Celtic's Glory Days: The Story of the Lisbon Lions
Here’s a question. What was the first team to win the treble of European Cup plus domestic league and cup.
I’m going to tell you right now it wasn’t Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Manchester United. And no, it wasn’t Barcelona. They were the second club to do it.
The answer - spoiler alert - is Celtic.
It’s not the most difficult question on football trivia and just a quick Google search away. What you probably didn’t know – unless you're from Glasgow – was that every player in that fabled 1967 “Lisbon Lions” team was born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park.
In fact, all but one of the 15-man squad was born within 10 miles of Parkhead – Bobby Lennox was the odd one out, born 30 miles away in Saltcoats.
Consider that for a moment. This wasn’t just an all-Scotland side, it was pretty much all-Glaswegian.
Led by Jock Stein, that incredible team also made history that season by winning every competition they entered; they won the Glasgow Cup, the Scottish League Cup, the Scottish Cup, and the Scottish League.
Even so, they went into the European Cup Final as massive underdogs against the mighty Inter Milan, who scored first and then put up an 11-man Italian wall to try and prevent the upstarts from equalizing. Celtic’s offensive onslaught finally paid dividends with a 2-1 win, the first for a British club in the European Cup.
It is still celebrated in Glasgow today. During the 1960s, Celtic reached a further European Cup final in 1970 where they lost 2–1 to Feyenoord after extra-time, and then two further European Cup semi-finals in 1972 and 1974.
But we will never see a European Cup winner like that again, from Glasgow or anywhere else. Look at the make-up of Barcelona’s famous three-man attack. They all hail from South America - Argentina (Messi), Uruguay (Suarez) and Brazil (Neymar). There’s a core of Spaniards in the team but the distance most of the squad were born from the Camp Nou is better measured in thousands of miles.
The day of the homegrown professional football club is over. Dressing rooms now resemble the United Nations. This is all very fine and can make for splendid spectacle with Real Madrid and Barcelona’s wonderful collection of talent a prime example. But it necessarily makes a team sport more about the individual. The one-club diehards like Xavi, Steven Gerrard and John Terry are already dinosaurs – the temptations of greater glory and riches are simply too strong for most players.
The fallout from all of this is a different dynamic – you’re no longer really playing for your city or your fans; you’re playing for your next contract or for the big club scouts. Do you think that’s what drove the likes of Tommy Gemmell, Jimmy Johnstone or Billy McNeill in Lisbon in 1967? They bled green and white. They grew up with Celtic and they didn’t just do it for the fans; they were fans. The bigger problem is that the internationalization of the game has cut the head off football at the national level. Local lads can no longer make their local team and consequently their development is stunted. Third Division football doesn't pay the bills. Scotland is a great example. Traditionally it has been a breeding ground for some of the best footballers in the world. Dalglish, Souness, McNeill, Law, Baxter, Strachan, Archie Gemmill, Bremner, Collins, Mackay, Cooke, the list goes on. How many top class Scots players can you name now? The same question could be asked of England. The answer, in my view, is to return to the six plus five rule where there is a maximum of five foreign players allowed for a side competing in Europe.
The best, richest clubs would still be able to compete for the superstar players, much as they do now, but the flavor of national football would return together with more opportunity for youngsters to play at the highest level.
Passion and commitment are underrated values in today’s game. Would you rather watch Hull City or Sunderland fighting for survival? A team of fighters or a team of mercenaries? Real Madrid or Atletico in La Liga? Spoilt superstars or in-your-face underdogs?
We may never see the likes of the Lisbon Lions again but the spirit they represent is a vital component that is missing from football. They were truly a team and they represented the people that paid to watch them with a fervor that had every much to do with their upbringing as eating and sleeping.
Where we come from is important and I think it should be important to football clubs and the people that run them. It is, after all, the foundation on which the game was built.