Peter Lawwell: Tommy Gemmell helped inspire modern-day Celtic

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Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell will remember Tommy Gemmell as an inspirational hero.

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Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell passed away, aged 73. Picture: SNS

Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell passed away, aged 73. Picture: SNS

The Parkhead club announced on Thursday that the man who scored in two European Cup finals for the Hoops had died aged 73 after a long illness.

Gemmell levelled the score in Celtic’s famous 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in Portugal in 1967, when they became the first British club to win the European Cup and became known as the Lisbon Lions.

The Scotland left-back also scored Celtic’s goal when they lost 2-1 to Feyenoord in the 1970 final in Milan.

Lawwell recalled how Gemmell - and the rest of Jock Stein’s side which dominated Scottish football between the mid-60s and mid-70s as well as being a European power - lay the foundations for the modern-day Parkhead club.

He told Press Association Sport: “One of the privileges of my job is that you get to meet your heroes and Tommy was certainly one of them.

“He was very welcoming and supportive when I took this job on, a very humble man and didn’t let you down as a hero.

“Clearly I remember the goals in Lisbon and Milan. But as a kid I was here at Celtic Park at the European Cup game against Benfica in 1969.

“We just got in and with two minutes gone, somebody knocks a free-kick to him and he puts it right in. I can see it now. That is a fantastic memory of him.

“That team inspired me - the underdog, 11 local lads, a unique achievement for Celtic and Scotland.

“I also remember watching the Scotland game in (West) Germany, on the television when Helmut Haller went past Tommy and nicked him and he turned round and blootered him. So there is real great memories of success and fun.

“He was larger than life and he was a leader as well. He was one of the best full-backs in the world in his time, if not the best.”

Gemmell’s death followed the news at the weekend that the Lions’ captain, Billy McNeill, has dementia.

Celtic are planning a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lisbon and Lawwell believes the year will be a fitting tribute to the club’s greatest side.

He said: “The news that broke at the weekend about Billy was sad. But although we are mourning and deeply saddened, I hope we can celebrate this unique achievement this year.

“It is the basis of the modern-day Celtic. Jock Stein, the Lisbon Lions and everything we have done since then.

“And that is our aspiration, to get there again and try to match that.”

Former Celtic striker Frank McAvennie told Press Association Sport: “It has been a horrible week all round, with the news about Billy and now Tommy - two great men.”

Ex-Celtic midfielder Murdo MacLeod said of Gemmell: “He’s obviously been one of the greats at Celtic Park to be part of the European Cup-winning side. A top player, one of the first defenders getting forward all the time.”

Lions’ midfielder Bertie Auld made reference to the fact that Gemmell was nicknamed Danny Kaye because of his resemblance to the American actor, singer, dancer and comedian.

“He loved to be called Danny Kaye because Danny Kaye was an entertainer and so was my pal,” he told Radio Clyde.

“He was a Lisbon Lion and he could entertain. I will miss everything about him.”

The Lions all came from within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park which fostered a strong bond which remained over the years, according to Auld.

He said: “We are one. A family. Just like the Celtic support. We are a family in the dressing room.

“We brought happiness and entertainment to the terraces and that was so important because the Celtic supporters deserved that and I know that Tommy was one of their big favourites.”

Celtic’s Old Firm rivals Rangers said in a statement: “The club would like to send our sincere condolences to the family of Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell.

“He was one of the great Celtic and Scotland players and will be sadly missed.”

The Scottish Football Association wrote: “A hugely sad loss. Our thoughts are with Tommy’s family and friends.”

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