CIS Insurance Cup Final: Celtic's day to cherish - and to celebrate

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The Lisbon Lions were a unique band. The first British team ever to win the European Cup were gathered from a 25-mile radius of Celtic Park. It had never been known before, nor since.

The Bhoys of the summer of 1967 gathered again on Friday. Older, greyer, heavier than the young men who defeated Internazionale in Lisbon 39 years ago, they buried their most revered and iconic member. Jimmy Johnstone, Celtic's greatest-ever player, was laid to rest after a long battle against motor neurone disease.

Luminaries such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Denis Law and Rod Stewart attended Johnstone's funeral while a remarkable audience of 20,000 stood outside Celtic Park, four miles away, waiting for the cortège. Today, Gordon Strachan will send out a Celtic team for the CIS Cup final with Dunfermline Athletic with every member wearing the iconic No 7 on their shorts.

Strachan's players can trace their own roots to Japan, Bulgaria, Cork, Marseille and Poland. Yet perhaps it would be fitting if Stephen McManus were to claim the winning goal. The young centre-half is one of four Scots in Celtic's current side, but he not only came through the club's youth system, but he grew up in Viewpark, Lanarkshire, just five miles away. The same town as Johnstone.

"It's some tribute to him," said McManus yesterday, when asked about the many wreaths and scarves that lay outside the stadium. "Obviously, he deserves everything that he gets because he was a great, great man and a great, great player.

"It shows how many hearts he has touched when you see so many jerseys from so many clubs and it's great to see even Rangers colours out there. When I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to know him. He stayed in the next street below us and my grandfather was his postman. What has happened is a wee reminder to everybody how lucky we are to be in this job."

The Celtic players have pledged to dedicate their success to Johnstone, if they win. Strachan would like nothing better. He and "Jinky" were briefly team-mates at Dundee, as the Celtic manager began his career while the Magnificent Seven wound his down. "I hope you don't take this as being disrespectful but there has been nothing but laughter around this place because everyone has a Jimmy Johnstone story to tell. Or three," smiled Strachan.

Celtic's kit man, John Clark, was also part of that celebrated 1967 side. On Friday, he helped carry Johnstone's coffin, but this week he has sharing his friend's spirit with the modern Celtic. "Some of the young boys, such as Stephen McManus and Aiden McGeady, were rolling about laughing at the stories John had to tell about Jimmy," said Strachan. "There is an onus on the players to perform because of Jimmy but that's something they have every week. Because of the Lisbon Lions there is a tradition we have to follow. We have to play a certain way.

"We have to pick up the baton but their legacy means we are lucky enough to be playing in front of 60,000 every week. We feel we can win the cup but we also know Dunfermline are the only team apart from Rangers who have beaten us in Glasgow this year." Jim Leishman, the Dunfermline manager, played against Johnstone with the Fife club until a broken leg ended his own career at 24.

Comments