Stories of the Lisbon Lions enthrall 48 years on

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The story is well known, of course. Eleven lions, all, save for one exception, brought up within a few miles of Celtic Park. But though the majority were local – Bobby Lennox, from Saltcoats, was the interloper – they still all had to be spotted, and, when they had been spotted, persuaded to sign.

Perhaps these tales of how each player came to be at Celtic are not so deeply woven into our consciousness. Bertie Auld yesterday painted a particularly vivid picture of the circumstances that deposited him at the club as one of the greatest of all British sides was in the process of being built.

Bertie Auld, left, who wears his winner's medal round his neck chats with Jim Craig. Picture: SNS

Bertie Auld, left, who wears his winner's medal round his neck chats with Jim Craig. Picture: SNS

This was a dozen years before the glory of Lisbon. Jock Stein was still a player at the club. Auld had been attracting admiring glances while playing for Maryhill Harp. He’d already turned down Clyde and Partick Thistle, and when Celtic came on the horizon, his father informed him: “this is a big decision, I will make it!”

Father and teenage son travelled to Celtic Park on a Sunday, chauffeured in a vehicle driven by the local coalman, who was also Maryhill Harp secretary. “We went up to this magnificent boardroom, Jimmy McGrory, the manager, was there,” recalls Auld. “All the big noises were there. Mr McGrory says to me: ‘Bert, would you like a drink?’ I used to run home from school to get my dad’s razor and cut myself a lot because I had heavy growth. And that Sunday I must have cut myself so looked older than I was. My dad said: ‘my boy doesn’t drink! But I do!’”

McGrory turned to Auld jnr and asked another question: Have you ever been to Celtic Park? Auld replied that no, no he hadn’t. One of seven children, his family had grown up “a short corner kick” away from Firhill, the home of Partick Thistle. Money was tight so he and his friends would play football in the street with a tennis ball. When the gates of the ground opened with ten minutes to play, they would weave in and out of the droves coming out to catch the last few minutes of the inevitable Thistle defeat.

But Firhill wasn’t Celtic Park. So when he was asked whether he had been inside the ground of the famous club he was about to join, Auld had to admit: “No, Mr McGrory, I haven’t seen Celtic Park before”.

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“He said: ‘Come with me’,” recalls Auld. “He opened up the gates to the tunnel. We walked down it. It was awesome. There must have been a game on the Saturday. There were empty bottles on the terraces.”

It was then that Auld’s father, perhaps emboldened by the drink he had been given in the boardroom, turned to his son and said: “Listen son, see if you can play and entertain, then this support will never forget you”. Auld smiles at the memory. “Now that was 1955. For a brickie’s labourer, it wasn’t bad vision.”

This pact struck between Celtic supporter and Celtic player is one reason why we are sitting in a brewery in Glasgow. A replica European Cup has been placed in a window. The sense of nostalgia is as strong as the whiff of hops. The Celtic fans were not just treated to glory in 1967, when they won the European Cup and every goddamn other trophy that was on offer that season, they were entertained.

Of course, these men who brought the handsome trophy back to Britain for the first time haven’t been forgotten. They haven’t been forsaken. The tartan jacket that hangs on the back of the chair next to Auld while he talks is a reminder of this . It is their regulation uniform on the many occasions the surviving members – five from the squad have now passed away – are invited to attend functions.

There are fewer stories that remain untold. But there are still anecdotes that can stop you in your tracks, particularly when Auld and Jim Craig, the player with the job of clearing up the danger on those few occasions Jimmy Johnstone lost the ball, are brought together, as they were yesterday, on the eve of tonight’s re-match between Celtic and Internazionale of Milan, their defeated foes in Lisbon.

Fate can explain everything, reasoned Craig, and he wasn’t referring solely to that historic 2-1 victory. Rather, he means what happened the following night, back at Celtic Park. “People ask me if Lisbon was the biggest day of my life,” he says. “I always reply and say no, it was the day after. Because that’s when I met my wife.”

During the course of this victory reception Elizabeth, the daughter of a Celtic director, told Craig that she was set to leave for France. As a recently qualified dentist, he told her to make sure she came and got her teeth checked before she left, which she did. “Now five weans and seven grandkids later that has to be the biggest moment of my life,” says Craig. “Lisbon was the biggest football moment of my life, though.

“It’s been a phenomenal 48 years,” he added, with reference, one presumes, to life as a European Cup winner as well as life with Elizabeth. Neither existence has made him rich, he grins.

Indeed, because he was a Puma man, Craig was almost cut out of the boot deal struck on the day of the game with Adidas, which guaranteed each player £33. A belated attempt to paint three stripes on the sides of his boots proved as hapless as might be imagined.

“All through the game I was worrying about missing out on my bonus because I could see the paint rubbing off,” Craig recalls.

Their deeds, of course, will never be erased. What a privilege it is, though, nearly half a century later, to sit and hear first-hand accounts of the night in question. Such small treats will not always be possible.

Bertie and Jim were speaking on behalf of Magners, main sponsor of Celtic, at the Drygate Brewery. For more on Magners activity, follow @MagnersUK

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