Footballing Heroes

With the recent passing of the Lisbon Lion Tommy Gemmell I was reminded of my very first experience of being at a live professional football match. I had loved playing football from an early age – as most Glasgow kids did. My allegiance at this time was to Glasgow Celtic, influenced as I was by my older brother who was an ardent fan, and my three close friends: Jim, Eddie and Mick. Unfortunately, I wasn’t old enough to go and watch any of the Lisbon Lions games during their 1967 journey to winning the European Cup, but lived it through the wonder of television.

I remember vividly watching the game and seeing Tommy’s great goal that led ultimately to Billy McNeil lifting the trophy and sheer elation on that epic night. Afterwards we went outside on a lovely spring evening, absolutely buzzing, and played in our very own imaginary European Cup Final – winning, of course.

Fast forward 3 years to April 15th 1970 and the 2nd leg of the European Cup Semi-Final between Glasgow Celtic and Leeds United (the very first so called ‘Battle of Britain’)… and, I was there! My Grandpa Tam and Uncle Andy took me, and we sat high in the Main Stand.  The singing, chanting, the amazing flags and just the massiveness of the whole event – not forgetting the Bovril and the sales pitch “Get your Macaroon Bar and your Spearmint Chewing Gum!” And, there’s me sitting in the stand, a wee boy with the biggest grin on his face, wearing his Celtic scarf, clutching his programme and living his dream.

I still have my programme from the game and also my Grandpa’s copy – a great memory of my Grandpa ‘Wee Tam Stewart.’ Sitting there in his flat cap, just like the thousands of other ‘Andy Cap’ look-a-likes at the game, dishing out their typical Glaswegian views on the merits of this particular challenge: loudly, with vigour and at times very colourfully (know what I mean!)

Celtic had won the away leg 1 – 0 and were firm favourites to go through. The game was played at Hampden Park in front of the biggest Uefa crowd ever (136,505 to be exact – over 130,000 of them passionate Celtic Fans, who’d be a Leeds fan or player for that matter on a night like that). Seven Lisbon Lions were playing in the team that night: Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeil, Brogan, Auld, Lennox and not forgetting Jimmy Johnstone. Celtic dominated but went in at half time one down to a Billy Bremner goal. That aside, there was only one team in this game, and it was only a matter of time before Celtic equalised, and it came through John Hughes only minutes into the second half. Four minutes later and as expected goal number two for Celtic scored by Booby Murdoch. Aggregate 3-1 – job done. We were in our 2nd European Cup Final in four years – not bad for a team made up of only Scots.

It was the Lisbon Lions and the 1970’s team that instilled in me my love for the game of football. The great players cultivated at that time, during the halcyon days of Scottish football in the Sixties and early Seventies. Not only Celtic, but Rangers, Dunfermline, Hibs and Kilmarnock all made their own mark in the history of European football. Tommy Gemmell was a product of that time – a fantastic player, a massive character who gave much to the game during and after his playing days. He played his part in giving me fantastic memories and a passion and love for the game itself. Thanks Tommy!!!


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