A Momentous Year for Football in Scotland

Dr. Joseph M Bradley

Faculty of Health Sciences & Sport

It may be possible to conjure up any particular single year, add events to it and claim it as exceptional. Nevertheless, despite some undoubted truth in that assertion, if ever there was ‘one of those years’, then 1967 stands out. At the same time that the seat of learning known as the University of Stirling first opened its respected doors, a range of other occurrences and events helped make 1967 momentous. In Britain, Norwell Roberts, London’s first non-white policeman began to walk the beat, much of Britain’s Steel industry was nationalised by the Labour Government, England’s 1966 World Cup winning manager Alf Ramsey, received a Knighthood, Britain’s Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision song contest with ‘Puppet on a String’ and the Aberfan disaster in Wales killed 164 people. On the world stage in 1967 the first ever heart transplant took place, almost half a million US troops were recorded as occupying much of Vietnam, the Nigerian Civil War (known the Biafran War) commenced with almost one million people dying from armed conflict, disease and starvation and, age thirty-nine, revolutionary icon of the political Left, Che Guevara, was killed in South America by Bolivian forces.

In Scotland, the cultural, ethnic, national, social and community aspects of sport, especially football, came to the fore to make 1967 a year to remember. On the international scene, a year after England won the soccer World Cup in London, in a European Championship qualifying match Scotland became the first country to defeat the then World Cup holders. On that May afternoon the English side contained almost all the players that had defeated West-Germany a year before. In addition, prior to the Scotland match, England had played nineteen matches without suffering even one defeat. In the famous 3-2 victory, the Scotland team consisted of Simpson (Celtic), Gemmell (Celtic), McCreadie (Chelsea), Greig (Rangers), McKinnon (Rangers), Baxter (Sunderland), Wallace (Celtic), Bremner (Leeds), McCalliog (Sheffield Wed), Law (Manchester Utd) and Lennox (Celtic). Although the winners ultimately failed to qualify for the European Championships the match has become a victory never to be forgotten amidst the pantheons of modern Scottish sport. Apart from the triumph itself, a Glasgow Herald reporter memorialised for Scotland supporters one of the game’s most famous incidents the following Monday: “I shall cherish for a long time the memory of [Jim] Baxter slowing down the game to almost walking pace, insouciantly juggling the ball with instep, forehead and knees while [Nobby] Stiles, no more than a couple of yards away, bobbed up and down, unsure whether to make his challenge at knee or head level”.

Nevertheless, despite the high of the Scottish Wembley win, it was in European competition that several football clubs from Scotland were then, unknowingly, creating and contributing to the country’s greatest ever collective era. Kilmarnock reached the semi-finals of the European Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (later to become one part of the UEFA/Europa Cup/League) only to be beaten by finalists Leeds United. In 1967 in the second round of the same European competition Dundee United claimed victory home and away and eliminated cup holders, world famous Catalan giants Barcelona. Italian greats Juventus beat Dundee United 3-1 on aggregate in the following round.

Again demonstrating the strength of Scottish football in this period Glasgow Rangers made its way to the second biggest trophy in European football at the time, the European Cup Winners Cup Final against Bayern Munich in the German team’s home country. The Germans contained amongst others in its ranks, future World Cup winners, Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller. The Scots, with ten home-bred players in their team, were evenly matched for most of the game in front of 70,000 fans. The contest went to extra-time where Bayern scored the winner to win the first European trophy for a German side and deprive Rangers of being the second from Britain to do likewise.
The honour of being the first football club from Britain to lift a major European football trophy occurred a few days before Rangers final: this accolade went to Celtic FC, also ironically, from Glasgow. Celtic was a club founded in 1887/88 to raise financial support for the poor and marginalised first and second generation Irish Catholic immigrant refugees who had arrived in the east end of Glasgow during and after the great Irish starvation (an gorta mor) of the mid-19th century. The club’s main founders, led by the Marist Brother Walfrid, could never have dreamed that their charity inspired Irish club could become a Scottish institution which would rise to the pinnacle on the global football stage.

Celtic’s team on 25th May that defeated previous winners Inter Milan (1964 & 1965, and who had also beaten six times winners Real Madrid on the road to the decider) in the final played in the Portugese city of Lisbon, was; Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld and Lennox. Celtic was the first team from Scotland, Britain and northern Europe to win the football world’s most prestigious club trophy. The Celtic team from that year become known as the Lisbon Lions and are widely considered the greatest team in Celtic and Scotland’s history. All of Celtic’s players were born within a 30-mile radius of Celtic Park. In the modern era of billionaire football clubs and multi-million pound players, no club is expected ever to achieve such a feat again with a squad of players born so near to the stadium. Indeed, apart from Bobby Lennox, all of Celtic’s players could have played as a Glasgow-Lanarkshire select, a relatively small geographic area in west-central Scotland. Further, Celtic’s home-grown side was assembled for a cost of just £42,000, only two transfer fees being involved in assembling Jock Stein’s team.

Although the poor football club of the Irish diaspora in Scotland achieved football immortality in 1967, this was also a year when other clubs from Scotland, as well as the country’s international side, demonstrated the country’s prowess in the sport. It is safe to say that 1967 will never be repeated as far as football in Scotland is concerned, rendering it, despite many other special occasions and victories, a very unique year for the sport in Scotland.

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