Down Memory Lane: Nothing will eclipse Celtic’s Inter moment
Mention the name Inter Milan and many fans will associate it with Glasgow Celtic’s famous Lisbon Lions, the first British team to win the European Cup 43 years ago.
Last night Jose Mourinho, the self-styled Special One, returned to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his sacking as Chelsea boss, as manager of the Italian giants.
But the match could not compare with the afternoon of May 25, 1967, at the tree-fringed amphitheatre Estadio Nacional, Estoril, where Celtic managed by the late Jock Stein, triumphed 2-1 to ignite delirious celebrations still talked about by the Portuguese to this day.
Misfortune struck Celtic after only seven minutes when Inter were awarded a penalty, Jim Craig body-checking striker Renato Cappellini, Sandro Mazzola scoring from the spot.
Celtic fans, outnumbering the Italians, roared on their heroes. Defeat was not on their radar. They had a dream of being Kings of Europe. Stein would lead them to the Promised Land.
It was then McNeill, who later managed Clyde, Aberdeen, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Celtic during their 1998 centenary year, revealed leadership qualities when he calmed down two players who had become “involved” disputing the harshness of the penalty. “
Inter opted to consolidate, operating the negative boring catenaccio defensive system instead of going for the jugular; chance after chance was created by the Celts who were thwarted by either the woodwork or the Italian keeper Alessio Sarti, the so-called weak link playing the game of his life. By half-time Celtic should have had at least two goals instead of trailing 1-0.
The pressure eventually paid off, Celtic equalising in the 63rd minute, Craig squaring the ball across the front of the goalmouth for Tommy Gemmell to hammer it past Sarti. That goal shattered Inter’s confidence and players, notwithstanding Herrera’s touchline gesticulations, could not re-adjust to cope with the changed and deteriorating situation.
“We were optimistic and continued to attack at every opportunity” said McNeill.
“There was inevitability about the winner which came five minutes from time, Bobby Murdoch shot low across the face of the goal and there was Stevie Chalmers waiting to prod it over the line.”
Cue the celebrations as 35,000 Celtic followers invaded the pitch. Cue as my colleague Hugh McIlvanney put it: “The most hysterically exuberant occupation any city has ever known — even at the overcrowded airport which gave the impression of a Dunkirk with happiness!”
Stein, unable to stand the tension, left the pitch for the sanctuary of the dressing room a minute before the finish. “What a performance, what a performance” he repeated to those who shook his hand or gave him the congratulatory back-pat.
Along came Bill Shankly, the Liverpool manager. “John,” he said, “you’re immortal.” To The Big Man, a non-drinker, that was nectar.
In the bars, cafes, hotels , night clubs on the street jollification reigned with frequent rendition of The Celtic Song - It’s A Grand Old Team” and “Ee Aye Addio Herrera’s on the Buroo! “ Lisbon had been conquered by the Glaswegians. some of whom didn’t arrive home until a week later. Par for the course.
EUROPEAN CUP FINAL: May 25, 1967 Celtic: Simpson; Craig, Gemmell; Murdoch, McNeill, Clark; Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.
Inter Milan: Sarti; Burgnich, Facchetti, Bedin, Guarneri, Picchi, Bicicli,Mazzola, Cappellini,Corso, Domenghini.
Referee: Kurt Tschenscher (Germany).