By Ken Pendleton – CORVALLIS, OR (Jan 6, 2006) US Soccer Players – The 1967 European Cup final between Celtic and Inter ultimately came down to the differences between their two managers, Helenio Herrera and Jock Stein.
Herrera, known by one and all as “HH,” was not shy about attributing his great success — two Spanish titles with Barcelona and the ’64 and ’65 European Cups with Inter — to his tactical and psychological acumen.
“Too many managers limit their roles to little taps on the players’ shoulders as they are about to go on the pitch, or making the occasional patriotic speech, which, while maybe warming the hearts of some players, only serves to cool the muscles of the whole team.”
Instead, he would give them an exotic tea, reputed to give them “peace of mind and strength of spirit,” throw a ball at every player and ask, “What do you think of the match? How are we going to play? Why are we going to win?” The point was to whip them into a tribal frenzy and get each to make a public pledge that, “We are going to win! We are going to do it together!”
Tactically, Herrera claimed credit for inventing catenaccio, the system that called for a sweeper to support the other man-marking defenders, but claimed that it was not designed for cautious and defensive play. Sure, the centerbacks have to stay home, but the fullbacks, such as Giacinto Facchetti — who, in the words of Scottish TV commentator Archie Macpherson, “strode through the game like a Greek god assuring everyone around him that fate was on their side” — were integral to the attack. Maybe, but Inter had reached the final by conceding three goals in nine matches, played only one true forward, Cappellini, and relied heavily on counter-attacks.
Stein, by stark contrast, was a third generation coal miner, who did not become a fully professional footballer until the age of 27. This taught him the value of hard work and responsibility. At age eleven he realized, “I’d never be alongside better men. They didn’t just get their own work done and go away. They all stayed around until every man had finished what he had to do and everything was cleared up … It was a place where phoneys and cheats could not survive for long.”
At the same time, such a life gave him perspective on the relative importance of soccer:
Down there for eight straight hours you’re away from God’s fresh air and sunshine and there’s nothing that can compensate for that. There’s nothing as dark as the darkness down a pit, the blackness that closes in on you if your lamp goes out. You’d think you would see some kind of shapes, but you can see nothing, nothing but the inside of your head. I think everyone should go down the pit at least once to learn what darkness is.
Given this background, he combined a no-nonsense approach with a refusal to bow to the darker side of the game.
“Inter will play defensively and that is their business … We can be as hard and professional as anyone, but I mean it when I say we don’t just want to win this cup. We want to win it playing good football, to make the neutrals glad we’ve done it, glad to remember how we did it.”
As Stein promised, Celtic attacked right from the off, but, horror of horrors, they conceded a penalty, which Sandro Mazzola converted, after just seven minutes. This appeared to play into Inter’s hands and indeed they were now free to contract and wait for the presumably inevitable chances to counter. What they did not count on, however, was Celtic’s persistence: their hard work, their speed, their invention. Absorbing pressure and waiting patiently for openings is one thing, getting pummeled and suffocated quite another. Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch took over the midfield, the two fullbacks Jim Craig and Tommy Gemmell more or less abandoned their normal positions and joined the attack, the two wingers, Bobby Lennox and especially Wee Jimmy Johnstone ran at and tormented them.
Celtic always looked like scoring. Auld ghosted past three defenders and hit the bar, Sarti, the Inter keeper, just managed to redirect a rocket from Gemmell, and Johnstone who was making a monkey out Tarcisio Burgnich, a world-class fullback, had a header deflected over the bar. For their part, the Italians were in full retreat. They were blatantly wasting time by the 14th minute and there were long periods when all eleven players were behind the ball. There were no opportunities to counter, none whatsoever. Still, they went into the dressing room with their lead in tact and even the most optimistic Celtic fan must have had his doubts.
Not Jock Stein, who did not say a word until right before they were about to retake the field. “You’re doing fine and you’re going to win this one but you’re just making one little mistake. You’re taking the ball too far up the wings and sending it too close to their goal. Just take it as far as the eighteen yards line and role it along that line.”
Better, more prophetic instructions were never given. The onslaught continued and, in the 16th minute, Craig, overlapped down the right, and, presumably realizing that he had advanced too far, retreated played the ball perfectly across the eighteen-yard line, where Gemmell, the man alleged to have the hardest shot in Great Britain, blasted it past Sarti.
At this point, you would have expected Inter to come out and play, which they had more than enough talent to do, but it was too late to reverse the momentum. Now that Celtic had proven that they could score, they upped the tempo even more because they felt certain that they would score again. Gemmell hit the bar, the sweeper Picchi saved a shot from Murdoch with his face, and striker Willie Wallace was denied what looked like a clear penalty. Finally, with seven minutes to go, Murdoch played a ball into the center of the box and Steve Chalmers directed in the winner.
It was over. There was time left, but the Italians did not even bother to try to mount an attack and Stein even retreated to the locker a couple of minutes before the final whistle blew. All he felt a need to say was, “What a result! What a performance!”
In a similarly laconic fashion, Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s manager and a fellow Scot, simply opined, “John, you’re immortal.”
He, more than anyone else, had brought Great Britain its first European Cup, and, as promised, Celtic had done it by playing good football, football that would make any neutral glad.