A victory for sport

They say that you should never meet your heroes.

I disagree.

I have met mine and I have cherished every minute in their company

It is 47 years since the premier club competition in European football was contested in the beautiful City of Lisbon.

Regular readers will know of my long standing relationship with Portugal’s capital.

I was there only recently for a media conference and I scheduled in a couple of extra days at the end just because I could.

They are now all septuagenarians, but almost half a century ago they were a pride of young lions and now they are there today to see another team lift the European Cup in Lisbon.

In 1967 with lungs like the Grand Canyon and legs of spring steel, they battered the finest defensive team in European football into submission.

Even the Inter Milan manager, Helenio Herrera, admitted that “it was a victory for sport”.

The Argentinian was spot on.

Jock Stein didn’t just want to beat Inter Milan, he wanted to do so with a style that would make the neutrals shout for the men from Glasgow.

It had never been achieved before and will never be replicated.

It was a team of players born and reared within a radius of 30 miles of the stadium.

If a club has to have a finest hour then I can’t think of anything that comes close in British football.

The Lions are back in Lisbon.

I reckon that by now Bertie Auld and John Fallon will be locked in combat as to who has the funniest story from those days.

In any encyclopaedia, the entry for “irrepressible” should just have photograph of Bertie.

Bobby Lennox, a front man who should have collected speeding tickets, still has that love of life.

I’m proud to call John Fallon my friend and he ensured that my first ever Scottish Cup final (1969) was a happy affair.

They will, amid all the craic, remember that some of the Lions are no longer with us.

Bobby Murdoch the flawless passing machine that Stein built his team around passed away in 2001 at the tragically young age of 56.

There is an old saying that a successful football team should be a mixture of “silk and steel”.

Bobby Murdoch had both of those qualities.

The man they called ‘faither’ passed away 10 years ago.

Ronnie Simpson was only five foot ten inches, but seemed to be able to stop attempts on goal in the most unorthodox of ways.

In an era before the pass back rule, he was like a sweeper with the ball at his feet.

Both of them have gone to their rest eternal.

So, too, has Jinky.

Voted the greatest ever player to have worn the Hoops, I was blessed to see wee Jimmy Johnstone in his prime, gleefully skipping past the best defenders in Europe.

In Lisbon on 25 May 1967, the script was written that Celtic would lose after conceding an early penalty to Inter Milan.

When Mazzola put the ball past Ronnie Simpson, there should have been no way back for the men from Scotland.

Helenio Herrera’s Catenaccio system was meant to ensure a victory under such circumstances.

However, it was the big man from Burnbank, not Rinus Michels, who invented ‘Total Football’.

The big red-faced man who I met in Jimmy Gribben’s house had a head full of tactical genius that was peerless.

It is 29 years since Jock Stein breathed his last at Ninian Park.

I can still remember where I was when I heard of his passing and the emotion still touches me.

Yes, Mr Shankly, he is immortal.

The Big Man’s right hand, Sligo man Sean Fallon has also gone to his rest eternal.

We last spoke at a Celtic Graves Society event in Coatbridge in 2012.

As we say in this part of the world he was himself.

The toll of the years had made his legs struggle to carry him, but this was the man who played on in a Celtic match with a broken collar bone.

Stein knew he could rely on him.

Despite the putative impregnability of the chain link defence in front of them, Stein’s men swept forward in green and white waves.

The equalising goal on 63 minutes came from the right back inside the penalty box, clipping it back to the edge of the area.

The Celtic left back Tam Gemmell was where an inside forward should have been.

What he affectionately referred to as “the terrible dunt” screamed into the net.

That goal said everything about Stein’s vision of the beautiful game.

He knew he was in the entertainment industry.

This was a team that neutrals wanted to win.

As a nine year old I danced in front of our little black and white telly in Baillieston as Stevie Chalmers stabbed the ball past Giuliano Sarti in Lisbon.

The superman in black who had defied Celtic that day suddenly looked to have feet of clay.

His teammates looked worn out, defeated.

They were.

In Estádio Nacional my uncle by marriage raised my scarf above his head.

The big cup was going to Glasgow.

I still have the scarf and he still has his memories.

Those moments, like Jock Stein, are immortal.

Now, in the globalised world of football, players who the Big Man would not have looked at are paid salaries that are equivalent to the GDP of a small country.

There are supporters of many football clubs who cannot say that their team reached the highest peak of European club football.

Celtic supporters can.

Stein’s men brought the big cup to Paradise and it still makes me smile and shed a happy tear.

Tonight, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid will battle each other for the trophy Celtic won in 1967 in the same city.

I hope that it is a victory for sport.

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