in-built confidence that we could not lose,” said John Clark some years later. Celtic’s players believed that the Vojvodina tie was the toughest on the way to the final, but they made life difficult for themselves in the last four.

Celtic took one step towards the final by beating Dukla Prague 3-1 in the semi-final first leg at Parkhead but Stein, uncharacteristically, discarded his attacking beliefs for the second leg in Prague. Celtic played negatively and ground out a fractious 0-0 draw in the Juliska Stadium. They would meet an Inter Milan side that had been crowned European champions in 1964 and 1965, the team of Helenio Herrera, the arch-exponent of catenaccio

Meanwhile, domestic honours had to be secured. On April 29, four days after reaching the European Cup final, Celtic won the Scottish Cup by beating Aberdeen 2-0 at Hampden Park in front of 126,000 people. Willie Wallace, who had been bought from Hearts for £ 30,000 in the close season, scored both goals.

Celtic were agonisingly close to winning the league, but slipped up at home against Dundee United, losing 2-3 for the second time in the season to the Tangerines. On May 6, the “Old firm” derby at Ibrox Park ended in a 2-2 draw and it was enough to give Celtic the championship. Jimmy Johnstone scored both of Celtic’s goals. In the stand was one Helenio Herrera Gavilán, laughing and enjoying the atmosphere of his first Glasgow derby.

And so, the green and white half of Glasgow decamped to Lisbon for the European Cup final. Estimates suggest that between 15,000 and 20,000 travelled to Portugal for the game on May 25, 1967 but Celtic versus Internazionale has become one of those moments in football folklore that has become a classic “I was there” situation. If everyone who claimed to have been in Lisbon that day was in fact present, 20,000 would probably become 200,000.

It is fascinating how Lisbon and the players who made history have become woven into the social history of Glasgow. Nobody could deny that Stein’s Celtic did not deserve to be crowned Europe’s finest on that sunny evening. It was Scotland’s triumph, but it was also Britain’s big breakthrough. There was also a certain symmetry with England’s World Cup win, but cynics would argue that the achievement of winning the European Cup against a mean spirited team that had dominated the competition in recent years, was even more worthy of praise.

This was also, importantly, a victory for home grown talent. The Celtic team that lined-up against Inter all came from within a 30-mile radius: Simpson, Craig, Auld and Chalmers were all Glasgow-born. Both McNeill and Clark were from Belshill, 10 miles south-east of Glasgow. Murdoch grew up in Rutherglen, Johnstone was born in Viewpark, North Lanarkshire and Wallace in Kirkintilloch. Gemmell was born in Motherwell and Lennox was a Saltcoats lad. Very few teams have had such a concentration of origins.

Inter were a feared team and had beaten Torpedo Moscow, Vasas Budapest, holders Real Madrid and CSKA Red Flag of Sofia on the way to Lisbon. But in the weeks leading up to the final, something had started to go wrong for Herrera’s side. With 28 games played in Serie A, they were four points clear of Juventus at the top of the table. But five winless games later, including a 1-0 defeat against Juve, Inter were one ahead of their rivals.

Inter were not at full strength for the final. Luis Suarez, the former Barcelona forward and Herrera acolyte, was now 32 and injured. Jair, the Brazilian winger who had won the European Cup for Inter in 1965, was also sidelined. There were rumours that Sandro Mazzola, one of the all-time greats of Italian football, was also struggling for full mobility.

Nevertheless, Inter were favourites, but Jock Stein was not going to psyched out of the game. He showed his team the 1960 final on cine film, seeking inspiration from the great Real Madrid side that lit-up Hampden Park. There was talk about how Inter would set themselves up and how the smothering tactics that had so incensed Benfica in 1965 might be repreated against Celtic. “The formation is not as important as the attitude,” said Stein, who had studied Herrera’s methods at length a few years earlier. He told his team to “got out there boys and play your usual game”.

Herrera, an exponent of mind games, tried to whip-up local support, but he had underestimated the damage done by his team in 1965 when they had squeezed the life out of Benfica and Eusebio.

British sides had not generally fared well against Italy in the 1960s. In the European Cup, Everton and Liverpool had both fallen foul of Inter and Manchester United had lost to AC Milan in post-Munich 1958. Chelsea and Leeds, in the Inter-Cities Fairs’ Cup, had better results, although they had felt the wrath of Italian defences and crowds.

Celtic had the stamina and the skill to upset an Inter team that included Mazzola, Giacinto Facchetti, Angelo Domenghini, Mario Corso and Tarcisio Burgnich. They went into the game with the instruction not to concede early given Inter’s penchant to close-up once they were ahead. But in the seventh minute, they fell behind to a Mazzola penalty. Celtic came back strongly, though, and they were denied by the woodwork and goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti, a custodian who had perfected the art of the “sweeper-keeper”.

Celtic eventually equalised in the 63rd minute, a piledriver from Tommy Gemmell, who had been one of their outstanding players. Stein’s men dominated and had something like 49 shots during the game. Celtic laid siege to Inter’s goal and only Sarti’s brilliance kept them at bay. “Inter are like a crenelated wall, ramparts and watchtowers,” was how David Goldblatt, in his marvellous book, The Ball is Round, described the constant pressure and Inter’s ability to cope.

Journalists in Lisbon were quick to praise Celtic’s ability to take the game to the Italians. “They’ve all go Stein’s heart..there’s a bit of the big man in all of them.”

Six minutes from the end, Inter cracked, but it took a clever, and apparently planned, deflection to win the game. The shot came from Bobby Murdoch and it was Steve Chalmers that touched the ball home. Some called it a fluke, but Chalmers admitted it was a move that had been practised for weeks. It didn’t matter, Celtic hung on to win 2-1 and for a wee while, Lisbon belonged to Glasgow.

Hugh McIlvanney described it thus: “Pockets of Celtic supporters are holding out in unlikely corners, noisily defending their own carnival atmosphere against the returning tide of normality, determined to preserve the moment, to make the party go on and on.”

Somebody else described it as “Dunkirk with happiness”, while the Portuguese press said that Inter had paid the price for refusing to play entertaining football.

They had also been throttled by their own tactics. As Inter retreated after scoring so early, Celtic’s energy and pace swamped them. It enabled players like Murdoch the space to flourish. Patience had also been key for the Scots.

Bill Shankly, discussing the game afterwards, with his compatriot, Stein, leaned over and said quietly: “John…you are immortal.” But the last word on the game goes to Herrera, never a man to value a defeat. “Celtic deserved to win. We lost, but the match was a victory for sport.”

But how right the bard of Anfield was. Stein and his team had made history, playing in a style that lifted the heart and suggested the dark art of catenaccio was not the way ahead. A few days later, Inter’s castle was stormed again as they lost their final Serie A game at Mantova, allowing Juventus to win the scudetto. Herrera’s world was crumbling and he stayed just one more season before moving to Roma.

Celtic continued to win trophies under Stein – between 1965-66 and 1973-74, they won nine consecutive Scottish League titles, five Scottish Cups, five Scottish League Cups and of course, the European Cup. In 1970, they reached the final again but lost to Feyenoord. They almost repeated their all-conquering march of 1967.

The Celtic team that won the European Cup has become, like Stein, immortal in the eyes of Celtic fans and anyone who cares about the history and culture of the game. “The Lisbon Lions” probably all deserve a statue in their honour. This was, after all, a team of the people…


Champions League: English teams too strong for Italy

LIVERPOOL may have edged past Inter Milan by the narrowest of margins, but the hard work had already been done in the San Siro stadium two weeks earlier. Although over the two legs, Inter played well, even their best wasn’t enough to overcome a Liverpool side that is currently full of confidence and has its eyes on another Champions League title.

On paper – hard currency, that is – Liverpool should be better than Inter, but the Nerazzurri are the Italian champions and they have some outstanding performers in their squad. The harsh reality for the likes of Inter is that English clubs are now too strong for most of their European peers and it is not out of the question that the last eight could include four Premier Leaguers.

There was a time when Italian clubs were feared by English participants in the European Cup and latterly, the Champions League. England’s top sides just couldn’t remove Italy’s clubs from the competition. It wasn’t until 1998-99 that an English club overcome an Italian counterpart from the European Cup/Champions League in the knockout phase. Up until that season, Manchester United, Ipswich Town, Everton, Liverpool, Derby and Aston Villa had all fallen foul of Serie A’s representatives. Sometimes, the games involving teams from England and Italy would come with a dose of controversy, such as Liverpool’s semi-final exit at the hands of Helenio Herrera’s Inter in 1965 and the defeat of Derby, managed by Brian Clough in Turin. The ultra-professionalism of Italian clubs in the 1960s and 1970s often upset the English.

The days when Italian clubs were the last people you wanted to meet have, to a certain degree, gone, although Serie A still has plenty of talent and some well-drilled sides. But from a financial perspective, clubs are carrying a lot of debt and have been making huge losses during the pandemic. This makes them less competitive when it comes to attracting the very best players. In the 2021-22 Champions League, English and Italian teams have clashed eight times and the scorecard is 5-2 to the Premier with one draw.

There are certain similarities between the Premier and Serie A. Over the past five years, seven teams have filled the top six places in Italy (Juve, Inter, Milan, Napoli, Lazio, Atalanta and Roma), while in England, eight teams have made places one to six (City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester and West Ham). For Juve in Italy, there’s Manchester City in England, for Atalanta, read Leicester or West Ham. For Tottenham and Arsenal, you’ve got the Milans and Romans. Both leagues have another 20 clubs who have either flitted in and out of the top flight or spend their time avoiding relegation.

The financial differences are significant and are driven primarily by broadcasting revenues, with the Premier so far ahead of the rest of the world. While the current TV deal for the Premier is £ 4.8 billion over three years, Serie A’s most recent agreement is € 2.8 billion over the same timespan.

 In addition, club ownership has become a competitive differentiator for the Premier, with wealthy business people attracted to the UK and the economic potential of its football. Italy has now ventured down this path after being largely owned by Italian business and families, but this has also come with problems, as witnessed at Inter Milan and their Chinese owner Suning. US investors have also become quite interested in Italy and seven current members of Serie A now have US shareholders. Parma, in Serie B, has 99% US ownership.

In the 21st century, Premier League clubs have performed better than Serie A in the Champions League. There have been five winners and eight finalists from England, while Italy has won the competition three times and provided four runners-up. The last winner of the Champions League from Serie A was Inter Milan in 2010, while two of the last three have come from the Premier, Liverpool in 2019 and Chelsea in 2021.

While the club scene seems set for a period of English dominance, the national teams, who met in the European Championship final last year, have very different records. Since 2000, Italy have won the World Cup (2006) and Euros (2020) and finished runners-up in the Euros in 2000 and 2012. England, by contrast, have won nothing since 1966. It would be easy to blame the lack of international success on the cosmopolitan Premier League – Liverpool’s team that won through against Inter included three English players – but Serie A has a higher rate of expatriates, 63.8% versus 59.6% (source: CIES). England and Italy are the two biggest importers of players by some distance.

Inter Milan went the same way as AC Milan and Atalanta, but Juventus are still involved and should make it through to the last eight. Meanwhile, Liverpool and Manchester City are in the quarter-finals and Chelsea and Manchester United have a good chance of joining them. There’s a good chance one of the four may come up against Juventus, which will reignite the rivalry between Italian and English clubs.

Despite debt and losses, Serie A is Europe’s most exciting title contest

THE 2021-22 Italian title race promises to be one of the more interesting in Europe as four teams slug it out at the top of Serie A. Italian clubs have suffered during the pandemic, running up big losses and carrying large amounts of debt, but on the pitch, the campaign is shaping up nicely.

AC Milan reminded everyone they are back in the mix with an exciting 2-1 win against Inter Milan at the San Siro, thanks to a late burst from Olivier Giroud, who scored two goals after Inter led from the first half. Milan’s victory ended a 14-game unbeaten run for Inter. It was only the Nerazzuri’s second league defeat of the campaign. But this was not the ideal preparation for Inter’s next game which is a gruelling trip to Napoli on February 12. This is a six-pointer if ever there was one for Napoli are in second place and one point behind Inter, who have a game in hand. 

However, victory for Luciano Spalletti’s team will put pressure on Simone Inzaghi at Inter and also get people talking about a possible Napoli scudetto. It’s now 32 years since Diego Maradona’s team won Serie A for the second time in a four-year period between 1987 and 1990. Napoli strengthened their bid with a 2-0 win at Venezia’s Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo on the banks of the Venice lagoon. 

They were boosted by the return of Victor Osimhen, who cost the club € 70 million when he joined from Lille in 2020. Osimhen, just 23, has been hampered by injury and illness since arriving in Naples and the Venezia game was his first since November. He headed Napoli ahead and prompted coach Spalletti to urge his players to play to the strengths of the big Nigerian striker.

Milan’s win was their first in Serie A this season against the challengers and they have a vital clash on March 6 in Naples. They did well to recover from a first half in which Inter dominated and took the lead. It was a vital turnaround because a defeat would have put seven points between the two Milanese clubs. 

The mood at Milan is definitely in the ascendancy, not just on the field but also behind the scenes. The club’s financial performance, while still concerning, has improved significantly with revenues in 2020-21 climbing by 40% to € 241 million and losses down from € 192 million to € 92 million. The club has net debts of € 101 million. The recovery of Milan was always going to take time, but there are green shoots emerging.

The only real downer in 2021-22 for Milan has been their early exit in the Champions League, but with Liverpool, Atlético Madrid and Porto in their group, it was no great surprise to see them struggle.

While Milan have reasons to be cheerful, Inter’s financial position is still worrying because of the problems faced by their owner, Suning of China. Inter not only lost € 240 million, but their net debt increased by 16% and their wage-to-income ratio was up to 74%. On top of that, they lost coach Antonio Conte and star striker Romelu Lukaku. The Chelsea striker has, quite bizarrely, been making noises about returning to Italy and has been pictured wearing an Inter shirt. Inter have been playing good football and the signing of veteran target man Edin Džeko, Lukaku’s cut-price replacement, has proved to be successful.

Inter’s wage bill is around € 100 million more than their San Siro stable-mates, but Juventus remain the biggest payers in Italy with wages almost hitting the € 300 million mark. Juventus have had a difficult campaign, welcoming back Max Allegri after the departure of Andrea Pirlo and were still coming to terms with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo earlier in the season. But if there is to be a surprise in the title race, it will surely come from Juve, who may have just made a transformational signing.

Despite making a huge loss in 2020-21 (€ 210 million) and carrying net debt of € 389 million, Juventus were busy in the January transfer window. The much sought-after Dušan Vlahović was signed from Fiorentina for € 70 million and the Serbian striker took just 13 minutes to score on his debut for his new club against Verona. Swiss central midfielder Denis Zakaria, signed from Borussia Mönchengladbach, also scored in his first game.

Juve are unbeaten in 10 league games and are still in the Champions League. They may be eight points behind leaders Inter, but positive momentum is building. Stefano Pioli, the Milan coach, believes Inter and Juve have the strongest squads and nobody is prepared to write off the Turin club.

At this stage, Juve appear to have too much to do, but they have the experience and resources to make a second half bid for the title. It isn’t in their own hands, but they know how to string together long sequences of wins that brush aside rivals. Watch this space, because it will be worth watching in the coming weeks.