Other-worldly”. That was the brilliant description my son Francesco produced for Lisbon’s Estádio Nacional, which is part relic, part museum piece, as we celebrated at the scene of the triumph with hundreds of fellow supporters, exactly 50 years to the day since Celtic won the European Cup.
It also covers how the day started. I have had some bizarre moments as a Celtic supporter but 11am mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Martyrs yesterday will be up there. On the holy day of the Feast of Ascension – as, with symmetry, it was on Thursday 25 May, 1967 – a commemorative mass for the Lisbon Lions was organised and celebrated by a Glaswegian priest, Father Charlie Cavanagh. You’ll Never Walk Alone was sung as a communion hymn, with The Celtic Song given a rendition as we were leaving the church. These were aspects of this service which I had never experienced before and probably won’t again. Likewise a round of applause at the end of the homily, said to a congregation that numbered more than 200 – most wearing Celtic strips – and left only standing room at the back.
Father Cavanagh ensured a poignant start to the proceedings as he asked to be remembered the Lions who had passed away and those fighting illness, including a fan who’d suffered a heart attack here in Lisbon and was still in hospital, and the victims of the terrorist atrocity in Manchester.
Extensive organisation from very committed Celtic supporters meant that the Portuguese FA agreed to the request to open the Estádio Nacional to the fans from three till five o’clock yesterday afternoon so we could celebrate in the arena in which the Lisbon Lions won Europe’s premier football prize. The fact we were given permission at all is all the more surprising given that the Portuguese Cup final – the Taça de Portugal – between Benfica and Vitória de Guimarães takes place in the stadium on Sunday. For that reason we weren’t allowed on the pitch or up the tunnel.
There must have been 1,000 fans at the stadium and it was a great spectacle. The Hillman Imp which had been driven from Celtic Park to the National Stadium in Lisbon, repeating a journey taken by many fans 50 years ago, drove in and was greeted by rapturous applause from the assembled crowd as we waited for the gates to open.
Of course there were fans here who had attended the game in ’67 and Jim, who has been all over the world watching Celtic, was happy to be interviewed by the TV crew making a documentary about the Hillman Imp’s journey. A replica trophy was on hand outside the stadium for photo opportunities while inside another Jim, who had attended the final, was reminiscing on how the stadium was that night. Fortunately for us this old stadium, built in 1944, has been largely undeveloped. We were able to transport ourselves back 50 years without too much imagination. The place and the occasion genuinely had that other-worldly feel about it, as my son recognised.
Inside the stadium we welcomed the 28 cyclists from seven different countries who had cycled from Glasgow to here and have raised over £40,000 for charity. It was organised by Paul Muldoon, a member of the Anton Rogan supporters club from Crookston in Glasgow. The singing, cheering and applauding going on as we sat in the stadium’s main stand made it feel like we were actually attending a football match and looking out on to the pitch reminded us of all those grainy images and television footage of the game itself. It’s corny to say so but yesterday we really felt like we were there and the tears that flowed belied that fact.
There are so many of us here and we’re instantly recognisable, resplendent in the hoops. I have genuinely felt a warmth towards Celtic fans from the locals. We must seem like an enigma to the lovely people of Lisbon but all around the city yesterday in the streets, bars and on the train from the stadium we were asked ‘when is the game?’ It was a joy to watch people’s faces when we told them it had already taken place 50 years ago!
The celebrations continued later in the evening in the city centre on Rua Nova do Carvalho colloquially known as ‘Pink Street’ due to the colour of the road surface. But last night it was turned green and white by the Celtic support and the spirit of ’67 was relived.