Lisbon Lion Jim Craig tells us his tales from Celtic's greatest day

The former Celtic defender chats to Newstalk's Team 33 about his key role in the 1967 European Cup final

BY Raf Diallo 11:49 Thursday 25 May 2017, 11:49 25 May 2017

Celtic legend Jim Craig. Lynne Cameron/PA Archive/PA Images

Back in the mid-1960s, if you went 1-0 down to Helenio Herrera's Inter Milan, you might as well have written off your chances of victory.

These were in the days of the Catenaccio, an ultra defensive style that served Inter Milan well in that era when they dominated Serie A and won two European Cups.

But on May 25th 1967, on a warm Thursday in Lisbon, Celtic also found themselves trailing 1-0 in the European Cup final to an Inter side that had conceded an average of just 0.7 goals (significantly less than a goal a game) in Serie A over the five seasons from 1962-63 to 1966-67.

Of course that Celtic side needs little introduction as history will forever immortalise the members of Jock Stein's team as the Lisbon Lions who roared back to win 2-1 and become the first British club to win the European Cup/Champions League. They were also remarkable in the sense that all the members of the team were born within 30 miles of Glasgow's Celtic Park.

Defender and dentist Jim Craig gave away the penalty that would see Inter take an early 1-0 lead in Lisbon that fateful day.

Last month, he joined us on Team 33 to share his memories of the 1967 European Cup final and Celtic's rise to the very top on the continent.

You can listen to the full interview on the podcast player or on iTunes:

"I was seething to be quite honest," Craig remembers of the moment when Inter striker Renato Cappellini fell in the box under his challenge after just seven minutes of play (see the British Pathe footage below of the match).

"I was really angry because I had run across his path. He was a left footed player going down the inside right channel and it didn't take a genius to work out at some point that he was going to pull the ball towards his left foot. And I just angled my run so that I ran across his path. He went down like a sack of potatoes and the referee gave it.

"And I doubt whether very many referees would have given that as early on in a European Cup final. But in many ways it worked out well for us."

Craig had managed to persuade his father - who had been initially reluctant to come "because he thought Inter would be too strong for us" - to travel over to Lisbon for the final and for he and other Celtic fans it was a decidedly poor start to proceedings. 

But it was Craig who played a key role in the fight back. Celtic came close to equalising on numerous occasions as they poured forward against an Inter side that had gone into their defensive shells as they liked to do under Herrera.

Eighteen minutes after half time, as you can see in the British Pathe footage above, Craig played a pass inside to the on-rushing Tommy Gemmell who fired past goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti, who had confounded pre-match scouting reports of being "suspect" and unimpressive as a keeper to deny Celtic time and time again up to that point.

(l to r) Billy McNeill, Jim Craig and the members of the Lisbon Lions parade the European Cup that they won in 1967.  Matthew Ashton/EMPICS Sport

"So you're getting a wee bit, not so much panicky, but your discipline is starting to fray a wee bit," Craig recalled about why, as a defender, he had ventured so far up the field after the hour mark.

"That was why Tommy [Gemmell] was up there as well, desperate to get a shot at goal. And with all due respect, I gave him the perfect pass and he knocked it in," Craig finished with a chuckle.

The only downside from the 1967 European Cup final that the former Scotland international and qualified dentist notes was the pitch invasion which meant the trophy and medals could not be awarded on the pitch.

"The boys would have liked to have had the chance to show the trophy as they do nowadays and get that presentation on the park afterwards," he said, before telling the story of how they ended up getting their medals unceremoniously at the post-match dinner.

One of the fascinating things about the build up to the final was that sense of almost eerie calmness around manager Stein and his Celtic team. From going to watch an England vs Spain match on the TV of a Scottish expat's house in Lisbon on the eve of the final, to Bertie Auld's singing of a Celtic song unnerving Inter in the tunnel pre-match and the mood at half time, Craig kindly shared all those memories with us.

Plus he talked about growing up in Glasgow as Celtic endured a league drought prior to the Stein era, how he chose between football and dentistry - which he would later go back to - and how a move to Waterford United in 1974 ultimately didn't prove possible.


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