Memories of Lisbon ‘67

The long and winding road to the Portuguese capital.

WHEN you turn back the clock 50 years, it is easy to be deceived by the tricks of time.

The realities of the world in 1967 now seem so surreal for today’s modern , sophisticated planet. It’s not just the cars and the hairstyles which are so strikingly different, but the entire way of life.

Things were undoubtedly simpler 50 years ago but when you research the events you lived through, it offers a fresh perspective. My own memories as a six-year-old watching on television remain indelible, even if the action from Celtic’s European Cup final with Inter Milan, has been topped up by DVD viewings.

On May 25th 1967, we were all off school. The Catholic church’s feast of Corpus Christ, meant it was a ‘holiday of obligation,’ attending mass in the morning in exchange for the day off. What happened that evening in Lisbon, though, was the ultimate reward.

Schools no longer have holidays of obligation. That has gone the way of the Hillman Imp, BOAC airlines, short-back-and-sides and even The Beatles, who were about to top the charts with “All You Need Is Love.”

When I spoke to Bobby Lennox recently about his Lisbon memories, he said that he and room-mate, Jimmy Johnstone, used to sing Beatles songs. You cannot imagine a greater contrast with today’s footballers, who turn up at modern stadia with the obligatory head-phones in a solitary act.
Everything surrounding a European final now, is a major security exercise. It’s impossible to believe the events which took place in Lisbon’s Estadio Nacional in 1967, would happen now.

The overpowering security, notably in travel, means that some of the remarkable tales of how the 15,000 Celtic fans got to Lisbon, cannot be recreated. The majority flew, for the first time in their lives, for the sum of just £28 although one travel company offered a four-day deal for £57.
Supporters’ buses, which once needed a hostelry pit-stop if it was heading to Dundee, now made plans for the Portuguese capital. Others took the train across France and Spain. But where there are planes and trains, automobiles inevitably follow.

A convoy of cars, known as ‘The Celticade,’ also made the 1750-mile trip from Glasgow to Lisbon. My former colleague on The Evening Times, the late John Quinn, was the creator of the travel scheme.
In 1967, John was working on the paper as a young news reporter, and was inspired by the idea of how many people were trying to get to Lisbon . “They were taking cars, buses, motor-bikes,” he said. “If it had wheels and was halfway road-worthy, it was going to Lisbon.”

Quinn persuaded his editor that The Evening Times make the trip to Lisbon with the fans, and using a contact he had at the now-defunct Rootes car factory in Linwood, got the company to donate a brand new Hillman Imp.
“It was green,” said John. “When I went to get it, they had put white stripes on the bonnet.” John had only passed his test six months earlier but was the lead driver for the ‘Celticade.” Club captain, Billy McNeill, waved off over 30 cars from George Square and so many joined up in England, that by the time the convoy rolled into Lisbon on Wednesday May 24, it was 100-strong.
No journey into the unknown like that, was without casualties. Several cars and buses broke down in unfamiliar Iberian territory. And of course, no mobile phones to resolve the problems. Perhaps the most frustrating tale, was of the plane from Glasgow which had been delayed and flew into Lisbon airport at 5.30pm, just as the final kicked off, and the fans only reached the stadium at full-time.

At the idyllic Estadio Nacional, the Celtic fans clutched their precious tickets. Most had 10 shilling (50p) terracing tickets, some had £2. 7/ 6d(£2.38p) for the stand. Virtually all of the fans wore the regulation suit, collar-and tie, regardless of the Lisbon heat. It was a ubiquitous working-class uniform in 1967. Others turned up in Celtic shirts, a few in kilts, but there was no replica shirt business in those days.

Out on the pitch, Stein’s players were equally of their time. “Jock said we had to have short hair because of the sun,” said Jim Craig. There were no team shirts with names on the back in ’67, and Celtic famously wore numbers on their shorts. Nor, were there any substitutes.
Those Lisbon Lions offer the greatest evidence of how times have changed. The Celtic players were on a basic of £40 a week, compared the Inter’s £600. Celtic’s 1967 wage bill of £28,000, would not have paid for one Inter player’s salary.

Billy McNeill and his team each received a £1500 bonus for winning the European Cup. For the Celtic fans, the memories are priceless.

This article originally appeared in The Times’ Saturday supplement on 20th May 2017 under the headline, “Homegrown Hillman Imp and a long and winding road”.