EVEN the weather came out to mock Celtic in Milan.

Dreich and unseasonably rainy for an

Italian May, Celtic's 1970 European Cup final defeat to Feyenoord was in sharp contrast to the sun-bathed pitch of Lisbon.

Unlike Lisbon, Celtic had gone into the game against the Dutch as massive favourites. It is a mantle that traditionally does not sit well with the Parkhead side and so it would subsequently prove.

Having seen off the apparently invincible Leeds United in the semi-final of the competition, the feeling was that the game in the San Siro was in the bag - a feeling that Lisbon Lion Jim Craig would later acknowledge seemed to permeate the whole squad.

In many ways, it is a result that will sting Celtic when recollected for not only was it an opportunity for the club to claim two European Cups, a triumph that would embolden the theory that Jock Stein's side were the greatest Scottish club side of all, but it was also the game that signalled the end of what had been a glorious era.

Yet on that Italian evening few Celtic fans, spoiled by the success of the previous years under Stein, could ever have envisaged that the club would face a 33-year wait before they would ever feature at a European final again.

In many ways, the fact that 1970 ended in such disappointment underlines exactly where Celtic were in 1970; that a defeat in a European Cup final was not laced with pride at having got there in the first place shows just how high the bar had been set for Stein's side.

Tommy Gemmell took himself into exalted company when he became one of few players to have scored in

separate European finals, but he would later reflect that there was little satisfaction to be gleaned from the personal accolade.

Gemmell gave Celtic the lead in the game, but Rinus Israel levelled minutes later and Feyenoord would win the game in extra time with a goal from Ove Kindvall.

The stats state a 2-1 win for the Dutch, but they do not tell the whole story.

In the same way that Celtic had been rampant against Inter Milan three years earlier, so Feyenoord shocked Stein's side with a vibrant, energetic total football system.

Feyenoord's victory ensured they were the first Dutch team to win the European Cup and their triumph signalled the beginning of a golden era for Holland.

Ajax, of course, and the Netherlands national team would dominate, with Johan Cruyff becoming a household name as the decade wore on to such an extent that the success of that Feyenoord side has been largely overshadowed.

"There is no doubt we completely underestimated them," said Craig, who was on the bench that night in Milan. "We felt that the hard work had been done against Leeds.

"We were confident, too confident. They were the better side that night, there is no question about that. They worked their socks off, but their football was great.

"I have always felt that Jock made a poor call by not taking off Jim Brogan.

"Jim got injured in the opening minute in the game and was limping around, but the decision was made to keep him on and to this day it makes no sense."

It was the beginning of the end for the Lions. A team that had achieved so much started to disintegrate and Celtic were never able to recapture that glorious, unparalleled dominance.

Yet, for all that the ageing Lions inevitably began to move on and wind down, the club still had immense talent coming through - Kenny Dalglish, Lou Macari, Davie Hay, George Connelly, Pat McCluskey and Danny McGrain - would earn the nickname of the 'Quality Street gang' and they too would make a considerable stamp on the club.

But the European success enjoyed by the 1967 side will never be equalled and in many ways it is why the 1970 defeat is one of the most galling moments in Celtic's history.

Given just how difficult it is now for Celtic to simply earn the right to rub shoulders with Europe's heavyweights - three qualifying rounds lie in wait this summer for Ronny Deila's side simply to make the group stages - it is an achievement that will never be repeated.

Such is the disparity of financial revenue that the chasm between the major five European leagues and the rest has never been wider - and it will only get bigger.

European success for Celtic now, as unpalatable as it may seem, is simply making the group stages. Qualifying from there into the knock-out stages, as Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon did, has to be regarded as seriously punching above their weight.

Sustaining that season after season is virtually impossible given the opposition at that level.

Certainly, though, modern European football remains the thrill to lace the season.

And Craig has no doubt that his team-mates would have had no trouble gracing a contemporary stage.

"The question is the wrong way around," says Craig. "It is not whether we could live with these players but whether they could live with us. Could they have coped with our primitive training methods?

"The lack of facilities? The poor pitches? I remember training in the morning and then again in the afternoon - and it would be up to us to find a cafe to grab a sausage roll or something to keep us going.

"Could modern players cope with how physical the game could get - and still be brave enough to play with the ball?"

Gemmell was equally confident. "The lad Messi? He might have got on our bench. If someone was injured, that is."