Lisbon Lions: How Jock Stein’s Celtic became kings of Europe

On May 25, 1967, Celtic became the first British club to win the European Cup when they defeated Inter in Lisbon.

Matthew Crist

On the 25 May 1967 in Portugal’s capital Celtic defeated Inter Milan to become the first British side to win the European Cup.

An achievement made even more special due to the fact that nearly all of the 11 players used that night grew up within a bus ride of Parkhead as Jock Stein, achieved glory with a team of local lads who would forever be known as the ‘Lisbon Lions’.

The 1966/67 season would see Celtic win every competition they entered: the Scottish League, the Scottish Cup, the Scottish League Cup, the Glasgow Cup, and the European Cup while also setting a record total of 196 goals scored in the process thanks to a style of play encouraged by boss Stein.

Hailed as one of the true greats of the game, Stein had only taken over in 1965 following short stints in charge of Dunfermline and Hibernian during the early part of the decade but, with the Celtic board seeking to elevate the club out of mid-table mediocrity, they decided to take something of an unprecedented gamble by hiring their former player.

He inherited a side that was full of local lads who he had worked with in the youth side who, before his arrival, were out of favour – in total 14 of the 15 men involved in that campaign came from within a 10-mile radius of Celtic Park.

A 1–0 win on 29 October 1966 over Rangers secured Celtic’s first trophy of that epic campaign in the form of the Scottish League Cup before the Glasgow Cup followed a week later when they defeated Partick Thistle.

Two Willie Wallace goals against Aberdeen at Hampden Park secured the Scottish Cup in May while a point against Rangers was all that Jock Stein’s men required to clinch the League title and a brace from Jimmy Johnstone earned Celtic a 2–2 draw – completing a league and cup double – not to mention a domestic quadruple.

All that was left now was the small matter of a European Cup final against Inter Milan in Lisbon to make it a clean sweep.

Wins over FC Zürich, Nantes, FK Vojvodina and Dukla Prague secured Celtic’s place in the final to face a side who had been crowned champions of Europe three times in the past four years and had pioneered a style of play at Inter called catenaccio (or ‘door-bolt’) under their Argentine manager Helenio Herrera.

Inter were renowned for their ability to protect a 1-0 lead, meaning their opponents were terrified of falling behind to them, but after 7 minutes that is just what happened when the Italians won a penalty after Jim Craig caught Renato Cappellini in the box and Sandro Mazzola tucked it away.

As expected Inter retreated into their shell as Celtic swarmed forward, pushing their full-backs Tommy Gemmell and Billy McNeil so high up the pitch that the Italians were pegged back in their own half for much of the remainder of the game.

Celtic would have 39 shots on goal while their goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson would only make two more stops all game.

Milan held onto their early lead until half-time. But in the 63rd minute, Tommy Gemmell cut back on the edge of the area and unleashed a powerful shot that flew into the net. The goal gave Celtic the inspiration the players needed. They continued to attack their opponent’s goal.

With Inter unable to snap-out of their defensive mode and Celtic continuing to push forward looking to seize upon their initiative, in the 84th minute Chalmers tapped home Billy McNeil’s goal-bound shot from close range.

At the final whistle Celtic fans poured onto the pitch to celebrate their team’s victory; digging up turf, taking shirts, boots and anything they could as a memento of the most famous night in the club’s history.

Such was the chaos that captain Billy McNeill had to leave the stadium and enter through a service entrance to get to the press box and lift the huge trophy while the rest of the team received their medals in the dressing room.

In Stein’s 13 years at Celtic Park, they would win no fewer than 10 League titles, eight Scottish Cups, six Scottish League Cups and would go on to reach the final of the European Cup again in 1970 – ultimately losing to Feyenoord.

But that May night in Lisbon will forever be Stein’s legacy as a team of local lads, most of whom grew up in the shadow of Parkhead and were known on a personal level by the community, defeated one of the greatest sides in Europe.


Leave a comment

Follow Matthewjcrist on Twitter