Jim Craig's risky Celtic shortcut as Lisbon Lion tells his 1967 story 53 years on
Craig reflects on the build up to Celts' historic European Cup win in Lisbon.by Jim Craig
It was a beautiful afternoon on May 25, 1967 as our coach left the Palacio Hotel in Estoril and headed for the Estadio Nacional on the outskirts of Lisbon.
For once, the atmosphere among the party was quite peaceful. You could attribute a number of qualities to that squad of players but being quiet was not one of them.
Yet on that afternoon, the normal banter was not in evidence. Perhaps, like me, they were in reflective mood.
As I gazed out of the window at the flat countryside on one side or the sea on the other, I was recalling what an amazing couple of years I’d gone through with Celtic.
I had signed for the club on January 7, 1965, made my first-team debut against Go-Ahead Deventer of Holland in a Cup Winners Cup tie on October 7 that year – and later that afternoon, just over 18 months since my first match, I would be in the Celtic XI taking part in a European Cup Final against Inter Milan.
It was the stuff of dreams. Oh, I nearly forgot something ... In the summer of 1966, I had also qualified as a dentist.
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Our stay at the Palacio Hotel had not been without incident.
On the eve of the match, Jock Stein and his staff brought the players together and walked us up a road alongside the hotel to the house of a friend of his, where we had soft drinks as we watched television coverage of England beating Spain 2-0 at Wembley.
By the time of our return journey it was quite dark and suddenly Neil Mochan, our trainer, shouted out, “there’s the hotel!”. Pointing to his right, where the hotel’s name was clearly illuminated, he said: “We’ll go this way.”
We followed him down a hill before climbing over a fence and dropping into the hotel grounds. It was a risky exercise.
Indeed, considering that it took place on the night before a European Cup Final, you could think of more suitable words to describe it. In the event though, everyone survived.
On the early afternoon of the day of the match, while I was resting in bed, the door opened, Mochan came in and told me I was a “bleeding nuisance”.
“What have I done now?”, I asked. “We’ve just signed a deal with Adidas for the match and you are the only one in the team who wears Puma. So I’ve got to take your boots, paint out the white flashes with black paint then put in three white stripes. You’re a nuisance.”
Eventually, we got to the ground – where we could not believe the number of Celtic colours there to see the match.
We got changed, climbed up the steps to the pitch singing the ‘Celtic Song’ (thanks to Bertie Auld) and watched in amusement as Jimmy Johnstone, using hand signals and gestures, suggested to Giacinto Facchetti that they swap shirts after the game.
Then we lined up, the referee blew the whistle and the game got underway.
In the seventh minute of the match, in one of the worst decisions ever taken in football history, Inter were awarded a penalty when I was accused of bringing down my opponent Renato Cappellini.
He did go down like a sack of potatoes and I believe he was later nominated for an Oscar for the performance.
To say I was furious is to underestimate my feelings. Up in the stands, my dad turned to my uncle Philip and said, “I have come all this way to see that!”
Back at my parents’ house, my Mother, who couldn’t bear to watch, was weeding the garden. My brother Denis put his head out the window and said, “Mum, that’s Celtic just had a penalty given against them”.
Raising her eyes to heaven, Mum got to work. A few seconds later, Denis appeared at the window again. “Mum, it was Jim who gave away the penalty”. “God Almighty!”, she shouted out and soon bits of weeds were flying all over the garden. On the pitch, the team got to work, although at the interval we were still 1-0 down.
As the Italians had gone into their defensive shell, the status quo continued after the break.
In the 63rd minute, I laid on a fine pass (modest, eh!) for Tommy Gemmell to score the equaliser. And five minutes from time, in a move we had rehearsed time after time in training, Stevie Chalmers was on the spot to claim the winner, making us the first Scottish, British and western European club to win the European Cup.
Now, 53 years on from that afternoon in Lisbon, the memories are still there, the guys still looking good.