Obituary: Stevie Chalmers, Celtic stalwart, scorer of European Cup-winning goal, Scottish internationalist

Stevie Chalmers' 1965/1965 Celtic portrait (Picture: SNS)
Stevie Chalmers' 1965/1965 Celtic portrait (Picture: SNS)
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Thomas Stephen ‘Stevie’ Shalmers, footballer. Born: 26 December, 1935 in Glasgow. Died: 29 April, 2019, in Troon aged 83

On Celtic Way – the main road into the club’s ground, there are statues to Father Walfred, the club’s founder, and to Jimmy Johnstone, Billy McNeill and Jock Stein. But there isn’t one to Stevie Chalmers, scorer of the most important goal in the club’s history, who has died, following a lengthy battle with dementia.

But perhaps Chalmers was happy with that. He maybe scored the winning goal when Celtic beat Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon in 1967, but, as he was always at pains to point out, he was only doing his job. Chalmers was one of the less-illustrious members of that fabled XI – the Lisbon Lions – but he was Celtic to the core; and he had to overcome some huge obstacles to be in position to score that goal.

He was from a “Celtic-minded” family, raised in the Garngad in Glasgow. His father David had been a team-mate of legendary Celtic manager Jimmy McGrory at Clydebank, he longed to wear the hoops but it never happened.

Stevie was an outstanding Junior player, with Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, being picked for the Junior Scotland team, before moving on to Ashfield, from where he was signed for Celtic by the same Jimmy McGrory, in February, 1959.

Just over a month later he made the first of an eventual 403 first-team appearances, in a league match against Airdrie, which Celtic lost 2-1. In his early days he was shuffled around between the wing and centre forward, never quite establishing himself.

These were dark days for Celtic. McGrory was often overruled by Chairman Sir Robert Kelly when it came to team selection, and Celtic were down among the also-rans, with Hearts and Kilmarnock providing the main challenge to Rangers.

But, if the first team was chaotic, the Reserves – ‘The Kelly Kids’ – offered hope. Jock Stein was working away with a bunch of players: Chalmers, Billy McNeill, John Clark and Bertie Auld who would finally bring back the glory days.

However, Stein had to leave then return before then, and, in the barren years, Chalmers knew more bad days than good. Certainly, he scored on his Old Firm debut, in 1960; then, in 1966, he became the first Celtic player since before the Second World War to score a hat-trick in an Old Firm game. But there were other days when he was the target of serious abuse from the fans in “the Jungle” at Celtic Park.

His talent was recognised in November, 1962, when he won the first of an eventual four Scottish League “caps” in an 11-0 win over the League of Ireland, playing at outside right.

Just under two years later, he won the first of his five full Scotland caps, making a scoring debut in a 3-2 loss to Wales, in a Home International at Ninian Park. He scored again in his second international, a World Cup qualifier, Hampden win over Finland, less than three weeks later.

However, his third and last Scotland goal, in a Saturday evening June friendly against then World Champions Brazil was his most memorable Scotland goal. It came in the first minute of the match, as he ran on to a perfect pass from Jim Baxter to slide the ball past the great Gilmar in the Brazilian goal.

Ninety minutes later, Pele went up to Stevie and asked to swap strips, leaving him with a piece of iconic football memorabilia – a genuine Brazil, No.10 shirt, worn by Pele.

He was probably under-capped. Three goals in five games equates to 0.6 goals per game, a better scoring rate than Denis Law, and better even than Chalmers’ own 0.56 gpg for his club. However, given the opposition of the time: Law, Ian St John, Alan Gilzean, Ralph Brand for a Scotland place, and John “Yogi” Hughes, Joe McBride and Willie Wallace at club level, Chalmers’ figures stand up to comparison.

He scored 228 goals for Celtic, a total which, when he retired, left him third in the club’s all-time goal-scoring lists behind McGrory and team mate Bobby Lennox. Only Henrik Larsson has since risen to eclipse him. Stevie Chalmers was a class act.

And never classier than on that spring evening in Lisbon, when his 85th minute flick-on of a Bobby Murdoch shot beat Inter goalkeeper Sarti and clinched Celtic’s 2-1 win and a first European Cup win for a British side.

Stevie’s strike ensured immortality for Stein and the 11 players – The Lisbon Lions.

In his autobiography – Steve Chalmers – The Winning Touch, published in 2012, he confessed to an uneasy relationship with Stein, who seldom praised him. Stein, however, realised that Chalmers, who was a master at taking defenders away to create space for others, and in pressing defenders in their own half when they had the ball, to win possession back quickly, was a key element in the team’s success.

His Celtic career ended unfortunately. He sustained a broken leg in the 1970 League Cup Final win over St Johnstone, and was a peripheral figure thereafter. He scored his final Celtic goal in what would be the Lions’ final appearance together as an XI, scoring the final goal in a 6-1 beating of Clyde.

He then ran down his career as a player-coach at Morton, then as a player with Partick Thistle, before going back to his roots for a cameo appearance for his local Garngad team, St Roch’s.

He later coached youth players at Celtic, and, with several of the other Lions, was a very-popular match day host at Celtic Park.

During his 12-year Celtic career, Stevie Chalmers won five Scotland caps, four Scottish League caps, one European Cup, four Scottish League, three Scottish Cup and four League Cup winner’s medals. In 2016 he was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, one of the Lions who has been inducted both as an individual and as a member of that great team.

But it nearly never happened. As a 20-year-old, he spent six months in Belvedere Hospital recovering from the rare and deadly tuberculous meningitis. At that time, this disease was considered fatal, and Chalmers was given three weeks to live. However, the consultant, Mr Peter McKenzie, ironically a Rangers supporter, tried some ground-breaking new treatments. They worked and he was able to walk out and get on with his life. When he scored against Rangers in 1960, he received a congratulatory letter from Mr McKenzie.

Stevie Chalmers retired to Troon, where he enjoyed the quiet life, and the golf, prior to his dementia diagnosis. He is survived by his wife Sadie and their six children: Stephen Junior, Carol, Paul – who followed his dad to Celtic – Ann, Martin and Clare and his grandchildren.

Stevie Chalmers was a quiet, unassuming gentleman, but the acclamation for his greatest goal was heard around the world. He passed away, just a week after his team captain, Billy McNeill.