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The Lisbon Lion

Bill Shankly, as he so often did, found the right words. It was the evening of May 25, 1967, and Celtic had just won the European Cup, beating the much-vaunted Internazionale in the Final in Lisbon. Not just beaten them, but swept them off the park with a scintillating display of attacking football which set the Italians' stultifyingly negative tactics at nought. It was a huge victory for Celtic, for Glasgow and for Scotland. It was a huge victory for football. Shankly, who had travelled to the match as an ordinary supporter, talked his way into the Celtic dressing room after the match, and embraced his friend and countryman. "John," he announced. "You're immortal now." And so he was. Stein had taken over this team just two years earlier, and in their first season of European Cup football he had taken them to the pinnacle. He did it by melding a disparate collection of Glaswegian talent (10 of the Lisbon Lions were born and bred in the streets around Parkhead - Bobby Lennox was the sole 'foreigner' hailing from Saltcoats in Ayrshire, 39 miles distant) into an exciting side which laid waste to the best that Scotland, and then Europe, could throw at them. The high watermark of his achievement, of course, was 1967. Surely there will be another feat like it in the history of football. In that glorious campaign The Hoops pulled off a perfect quadrilateral of Scottish League Cup, Scottish FA Cup, Scottish Championship and the best of the lot - the European Champions Cup. That's not to say that Stein's work at Celtic was finished. In the following seasons he cemented the team's place at the top of Scottish football so securely that they were Champions nine years in a row. But more than the lengthy rollcall of honours, what people remember most about Stein's teams is the sheer joy they brought to people. Stein had been a stolid centre-half in his own playing days. There was nothing about him as a player with Albion Rovers, Llanelli or Celtic which suggested he would create football teams which shimmered with creativity, and took the breath away with their audacious commitment to attack. Who else other than Stein would have taken wee Jinky Jimmy Johnstone, a bandy-legged misfit apparently destined for obscurity, and helped him blossom into one of the world's best and best-loved football players. In Stein's later years he enjoyed a spell as Scotland manager. In 1982 in Spain he came as close as any Scotland manager before or since to steering his country into the later stages of the World Cup finals. It was while he was preparing his team for a tilt at the next World Cup that he died, in Cardiff, on September 10, 1985, on the night his side played Wales in a key qualifier. Stein had devoted his life to football. Even at the height of his fame he spent almost every night travelling enormous distances to watch matches. Because, he said, "You never know what might catch your eye". He never lost the work ethic which he absorbed, along with the choking dust, down the pit. His experiences underground ensured there would never be anything flash about Stein. He never forgot where he came from. Even while the world was ready to garland him with honours and praise, he remained humble, untouched by fleeting adulation. Stein loved the game, and it was entirely fitting that he should die with the roar of the appreciative supporters still in his ears. Scotland had, after all, drawn 1-1 at Ninian Park, a result which eased their way to the World Cup finals in Mexico. Stein was gone, but as Shankly hinted in Lisbon 18 years earlier, his legacy was certain to endure forever.
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Table of Contents

1. The Lisbon Lion 2. It's A Grand Old Team to Play For 3. The Beautiful Game 4. Players 5. Scotland

About the Author

Alex Murphy is a leading magazine and newspaper journalist and the author of several football titles.

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