50 years on…the Lions of Lisbon roar

In 1967 I wasn’t born. In fact I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye.

My parents had only just got married in late April of the same year. A month later, Celtic were playing in the biggest match in their history.

My oldest brother might even have been a bi-product of that moment in history given the accuracy of the timeline. I wouldn’t appear myself for another 9 years, but this is a piece of history that every Celtic supporter learns.

I am every bit as moved by the story of the events that took place on May 25th 1967 as those who saw it themselves. When you are a Celtic supporter growing up, learning about the Lisbon Lions is one of the fundamentals.

The tournament was in its eleventh year when Celtic won it. The first five had been won by Real Madrid, followed by two-in-a-row by Benfica, a one-off by AC Milan and then a double header by their city rivals Internazionale.

With teams of that calibre having gone before Celtic, you’d be forgiven for thinking they didn’t stand a chance. That was certainly the opinion of the football world at the time.

Jock Stein and his players had plenty of ability and belief though. I never tire of hearing the stories about the build up to their moment of history either.

Last night the BBC aired a show commemorating the victory which if I am being honest, touched my heart. As I said, I wasn’t even born, but I shed a tear just as it reached the climax.

It was moving and I would urge you to watch it if you haven’t already. In fact I will probably watch it again at the weekend with a few beers and ball my eyes out.

What is important about this celebration of history isn’t just the 50 year milestone. This was a true historical achievement.

I often wonder how other football fans look upon this. Do they truly recognise its meaning?

Jock Stein deserved a knighthood above any other British manager in history. He was the first manager to lift that trophy for Scotland, Britain and northern Europe.

It is the opinion of many Celtic supporters that Jock Stein was not properly honoured. A year after Celtic’s achievement, Matt Busby followed in the footsteps of the Lisbon Lions with his Manchester United team.

He received a knighthood for it. Much sooner than the new year as well.
In government documents released many years later, it was revealed that Stein’s name was removed from the honours list. The decision was based upon player behaviour between Celtic and Racing Club of Argentina in the Intercontinental Cup.

Six players were sent off. Two for Racing Club, four for Celtic. 
The dirty antics of the South Americans had been plentiful in the home and away tued. By the time a decidimg third match came around Celtic were baited into retaliation.

You can read about the details of these three games anywhere online but the important thing to remember is that these ‘antics’ were common place in South America. Very little would change in that football region. 

Further examples in the same competition would occur again and again. To exclude Stein from the one honour he deserved because of what Celtic had to endure demands revisiting.

A posthumous knighthood may well have been turned down before. This is a distinction that should be honoured now.

I’m proud to be a Celt. I’m proud of Celtic. 

History was made by these special group of men. On this, the 50th anniversary it is time to honour their achievement. 

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac


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