Stevie and fellow Lions will raise glass to absent friends

TONIGHT, for the first time, two clubs from the same city will fight it out for Europe's top prize.

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The Lisbon Lions at Glasgow Airport yesterday before flying out to Portugal for the European Champions League final between Atletico and Real Madrid
The Lisbon Lions at Glasgow Airport yesterday before flying out to Portugal for the European Champions League final between Atletico and Real Madrid

But, instead of Madrid, could it have been Glasgow that created this particular piece of history?

In place of Real and Atletico, read Celtic and Rangers.

Far-fetched? Not when you consider how the Old Firm dominated the European scene in the Sixties and early Seventies.

Amidst a series of runs to the semi-finals, the Hoops made it to Lisbon for the 1967 European Cup final against Inter Milan.

Six days later, Rangers, contested the Cup-Winners' Cup final, losing to Bayern Munich.

Within three years, Celtic were in the European Cup final again, while in 1972 Rangers won the Cup-Winners' Cup in Barcelona.

Of course, the rules precluded the Old Firm meeting in a major European final as only the champions were admitted into the European Cup.

Now up to four clubs from the one country take part in the mis-named Champions League, making tonight's final in Lisbon possible.

It's just one of the subjects of animated conversation which will be raised as the Lisbon Lions prepare to head to tonight's showpiece,

Bobby Lennox is in no doubt he could have been part of even more history.

He said: "It's incredible two clubs from the same country are now competing in the Champions League final.

"The European Cup only had one representative from each country when I was playing.

"Had the current rules existed, and two teams or more been involved, there's no doubt Rangers could have gone a long way as well.

"Rangers proved themselves. They went to the Cup-Winners' Cup final in 1967 and did well for a few years after that.

"Football in Scotland was really strong in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and there is no question some of the teams could have done well."

Now the Scottish champions have to negotiate two qualifying rounds and a play-off just to sit at the big boys' table, a withering prospect for whoever succeeds Neil Lennon in the Parkhead hot seat.

Lennox - now 71, but as sprightly as ever following a triple by-pass operation last year - believes this is unfair, and said: "I don't agree with four teams from the same country being in the Champions League.

"The champions should be in the European Cup and that's that.

"It's the same clubs in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final every year. It's the big-money teams that go through.

"The more money they get, the further they move away from everyone else.

"It's a bit unfair. All the teams should just go into the hat."

Given how bitter the memories are of Celtic's brutal encounter with Atletico in 1974, and how he beams when recalling how Celtic were lauded for their display when invited to provide the opposition in Alfredo Di Stefano's testimonial at the Bernabeu a few weeks after their triumph in Lisbon, it's little wonder who Lennox will be rooting for tonight.

The joy of '67 still burns strongly, even if it is a markedly different group of eight Lions survivors, plus Lennon and a few others, who have made the pilgrimage to Lisbon this weekend.

"When we went there in 1967, we were fit, confident and thought we could win the European Cup," smiled Lennox.

"This time, we're taking our pills and sprays. If anyone forgets them, we could be in trouble.

"I just hope we all get back all right."

STEVIE CHALMERS is another to have survived serious health scares and happy to be able to raise a glass to those Lions no longer here: Bobby Murdoch, Jimmy Johnstone and Ronnie Simpson, plus, of course, Jock Stein.

The man whose goal sealed victory over Inter admitted: "It will be emotional.

"We've lost a few of the boys. Bobby was my room-mate and it was his ball across goal that I scored from.

"I often think about that."

Asked if he ever thinks how different his life might have been had he missed, Chalmers replied honestly: "I used to miss regularly.

"If we'd gone on to lose the game and I'd missed that chance, I'd feel very sore about it."

Him and countless others.

Football

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