Andy offers his thoughts on the passing of Lisbon Lion and Celtic Legend, Tommy Gemmell
Thank you, Tommy.
I never saw Tommy Gemmell play for Celtic. By virtue of the fact that I was born after he had finished his playing career I never had the pleasure enjoyed by my father’s generation. However, the Celtic I have seen in approximately 30 years of going to games is largely down to Tommy Gemmell.
One of the great thrills of being a Celtic supporter is that, more often or not, you will see a team going out to attack and entertain. This was the undisputable mantra of Jock Stein – he demanded it from his players, rightly so, and although we have yet to attain that quality since, it is the eternal benchmark of the club.
The European Cup final of 1967 is noted not just as the finest victory of a Scottish club anywhere at any time but the first major victory against the highly-effective and tactically impressive Catenaccio system of Helenio Herrera. Let’s not mess about here, Celtic pumped that mob that day yet, for most of the game, Celtic were behind. Tommy Gemmell’s goal was a true delight – 20 yards out, right foot, high into the corner, leaving the keeper without a prayer. You don’t need me to tell you to watch it again as I’m sure you will but look who provides the assist, from inside the box. It’s Jim Craig, the right back. Against a team set up for incisive counter attacking, and the Celtic players knew it, the right back supplied the left back with the opportunity to draw Celtic level.
As Tommy said himself, if Inter had sprung a counter attack then he was getting it – as Jim Craig was already up the park. So, what exactly am I trying to say here? Well it’s a matter of belief. Not only did that team have ability, each and every single player had the unshakeable belief that they could win that match. The belief to go forward against that team, the belief to strike from that distance and the belief to go on and win it. That belief in many respects has been the catalysts for many of the great achievements our club has made in the 50 years since.
There’s also a more fundamental point here about the expectation and the footballing culture at Celtic. If Tommy hadn’t scored that iconic goal in Lisbon would we have stuck to our attacking and entertaining principles? Would we have adjusted? Would we have gone down a different route? I’ll allow that debate to pass as we’ll never really know but I would say that the bravery, the belief and the ability of Tommy Gemmell, 50 years ago, have legitimised and validated the approach and indeed the core footballing philosophy of our club.
As Celtic supporters, we are all too aware that we owe so much to those involved in that triumph of 50 years ago, they didn’t just win a football match, they didn’t just win a cup; they set the standard and the tone forever more and Tommy helped to make that possible.
Sleep well Tam.