Celtic's fans ready to add new chapter to Scots' legends

Uefa Cup final: Green army descends on Spanish city in hope of reviving spirit of Jock Stein's Lisbon Lions against Porto
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The Independent Football

"Every time we open a cupboard, a Celtic supporter falls out," a British embassy official said. A convoy of green-bedecked cars completed the long haul from Glasgow. This was Lisbon, 1967, yet it is also Seville, 2003. When Scottish clubs contest a European final, creating myths and memories seems almost as important as capturing the trophy.

"Every time we open a cupboard, a Celtic supporter falls out," a British embassy official said. A convoy of green-bedecked cars completed the long haul from Glasgow. This was Lisbon, 1967, yet it is also Seville, 2003. When Scottish clubs contest a European final, creating myths and memories seems almost as important as capturing the trophy.

Sometimes the football and folklore combine seamlessly, as when Jock Stein's Celtic defeated Internazionale to win the European Cup in a blaze of glory and Portuguese sunshine. One fan alighted, hung-over but happy, from a plane in Glasgow the following day only to remember that he had driven down.

They converged again 20 years ago as Aberdeen, under the stewardship of an up-and-coming manager called Alex Ferguson, overcame Real Madrid, no less, to claim the Cup-Winners' Cup in a Swedish monsoon. On other occasions, notably when Rangers beat Moscow Dynamo in Barcelona in 1972, the fans overshadowed their heroes' feats rather than complementing them.

Now the Scots are back in Spain for a European showpiece. With half of Celtic's 50,000 following ticketless, tomorrow's Uefa Cup final may be as much about the drinking and the singing as about the match between Martin O'Neill's men and Porto.

This will be the eighth time a Scottish club has reached a final and the first since Dundee United succumbed to IFK Gothenburg in the same competition 16 years ago. Rangers made it first, Scott Symon's team losing over two legs to Fiorentina in the inaugural Cup-Winners' Cup in 1961, although the build-up, the spectacle, the stakes or the aftermath scarcely compared with the events of six years later.

The strength of the Scottish game in '67 can be gauged by the fact that Rangers qualified for the Cup-Winners' Cup final and Kilmarnock were semi-finalists in what is now the Uefa Cup. Above all, it is remembered as Celtic's miraculous season, culminating in Italy's top team being destroyed by the brilliance of a side comprised entirely of players born within 30 miles of Parkhead.

Inter were playing their third final in four years. But Stein had prepared his players perfectly, letting them relax with press and punters in the hotel and minutely detailing their opponents' strengths and weaknesses. "We must play as if there are no more games, no more tomorrows," he said beforehand. "We must be the side that dictates how the game goes."

In the tunnel, Inter stood tall, swarthy and film-star handsome; Celtic were a smaller bunch, their pale faces plastered with blobs of Vaseline and bereft of their false teeth. When Bertie Auld led his colleagues in singing "It's a Grand Old Team to Play For", the Italians began to wonder what they were up against.

They soon found out, although Stein got one thing wrong. By scoring early through Sandro Mazzola's penalty, Inter unwittingly dictated the course of the match. The instinct of Helenio Herrera, a coach infamous for his adherence to suffocating defence, was to sit on the lead. Well, there were only 83 minutes left.

His strategy invited the full force of Celtic's attacking fury. However, it was not until the 63rd minute that Tommy Gemmell levelled from 25 yards. The late, great Bobby Murdoch -- whose brother had hitch-hiked to Lisbon and had to borrow money to get back -- fittingly had a part in the winner five minutes from time when his shot was diverted in by Steve Chalmers.

Bill Shankly, of Liverpool, was the only British manager present to witness the first triumph by a club from these islands in the premier tournament. In the dressing-room afterwards, he told Stein: "John, you're immortal."

A week later, Glasgow had the chance to become the first city to house two European trophies simultaneously when Rangers played Bayern Munich in Nuremberg. But the Ibrox club were not blessed with Celtic's bravado and lost an attritional match to the only goal, in the second half of extra time.

Celtic were back in the European Cup final in 1970. Having taken a lap of honour after beating Leeds in a Hampden Park semi-final before 136,500 baying fans, they may have thought the hard work was done. Unusually for Stein, they appeared to underestimate Feyenoord in Milan, losing 2-1, again in extra time.

Two years later Rangers, under Willie Waddell, at last had their European prize. It came at a price. Playing on Spanish turf against Russian opposition seemed to be reduced, in the minds of some of their 16,000 followers, to a showdown between Protestant Loyalism and the forces of Catholicism and Communism. The last of several pitch invasions, late in a 3-2 win, led to John Greig being presented with the Cup-Winners' Cup in a back room. Rangers received a two-season ban from Europe.

One astonishing fact from that spring of '72 was the aggregate attendance from two semi-finals in Glasgow, in which Internazionale and Rangers avenged their final defeats by Celtic and Bayern Munich five years earlier. A staggering 155,000 watched the matches - on the same night.

Aberdeen's 1983 run led them and 15,000 fans (in a crowd of 17,800) to rain-lashed Gothenburg to meet Alfredo Di Stefano's Real Madrid. At 1-1 with eight minutes of extra time remaining, Juanito tried to nutmeg an Aberdeen player in his own half. He was dispossessed, the Dons broke and John Hewitt, a 20-year-old substitute in an all-Scottish team, headed the winner. "Fairy-tale stuff," Ferguson beamed last week.

The quarter-final victory over Bayern is still rated by Aberdeen's players as "a final before the final". The other half of the so-called New Firm, Dundee United, experienced a similar anomaly during their Uefa Cup run in 1986-87, in that they overcame Barcelona. The difference lay in the final outcome. Exhausted by fixture congestion, Jim McLean's side lost 2-1 on aggregate to Gothenburg.

United's anticlimax was acute enough on home soil; heaven knows what defeat by Porto might do to the morale of the Celtic support massing in this medieval city. They have stripped Scotland of sombreros, sun-tan cream and inflatable donkeys (the sight of one in the airport yesterday prompted a "Hallelujah Chorus" taking Lorenzo Amoruso's name in vain). They are now doing the same to local cerveza stocks.

Meanwhile, a massive convoy is reputedly motoring in from the Costa del Sol. With the Iberian sun beating down, it is all headily reminiscent of the day 11 Scots conquered a continent with their teeth stored in the goalkeeper's cap. Then, as now, thousands more were there to hail the grand old team. Whether or not they see O'Neill's side succeed in their shot at immortality, oh, the stories they will tell.


EUROPEAN CUP-WINNERS' CUP First leg: Rangers 0 Fiorentina (It) 2 (Milani 12, 28). Second leg: Fiorentina 2 (Milani 12, Hamrin 86) Rangers 1 (Scott 60) (Fiorentina win 4-1 on aggregate).

EUROPEAN CUP: Celtic 2 (Gemmell 63, Chalmers 85) Internazionale (It) 1 (Mazzola 8) (at Estadio Nacional, Lisbon).
EUROPEAN CUP-WINNERS' CUP: Bayern Munich (Ger) 1 (Roth 108) Rangers 0 (after extra time; at Nürnbergerstadion, Nuremberg).

EUROPEAN CUP: Feyenoord (Neth) 2 (Israel 31, Kindall 117) Celtic 1 (Gemmell 29) (aet; at San Siro, Milan).

EUROPEAN CUP-WINNERS' CUP: Rangers 3 (Stein 23, Johnston 40, 49) Dynamo Moscow (Rus) 2 (Estrekov 60, Makhovikov 87) (at Nou Camp, Barcelona).

EUROPEAN CUP-WINNERS' CUP: Aberdeen 2 (Black 4, Hewitt 112) Real Madrid (Sp) 1 (Juanito 15) (aet; at Ullevi stadium, Gothenburg).

UEFA CUP First leg: IFK Gothenburg (Swe) 1 (Petterson 38) Dundee United 0. Second leg: Dundee United 1 (Clark 60) IFK Gothenburg 1 (L Nilsson 22) (IFK Gothenburg win 2-1 on aggregate).