Football History Friday: Who exactly were the Lisbon Lions?

At long last the football season has come to an end and most fans will have been slowly winding down with the big five leagues having known their champions before the final match days.

In amongst the confetti you may have seen or heard celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions. And no, that is not an MLS expansion team.

Many older Australian football fans as well as Celtic supporters will be aware that the Lisbon Lions is the name given to the 1967 European Cup-winning Celtic side, the first British team to win the competition now known as the Champions League.

The match was played on the 25th of May 1967 and ended in a 2-1 victory for the Glasgow side over Italian giants Inter Milan at the Estadio Nacional in, you guessed it, Lisbon.

But aside from being the first British team to win the cup what makes the Lisbon Lions so special?

Team

Many will be familiar with the history of Celtic, founded in Glasgow’s East End to help alleviate poverty in the city’s Irish migrant community. Both themselves and their rivals Rangers have a deep connection to their communities. It is perhaps unsurprising to learn that of the 15-man squad that kitted up on that day, all but one was born within a 10 mile radius of their home ground Celtic Park.

Game

The game itself was a triumph for attacking football. Inter were renowned for their defensive displays and their game plan involved what could easily be described as a certain form of public transportation and handbrake. Amazingly Celtic had 42 attempts on goal whilst Inter could only muster five.

The match began like many expected with the Italian side scoring first courtesy of a penalty in the 7th minute with Sandro Mazzola putting the spot kick away. Celtic then proceeded to bombard the Inter goal but an hour passed and the Italians still held a one goal lead. However on 63 minutes their resistance was finally broken when Tommy Gemmell hit the back of the net from 20 yards out. Six minutes from time and again Gemmell was involved as Celtic scored the decisive goal. Gemmell played the ball to Bobby Murdoch whose shot forced the keeper into a save straight into the path of Stevie Chalmers who tucked it home.

Legacy

Despite only being in its twelfth season, the European Cup had been dominated by sides from Spain, Italy and Portugal. Celtic’s win completely broke that mould with Manchester United winning it the following year, while Inter’s 1969 victory remained the only cup win by a Latin side until 1985.

The period itself was a golden age for Scottish football. Multiple wins against England took place and the strength of the game domestically compared very well to the English top flight.  Celtic themselves won a record nine consecutive league titles either side of the European Cup triumph, an achievement that would be equalled by Rangers during the 1990s but not yet bettered.

The triumph in Lisbon was the fourth trophy Celtic had won in a dominant season. They would return to the final in 1970 losing to Feyenoord and made the final of the UEFA Cup (now Europa League) in 2003 but once gain lost, this time to Porto.

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Third year Sports Media student at the University of Canberra. Interests include sports history and stats...you know, all the fun stuff.