I had to laugh this time last week when I read the continuing trail of Ibrox fans willing to embarrass themselves in the media by saying that a win for their favourite NewCo in Seville would have been equal to, or greater than, what Celtic did in Lisbon 55 years ago today. Several of them tried to actually make this into an issue worthy of “debate.”
But even if it had happened, there would have been no more “debate” on this subject than there is over the idea that the world is round. Flat Earthers do abound, but they are lunatics on the fringes. That’s where the likes of Kenny Miller and Keith Jackson belong, and lunatics – fanatics, locked in their own wee bubble – is what they are.
The Europa League is not the Champions League, and seven wins in twenty-one games cannot be held up as a brilliant run when it clearly is nothing of the sort. Those twenty-one games include two in the very competition which the Lions won … and they lost both of them, the second of which was at home, against ten men. It is a shocking record.
The Lions are not just the best Celtic side of all time but the best team that a Scottish club has ever produced. I know that’s hard for some people to accept. I get it. But it remains a fact and it will take something absolutely remarkable to change that.
To be frank, I cannot imagine what that would involve.
Celtic’s achievement towers over all. It is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of sport. To have done it from a small, unfancied nation, to have done it with a home-grown squad, to have done it in such style, with such panache … it defied belief.
That team beat one of the best sides in world football.
Inter Milan had won two of the previous three European Cups.
Celtic beat them after coming back from a goal down when Inter had practically pioneered the art of defending a lead.
They did it in a Latin country when no non-Latin side had ever won the competition.
Just weeks later they beat Real Madrid in a “friendly” which was meant to put us in our place; Madrid had been the holders and were six times winners.
To cap it all, we were back in the final of the competition three years later … the ultimate proof that this was an exceptional team and not just one that went on a one-off run to glory.
During that competition they beat Leeds home and away; Leeds at that point where widely regarded as the finest team in Europe.
The team who beat us in the final, Feynoord, in the midst of a Dutch dominated era; Ajax won the next three European Cups, as they had contested (but lost) the final in 1969.
We also got to a quarter final in 1968 and 1971 and the semi-final in 1972 and 1974.
The fact is that Celtic was an elite club.
There is no question about that whatsoever, and any claim that the Ibrox side would have equalled that team is nonsense when it is not considered in the context of those other, parallel, achievements. A one-off run does not make a club a credible European force; we were a very powerful European force at that time.
Even taken in isolation, the Lions did a remarkable thing and it is an insult to them that anyone was trying to pretend that the current Ibrox club had gotten close to it. Much store was placed in the number of games; Group Stage football has, of course, changed Europe but that shouldn’t be allowed to devalue what the Lions did.
Indeed, if you’re going to talk about that then you can’t look at the Lions single triumph in isolation at all; you are practically forced to look at the record overall.
And looking at their record, does anyone doubt they would have comfortably navigated Champions League Group Stage football? Does anyone doubt that they would have beaten any team put in their road? That record – two finals, two semi-finals and two quarter finals – in just seven years makes a nonsense out of the suggestion that we had anything to fear.
No matter what Ibrox achieves, now or in the future, they will always live in the shadow of those remarkable men in that remarkable team. In light of that it is easy to understand why some in the media want to minimise that accomplishment.
Bad enough if they had something to compare it to, but that their quest to win the trophy on the back of just seven victories on the way to the final failed … that just makes it look all the more pathetic.
That team are icons not just at our club but across the game.
No matter how much our rivals and their toadies in the press kick and scream their status is assured now and forever.
Those men brought the greatest glory to this country that any side ever has … or ever will.