Tommy Gemmell: Celtic's Lisbon Lion 'had everything to be arrogant about'

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Tommy Gemmell scores for Celtic against Feyenoord in the 1970 European Cup final
Gemmell scored in two European Cup finals - including this effort in the 1970 final against Feyenoord

Exuberance came naturally to Tommy Gemmell. There were times when it was a characteristic that infuriated his Celtic manager, Jock Stein, but it was also the trait that so often emphasised the compelling brilliance of his play.

Trophies adorned his career, but the individual flourishes were typical of Gemmell. A right-footed full-back who was adept at playing on either flank, he scored in two separate European Cup finals, in 1967 and 1970. He also struck Celtic's first goal in the competition, a fierce long-range effort against FC Zurich at Celtic Park.

One goal will always define Gemmell - the equaliser that he swept into the net against Internazionale in the 1967 European Cup final in Lisbon. He played a part in the winning goal, too, on another of his forays deep into opposition territory. Like all of his team-mates that afternoon, Gemmell would not allow himself to be contained by the heat or the occasion.

Gemmell played as though he was an irrepressible force. Adventurousness was part of his nature and Stein sought only to curb some of the waywardness that it can bring. He brought focus to the full-back's work, and tried to do the same to his personality.

For all the tension of their relationship at times, the quote most often attributed to the Celtic manager is to describe Gemmell as "the greatest left-back in the world". They were eventually at loggerheads, when Stein dropped him from the League Cup final in 1969, days after Gemmell was sent off for kicking West Germany's Helmut Haller up the backside during a World Cup qualifier.

Team-mates recall Gemmell arriving late in the Hampden dressing room, having been outside the stadium mixing with fans and taking their acclaim. He walked in with his coat draped over his shoulders - always a confident, bold presence at 6ft tall - realised the number three jersey was for Davie Hay, wished them all luck, and swept back out again.

"Tommy thought he was [American actor and singer] Danny Kaye.external-link I know he looked like him, but he believed that he was to every degree, because he was an entertainer," says his Lisbon Lions team-mate Bertie Auld.

The Celtic team of 1967
Gemmell (fourth from left, top row) was one of the leading personalities among the 1967 team

"He lived life to the full. He was bubbly. He was a very confident person and it rubbed off on every one of us. He had everything in his locker to be arrogant about and he always left you with a smile on your face.

"Ronnie [Simpson] was a quiet man, Jinky [Jimmy Johnstone] was Jinky, Bobby Murdoch, what a leader, and Tommy had something of each of them in himself. He was arrogant; the strip started to get tighter and tighter from the dressing room to the tunnel and from the tunnel to the park, because that was his arena. He was a showman."

For a time, Gemmell was peerless as a footballer. He played for Scotland at Wembley in 1967 when England's World Cup winners were turned over 3-2. After being dropped for the League Cup final, he asked for a transfer.

It was two years before he left Celtic, but in that time he was told Barcelona wanted to sign him. Stein, though, never told him of any interest. Yet he was also sent home from a summer tour in 1970, with Auld, for a breach of discipline.

Gemmell represented the brashness of the Lisbon Lions team, its sense of self-assurance. He signed his first contract with the club on the same day as Jimmy Johnstone - "Tommy Gemmell was by my side from the very first step I took in my Celtic career," Johnstone later said - and the two were often inseparable off the field.


"He and wee Jinky were one-off people," says John Clark, another of the Lisbon Lions.

"They thrived on the personality they had, and the publicity. Bertie, Tommy and wee Wispy [Willie Wallace] loved it, and with those three the manager had a hard time, because he didn't know where they were. Tommy was a personality, he loved his way of life.

"He liked to have a bit of fun, he'd maybe hide people's clothes, that kind of thing, but as a footballer he was the best and that's what it's about."

In the end, Gemmell's Celtic career came down to six league titles, four League Cups, three Scottish Cups and the European Cup. Yet he left more than accumulated prizes behind. Along with Johnstone, Auld, Billy McNeil, Murdoch, and Bobby Lennox, he became one of the most prominent characters from the Lions team.

"He had personality," says Auld. "The big thing about him was his presence, it didn't matter if you were at Buckingham Palace, Tommy was himself at all times.

"He was the best left-back in the world, without fear of contradiction, at that time, and he believed that. Tommy was a magnificent entertainer.

"There were no substitutes in those days, and Tommy went in goal two or three times and he was outstanding. He could have played any position. He had arrogance."

A Celtic shirt with a tribute to Tommy Gemmell outside Celtic Park
Celtic fans paid their own tributes to Gemmell outside Parkhead on Thursday

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