Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers yesterday suggested that the Lisbon Lions deserved knighthoods as he paid tribute to Tommy Gemmell, who died earlier this week.
The loss of the 73-year-old – who scored in the 1967 European final as Celtic became the first non-Latin side to lift the trophy – coupled with the news that captain of that side, Billy McNeill, is suffering from Alzheimers, led Rodgers to insist that the feat of Jock Stein’s side half a century ago has not been adequately recognised.
Rodgers said: “In Tommy [pictured] we have lost one of the truly great footballers in the history of Celtic and it was guys like him and the rest of the Lions that set this club on the pathway [to becoming] one of the world’s biggest clubs.
“I have got to say that I find it hard to understand why they haven’t been commemorated in a greater way.
“For a Scottish team to win the European Cup, they really set the trail for every other British club. You see these [honours] handed out left, right and centre now but these guys are true icons and they put the signpost in the ground for British football – eleven players from within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park.
“It is a sad week but I also look at it as a chance to celebrate the memory of Tommy and the guys who are here. There is a real duty on us this season in particular to shine a light on their achievements.”
The fact that this season marks the 50th since the Lisbon European Cup triumph over Internazionale doesn’t, however, mean Rodgers feels the onus is on him to deliver a treble – as Stein’s side did both then and in 1970. Only Martin O’Neill’s team of 2000-01 has achieved the feat for Celtic since.
Rodgers’ side already boast a post-war record of 32 games unbeaten – 31 of them wins – and a 27-point lead in the Premiership. They are effectively only three Scottish Cup games away from the clean sweep, having already lifted the League Cup.
They face a sixth-round Scottish Cup tie at home to the Championship’s bottom club St Mirren tomorrow and Rodgers will take that on its own merits.
He said: “I don’t feel any pressure to deliver [the treble]. The pressure is every day to be the best we can be, but of course, it would be a huge honour to do it.
“Tommy’s European Cup goal was a great example of the Celtic team of that time. The right-back Jim Craig crossed it and the left-back finished it. That tells you the real attacking intent of the team. What people don’t realise is Tommy was a right-back who moved across to left-back so he was world-class in two positions.
“The greatest honour we can give that team is to play the Celtic way, which was Tommy’s way.
“Hopefully we can entertain, and if we can entertain even half the way they did, then the Celtic supporters I’m sure can accept that.”