The Lions of Lisbon

 “And the whistle is going, and Celtic have won the European Cup.”

Kenneth Wolsthenhome, Lisbon, Thursday 25th May, 1967.

I’ve laboured and debated over writing a piece on the Lisbon Lions for the past few weeks now, going back and forth about how I was going to approach it, editing and deleting countless introductions and versions of the article as I strived to write something that would do this most magnificent of teams justice.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I quite possibly can’t.

Everything I’ve written so far has been too pretentious sounding, wanky, for want of a better word.   That doesn’t do the Lions justice.  The Lisbon Lions were hard working, honest, down to earth, and most of all, damn fine footballers.

Their approach to the game was simple, to have fun, to entertain, and to win with style or lose trying.  There was no pretence, no illusion of grandeur.  With that in mind I’m binning my previous approach to this article and giving you my take on the Lisbon Lions.

That magical moment when you change from man to Lion; from mortal to immortal (AP Photo)

As we all know on the 25th May 1967, in the heat of Lisbon, Celtic were crowned as Champions of Europe; undoubtedly the single biggest achievement in Scottish sporting history.  That eleven men from Glasgow could overcome the might of Inter Milan is truly one of the greatest David vs. Goliath stories that football has produced.

Not only did these fine Glaswegian’s win the game, they won it, as Big Jock said, “playing football: pure, beautiful, inventive football.”  And with it came a legion of fans from around the world, won over by Celtic’s daring and attacking performance.  From that glorious day, the name of Celtic has become a true global football brand, with the team being synonymous with attacking football, and the green and white hoops becoming one of football’s most iconic strips.  Lisbon made Celtic what it is today.

But enough of that, I’m veering into ‘wanky’ again.

I am too young to have experienced Lisbon, I am only 33 years old.  I can’t tell you what it was like when we won the Big Cup, I can only imagine; having been at Seville in 2003 and feeling the crushing disappointment of losing a European final I can only presume how good it feels at the other end of the spectrum.

What I can tell you, and I’m sure most of you can relate to this, is the immense pride I feel in being somehow associated to these guys through following Celtic.  I’ve watched the videos of the final numerous times and on every occasion I feel myself welling up when Stevie Chalmers scores the winner, or when Kenneth Wolstenhome utters those immortal words “and Celtic have won the European Cup.”  Wow.  Just.  Wow.  I can feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck just thinking about it.

Cesar with the Big Cup. It casts a big shadow that many have failed to get out of.

I am blown away by the football that we played, by the utter domination we displayed over one of Europe’s top club.  Such was our dominance that night that Inter legend Sandro Mazzola has admitted that it took Inter several decades to fully recover from Celtic’s victory in Lisbon.  That is simply incredible.  Wolstenhome also added in his commentary that is was a victory at last for attacking football over the scourge of defensive football.

Add to the mix that the Lions were all from a 30 mile radius of Celtic Park and it makes their achievement all the more remarkable, and yet somehow, more relatable as it is the ultimate ‘local b(h)oys done good’ story; yet one that we are highly unlikely to ever see again due to the mass globalisation of the game.

I have my brother to thank for introducing me to the Lions, for making me sit with him and watch the final on VHS many years ago.  From that first viewing I was hooked on the Lions and hooked on Celtic.

I would also like to thank the following immortals for hooking me in:

  • Ronnie Simpson
  • Jim Craig
  • Tommy Gemmell
  • Bobby Murdoch
  • Billy McNeill
  • John Clark
  • Jimmy Johnstone
  • Willie Wallace
  • Stevie Chalmers
  • Bertie Auld
  • Bobby Lennox
  • Jock Stein
  • Sean Fallon

Without them today would not be possible and Celtic, quite possibly, would not be the club it is today.

The Lisbon Lions: Legends

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Hail Hail.

And here’s a final gift – the match in full.

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