May 26, 1967. It was the most important day in Jim Craig’s life… and before you historians start claiming a blunder has been made, be assured that the date is absolutely correct. The previous one had its moments too, of course, when he was part of the team that brought the Coupe des Clubs Champions to Britain for the first time.
However, what he calls his ‘coup de foudre’ moment was what changed his life forever.
“I’d had a wonderful couple of days, winning the cup and then waking up the next day to find out that you’d won it, because there was always a possibility that it was a dream and it wasn’t,” he recalled, smiling wistfully.
“Then the flight back from Lisbon, the bus from the airport – not past Ibrox as some have suggested – but we went through the tunnel, along the north side of the river, up the Gallowgate to Parkhead Cross, then down Springfield Road and into Celtic Park.
“There was an amazing reception all the way through and then we got on the lorry for the tour round the stadium which was equally wonderful. I’m no judge of how many were there because I was just completely overwhelmed by the whole thing. I wasn’t expecting anybody to be there.”
“Then came the moment the French call the coup de foudre, the thunderbolt.”
Among the thousands who flocked to Parkhead that day was Elizabeth Farrell, daughter of club director Jimmy, who was simply there to pick up her parents.
“I’d seen this girl – a red head – before at some games, she didn’t come to too many,” he said. “We just literally bumped into each other and Elizabeth said ‘Congratulations’. I said ‘Thank you very much indeed, what are you doing with yourself?’ She said: ‘I’ve just finished my second year in languages at Glasgow and I’m going to France next year.’”
And that is when the old romantic kicked in.
Rarely is reference made to Celtic’s European Cup winning full-back
without the added information that he was also a qualified dentist and on this occasion it was his skill with a scaler that proved far more useful than his fast developing celebrity status as a footballer.
“Having qualified the previous October I said: ‘Well, make sure you get your teeth checked,’ and she said ‘Well actually my dentist has just retired,’ so I said I would look at them for her,” he explained.
“That was how we first properly met, Elizabeth in the dental chair and me behind it and that was it.”
Not that it was love at first sight both ways, it seems.
“I was wondering, after the dental examination, how to make contact with her again, because she was a director’s daughter, so I was in a delicate position and I was thinking about what the players were going to say to me if I carried on with the relationship,” said Craig.
“So I told a pack of bloody lies, phoned her up and said that under NHS regulation she needed to get her teeth cleaned after a check up and she had to come back in again.
“She bought that. Then 10 days later I asked her to marry me.
“She went home and told her mother I was a complete fruit cake by the way.”
As with the Celtic team’s ultimately
turn to page 18
irresistible attacking on that fabled afternoon in Lisbon, persistence ultimately paid off, however.
“That was the first of 53 proposals. I think I just wore her out in the end,” he laughed.
The curious thing is that, as the man responsible for the most notorious act on the day the European Cup was won, Craig was also to learn that there was not a lot of love heading his way for much of the match either, even from those closest to him.
“Back home we had a wonderful moment I’d love to have seen,” he said, face lighting up in glee once more.
“My mum went out to do the gardening because she couldn’t face the strain of watching the game, so she was out there with her hoe attacking the plants when Denis, my brother, stuck his head out the window and said that’s Celtic just had a penalty awarded against them.
“’Dear God,’ she said and started attacking the plants with a bit more venom and about 30 seconds later he stuck his head out the window again and said: ‘By the way mum, it was Jim that gave away the penalty.’
“’Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ she said and went right into the turf with her hoe. I’m not sure the garden ever recovered.
“Meanwhile in the stand my father was saying to my uncle Phil ‘I’ve come all this bloody way to see that,’ so I don’t think I was getting much support at that time.”
It all came good in the end, though, when he delivered the pass that Tommy Gemmell - typically risking manager Jock Stein’s wrath by joining the attack when his fellow full-back was already on the overlap – exploded onto in registering an equaliser that set events on an inevitable path.
After Stevie Chalmers’ subsequent re-direction of a Bobby Murdoch blast Craig’s penalty miss was temporarily forgotten by the majority, at least.
“At half-time the boss never said anything, he just told us to continue what we were doing, told Gemmell and I if we got to the by-line, rather than put the ball across the face of the goal cut it back a bit for people coming in a bit further back,” he noted.
“At time up he said to me ‘It was a wee bit of a doubtful tackle.’ I said ‘I just ran across his path. I didn’t think anybody would have given it, especially in the first few minutes of a European Cup final,’ but Herr Tschenscher (the German referee) did.
“It didn’t matter in the end. I’ve taken a bit of stick about it, but we won.
“Funnily enough I think Jack Mowat (the leading Scottish referee of the era) was quoted as saying that in Scotland you’d probably have given a foul, but you’d have given an indirect free kick in those days.
“Jock couldn’t hook me, though because there were no substitutes. He might have today.”
Thereafter, prior to that heroes’ return in their home city, the celebrations were restricted.
First, following a pitch invasion, the team was made to stay in its dressing room as skipper Billy McNeill went up alone to receive the trophy.
They then headed to the post-match banquet with their sullen beaten opponents.
“There would be no alcohol, or very little that night because everyone was so busy doing things,” said Craig.
“We had to wait for them for an hour at the banquet and when they eventually turned up it wasn’t a very light-hearted affair. Then an official from UEFA came and put a box in front of Jock Stein and that was the medals which Jock handed round the medals.
“Their players were all right. It was Herreira (their manager) and his management team were very petulant and apparently, although I didn’t notice at the time, he and Jock never said a word to each other which all came from him.
“That was why they were late, because he kept them in to give them a going over to discuss what they were going to do because they had a very important game coming up the following Saturday which, if they had won it, they would have won the Scudetto.
“I think that was why he was so intent on giving them a going over, because of how poorly they performed.”
All these years on he jokingly believes he deserves more credit than he has received for the shape of the game, with Celtic attacking relentlessly from the moment that seventh minute penalty he conceded, was converted.
“I didn’t think it was a good thing at the time by the way, but in the end it was a good thing,” he said.
“I don’t think they really performed poorly, I just don’t think we gave them the chance to perform because we took the game by the scruff of the neck and when a team does that it’s very hard to fight out of it.”
He would never have dared take the same approach to his next conquest, but a more gentle approach ultimately proved successful on that front.
“After the dental work I took her for a dinner at a country club on the road out to Bearsden and from then on it was flowers and proposals,” he said.
“Five children and nine grand-children later it was by far the more important day of the two wasn’t it?
“Not everything about that week is clear, looking back, but the memory of meeting Elizabeth is very vivid because it was such a seminal moment in my life.”