The hoops who were almost stars - Celtic in Europe 1970-74 | @Alexecky

As part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today he looks at the nearly men of Parkhead and why they failed to emulate the famous Lisbon Lions...


We know Celtic were the first British team to win the European Cup in 1967 with a famous 2-1 win over Inter Milan in Lisbon, but the Glasgow side went oh so close to appearing in two other finals before the mid 1970s, and it is also 50 years since they blew their chance of winning a second EC final in three years. 

Celetic were semi-final victors over Leeds United in 1970

In May 1970 Celtic were odds on favourites to claim a second European Cup in three years as they travelled to the San Siro in Milan to take on Feyenoord of Rotterdam. Following two battle of Britain wins against Leeds Utd which saw them triumph 3-1 on aggregate in a semi final that, for many football supporters across Europe, was the pairing that should have graced the iconic Italian venue in the final of 1970 on a rain sodden evening.

Lisbon Lion and named substitute for the 1970 final, Jim Craig, actually goes as far as to blame the furore that surrounded the hoops 1-0 and 2-1 victories over the English champions for what transpired in Italy on 6 May 1970.

My former colleague at Football Today magazine in the 1980s is still a no nonsense writer and pundit in the Scottish game, but ask the former full back about Feyenoord and it is still a regret for Craig, that Jock Stein's Celtic were so uncharacteristically shoddy against the Dutch on the night and in their preparation for the final.


Jim Craig
Craig says: "I think a lot of people thought the hard work had been done when we saw off Leeds at Elland Road and Hampden in the semi final.

It's a purely personal opinion but the worst thing that happened on the run to the San Siro final was beating Leeds so comprehensively because the public thought Feyenoord weren't in the same class. We knew it wouldn't be a walkover but I'm afraid we underestimated them.

Somebody from Celtic would go and see them play in Holland before the final but it's true there wasn't the same exposure to teams outside the UK as there is now and we didn't have a lot of information on them."

Craig, who left Celtic for a new life in South Africa in 1972, before returning to the UK to play in English club football, continues: "Celtic number 3 Jim Brogan was injured early on in the final and was noticeably limping but he was never replaced. I'll never work out why I wasn't put on and David Hay moved to Jim Brogan's position, it was a mistake, but on the day the players didn't rise to the occasion as we had in Lisbon against a great Inter side."

Six of the Lisbon team from 1967 started in Italy v Feyenoord with Craig, also a starter in '67, on the bench and after defeating Basel, Benfica, Fiorentina and Leeds on the run to the final in '70. It was Celtic who took the lead as Tommy Gemmell joined an exalted group of players to score in two separate finals as he thundered home a free kick from 25 yards to give the Scots the lead after 29 minutes.

Within three minutes Feyenoord were level via skipper Rinus Israel, and it's true that Celtic were fortunate to be facing extra-time and possibly a second game as no penalty shoot outs existed to decide finals back then.

Swede Ove Kindvall finally gave the Dutch team the unexpected win with a couple of minutes of the extra 30 left as he nipped in to lob a long ball from a free kick over Evan Williams head in the hoops goal, as Celtic captain Billy McNeill desperately tried to handle the ball before it got to the goalscorer.

Aberdeen Press and Journal - Thursday 07 May 1970

It was a crushing blow for Celtic and an opportunity for glory that should have been grasped, but two years later they ironically continued the Milan connection as they faced Inter in a European Cup semi-final second leg with the tie poised at 0-0 before the match at Parkhead.

Not even extra-time with a Partizan crowd roaring Celtic on could break the deadlock in Glasgow and with 0-0 the aggregate result, it would be penalties that would decide a Celtic match for the very first time in a major cup competition.

Five spot kicks each then sudden death if still a draw, a new concept at the time, had a television audience in Scotland on the edge of their collective seats but the hoops were always chasing the Italians in the shoot out after John 'Dixie' Deans drove Celtic's first pen high over the bar.

Inter avenged the Lisbon final of 1967 with a 5-4 spot kick win on the night and went onto lose the 1972 final to Ajax, who had beaten Celtic 3-1 on aggregate, in the Quarter-finals the year before despite the hoops winning 1-0 in Glasgow.

1973 saw Celtic briefly exit centre stage as Britain's best hope of European Cup glory as they went out early on and it was Brian Clough's Derby County who made the last four of the top Euro competition. The English Champions would fail against Juventus who couldn't prevent Ajax making it a hattrick of final wins.

1974 saw Celtic again on the verge of a EC final and this time Atlético Madrid would stand between the hoops and a final against Bayern Munich.

The first leg at Parkhead saw an unbelievable display of cynicism from the part Spanish/part Argentinian visiting eleven and four Atlético players were sent off, with Celtic winger Jimmy Johnstone a target for some of the worst fouls you'll ever see in any match you revisit on YouTube, and you should if not of a nervous disposition!

There is even a story of one of the Glasgow Policemen escorting the players off the pitch at the end of the first leg, as the home crowd threatened to riot, turning a blind eye to a Celtic punch in the tunnel as all hell broke loose after the game, and the surreal scenes on the night continued as the teams went down the tunnel at full time. A couple of home players took their own retribution out on opponents for what had been served up to Johnstone on the pitch and it has to be said only a Saint himself would have forgiven the visitor's antics.

Aberdeen Evening Express - Saturday 13 April 1974

The Scottish newspapers were full of pictures of Johnstone's bruised and battered body in the home dressing room immediately after the match the following day accompanied by stories of kicking, scratching and spitting by Atlético players off the ball and there was even a call in some quarters for the game to be declared void.

One more Atlético sending off on the night would have seen that actually happen as any of the two teams going below seven players in domestic or Euro matches meant the game was abandoned!

Sadly, justice didn't prevail in the second game in Madrid and a much changed Atlético left the hatchet men out and brought skill in to win the game 2-0 although they ended up losing the '74 final.

Celtic were back in Madrid in 1980 for a European Cup quarter-final v Real, going out at the last eight stage, but the hoops have never been as close in the continent's major club tournament since then. It looks like history will determine their best chance for a second European Cup trophy came in the years between 1970 and 1974, when the hoops lived with the best and showed why they have a worldwide footballing reputation in all eras of the beautiful game.

Leeds Utd (with six Scots in their starting eleven) were the first British team since Celtic in 1970 to reach the European Cup final in 1975, losing 2-0 to Bayern Munich in Paris, and only that tartan tinged Elland Road team came as close to winning the European Cup as Celtic '70 -'74 before Liverpool finally won it in 1977 to become the first UK team since Manchester United in 1968 to lift the trophy.

The Anfield men's 3-1 win v Germans Borrusia Moenchengladbach started a period of English domination in the European Cup which only ended with the ban that followed the Heysel disaster in 1985, but Celtic's near misses in the early '70s is the forgotten chapter of a glorious period for British football in the pre Champions League era.

Celtic have never be able to replicate the glorious Lisbon Lions of 1967

Other Celtic Cup Calamities: 1970-74

Ironically, the years 1970-74 saw Celtic uncharacteristically lose in domestic Cup finals while threatening to claim the European Cup for a second time.

Three weeks before the Feyenoord defeat in the EC final the hoops lost 3-1 to a mid-table Aberdeen side in the 1970 Scottish Cup Final, while failing to recreate the spark shown in league games as they convincingly won the Scottish title. The 1970 League Cup Final saw 16 year old Derek Johnstone head the winner for Rangers in a 1-0 win for the Ibrox side over Celtic who had needed a replay against lowly Dumbarton to win their semi-final.

Partick Thistle beat Celtic 4-1 in the League Cup Final of 1971 after only winning promotion to the top tier the season before while Dundee, captained by two time scorer for Celtic in European Cup finals, Tommy Gemmell defeated the hoops 1-0 in the 1973 League Cup Final to continue Celtic's curious double life as a European Cup elite while failing at domestic cup level. Rangers would beat Celtic 3-2 in the 1973 Scottish Cup final to claim their first trophy in the competition since 1966.

However, it wasn't all doom and gloom for Celtic in cups in the 1970s. Hibs were hammered 6-1 in the Scottish Cup final of 1972, with penalty sinner against Inter Milan in Europe Dixie Deans netting a hattrick v the Edinburgh side, and old rivals Rangers were seen off in the finals of 1971 and 1977.

Dundee Utd were swept aside 3-0 in the Scottish Cup final of 1974 and a year later Lisbon skipper and the first Brit to lift the European Cup, Billy McNeill, bowed out as a player after Airdrie were defeated 3-1 in the Celt's sixth consecutive Scottish Cup final appearance.


This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020

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