Tuesday 21 January 2020

Celtic's greatest day is recalled 50 years after Lisbon

'A Year And A Day' by Graham McColl
'A Year And A Day' by Graham McColl

Book review - Alan Aherne

The week just gone seemed like an appropriate time to read 'A Year And A Day' by Graham McColl, given that the Champions League final on Saturday attracted a worldwide television audience of millions.

This impressively researched book is written by an authority on Celtic Football Club and, as the cover explains further, it describes in tremendous detail 'how the Lisbon Lions conquered Europe'.

Of course, there's added significance attached to that remarkable feat this year given that the Glasgow side's 2-1 win over Inter Milan happened 50 years ago, in May of 1967.

The European Cup of the time was the forerunner of the Champions League, with one essential difference in that it was the sole preserve of the league winners from across the continent.

In the current era where money talks and the entrants are significantly increased, teams in England chase that prized top four finish. Whether the standards have improved or not as a result is a matter of opinion.

One thing that cannot be debated is that Scottish football was in a lot ruder health in the late-1960s than it is now.

Think back to Celtic's 7-0 hammering against Barcelona in the current season's group stages, and just consider the fact that in 1967 their arch-rivals, Rangers, also contested the European Cup-Winners' Cup final, while Kilmarnock reached the last four in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup before bowing out to Leeds United.

That alone will give you an indication of how vastly different the football world was back then. Imagine three Scottish clubs reaching the last four in three different Europe competitions nowadays: not a chance!

The other aspect of the game that has changed so much may be gleaned from the Celtic starting eleven 50 years ago, given that all of them hailed from within a 30-mile radius of Glasgow.

They were local heroes to the core, with legendary manager Jock Stein deploying a rota system to ensure that at least three players attended every function organised by a Supporters' Club branch in the city and its environs.

The writer of this book was perfectly suited to pen this look back as his previous body of work included the autobiographies of three members of that famous team: Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers, goalscorers in the final, as well as Bobby Lennox.

Sadly, Gemmell passed away earlier this year, making his memories all the more precious when recorded on paper.

The title of 'A Year And A Day' stems from the starting point of May 25, 1966, when Celtic recorded a runaway 11-0 victory over Hamilton Primos on their close-season North American tour in Ontario.

Fast forward to May 26, 1967, when the club made history in Lisbon, recovering from the concession of a goal from a seventh-minute penalty to eventually break Inter Milan hearts when Chalmers knocked in the winner near the end.

One of the most impressive aspects of the book is the length the author went to in seeking out players from all of Celtic's European opponents that season. Their match-by-match memories add a great deal to the finished product, with the path to the decider featuring two-leg victories over FC Zurich, Nantes, Vojvodina Novi Sad and Dukla Prague.

If some of the razzmatazz surrounding Real Madrid's victory on Saturday left you cold, this book is a reminder of a simpler time.

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