The Life & Times Of Jock Stein

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By Dean Robertson


Published In The Alternative View – October 2014 Issue #156

Jock Stein TrophyThe date was September 10th, 1985. The venue was Ninian Park, Cardiff. The occasion was Scotland v Wales. The score was 1-1. The outcome was Scotland qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. The celebration was cut short. The reason for this was tragedy. The tragedy was death. The deceased was a legend. This legend was Jock Stein.

As Scotland manger Jock lead his side to the 1986 World Cup after securing a draw against Wales, but he wouldn’t manage his nation in Mexico during the summer of 1986 as he suffered a build-up of fluid in his lungs and collapsed during the Wales game and died shortly after in the medical room.

Jock’s death was a shock and a huge loss to not just the world of football, but to the world as a whole. Jock was a wonderful manager as well as a wonderful person. His death affected countless people, but his legacy lives on, He is missed and remembered by millions of football fans around the world as his legacy is one that will never be forgotten.

Jock’s footballing career and life may have ended in a medical room in 1985 but it started many years before. Jock was born on the 5th of October 1922 in Burbank, South Lanarkshire. He spent his childhood like most boys of the time playing football in the streets. He was educated at Greenfield school, Hamilton. He left Greenfield in 1937 to working in a carpet factory before going down the mines to work as a miner. In 1942 Jock’s footballing career began when he joined junior side Blantyre Victoria. His professional football career would start later that same year when he joined Albion Rovers. He continued to work as a miner while making just under 100 professional appearances for Albion Rovers with a brief long spell at Dundee Utd. He made a name for himself as a defender and also experienced his first taste of success when he was promoted to the Scottish First Division with Albion Rovers in 1948.

He would remain at Albion Rovers for another two years before moving to Non-League Welsh side Llanelli Town to become a full time professional player for the first time in 1950. Jock had finally felt it was time to swap the mines for the pitch permanently. He left his wife and daughter to make the move which was difficult for him and this difficulty of being away from his family resulted in his time in Wales being short as in 1951 he was bought by Celtic FC for a fee of £1,200 after he was recommended by Celtic reserve manager Jimmy Gribben. Jock had returned to Scotland and was reunited with his family much to his and their delight

This was the start of Jock Stein and Celtic’s legendary relationship, although no one knew it at the time. His move to Celtic didn’t come without as he lost friends when he sighed for Celtic due to hostile religious divide between Celtic and their rivals Rangers. This religious divides wasn’t a concern to Jock as he was only focused on one thing and one thing only and that was football.

Jock was signed as a reserve player by Celtic but soon began to feature in the first team due to injures of first team players and made his debut in 1951 against Paisley side St. Mirren. It wouldn’t be long until he became a regular in the side and in 1952 he became vice captain before becoming caption after Sean Fallon suffered an injury and had to vacate the captaincy. He would spend the rest of his playing career in Glasgow with Celtic making 106 appearances. Jock was instrumental in leading and galvanising an average Celtic side to success. Although Celtic weren’t as dominant as they are now Jock still experiences success in his six years at the club winning the Scottish League and Scottish Cup double in the 1953-54 season for the first time since 1914. He also captained Celtic to the Coronation Cup in 1953 as Celtic unexpectedly beat some of the top sides in Britain. Celtic beat Arsenal 1-0, Manchester United 2-1 and Hibernian 2-0 to win the cup and too many, become the unofficial champions of Britain. Jock retired from playing in 1957 as part of the Celtic family and made this clear when he said “Unlike many other Celts, I cannot claim that Celtic was my first love… but I can say that it will be my last love”

Jock would then turn his attention to management where he would become one of the best to ever grace the touchline. In July 1957 Jock was appointed manager of the Celtic reserve team. He tasted his first managerial success with Celtic’s reserves as they won the Scottish reserve cup after an 8-2 aggregate triumph over rivals Rangers in 1958. His time at the helm of the reserves was at times more successful than Celtic’s first team and although Stein loved Celtic he wanted to become a first team manager, so he left Celtic and in 10 he was appointed manager of Dunfermline Athletic’s first team and quickly turned them from relegation contenders to a well organised and feared side and in 1961 he captured the Scottish Cup after a replay victory over Celtic.

He created a name for himself as an up and coming manager with Dunfermline and in 14 he left Dunfermline Athletic to take over the reins at Hibernian and just like at Dunfermline he quickly improved the team and capture a trophy, the Summer Cup in 14. His time in charge of Hibernian was short as in 15 he returned to his beloved Celtic but this time as first team manager.

His return to Celtic was historical as he became the first non-Catholic Celtic manager and this was just the start of the history he would create as manager of Celtic. Jock made many to a Celtic side that had hit rock bottom and possibly the most notable change he made was to take total control. Unlike his predecessor, he put his foot down and didn’t let the board make him a puppet. He made sure he was the only man in charge of the team and this and other changes combined with his ability to turn a poor team with a lot of into a great team with some of the best players to ever play the game lead to incredible success.

His first success with Celtic came in his first season as he beat his old team Dunfermline who were still a very good side – partly due to the progress he had made while in charge – as Celtic won the Scottish Cup, Celtic’s first trophy in 8 long years. The following season he captured Celtic’s first league title since 1954 – that he himself won with Celtic as caption -. He also made an impact in Europe as he led his team to the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners-Cup an incredible feat that would soon be the norm for Jock and Celtic.

Celtic’s dominance in Scotland had begun and for the next eight years Celtic would win the league and do nine in a row, an unheard of achievement at the time. Celtic would also win the League cup for the next five years.

Jock Stein and Celtic were the best manager and team in Scotland by far, but that wasn’t good enough for Jock. He wanted more, he wanted to dominate Europe and in 17 he did. He took his home grown lions to Lisbon and against all odds they beat Inter Milan 2-1 and won the big one. He had done it. Celtic became the first British side to win the European Cup as well as every other competition they entered that year and Jock Stein truly became one of the greatest managers ever. It was Bill Shankley who summed up Stein’s arrival as a footballing legend with four simple words “Jock, you’re immortal now!”

Jock Stein achieved this by changing football, he changed how his teams play. He changed how they approached a game and most importantly, he got the best out of his players. He simply created the Celtic way. He summed up his style and the style that would become the Celtic way perfectly after the European cup final success in Lisbon when he said “We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football”.

After 17 Celtic and Jock continued their dominance as they continued to win most things on offer in Scotland and in 1970 they reached the European Cup final again but lost to Feyenoord in Milan. Also in 1972 and 1974 they reached the semi-finals of the tournament, but were knocked out both times.

In 1978 Jock Stein left Celtic and nominate his successor Billy McNeill to take over. He was encouraged to stay in football by Bob Paisley after his testimonial match at Celtic Park on 14 August 1978 and he did.

Jock Stein became the Scotland manager for the second time (The first being as interim manager for a short time in 15) as well as having a 45 day rain as Leeds United manager in England. He left the Leeds job to be the full time manager of Scotland, Jock managed Scotland in 61 games, winning more than he lost and lead Scotland to the 1986 World Cup before he died doing so. Jock Stein won a total of ten Scottish league titles, eight Scottish Cups, six Scottish league cups, and most notable a European Cup.

Jock Stein may have died on September 10th, 1985 doing what he was the best at and what he loved, but he never truly left, as he is in the minds and hearts of every football fan. He was born John Stein. He died Jock Stein CBE. He will live on forever as simply Big Jock.

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