Neil Lennon's Celtic Lions run on spirit of '67 against Barcelona

Celtic's remarkable win over Barcelona revived memories of Stein's European Cup triumph and was based on similar defiance

The chants of delirious supporters were sporadically floating through the air around Celtic Park on Wednesday night when a man who must have been in his late forties walked towards the statue of Jimmy Johnstone that is erected outside the main entrance to the stadium, and very tenderly tapped the left foot that is set in bronze with his right hand. There was a gentle nod, a moment for himself and with that he walked off into the night.

He was paying tribute to history on a night that felt instantly historic.

There was much talk of it, and rightly so. Barcelona were beaten on an evening that magically lifted you above and beyond football's recent ills some 125 years and one day after the club had initially been formed, back in 1887. "One of the greatest nights in the club's history," came the immediate proclamation from the manager, Neil Lennon, and there were few dissenting voices.

His initial comparison, as the dust still struggled to settle on an unforgettable 2-1 victory, was directed at the substitutes' bench. In search of victory, Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach, had turned to David Villa, Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. Lennon brought on a £50,000 signing from Airdrie United. He had four teenagers on his bench.

Insurmountable odds were overcome, and that, as it always will, drew comparison with the Lisbon Lions of 1967, the first British team to lift the European Cup, with a group of players that was born, with one exception, within 10 miles of the statue to which that supporter paid homage.

Celtic's team on Wednesday night could have been forgiven for looking to their side as they walked down the tunnel with fear. Lionel Messi will earn more in three months than the entire Celtic team cost to put together, but from there the window to the past opens. Before the European Cup final against Internazionale in '67, legend has it that Johnstone and Bertie Auld began singing "For it's a grand old team to play for" when the teams stood next to each other as they prepared to walk on to the field.

"There they were," Johnstone is quoted as saying. "Facchetti, Domenghini, Mazzola, Cappellini; all six-footers wi' Ambre Solaire suntans, Colgate smiles and sleek-backed hair. Each and every wan o' them looked like yon film star Cesar Romero. They even smelt beautiful.

"And there's us lot, midgets. Ah've got nae teeth, Bobby Lennox hasnae any, and old Ronnie Simpson's got the full monty, nae teeth top an' bottom. The Italians are staring doon at us an' we're grinnin' back up at 'em wi' our great gumsy grins. We must have looked like something out o' the circus."

It would have felt like a circus for Lennon back in 2010, when, in his third game as caretaker manager, Celtic were beaten 2-0 by Ross County in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. His first game as permanent manager in July 2010 saw Celtic slump 3-0 to Braga in the Champions League.

There is a recurring theme to Lennon's own recent story and it revolves around mental toughness. A brief snapshot of his life will tell you why it is a trait he demands, from himself and from those around him. An assault he suffered in 2008 for which his attackers were jailed, bullets in the post, parcel bombs and police protection. They are not customary, day-to-day management issues.

"No one in Scottish footballing history has had to contend with this level of pressure while trying to do their job," said Peter Lawwell, the chief executive at Celtic. "Neil has shown tremendous strength of character and resilience."

The team he inherited was said to lack the mental fortitude that playing for Celtic requires. He addressed personnel and, with the eye of football development manager, John Park, restructured his dressing room.

Jock Stein found players with character and talent within a decent jog of Parkhead. Lennon and Park stretched the net, from Newcastle to Nairobi. Victor Wanyama cost just £900,000 last summer. He has the No 67 shirt to honour the Lisbon Lions. His goal and commanding display on Wednesday have rocketed his value. Lennon put it at (a prohibitive) £25m but the Kenyan, just 21, is contracted until 2015. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster moved from Newcastle, where he could not dislodge Tim Krul, for just over £2m after a successful loan spell at the club. Gary Hooper, who did not play against Barcelona because of injury, was set for his first England call-up before injury struck, two years after leaving Scunthorpe. Joe Ledley was signed for nothing from Cardiff when his contract ran down. Tony Watt was a Celtic fan catching the eye at Airdrie who cost just £50,000.

They built a squad to win last year's Scottish Premier League, but Lennon wants more. Before the Champions League tie at Spartak Moscow he warned of "rough moments in the game when we'll have to be mentally strong". On landing in Barcelona he told his players: "We aren't here for a holiday. We're not here for tourist attractions. We're here to play football. We need character and mental strength."

On the evening of the second day of the Ryder Cup, when Martin Kaymer had not played a hole, Lennon texted the German's caddie, his friend Craig Connelly, to lift the player's spirits. Kaymer, as Lennon had jokingly predicted, bounced back on the final day to sink the winning put to seal a momentous comeback. "It's one of those seminal moments in sport that just inspires you," Lennon said. "It just shows what you can do if you put your mind to it and pull together."

They are words that could have come from Wednesday night. Or from 1967.

The bargain Bhoys who beat Barca

Fraser Forster

The goalkeeper, 24, did not play a first-team game for former club Newcastle and signed for £2m after two loan spells at Celtic.

Adam Matthews

The Wales defender, 20, joined on a free from Cardiff in 2011. A right-back by trade, he was switched to the left on Wednesday because of injuries.

Mikael Lustig

A Swedish defender, 25, he rose to the challenge of dealing with the threat from Andres Iniesta. He joined last January from Rosenborg.

Efe Ambrose

The Nigerian centre-half, 24, is now a regular after signing this year from Israeli side FC Ashdod.

Kelvin Wilson

After struggling in his first season at Celtic, the centre-half, 26, is now a regular. He joined from Nottingham Forest on a free transfer in 2011.

Charlie Mulgrew

The midfielder, 26, was manager Neil Lennon's first signing in 2010 and is a set-piece specialist.

Joe Ledley

The Welsh midfielder, 25, spent six years at Cardiff before Celtic beat Stoke and West Bromwich to sign him on a free in 2010.

Victor Wanyama

A bargain £900,000 signing from Belgian side Beerschot AC in 2011, the Kenyan midfielder, 21, is now Celtic's most valuable asset.

Kris Commons

The winger, 29, joined for £300,000 from Derby in 2011 and has become a first choice on the right of midfield.

Miku

Nicolas "Miku" Fedor, 27, has joined on a season-long loan from the Spanish club Getafe. He is valued at around £8m.

Georgios Samaras

Unable to hold down a place at Manchester City, the Greek striker, 27, joined Celtic for around £2m in 2008.

Tony Watt

An 18-year-old striker, who came off the bench to score against Barcelona, he was signed from Airdrie for £50,000 last January.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week