Nine-in-a-row champions, twice over. Glasgow Celtic.

Kilmarnock was Scottish League Champions in 1965. Celtic won the Scottish Cup that year. In 1966 Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row league titles. Rangers won the Scottish Cup. 1967, and Celtic won everything, including the European Cup, with a team of players that lived within a twelve miles radius of Parkhead. Bobby Lennox was the furthest away from Paradise, one of three players, with ‘Caesar’, Billy McNeil, and to have played in all nine Championships between 1965-1974.

Jimmy Johnstone has been often polled as Celtic’s best- ever player, but Stein was ruthless, when his legs were gone, wee Jinky was gone. Celtic also won the Glasgow Cup in 1967. With Rangers in it, the year they got to the Cup Winners Cup final, Celtic had to win it and they did. Nothing has come close to that year, with the added bonus of beating Real Madrid in the Bernebeu, playing in Di Stefano testimonial, but the talk was all of the mighty Jimmy Johnstone.  

Stein had a Quality Street reserve team coming through to maintain standards. Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari. Despite being favourites, Celtic lost the European Cup Final to Feyenoord, after extra-time and having scored first. Ironically at the home of Inter Milan who were first to score and were beaten 2—1.Celtic were also outplayed. Time for a changing of the old guard.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic manager after Tony Mowbrays’s Celtic team were thrashed by St Mirren and Celtic lost narrowly to Rangers in the league that year. Lennon led us to our first of the current nine-in-a-row titles, but at Rugby Park he looked to be on the way out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtmkHcNlRQQ.

Lennon led us to three league titles in a row and that magnificent win over Barcelona, arguably, the best team ever to arrive at Parkhead.

Ronny Deila was appointed manager of Celtic in June 2014. He was a bright new manager, a gamble on the Celtic board’s part,  who went on to lead Celtic to two consecutive league titles, but never had control of the dressing room. Remember Kris Commons, Scotland’s Player of the Year and a twenty-plus goal a season man, reduced to the bench and flinging his shirt ad Deila after being substituted against Molde in the Europa league, despite having scored. Jimmy Johnstone once did something similar with Jock Stein, he shouted through the door in the manager’s room something—thought to be derogatory—ran away and hid in a dark room for a week, before the other players told him it was safe to come out. Deila was on the way out when Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup, despite their team being in the First Division. Media talk was of the Rangers being back. (Hibs beat them in the Scottish Cup final).

  In May 2016, Brendan Rodgers was announced as Deila’s replacement and around 12 000 fans turned up at Parkhead to welcome the new manager. He delivered two-and-a-half treble trebles of Scottish League, League and Scottish Cups before turning Judas and leaving for Leicester City. It was no secret he was leaving, but to leave half way through a season lacked Celtic class.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic caretaker manager and he finished the job of another treble. In his first season in charge he had another treble in his grasp, having won the League Cup, a victory over Rangers. Still in the semi-finals of the Scottish, favourites to win it and 13 points clear of Rangers before being declared Champions once again because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Celitc’s best eleven in the years of Lennon, Delia, Rodgers and Lennon again.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster. His European displays under Lennon in his first outing and then as a loan player also in Europe and in the League Cup final against Rangers, where he was head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch makes this an easy one to pick.

Right back. Mikael Lustig held the spot for most of the nine-in-a-row years. He scored against Rangers a few times and was largely dependable. But his time was up. I wasn’t sad to see him go.

Virgil Van Dijk, European Cup winner with Liverpool. Touted as world player of the year. He oozed class because he was class. Simple.

More difficult to pick who to play beside him. Nobody really stands out. I’ll go with Christopher Jullien, he scored the winner in the League Cup final against Rangers and I think he can go on to great things. Put it this way, I was thinking of Charlie Mulgrew as an alternative.

Left back, easy, easy, Kieran Tierney. Celtic class. His only opposition would come from the man he largely replaced. Emilio Izaguirre under Lennon in his first shift as manager was outstanding.

Scott Brown is the Brownie. He’s had his critics, including me, but against Rangers and everyone else in general, he’s that clichéd 110% man. Leads on the field and off it. He’s been in every Celtic team that won nine-in-a-row and captain for most.

Callum McGregor has played almost every outfield position in the team, because he’s so gifted. Best midfielder in Scotland by some distance. Long may it last he signs another five-year deal. Gives you goals too.  Outstanding.

James Forrest, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. Like Scott Brown he has nine league medals to his name. Neil Lennon used to tell us what a great player he was. We’d watch the match and say, what the fuck? But Forrest scored in big games; he’s got pace and is always a threat. He does the doggies, getting back and helping to defend too. Underrated.

Two strikers up front. Number one striker, Moussa Dembele. Pace, strength, goals. He’s the beast that bullied Rangers. Top class.

Odsonne Edourad can do everything Dembele can do and more, but hasn’t got his strength. It remains to be seen which of the French strikers will go further. We have little chance of keeping Edouard, he’s only 21. But he’s been a joy to watch. Player of the Year in waiting.

Rodger’s played Olivier Ntcham behind the strikers in some matches. The French trio, as you’d expect, were outstanding. But here I’d go for Ryan Christie or Tom Rodgic. Ironically, neither of these two is guaranteed a start in the current team.

Picking between Lennon and Stein is quite a simple choice Jock Stein is the best football manager Scottish football has seen. That includes Alex Ferguson, his understudy in the Scotland job.

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row team under Stein weren’t great for goalkeepers. Ronnie Simpson, John Fallon (never saw him play). Evan William and the rest were distinctly average.

The best of both nine-in-a-row teams.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Right back is an easy pick: Daniel Fergus McGrain. The best full back in the world was sometimes moved to left back to play for Scotland and give Rangers player Sandy Jardine a game. Danny McGrain could play left back almost as well as he could play right back.

Virgil van Dijk and Billy McNeil, what a central defensive pairing that would have been. In reserve, I’d have Pat Stanton, who was a truly elegant sweeper.

Left back pits Kieran Tierney against Tommy Gemmell who scored in a European Cup final to win the trophy. Need to go for Gemmell. Like Tierney he could defend and get forward and had a bullet-type shot.

Lennon, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone would fill the midfield slots.

Kenny Dalglish, the best of the Quality Street Kids (apart from McGrain) would also be in the team.

Striker, I’d go with Moussa Dembele and not Stevie Chalmers or Dixie Deans. If I could play Henrik Larsson the pick would be easy. Henrik is King of the non-nine-in-a-row teams. Long may it last. Waiting for ten or more.    Hail, Hail.

Glasgow 1967: The Lisbon Lions, BBC 1 Scotland, directed by John McLaverty.

billy lifting the cup.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b08rg0bd/glasgow-1967-the-lisbon-lions?suggid=b08rg0bd

Narrator Rory McCann had an easy job, everybody knows the score. Celtic were the first British team to win the European cup. Inter Milan had scored from the penalty spot in seven minutes, cancelled by an equalising second-half goal by Tommy Gemmell and a late winner from Stevie Chalmers. ‘You’re a legend John. You’re a legend.’ Bill Shankly famously said of the late great Jock Stein after this win. The anniversary of the fifty years since that famous win in the Estadio Nacional, near Lisbon, in Portugal on May 25th 1967 is commentated today, and the strange thing was I was biting my nails as if the score was still in doubt.

The joy of that victory still resonates. Celtic will never again win the European Cup or Champions League as it’s now called. Even getting into the competition is regarded as a mark of success, something to be proud of, and rightly so. It’s difficult to imagine Scotland being a powerhouse of European football. Rory McCann reminded us that in 1967 Rangers reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup and Kilmarnock the semi-final of the Fairs Cup. These were remarkable achievements. Even Ranger’s captain of that time and voted Ranger’s greatest ever player, John Greig was wheeled out to say this Celtic team were something special and in Jock Stein they had a twelfth man. He didn’t include the referees, of course, because they were always Ranger’s men, but that didn’t matter. Celtic were so good other teams needed thirteen men.

But they were also innocent times. Bobby Lennox travelled 30 miles from Saltcoats. He was the furthest away player recruited into the European Cup winning team. The other ten players were recruited from a ten-mile radius of Parkhead. Spitting distance. Bertie Auld was in fine form as a raconteur, talking about his old Panmule Street team, that had their own song, which he sung. And how one family in a single end had 15 boys, but they didn’t have a good inside right.  We were shown families crowded around tables in dilapidated and grim tenements and outside playing football. It was played 24-hours a day, boys dreamed about football and playing for Celtic (or whisper it, Rangers). Bertie Auld’s signing on fee was twenty quid. The note was the size of a telly and Bertie recounted how his mum had folded it up and shoved it down into her bra. A neighbour of Jimmy Johnstone’s recalled how he used to practice, dribbling between milk bottles, but he used put on his dad’s steel toecaps first thing in the morning and kick the ball up and down the living room. Non-stop.  The pictures here are of boys, fresh faced and in their prime. Stevie Chalmers was the big money signing for £30 000, but for the post-war NHS and a Ranger’s daft surgeon he’d have died of tuberculosis and meningitis (meningococcal meningitis)  in1955 as most others did. With such crowded conditions TB was common, but he lived to score that winning goal.

It’s hard to imagine in the media world of WAGs Jock Stein’s belief that wife’s shouldn’t be allowed to watch their men at work. Bobby Murdoch’s wife who attended most home matches laughed when she recalled Jimmy Johnstone’s wife Agnes coming to one of the games asking her which team was Celtic and where was wee Jinky? Imagine Posh Beck’s asking what team David Beckham plays for and where is he? It’s just so unbelievable. Jimmy Johnstone voted Celtic’s best ever player worked as a building labourer for Lawrence, and I remember my brother Stephen, saying that wee Jinky had been his labourer. Marking wee Jinky was ‘like trying to pin a wave to the sand’ was the epithet a Dukla Prague defender gave after their semi-final defeat to Celtic that year.

I’d have been four or five when Celtic won the European Cup. I wrote a story about it (luckily I can’t find it, or I’d be attaching it here).  It’s one of the few childhood memories I retain. My dad eating his dinner and watching the game on telly. When Celtic scored that winner he jumped up and flung the mince and potatoes against the ceiling. He was younger than I am now. But these memories never age.

The fans here relive them. The guys that travelled by plane, bus, car, whatever way they got there, they got there. There’s a beauty in that belief. Times were hard. One guy said engagements were a big thing then, but I had to tell her, I’m going to Lisbon. Sauchiehall Street was deserted on the night of the game. Ghost town. The Celtic players sung ‘It’s a grand Old Team to play for,’ coming out of the tunnel that night. The Italian players look like film stars, but Bertie Auld as usual had the last word, ‘Aye, but can they play?’

The answer my friend is Caesar holding the cup in that iconic moment. Upwards of 150 000 met the Celtic team coming off the plane and crowded the streets in a procession. Parkhead full.  I’m sure my dad would have been one of them. Him and his sidekick, my Uncle John, they couldn’t afford to go to Lisbon. But they’d have been there. Celtic in their heart and in their blood. Passed down from generation to generation.  It’s a Grand Old Team…