Lions Rip Catenaccio Apart!
Jock Stein’s Spy Mission of ’63 was the Blueprint for Victory in Lisbon

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Celtic players rejoice at the final whistle in Lisbon.

Celtic’s meeting with Inter in the last 32 of the Europa League naturally stirs memories of when they overcame the Italian giants to lift the European Cup. Our Great Shot captures the moment of joy at the final whistle in Lisbon.

On May 25th, 1967 Jock Stein took a side that included the talents of Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox and Bobby Murdoch to Lisbon on a night that changed the face of British football as The Bhoys defeated Inter Milan 2-1 at the Estadio Nacional Stadium.

It was just Stein’s second season in charge, but his Celtic side achieved the impossible by winning every competition it entered that year. They claimed the Scottish League, Scottish Cup and League Cup as well as the Glasgow Cup – but all of that domestic glory was surpassed when they became the first British team to win the European Cup.

That heroic side become known as the Lisbon Lions, with many of the squad being included in the annals of Celtics history as the best to ever play for the club.

But the roots of that famous victory go back to the the autumn of 1963.

The then Dunfermline manager Jock Stein and his Kilmarnock counterpart Willie Waddell visited Italy to study the practices of Helenio Herrera, the groundbreaking Argentinian coach of Internazionale. Herrera was so obsessed by football and getting the best out of his players legend has it he slept with a model of a football pitch beside his bed – and his methods were working particularly well at Inter.

The notion of managers travelling all over Europe to observe the latest tactical trends was almost unheard of at the time, and the visit by Stein and Waddell changed both their  lives and their careers.

After returning from Milan both men would ditch the formal suits they wore and instead embrace the previously unknown concept of being a ‘tracksuit manager’.

Waddell found almost instant success, using the defensive template of Herrera’s to win Kilmarnock their first (and so far only) league title in 1965.

Stein would have to wait a little longer for his success, but when it came it would be ceaseless.

In December 1965, shortly after taking over at Celtic, Stein watched Scotland lose to Italy in Naples. Afterwards, Stein took Herrera’s most articulate player, left-back Giacinto Facchetti, to a hotel bar where, with the aid of diagrams scrawled on napkins, he picked the player’s brains into the early hours.

Stein was determined to find ways to break down Europe’s meanest defences and the lessons from that night with Facchetti would serve him well 18 months later.

In 1967, with a team made up of players all born within 30 miles of Celtic’s Parkhead ground, Stein’s Bhoys reached the European Cup final. Standing in the way of the Scottish side and the Holy Grail in Lisbon were none other than Herrera’s Inter.

Before the final, Stein put what he had learned to good use, instructing his left-back Tommy Gemmell: “Your job is to play like Facchetti, to think like Facchetti, to be Facchetti.”

The match began as many expected it would, with favourites Inter going in front early through Mazzola’s penalty kick. The goal seemed to galvanise Celtic rather than deflate them. Stein’s homework began to pay off as Celtic pinned the Italian Champions back with short accurate passing.

Inter’s Catenaccio system left gaps for Celtic’s full-backs Jim Craig and Gemmell to move into and exploit and Inter’s defenders were drawn out to the flanks to try and stem the threat. “It felt like there were 22 Scottish players shooting at us from every direction,” said Inter centre-back Aristide Guarneri.

So good was Tommy Gemmell at playing and thinking like Facchetti that he equalised just after the hour mark. When Stevie Chalmers finally put Celtic ahead with seven minutes remaining the game was over. The Inter players were almost relieved at the end with Captain Armando Picchi later confessing “Extra time would have brought a drubbing…”

It was a hard defeat to take for Herrera, one from which he never fully recovered.Between 1964 and 1967, ‘il Mago’ (the Wizard) had dominated the European Cup with Inter, winning it twice and leading them to another final and semi-final. After this mauling by the Lisbon Lions he moved on, becoming Roma boss in 1968, but he never won another European trophy.

Stein had been quietly confident before the final. “We don’t just want to win this cup, we want to do it playing good football, to make neutrals glad we won,” he said.

Mission accomplished.

@KGHof

 

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