History records that Jock Stein trumped every effort of Helenio Herrera’s to gain an edge for Inter. He ensured that Celtic were accorded training facilities at the Estadio Nacional on the eve of the game at the same time of day as the actual match, despite attempts by Inter to muscle in. He insisted on occupying the ‘Home’ bench during the game, not through pushiness but by right, as it had been allocated to Celtic – again despite the pressure of arriving to find Herrera already sitting there. The language barrier was no obstacle, as the Big Man clearly conveyed to his counterpart the dire consequences that would certainly ensue if he did not shift – pronto! The unprecedented travelling support played a huge part in winning over the locals, spreading their native goodwill everywhere. They were good-natured, high-spirited, irrepressible, irresistible and how the Portuguese loved them.
These teams lined up for the biggest game in Celtic’s going-on-eighty-year existence:
CELTIC: Simpson; Craig & Gemmell; Murdoch, McNeill & Clark; Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld & Lennox.
INTER: Sarti; Burgnich & Facchetti; Bedin, Guarneri & Picchi; Domenghini, Cappellini, Mazzola, Bicicli & Corso.
Celtic began the game impressively enough, finding their men with accurate passes but disaster struck in only seven minutes. Mazzola collected a pass inside his own half, wide on the right. Drifting left across the field, he released the ball with precision into the path of Cappellini, who had pulled Craig out of position in making a complementary scissors run across the Celtic eighteen-yard line. Inevitably, the Italian inside-man went down like the proverbial ‘sack of tatties’ as Craig tackled, clumsily rather than heftily. Referee Kurt Tschenscher of West Germany was in no doubt, pointing to the spot amid futile howls of protest from the massed green and white ranks on the terracing. A penalty it very definitely was!
Mazzola waited patiently until the fuss died down and coolly sent Ronnie Simpson the wrong way. 1-0! Hearts sank in the stadium and in television rooms across Scotland. This was exactly what every Celtic heart had dreaded, the unthinkable…. and pure meat and drink to the Italians. Surely, now, Inter would simply shut up shop and revert to their favourite game of cat and mouse.
As the teams trooped off at half time, with Celtic still trailing 1-0 despite such domination, there was understandable anxiety inside the stadium and amongst the T.V. millions that the players might lose heart. However, Jock Stein was able to reassure them that they were doing everything right, save for one minor but vital point. He had continually drummed it into his team that the way to beat a packed defence was to turn it and his final, brilliant masterstroke of the season was just to reinforce that simple message. His dressing room theme was the importance of creating positions for the cutback. Subsequent events would demonstrate how attentively his men were listening.
Responding to the heroic first-half performance, the fans were quick to get behind the team, roaring encouragement as they reappeared. Any notion Inter may have had that the Scots would be discouraged was swiftly dispelled as the second period commenced. Celtic were convinced they had equalised after ten minutes. Bedin attempted a hitch-kick clearance that nearly decapitated Wallace as he challenged for a high, bouncing ball deep inside the Milan box. At first it seemed Herr Tschenscher had awarded a second penalty, racing into the area and pointing dramatically towards the spot. However, he had, in fact, given an indirect free kick for dangerous play. Wallace tapped the ball to Lennox, only twelve yards out but his shot was charged down. Gemmell pounced on the loose ball and fired through a ruck of players. The effort took an awkward deflection off his opposite number, Facchetti, past the wrong-footed Sarti. The goalkeeper displayed amazing agility by twisting himself on the ground and lunging after the diverted ball. He was adjudged to have clawed it back before it actually crossed the line, despite Stevie Chalmers’ close attendance and insistence that the ball had gone over. At home and in the stadium, fans leapt joyously to acclaim the ‘goal’ but again had to swallow their disappointment.
Still Celtic stayed cool, refusing to panic as the minutes ticked agonisingly past and beckoning glory seemed to recede. Wave after wave of attacks continued to stretch the Italians to the full but the line held. Then, as the sixty-third minute clocked up, Jim Craig pushed forward down the right yet again and laid the ball square across the eighteen-yard line to Murdoch. Unfortunately, suffering a ‘dead leg’, the half back had to let the ball run to his left foot and was crowded out before he could shoot. Undeterred, Bobby dropped back to collect the ball again and arrowed a perfect pass wide, back to Craig, still well forward on the right. The right back held his ground, inviting defenders to come to him. In response, two Italians were sucked away from their marking targets as Craig released the ball at precisely the right moment, pulling it back along the eighteen-yard line into the path of his fullback partner, Tommy Gemmell, arriving like an express train bang in front of the Inter goal. The next instant is one of those forever imprinted on the freeze-frame of the mind’s eye of every Celtic supporter who witnessed it. Inter captain, Picchi, lunged towards Gemmell as if to block the coming shot but frankly chickened out as big Tam made devastating contact. His right-foot drive thundered past the powerless Sarti’s right hand and tore at the netting, leaving the beaten ’keeper desperately pointing accusing fingers at the retreating figures of Lennox and Wallace. In truth, either or both of them may have been caught in technically offside positions as the Inter defence instinctively streamed out towards Gemmell. The appeals of the defiant man in black, who had repelled everything Celtic had thrown at him up till then, were in vain – even his own team-mates declined to take up the lost cause with the referee, trudging wearily back to the centre circle, mutely conceding the inevitable. Inter were beaten and they knew it. They had ridden the storm for over an hour and almost entirely exhausted their reserves of mental and physical energy in the process. Those much-vaunted, sophisticated defensive tacticians had long since been reduced to booting the ball anywhere, simply to survive. Now they were spent and bereft of hope.
Even then, one man, Guillermo Sarti in the Inter goal, continued to play the game of his life, utterly refusing to capitulate. The very man Jock Stein had fingered as a potential chink in the Italian armour repeatedly pulled off breathtaking saves to defy Celtic long after his colleagues had thrown in the towel. In the seventieth minute, Gemmell again rampaged up the Celtic left, leaving hard-man Burgnich trailing in his wake. Auld’s attempted shot from the fullback’s cross was charged down but the ball broke for Murdoch to cream a glorious left-foot volley from twenty yards. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, such a shot would have billowed the rigging. This time, though, Sarti launched himself and turned the ball over the bar – another wonderful, heartbreaking save.
If ever a goalkeeper earned a lucky break, it was Sarti that day and he got it when he made just about his only direct mistake of the match with fifteen minutes remaining, misjudging a cross-cum-shot from Gemmell on the left touchline. The ball sailed over his head and rebounded into play from the junction of post and crossbar. The next ten minutes saw the ’keeper constantly involved in more frenetic action. First, he plucked the ball off Willie Wallace’s head following a Johnstone cross, then he was required to beat out two shots in quick succession from Murdoch on the left side of his area.
As the game entered its last ten minutes, Inter survived their biggest scare yet. A low cross from Gemmell eluded the killing touch of a Celtic forward. Guarneri, beyond the back post, attempted to shepherd the ball back to Sarti but as the pair of them hesitated, Wallace nipped in to steal it away. He had already side-stepped the ’keeper and was about to knock the ball into the unguarded goal when Sarti blatantly grabbed his leg and hauled him to the ground. A stonewall penalty! Astonishingly, Herr Tschenscher waved play on. We can only surmise that he was unsighted and judged Wallace to have accidentally fallen over Sarti’s outstretched arm. Perhaps he felt the ’keeper deserved the benefit of any doubt there may have been in his mind over the incident. Whatever the reasoning, his leniency might have been very costly for Celtic and the goalkeeper’s earlier good fortune was eclipsed by that outrageous let-off.
Although there were only about five minutes left to play, it was hard to imagine Inter holding out for extra time. Anyway, Stein had left his players in no doubt that they were a lot fitter than their Latin opponents and would consequently be much better equipped to cope with extended play, or even a replay on the Saturday, should that be the way of things. On the evidence of the first eighty-odd minutes, it would be impossible to argue.
The world will never know what might have come about had the sides still been locked at 1-1 at time-up. In the eighty-fifth minute, Celtic claimed the cup for Glasgow, Scotland and everyone ever connected with the club, right back to its spiritual roots in Ballymote, County Sligo, home town of founder, Brother Walfrid. Once again, Gemmell, so significant a player on the day, danced down the Celtic left and laid the ball back into the path of Murdoch. Now very obviously favouring his left foot, he later disclosed that his right ankle had been injured in training and was heavily strapped for the match. ‘Murdie’s’ low drive was probably heading wide of the far post until Stevie Chalmers staked his personal claim to Celtic immortality with his historic deflection, which caught everyone else flat-footed and left Sarti stranded, for the glory goal.
The remaining, interminable, minutes produced no further incident but it all appeared to be too much for Jock Stein. As the referee checked his watch and glanced at his linesmen, the great bear-like figure rose from the Celtic bench and lumbered off down the track towards the dressing rooms. Even before he had reached the tunnel, it was all over.
A final whistle had never sounded so sweet, provoking a joyous invasion of fans in varying stages of serenity, some bordering on delirium.
It was a truly glorious feat and one that briefly threatened to ‘square the circle’ by uniting the highly polarised football factions of Scotland. Celtic came home the next day to a tumultuous welcome, in which an estimated 200,000 people of every allegiance and none lined the route from Glasgow Airport to Celtic Park, where the squad paraded the European Cup before 60,000 rapturous fans. The club’s achievement was officially recognised not only by the House of Commons but also by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which was in session in Edinburgh at the time. Enough said.
The above is an extract from our book “A Season in the Sun” available now on KINDLE. Originally written to mark the Silver Jubilee of the Celtic Football Club’s finest hour, “A SEASON IN THE SUN” traces the phenomenal 1966/67 campaign, which culminated in the historic first ever European Cup win for a British club – a triumph that spawned the legendary Lisbon Lions.