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Lisbon Lions still roaring

Celtic FC will be hoping to rekindle the spectacular spirit of their European success in 1967.

By Roddy Forsyth

A little local idolatry was inevitable but when they became the first British team to win the European Champion Clubs' Cup by beating Internazionale FC in Lisbon on 25 May 1967, not even the most farsighted Celtic FC player could have imagined that they would become the heroes of Hoops fans for the rest of their lives. Their performance on that sunlit evening in the Portuguese capital was certainly the stuff of legend.

Overwhelming favourites
Inter were as cosmopolitan as their name suggested and had won the trophy twice previously, against Real Madrid CF in 1964 and SL Benfica the following season. They were accustomed to this level of competition and were overwhelming favourites to become European champions for a third time. Celtic, by contrast, were scarcely known beyond Glasgow although they had reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1966 before being edged out by Liverpool FC.

Marked contrast
However, under Jock Stein, a former coal miner, they had developed into a formidable side, playing a swashbuckling brand of attacking football, which won many admirers. It was this style that stood in such marked contrast to Inter's devotion to the profoundly defensive 'catenaccio' regime. The final would be a collision of opposing philosophies and the contest began before the game when Inter's wily coach, Helenio Herrera, the inventor of catenaccio, sat in the dugout which had been allotted to Celtic.

Classic game
Stein told him, in his broad Scottish accent: "Naw, you'll have to find another place" - and Herrera forlornly walked off to the Inter bench. If Stein had won the first battle, Inter drew first blood on the field. The story of the game has been retold on many occasions - Sandro Mazzola's penalty kick opener after seven minutes, Inter's retreat into deep defence, Celtic's relentless waves of attacks, their breakthrough with Tommy Gemmell's thunderous equaliser and the winning goal from Steve Chalmer's deft deflection of a Bobby Murdoch drive for the winning goal, only five minutes from full time.

Homegrown talent
Celtic's triumph, celebrated for many days afterwards by their fans in Lisbon, Glasgow and everywhere between, was even more remarkable because all eleven players were born within 30 miles of Celtic Park - but that was only because left winger Bobby Lennox came from the coastal town of Largs. The other ten all saw the light of day within 15 miles of their home ground.

Legendary status
There were to be more glamorous occasions for Celtic - the 1970 European Cup final against Feyenoord in Milan, when they lost 2-1, and semi-finals against Inter in 1972 and Club Atlético de Madrid in 1974 - but the 1967 triumph remains their sole success in the tournament. That team, instantly renamed the 'Lisbon Lions', has been the subject of poetry, songs and even a stage play. Enshrined in legend they may be, but even great players are not immortal. Bobby Murdoch, the side's subtle, scheming midfielder, died in May 2001.

Still heroes
The incomparable little master of close control, Jimmy Johnstone - voted greatest ever Celtic player by Hoops fans - is suffering from motor neurone disease, an incurable condition. But the Lisbon Lions are still feted whenever they appear at supporters' functions across the world - the first Celtic team to win a European trophy, but surely not the last.