Side by side with Celtic’s European Cup-winning Lisbon Lions

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Brian Rafferty scans his collection of Polaroids, fading but still oh so vivid, and cannot quite believe the glorious informality of Lisbon 1967. In one shot Stevie’s laughing with Bertie and in another Bobby’s looking cool. Meanwhile Big Billy is being his usual majestic self, even on his day off.

Fans mingle with them and chat and maybe chance a request for a spare ticket. And look, here’s Brian with Tommy who’s sporting the zazziest pair of summer slip-ons glimpsed then or just about anytime since. Tam definitely wasn’t wearing them when he hit that thundercrack the following night.

Brian Rafferty, second right with, from left, Tommy Gemmell, Steve Chalmers and Bobby Murdoch.

Brian Rafferty, second right with, from left, Tommy Gemmell, Steve Chalmers and Bobby Murdoch.

Chalmers, Auld, Murdoch, McNeill, Gemmell – legends all. “Today’s legends would have been wearing headphones or pretending to be talking on their mobiles and we wouldn’t have got close,” says Brian. “My hotel was right across the road from the team hotel,” he adds by way of explanation for the access he enjoyed, but there was slightly more to it than that.

Glasgow-born Brian, 71, is the son of the late, great John Rafferty, The Scotsman’s football correspondent who brought the story of how Celtic won the European Cup to our breakfast tables. Via that link Brian got to know Jock Stein and, as a young hairdresser, would be teased by the manager over the length of his own locks.

“I remember coming away from Hampden with Dad and us stopping to give Jock a lift. Jock was sat behind me and he was flicking my hair and telling me to get it cut. The old man was agreeing with him: ‘He thinks he’s one of the Beatles, a right weirdie, but won’t cut it for me, Jock, so you tell him.’ And you know what? The next day I did get it cut. Jock’s man-management was superb!”

Little did Stein know, and little did Brian know, that he’d eventually become the Queen’s hairdresser. More of HRH later, but let’s get back to the kings of Europe, Lisbon and the Texas Bar. “After the final and the official banquet some of the guys wanted to hit the town,” smiles Brian. “Tommy was a pal from nights out back home so I got to tag along. And the Texas was like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie – rough, full of old hookers, a guy at the piano but brilliant.”

In case you think our man was some kind of freeloader at the great sporting events, he put in some proper graft, even though sports reporting was never going to be his profession. “I was Dad’s copyboy,” Brian explains. “He’d write out his reports in long hand and pass them to me, a couple of pages at a time, and I’d have to phone them to the newspaper offices. If the venue didn’t have a phone, Dad was pretty legendary at finding one. But sometimes I’d have to sprint down the street to a phonebox and hope it wasn’t busy or had been blocked with chewing gum.

“I loved Hampden’s fantastic press box which leaned over the main stand roof. I remember Dad got me into Parkhead for a trial game where a lot of the journalists were laughing at this wee guy on the touchline – red mop of curly hair and a shirt way too big for him. ‘Who the hell’s that?’ ‘Johnstone, Jimmy Johnstone’, someone said. Within five minutes all the journos were spellbound.

“But the boxing bouts Dad covered could be quite hairy. The blood would be flying and because we were right at ringside my shirt would get splattered. My mother always went mad. Govan Town Hall or St Andrew’s Hall could be bedlam. It would be so noisy I’d have to crawl under the ring to phone. John “Cowboy” McCormack might have been fighting but even with him clomping around on his bandy legs it was quieter under the canvas than trying to make yourself heard when the crowd were going mad.

“Dad had been a schoolteacher, reporting freelance to supplement his income, and caught the eye of a great Fleet Street journalist, J.L. Manning of the Daily Mail, who came up from London to try to persuade him to become a full-time writer. Mum was nervous about him giving up a secure job; she thought it was a big risk.”

Thankfully for us, John took the plunge. “In old Lisbon tonight Celtic annihilated Inter Milan by a single goal,” began his report from 50 years ago. Although he came to major in football – being fanfared by the old Sunday Dispatch as “The critic of the terracing” – Rafferty had boxing in his blood. “He never fought himself but he knew the scene well and many of its characters and a few of its villains,” laughs Brian. “He helped train Jackie Paterson and was in his corner for the world flyweight title fight. So, as you can imagine, I was a wee bit apprehensive when I came to tell him I fancied being a hairdresser.”

What’s more, pre-unisex, this would be women-only. “My mother told me to wait until he was in a good mood. She tipped me the wink one Sunday morning after he’d been washing the car.

“I was waiting for an explosion but he thought for a few seconds and said: ‘I think you’d be quite good at that’.”

Unable to watch Celtic on Saturdays because he was under-manager at the Steiner salon in Glasgow’s Central Hotel, 
Brian had to be content with midweek games. That was hardly a consolation prize with Celtic rampaging through Europe. After the semi-final victory over Dukla Prague he was desperate to be in Lisbon and for a 21st birthday present John sorted him out with a seat on a Celtic-supporting businessmen’s flight to Estoril. Total trip cost: £41.

“There was a lot of excitement on the plane. Don’t forget, not many people in ’67 went abroad.” Everyone was suited, including the young under-manager, and this was in contrast to the day-tripper fans who arrived on the day of the game. “They had cement on their boots and they were carrying Agnews bags. They looked like they were going to Brockville or someplace. Not sophisticated like us!”

Brian’s ticket for the Estadio Nacional’s main stand cost 35 shillings. He recounts the game’s ebb and flow like the hack-pack gopher he once was, the flow towards Inter’s goal eventually becoming unstoppable. The triumph was acclaimed with whisky and tears and the celebrations went right through to the next morning, Brian stumbling from a Lisbon house-party into the daylight and being put on a train back to Estoril to catch his flight by locals who, spotting his club tie and lapel badge, exclaimed: “Celtic! Celtic” “They wanted my autograph. Must have thought I was a player!”

On the homeward flight Brian had lost a few businessmen and gained some of the Agnews brigade in their place, such was the airport’s desire to move the hordes out pronto, and one of the latter removed his bunnet and started a collection for “the driver”, as was traditional for awaydays to Brockville. Brian then recounted this priceless moment to his neighbour, the theatre impresario Bill Bryden, who turned it into a play.

Lisbon was unforgettable and Brian would have something else to tell the grandchildren when, 22 years ago, he got a call to his Edinburgh salon telling him of a “bit of a flap” ongoing at Holyrood Palace. “Mr Charles, the Queen’s hairdresser, was indisposed. It was the Norwegian state visit. Could I pop down?” Brian thought it was a wind-up. Then he thought he was in for a challenging afternoon. “Instead I met this charming woman with a wonderful smile who kept apologising for me having to cancel some of my regular customers.” The Queen has since become a regular customer when she’s in Scotland, so given that hairdressers are great confidantes, what do they talk about? “That’s a secret, but I think I’m allowed to say that she’s got a great sense of humour, so much so that I’ve told her I think she might have a wee bit of Glasgow blood in her.”

Somehow it seems unlikely that 
Brian hasn’t related a tale or two from 
Lisbon ’67.