When it comes to tradition and history, Celtic Football Club is not only one of the biggest clubs in Britain, but arguably Europe too. Since their foundation in 1887, the Hoops have enjoyed domestic and European success.
The Scottish giants have won their domestic league on 45 occasions, a tally bettered only by bitter-rivals Rangers. However, their crowning glory came back in 1967 when the Hoops became the European champions.
The homegrown heroes
The 1967 European Cup victory may have been a big one for British football. However, it was even bigger for the city of Glasgow, as all the players that appeared for Celtic on that famous night in Lisbon were born within 30 miles of the city. In 2000, Celtic decided to pay homage to the ‘Lisbon Lions’ by naming a stand after their iconic team.
The Lisbon Lions make history in 1967
In 1967, Celtic became the first British team to win the European Cup, as they recorded a 2-1 win over Italian giants Inter in Lisbon. Jock Stein’s side went into the game as major underdogs, as Inter had won the trophy in two of the previous three seasons, having also knocked holders Real Madrid out of the competition in the quarter-final.
Inter started the stronger, and Celtic goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson kept out a header from legendary midfielder Sandro Mazzola. However, it didn’t take Mazzola long to get himself on the scoresheet.
Jim Craig fouled Inter winger Renato Cappellini in the Celtic box on seven minutes, and Mazzola dispatched the spot-kick. After taking the lead, Inter reverted to their catenaccio defensive style of play, championed by Inter’s Argentinian boss Helenio Herrera. This played right into Celtic’s hands, as the Hoops were a superbly talented attacking team.
Celtic came close to equalising when Bertie Auld’s effort hit Inter’s crossbar. Jimmy Johnstone also forced Inter goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti to tip an effort over his bar. Inter stayed to their rigid defensive system, with nine men behind the ball.
However, Celtic continued to look dangerous going forward, and Sarti produced an excellent save from a Tommy Gemmell free-kick. The pair duelled again soon afterwards as Gemmell’s lobbed effort beat, Sarti, only to come back off the crossbar.
Celtic continued to dominate the game, with Inter not threatening Simpson’s goal. The Hoops earned their reward just after the hour mark. Gemmell received the ball from Craig and finally beat Sarti with a well-struck effort from 25 yards out.
Despite the goal, Inter still attempted to stay in their Catenaccio system with Celtic controlling the ball. With just six minutes left on the clock, the Scottish giants took the lead. Stevie Chalmers diverted Bobby Murdoch’s long-range effort past Sarti, who was wrong-footed.
Inter had no answer to Celtic’s attacking play and failed to find an equaliser in the closing stages. The Hoops fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle, which meant the trophy could not be presented on the pitch. Instead, captain Billy McNeil received the trophy on a podium outside the ground, with a heavy security presence. The team earned the nickname ‘the Lisbon Lions’ due to their ferocious display.
Beaten on their return to the final
Celtic returned to the European Cup final in 1970. This time the Hoops suffered a heart-breaking 2-1 defeat against Feyenoord after extra-time. Unlike in their first European Cup final, Celtic went into this final as favourites to lift the trophy after beating Leeds in the semi-final, which made the defeat even more disappointing.
Things looked to be going Celtic’s way when Gemmell scored the opening goal with half an hour on the clock. However, Feyenoord started to dominate the centre of the park through midfielders Franz Hasil, Willem van Hanegem and Wim Jansen. The Dutch giants equalised just two minutes after the opening goal, as centre-back Rinus Israel headed home.
The game remained all square after 90 minutes and needed extra time to decide the winner. The hammer blow to Celtic’s hopes of winning their second European Cup came with just three minutes remaining in extra time.
A long goal kick from the Feyenoord goalkeeper found its way into the Celtic area. Celtic captain Billy McNeil struggled to control the ball and seemed to bat the ball away with his hand. Feyenoord’s Swedish forward Ole Kindvall reacted with lightning reactions to collect the ball and chip the ball over Celtic goalkeeper Evan Williams into the net before the referee even had time to point to the spot for a penalty kick.
The goal was enough to give Feyenoord their first European Cup victory. Celtic has never since returned to the European Cup final.
A UEFA Cup final appearance in 2003
Celtic’s best performance in European competition since their last European Cup final appearance came in 2003. The Hoops made it to the final of the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League, where they suffered a 3-2 extra-time defeat against Portuguese outfit Porto.
The game was famous for the fact that a reported 80,000 Celtic fans travelled to Seville for the final, which UEFA Cup described as “the largest travelling support to have assembled for a single game”. The Celtic fans received rewards from both FIFA and UEFA for their excellent conduct.
Unfortunately for the travelling Bhoys fans, the result went against them. The first half was full of chances for both teams. Deco had two excellent opportunities saved by Rab Douglas, while Chris Sutton couldn’t quite connect with a Didier Agathe cross for Celtic.
Porto took the lead in first-half stoppage-time, as striker Derlei fired home after Douglas had saved an effort from Dmitri Alenichev. Celtic equalised just two minutes into the second period, as Henrik Larsson’s looping header found its way over Vitor Baia in the Porto goal.
Nine minutes into the second half, Porto regained the lead as Alenichev scored after good play from Deco. The lead lasted just three minutes as Larsson headed home from an Alan Thompson corner kick.
The game went to extra-time, and on 96 minutes, Celtic defender Bobo Balde received his second-yard card, leaving his team to play on with ten men. The Hoops desperately held on until the 115th minute. Derlei pounced on a block from Douglas before rounding substitute Jack McNamara and firing home the winning goal.
Always a historic club
Celtic remains a powerhouse in British football. However, in recent years the Hoops have struggled to compete in Europe’s top competitions primarily due to facing teams with far bigger financial backings.
They may not have won a European trophy in recent decades, but their 1967 triumph will always make Celtic one of the most historic clubs in Britain.