From Cubs To Lions: The Remarkable European Journey Of The Lisbon Lions 


1967. Fifty years ago.

The year that Glasgow Celtic immortalized itself in history, becoming the first British team ever to win the famous European Cup. Doing so with a team coming entirely from within a thirty mile radius of Celtic Park. Now, we take a look at the extraordinary run that made the impossible dream possible. It was a remarkable journey. One that began on a cold Autumn’s Eve bringing them all the way to a scorching Summer’s Day in the heat of Lisbon.

The journey to European glory began on the 28th of September, 1966, in Glasgow. At home to a Zurich side, who had qualified for the tournament following the win of their fourth National League title (which was also their second in four years). Celtic had qualified for the competition following the club’s twenty-first league title (although this was the first in twelve years, it was to be the first in a historic nine-in-a-row). The first leg, in Glasgow, was won by two quickfire goals in the space of five minutes, from Tommy Gemmell (64′) and Joe McBride (69′). The victory sent Jock Stein’s men into the second leg in Zurich, on the fifth of October, with a two goal cushion. A good start to the second saw Tommy Gemmell convert a spot-kick on the twenty-second minute and a five minutes prior to the break, Stephen Chalmers opened his European account for the year, to stretch Celtic’s lead on the night to two. Refusing to rest on their laurels, The Hoops came out fighting in the second half, Tommy Gemmell doubling his tally a couple minutes after the restart, bringing Celtic’s aggregate advantage to 5-0. Essentially ensuring safe passage to the second round.

The second round saw Celtic come up against a Nantes side, who had won the first and second league titles in the club’s history in the two years previous. The French side advanced to the second round at the expense of KR Reykjavik, winning out a thrilling tie 8-4 on aggregate. Celtic made the journey to West France for the first leg, on November 30th. The game got off to a disastrous start as Francis Magny put the hosts a goal to the good just after the quarter hour mark. The Celts were not about to simply lie down, however, and Joe McBride soon had the ball in the back of the net for the equalizer. The game remained at a stalemate for the rest of the opening half. Jock Stein clearly had choice words for his players at half time as Celtic came out after the interval much the better side, Bobby Lennox putting The Hoops ahead for the first time five after the restart. From that point, there was no looking back as Celtic’s lead was extended to 3-1 on the sixty-six minute mark by Stevie Chalmers. The return leg saw Nantes travel to Glasgow. The second leg proved to be quite similar to the first, with a first half goal from Jinky Johnstone, and two second half goals from Chalmers and Lennox seeing Celtic through to another 3-1 win and a 6-2 aggregate victory. Nantes’ goal on the night coming two minutes before the break from Gerard Georgin.

After a relatively comfortable victory over Nantes saw Celtic through the Quarter Final, where they drew stiff opposition in the form of Vojvodina. The first leg saw Jock Stein and his squad make the long journey to Northern Serbia, on the first day of March. After a largely uneventful the sides when into the break scoreless. The second half did not got to plan for Jock Stein, however, and Milan Stanic’s goal left The Hoops with a deficit to overturn in the second leg at Celtic Park. Celtic welcomed the Serbian side to paradise a week later, with a point to prove. As in the first leg, it was a scoreless opening forty-five. Facing down the barrel of a last eight elimination, The Celts rallied, bringing themselves level on aggregate through Stevie Chalmers. For a large period after the leveler, the tie seemed to be heading to a playoff, but, it was late and it was great from center half Billy McNeil. McNeil struck to complete a stunning second half comeback and dramatically send Celtic into the Semi-Final, breaking Serbian hearts. Could this wee bunch of local lads dare to dream of conquering Europe on it’s greatest stage?

The opening leg of the semi-final saw Celtic welcome a Dukla Prague side, on the baxk of five league titles in six years, to Paradise on the twelfth of April. It is also interesting to note that the club merged into FC Portal Pribram in 19944, and, the team that currently sits tenth int teh Czech league were formed in 2001. Backed by home advantage, Celtic began the brighter of the two sides, culminating in an opener from Jinky Johnstone twenty-seven minutes into the opening half. Dukla were not going o go down without a fight though, and equalised on the strok of half time through centre half Stanislav Strun. Whatever words Jock Stein had for his players at half time seemed to do wonders. The Bhoys came out for the second half looking the better side once again. On the strike of the hour Willie Wallace turned Celtic’s pressure into a goal, and, the same man added another five minutes later, giving The Hoops a 3-1 lead on the night and a strong advantage to cling to heading into the return leg in Prague. Celtic made the long journey to Prague on April 25th, with a strong advantage and a lot at stake – a place in the European Cup no less. All things considered The Bhoys navigated a possibly treacherous away leg smoothly, playing out a nil all draw seeing them through to the final comftorably.

May 25th, 1967. Celtic came up against European Champions, in the two of the previous green years, and heavy favourites Internazionale. Coming into the game as underdogs, the final got off to the worst possible for the Hoops, as Jim Craig brought down Cappenelli in the penalty area six minutes in. Sandro Mazzolla converted the spot kick, putting the Italians a goal to the good.

After going ahead Inter retreated into their famous defensive wall, and given their mean defensive record, a steep challenge to begin with in Lisbon was now looking nigh on impossible for the bhoys, but these bhoys were lionhearted and giving up was not an option. Celtic continued to attack ferociously, forcing Inter to retreat into a deep defensive line, unable to mount any sort of an attack.

Celtic had several chances including efforts from Bertie Aulde and Jinky Johnstone. Of which, the former hit the crossbar and the latter tipped over it by the goalkeeper, Giuliano Sarti. Tommy Gemmell also forced a fantastic save out of the aforementioned keeper from a dangerous free kick,  and, only the crossbar could deny him on his second attempt as he spectacularly lobbed Sarti.

Celtic continued to dominate, and despite not having a single chance since their goal, a spectacular goalkeeping display saw Inter see out a 1-0 lead to the break. All things considered, it seemed quite likely that the Hoops would prove unable to penterate Inter’s defensive blockade. The Bhoys, however, were in no spirit for giving up.

The balance of play remained unchanged after the restart as Celtic continued to dominate, with no joy. However, shortly after the hour mark, Celtic’s luck changed as Jim Craig set up Tommy Gemmell from the right wing for a twenty five yard piledriver, finally getting the better of Sarti between the posts.

Despite the goal, Inter continued to sit deep and Celtic continued their relentless siege on Inter’s goal.

As the game appeared to be drawing towards a stalemate, Bobby Murdoch unleashed a long range rocket towards Sarti’s goal, with five minutes remaining. His shot was diverted past a wrong footed Sarti by Stevie Chalmers. Unbelievable. The Bhoys had done it, with minutes left on the clock, they had completed the miracle comeback. With such little remaining and Inter camped firmly in their own defence, a fightback seemed hugely unlikely. That’s exactly how it turned out.

Celtic had done it, the infallible giant was defeated as the wee cubs became lions in the heat of Lisbon. Inter’s title in four years wasfoiled and one of the greatest stories in football history came to be. Under the high sun and heat of Lisbon, a legend was created.

The Lisbon Lions were born and immortalized.


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