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Celtic win European Cup 1967

Billy McNeill presented with the European Cup


On Thursday 25 May 1967, Scottish Football reached a pinnacle of success in Europe which has yet to be surpassed in the modern era, when Glasgow Celtic Football Club, under the leadership of manager Jock Stein defeated Internacionale of Milan 2-1 at the Estadio Nacionale in Lisbon to win the European Cup.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Kilmarnock FC exited the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup (known then as the Fair Cities Cup), when Leeds United defeated them 4-2 at Rugby Park, with both sides having played out a goalless encounter in the first leg at Elland Road on Wednesday 19 May.

Despite the disappointment of failing to become the first Scottish side to reach the final of a major European trophy, Malky McDonald's Killie managed to defeat Royal Antwerp of Belgium 8-2 on aggregate and La Gantoise of Ghent 3-1 along the way, before Don Revie's men booked their ultimately doomed place in the finals against Dynamo Zagreb.

Six days later, on Wednesday 31 May, Rangers failed to overcome Bayern Munich in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in Nuremberg, with the Franz Roth notching up the only goal of a dull match during extra-time.

1967 was indeed an exciting time for Scottish football, but it was Celtic who eventually lasted the distance in Europe, when an officially-recorded crowd of over 45,000 crammed into the Portuguese national stadium to witness the famous Glasgow side wrestle the greatest prize in club football from the preserve of Europe's Latin sides, for the first time in the history of the tournament.

Before kick-off, few neutrals believed Celtic were capable of overcoming the negative defensive tactics of Helenio Hererra's outfit, who had successfully dismissed such giants as CSKA Sofia, Real Madrid and Torpedo Moscow en route to the final. But Stein's side were galvanised by an overwhelming self-belief in their own invincibility, and their football was both exciting and attack-based, drawing from the great Hungarian sides of the 1960s and pioneering the concept of 'total football', many years in advance of the Dutch masters.

Celtic keeper, Ronnie Simpson in action

© SNSpix

According to the Celtic players, Stein's instructions ahead of the game were simple: go out enjoy yourself; but his plan almost went off the rails in the opening moments when Jim Craig felled Cappellini and Mazolla netted the resulting penalty, sending Ronnie Simpson the wrong way with barely eight minutes on the clock and giving Milan a vital early lead.

The opener seemed nothing more than a minor diversion for the Glasgow side, as Stein pressed for his players to attack and lay siege to the Italian goalmouth. Milan reverted to their famous defensive pattern and successfully thwarted Celtic's every effort on goal, but not without the help of some miraculous saves from goalkeeper Sarti and a fair amount of good fortune from the woodwork.

When half-time arrived, the scoreline remained 1-0 in favour of Inter, but Stein knew that Celtic were capable of scoring from any position on the pitch, and shortly after the break their much-needed equaliser arrived - from the boot of Celtic's full-back, Tommy Gemmell. On 65 minutes, the adventurous defender linked up with Jim Craig and Bobby Murdoch to send home an unstoppable shot and level the score. Almost an hour had passed since Mazolla had handed Inter the lead, but Celtic had finally found the inspiration they needed to take full control of the game and press on for victory.

It didn't stop there; the Italians soon found themselves repeatedly pinned down by a Celtic side who simply outclassed them in every aspect of the game, and on every area of the pitch, but it seemed for an eternity that Celtic's winner would never arrive, and the game looked destined for a replay, were it not for the relentless attacks on the Italian goalmouth by Jock Stein's men. In truth, it was only a matter of time, and as the minutes ticked out to the end of the game, Bobby Murdoch led yet another blistering attack when he sent in a powerful shot on goal from distance, which Stevie Chalmers deflected into the net to give Celtic a 2-1 lead.

Bobby Murdoch raises the trophy as the players tour Celtic Park

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When the German referee Kurt Techenscher sounded the whistle for full-time, all Hell broke loose as the Celtic players became engulfed in a pitch invasion, with euphoric fans spilling on to the pitch in large numbers to congratulate their heroes. Initially, the Portuguese police feared that the crowd could get out of control, but the celebrations were entirely good-natured, and a sensible measure of restraint was displayed by the hosts - even if some of the players lost their jerseys during the melee as fans tried to take away souveniers of the occasion.

The chaos inside the stadium meant that the Celtic players could not be presented with the trophy out on the pitch, so club captain Billy McNeill was ushered around the outside of the stadium under armed escort, then climbed the stairs to the presentation podium, where he was handed the large-handled trophy and held it aloft for the ecstatic crowd to behold.

Celtic's historic victory in Europe should never be understated, and can certainly never be taken from them; not only were they the first British side to win the trophy, but the achievement of both reaching the final and winning the European Cup with a team comprised entirely of home-grown, local players (they were all born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park), has never been repeated in European football.

Celtic fans return from Lisbon

© SNSpix

Even Matt Busby's Manchester United, who became the second British club to win the trophy the following year, included players from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland – and more importantly, Celtic won the trophy at their first attempt.

The achievement is now widely recognised to be the greatest in the history of Celtic Football Club, and is undoubtedly one of the greatest triumphs of the modern era.

The 11 Celtic players who took to the field on that sunny May afternoon in Lisbon subsequently became known as The Lisbon Lions, and their story is the stuff of modern-day football legends.

Quote from Stein at the final whistle:

"There is not a prouder man on God's Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, aye, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football; pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads. Inter played right into our hands; it's so sad to see such gifted players shackled by a system that restricts their freedom to think and to act. Our fans would never accept that sort of sterile approach. Our objective is always to try to win with style."

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