Simpson, Craig, Gemmell, Murdoch, McNeill, Clark, Johnstone, Wallace, Chalmers, Auld, Lennox.
Over and Over, not the stirring Celtic song but the names of 11 men who became immortals of a football club in Scotland that I was born into. Before I could recite my catholic prayers these 11 names rolled off my tongue and it made me money plenty of times. My aul bhoy had me like a trained monkey, stood there, in front of family or fellow hoops and rhyming the European cup winners of 1967 without a breath taken. It was his moment of pride. This is not just a rarity that happened to me as I’m sure many hoops fans played out the same scenario. We also had the beautiful emerald green wall mat or commemorative tea towels and mugs all positioned proudly around the home and just in case we left one of the Lions out.
The names that always struck a chord and stood out most were the Boss man, Jock Stein. His sidekick, Sean Fallon. Jinky the flying flea. Billy McNeill the man who directed from the back and leader of Celtic and the two scorers Gemmell and Chalmers. Of course the surrounding stories would also be drilled like John Fallon and his contribution and the Injured Lion, Joe McBride. And among all the glory and success I would be brought back down to earth with the John Thompson story and song. The latter would always make me sob as a child when I heard it. It’s what made me aware that Celtic and the fans were extended members of my family that I held in my heart.
Over the years at primary school I would be in class with lads who had their fathers in gaol for the IRA. Local heroes and the men who had served before hailed in song and story. People like Michael Collins, Sean South, Pearse and James Connolly all men who’d given their lives for Ireland and as Nationalists we were proud of these men. As a kid and around the time of the “Hunger strikes” I would be back and forward to Glasgow to see Celtic. It struck me from an early age how close the history of Celtic and Republican struggle had intertwined through the lives of its own support. I would always recite the heroics of the Lions in essay or discussion for English lessons, any chance to spread the word. I suppose everything was relevant in the story of the club and it’s people. A support that was unbowed and unbroken to use a phrase and a support who grew up on stories from the knee.
Lisbon 25th Of May would be another triumph for the people, another tale with 11 giants on the pitch. They won it for the fans and the club we bleed green for. A win we would dine out on even today and I believe it is because we love the story of success against all odds. The fairytale of trophies that seems to follow the club. Number 5, Simunovic scoring in the 67th minute of a game days after we lost the greatest number 5 and leader. These things are not scripted, they are of a bigger hand at play. This past week with the Passing of Billy McNeill and Stevie Chalmers has made me dwell on all the stories and recall moments like I mentioned above because they were always in my life. All those names mentioned, some gone and some remain but no matter they will all be kept alive as a Legends of Celtic Football Club because our children have been taught the Celtic way by us from the story book we had been told by our fathers, the first hand storyteller.
On the 40th anniversary of The European Cup win I purchased a special hoops shirt with 8 remaining Lions signatures in a beautiful frame and finished in pictures of the game. And I think at this moment was the time I thought about how the hands that signed this shirt would eventually pass and more likely during my time.
I probably over thought this at times and it would get me down but 10 years on I tend to take a different view on life and death. And it is a pleasure to be able to say Celtic won the European cup with all local bhoys and each and every man was a great servant to the club and fans even after retirement. Billy McNeill just like Jock Stein will always be considered the leaders of the green and white hoops. Stevie Chalmers was the bhoy that scored the single most important goal in the clubs long unbroken history. 6 minutes from time on a hot summers evening in Lisbon he stepped up to score the winner.
Jock Stein has just told two more Lions to return. He is rebuilding the team.