In their own words: How Celtic's Lisbon Lions shocked 'unbeatable' Inter in 1967

Fifty years ago today, a bunch of boys from Glasgow beat the mighty Inter to become Britain's first European champions. This is their story

We are going to attack as we have never attacked before

- Manager Jock Stein

In late May 1967, 12,000 Celtic supporters left Glasgow in pursuit of the European Cup. With flights fully booked, the exodus continued by road, a cavalcade of fans leaving Parkhead for the long drive to Lisbon’s Estádio Nacional. Awaiting this green and white army were the mighty Inter Milan, European champions twice in three years and a team with the meanest defence on the continent, thanks to their coach, Helenio Herrera, the high priest of catenaccio.

Now in its 12th season, the European Cup had only been won by what were quaintly referred to in the British press as ‘Latin clubs’ – Real Madrid, Benfica and the two Milan teams – and a Celtic victory was deemed impossible. Jock Stein had other ideas.

When he became Celtic manager in March 1965 he inherited a nucleus of homegrown players, many of whom he had worked with as the club’s youth and reserve coach years earlier. With a few choice buys, a little judicious tinkering and plenty of tactical nous, Stein fashioned a side of world beaters from this group of local lads, all of whom were born within 30 miles of Celtic Park.

An indomitable team spirit was forged on a five-week tour of North America the previous summer, and Celtic arrived in Lisbon fresh from winning the domestic treble. A seasoned practitioner of the mind games needed to unsettle opponents, Stein laid his cards on the table two days before the final.

“I am now going to tell him [Herrara] how Celtic will be the first team to bring the European Cup back to Britain,” he told the press. “But it will not help him in any manner, shape or form: we are going to attack as we have never attacked before. Cups are not won by individuals, but by men in a team who put their club before personal prestige. I am lucky – I have the players who do just that for Celtic.”

And on May 25, they prepared to make history.

Jock Stein: born winner.

Jock Stein: born winner

The men telling FFT the story

In May 1967…

Bernie Boyle was a 29-year-old draughtsman and a fanatical Celtic fan.
Stevie Chalmers, 30, was the Celtic centre-forward.
John Clark, 26, Celtic’s centre-half, nicknamed ‘The Brush’ for his abilities to sweep up in an attacking Celtic defence.
Jackie Connor was a 44-year-old bookmaker, Celtic season-ticket holder and friend of Jock Stein.
Bobby Lennox, 23, was Celtic’s outside-left. 
Billy McNeill, 27, was an established Scotland international and the captain of Celtic.
Jack Marshall was a 43-year-old wholesale confectioner, who had first seen Celtic play in 1936.
Ernie Wilson was a 25-year-old unemployed, soon-to-be-divorced Celtic fan.

Billy McNeill and John Clark line up for the semi-final second leg against Dukla Prague.

Billy McNeill and John Clark line up for the semi-final second leg against Dukla Prague

The build-up

Bobby Lennox “At the beginning of the season the European Cup wasn’t on our horizon. We thought we were just going to enjoy the adventure.”
John Clark “Once we got by the first round people started saying, ‘There’s a team in Scotland that seems to be doing well’. Every time we progressed to the next stage we got more confident.”
Billy McNeill “We were all local boys. Bobby Lennox had come the farthest and that was from only 30 miles away. The rest of us lived virtually next door to the ground. Coming through the ranks at Celtic without any real success was the thing that stimulated us. When Big Jock came back to Celtic in 1965 he realised the potential and really got us playing.”

At the beginning of the season the European Cup wasn’t on our horizon. We thought we were just going to enjoy the adventure

- Outside-left Bobby Lennox

Jackie Connor “Who had ever heard of a team of local boys from Glasgow getting to the European Cup final? Everyone thought it would be impossible to beat Inter Milan. They were the top team and Herrera was the best manager in the world. If they scored a goal you just packed your bags and went home. They were the unbeatables.”
Lennox “They’d won the European Cup twice in the previous three years and they’d also won the World Club Championship – they had a lot of good players.”

Ernie Wilson “We just couldn’t believe that our team was in the European Cup final. Even if we didn’t win, just being there was terrific. Even friends who were Rangers supporters were wishing me luck when they heard I was going. They told me not to come back to Glasgow without the trophy.”
Bernie Boyle “Everybody was very excited. People were leaving for this game dressed in suits and ties. A working man in Glasgow wouldn’t wear a collar and tie unless he was either going to church or to something special. This really was something special.”
Connor “Celtic fans just took over all forms of transport. A lot of guys even set off in old bangers and you’d wonder how they were going to get out of London Road, never mind to Lisbon.”
Wilson “I saw fans leaving by car and coach and that’s when I knew I had to be there. I would have done anything bar murder or rob a bank to see my team play in the European Cup final. But I’d just been laid off work and I couldn’t raise the money, so I gave my scarf to a friend, John McCabe, so that if I wasn’t there, at least my scarf was.”
Boyle “I’d been due to travel out on a charter flight but they overbooked and I was one of the people let down. I phoned about trying to find a spare seat but I had no success, so I drove to Glasgow Airport and explained my predicament. I was there for an hour when I was rushed onto an aircraft, where I found myself seated next to my boyhood hero, Charlie Tully, who had played for Celtic for many years. I arrived in Lisbon at 6am the next morning.”

I decided to sell my house. I told my wife I was moving in with my mother and managed to get a deposit on the house. That got me to Lisbon

- Fan Ernie Wilson

Wilson “I was sitting in my house desperately wanting to go when I had a brainstorm. I decided to sell my house. I told my wife I was moving in with my mother and managed to get a deposit on the house and that got me to Lisbon. When I came back I still had to go through with the sale and it didn’t go down very well with my wife. It had been a trial separation, but it looked like I’d stay on for the kids. When I broke the news of what I’d done, it was goodbye to my marriage. It was worth every penny though.”
McNeill “Before we left for Lisbon we’d been at Seamill, a hotel down the Ayrshire coast that we would use for training. We started to hear the names of the Inter Milan players and how the ‘Big Man’ thought they would set themselves up.”

Clark “Jock Stein had been invited out to Milan a few years earlier to watch Herrera’s training methods. Little did he know that he would be facing Herrera in the European Cup final two years hence.”
Lennox “We knew about Facchetti, Mazzola, Bicicli, Burgnich… they were all great players, a team of internationals.”
Connor “I was a bookmaker and I’d made Celtic favourites, which was ridiculous. I took out an advert in the newspaper – everyone thought I was off my head but it got me plenty of publicity.”
Boyle “As fans we weren’t afraid of Inter because we knew little or nothing about European football. For that game, the majority of fans stepped on board an aeroplane for the first time in their lives.”

Jimmy Johnstone scores Celtic's opener in the 3-1 semi-final first leg win over Dukla Prague.

Jimmy Johnstone scores Celtic's opener in the 3-1 semi-final first leg win over Dukla Prague