THIRTY years on, a touching scene took place yesterday morning outside Celtic Park. The anniversary of Jock Stein’s death was commemorated by Celtic, as fans, club officials and Lisbon Lions themselves gathered to remember one of the greatest football managers the British game has ever produced.
Even George Stein, Jock’s son and an extremely private man, was present to honour the occasion. “Jock created the modern-day Celtic,” said Peter Lawwell, the club’s CEO. “Back then we were the kings of Europe and maybe the best team in the world for four or five years.”
It is impossible to believe that 30 years have passed since that fateful night in Cardiff on 10 September, 1985, when Stein died of heart failure. Were he alive today he would be 92 years old. He was just 44 when he won the European Cup with Celtic, and 62 when his life ended.
Former players were invited to the front steps of Celtic Park to offer their memories. Bertie Auld, Jim Craig and John Clark were among those who spoke. Towering above them, in the form of a bronze statue and holding aloft the European Cup, Stein himself peered down on his former protégés.
Lawwell spoke later about his own memories as a young Celtic fan, of the sheer thrill and magic which Stein brought to the club.
“I was seven when they won the European Cup, and I was there at Celtic Park on my eighth birthday to see them come home with it,” he said. “It was an inspiration for me.
“Stein changed Celtic – he changed the whole outlook of this club. We became the kings of Europe and the stadium was full. And Jock inspired a community as well as the football club.”
What Stein achieved, and the space of time in which he did it, is worth recalling. Celtic were trophyless in eight seasons and seemingly moribund when their former reserves coach returned to the club from Hibs as manager in March, 1965. Little over two years later he claimed the European Cup, with only two or three additions to the squad he inherited. Today, it looks a minor miracle.
“Celtic had been in the wilderness, both here in Scotland and in European football of the time, before Jock came back as manager,” said Lawwell. “What he achieved here remains incredible. Just think about what these guys achieved – within two years they became champions of Europe. Eleven guys from within 30 miles of Glasgow. It is unbelievable.”
Lawwell today faces the task of keeping Celtic buoyant and relevant on a European stage on which the scenery is much-changed since Stein’s time. You can’t help wondering what the old master would make of the monetised, rampantly capitalist game of 2015.
“Football has changed beyond all recognition,” Lawwell added. “I think the game has gone to a level now that Jock couldn’t have imagined. Media values and media rights have changed football. Jock’s challenge, were he coming in to work at Celtic today, would have seemed different, but in saying that, in some ways also the same – to create something from not the most advantageous position.”
Stein, all his contemporaries attest, was an innovator. He brought ideas to the game that changed Celtic forever. Today, admits Lawwell, the club sometimes labours to somehow continue in his tradition.
“Today at Celtic we need to create, we need to build, we need to innovate, because we can’t buy it, and we can’t bring it off the shelf,” said Lawwell. “That is what we’ve been about the last six or seven years. When you can’t afford the best, then you have to create.
“We have the best academy in Scotland, by a mile. We’ve got the best young talent – the challenge for us is to get that talent out of the development squad and into the first team.
“I think we now have a manager that is focused on all that. We hope that Ronny Deila can create a team that will punch above its weight.”