In old Lisbon tonight Celtic annihilated Inter Milan by a single goal. They were hailed uproariously as new champions of Europe and not since Real Madrid in 1960 has there been more decisive and satisfying winners of the European Champions Cup. They were great as they became the first club ever to win their National Championship, their National Cup and the European Cup.
If annihilated needs explaining it needs explained that Celtic – after losing a goal to a penalty kick and being pestered and frustrated by an unsatisfactory referee – destroyed the theorising of the alleged magician, Herrera, with refreshing attacking football. Had they won by four goals it would have been a fair reflection of the play.
Perhaps, however, it was appropriate that they should win by a single goal for that is how this defensive-minded Inter planned to win. The biter was bitten.
Jock Stein said before the game that Celtic would win with pace. Tonight he can add to that adventure, ball skill, courage and all the football phrases beloved by the spectators.
He has claimed, too, that Celtic could raise their game on the big occasion. That they did tonight with two glorious goals far above anything that Inter could have imagined. It was perhaps their finest game of the season. Stein did not play three forwards in the modern manner but instead there was not a player, apart from Simpson, who was not at one time or another committed to attack.
In modern football this was revolutionary.
In the second half Tommy Gemmell, a full back, was so committed to racing up the wing that he was on the point of collapse and sought refreshment from the trainer. Indeed, Stein’s answer to the massive defending of the Italians was to play the ball back to a defender running on to it.
The mightiest shooting came from Murdoch and Gemmell, but they were in the limelight doing the finishing and were no more important than Chalmers, Lennox and Wallace, who kept defenders committed and moving with them and making spaces for the big guns coming from the rear.
If football is a game like draughts then Stein out-thought and out-witted Herrera. If it is a game to entertain the masses then Celtic are the worthiest champions and the greatest thing to hit European football since the decline of Real Madrid.
All who sat in this great national stadium in the burning sunshine were happy that once more attacking football had won. Those of us who were Scots and indeed British were wildly emotional and ranged from those who had hitch-hiked across 1700 miles of Europe to those of us who thought we were blasé and had seen it all. We do not like to see a football field invaded, but when these Celtic supporters broke in at the end and took command of the field and knelt and kissed the turf, and some “howked” out souvenir clods, we could understand.
We watched proudly as Celtic struggled to their dressing-room, Murdoch crying unashamedly, Lennox was without a boot but he was not caring, Billy McNeill strode majestically as the winning captain should, and then there was the light relief when he had to be taken from the dressingroom when it was discovered that in the hectic enthusiasm they had forgotten the presentation of the Cup. He was on the point of collapse but finally he struggled up to get his hands on it.
The atmosphere was weird and wonderful and wildly Celtic from the moment Jock Stein took his players onto the field to test the turf. He came round to the dressingroom obviously deeply moved to see the crowd out there and he said: “They are ALL Celtic supporters, it is inspiring.”
Indeed they all seemed to be Celtic supporters and all around the great bowl green flags were waving and Celtic chants breached the air and hysteria raged when the teams came out of the hole in the ground that led from the dressing rooms.
The first Celtic burst looked promising. Johnstone skipped away and beat Burgnich three different ways. This early the Celtic approach was clear. Stein had turned Johnstone loose to prod all around the forward line. Herrera sent the tough little Burgnich to mark him.
There was a touch of luck for Celtic in the third minute. Mazzola headed Cappellini’s cross and the ball hit Simpson on the shins. Then Johnstone was near with a header before, in the seventh minute, calamity befell Celtic.
Craig tackled Cappellini in the penalty box and swept the legs from under him. Immediately the referee signalled a penalty kick. Mazzola took it and his low shot was unsavable.
Then there was an exciting spell of exhilarating Celtic attacking in which three chances were made and Inter were so rattled that Herrera was on the field beseeching Italian action and Sarti, the goalkeeper, was reprimanded by the referee for wasting time.
Auld glided through the defence and his well-hit shot looked a goal but the ball smacked against the crossbar.
Wallace had a shot brilliantly saved and then on his knees he headed just wide. In the attacking skills, Celtic, as their first half progressed, completely overwhelmed Inter. Their play out of defence was masterly, the build up of Murdoch and Auld devastating in the way their long passes sent men racing up the flanks.
Inter were crushed back on Sarti by the massive attacking, and the ball work of Johnstone and Auld seemed to surprise the defenders, who were obviously not used to such adventurous football. Celtic had often been less in command and had run up a string of goals.
In contrast to this Celtic approach, Inter looked miserably dull. Their man-to-man marking was shattered by the foraging of Craig and Gemmell, but, as Celtic pressed on, the goal refused to come.
There was another great try by Auld that was worth a goal, a drive from volley by Gemmell that would have been a goal any other day, but Sarti, diving to his left, saved instinctively.
As half-time approached, the game took on a farcical appearance, with standing room limited in the penalty area among the crush of bodies while Herrera screamed from the sideline. It was a relief when Mazzola had a shot at Celtic’s goal – from 30 yards.
Celtic might have had a penalty kick at the start of the second half but instead got an indirect free-kick inside the box and then, in the scramble from the kick, the ball seemed over the line but this unsatisfactory referee waved play on.
Gemmell was booked for a foul. Then, in the 60th minute, he scored one of the greatest goals ever seen on any football field. Craig’s pass rolled in front of him and he put everything into the shot – the most powerful in Britain. And all the way it was a goal, a memorable one and not before time.
What a beating Inter took then. If they had not been so dull one could have been sorry for the once great team taking such humiliation. There was a spell in the second half when one wondered how their goal held.
Shots rained on it. Gemmell struck the crossbar and a shot from Murdoch struck Picchi on the face. There was a blatant penalty kick denied when Wallace’s leg was felled near goal and then at last with five minutes to go Celtic had won it.
Murdoch drove the ball hard across the goal and Chalmers slid on to it and pushed it into the net. Justice had indeed been done and Inter knew it. There was no fight back as Celtic played out time.
Then came the whistle and emotions were let loose and the crowd came on and at last a British club were champions of Europe.