Many Celtic fans probably feel that they have watched, read and listened to everything possible related to Lisbon.
Not another year passes without a new book being issued about Jock Stein’s greatest achievement with the 50th anniversary providing a natural focus of celebrations.
The sad passing of Hugh McIlvanney has revived an incredible well of material that was largely only kept alive through yellowing scrapbooks. Circulation of The Observer has never been particularly high across the west of Scotland although a few pockets appreciated the detached brilliance that the Kilmarnock raised writer brought to every topic he touched.
Today Lisbon is almost, but not quite, back in Portuguese hands at the end of the most hysterically exuberant occupation any city has ever known. Pockets of Celtic supporters are holding out in unlikely corners, noisily defending their own carnival atmosphere against the returning tide of normality, determined to preserve the moment, to make the party go on and on.
They emerge with a sudden flood of Glasgow accents from taxis or cafes, or let their voices carry with an irresistible aggregate of decibels across hotel lounges. Always, even among the refugees who turn up at the British Embassy bereft of everything but the rumpled clothes they stand in, the talk is of that magical hour-and-a-half under the hot sun on Thursday in the breathtaking, tree-fringed amphitheatre of the national stadium.
At the airport, the impression is of a Dunkirk with happiness. The discomforts of mass evacuation are tolerable when your team have just won the greatest victory yet achieved by a British football club, and completed a clean sweep of the trophies available to them that has never been equalled anywhere in the world.
From his base in London McIlvanney quickly picked up on the impact of Stein, reviving every aspect of a club that appeared in terminal decline with past glories becoming more and more distant through seven trophy-less years.
McIlvanney and Stein seemed made for each other, in normal circumstances it’s hard to imagine a bond forming between a former miner in Burnbank and a London-based broadsheet reporter.
Thanks partly to his Sunday brief, the man from The Observer was able to throw perspective on Stein’s achievements and give it due recognition and depth, Stein liked the fact that there was a very obvious rapport with someone who did more than chronicle his work, he took it his successes to the breakfast tables of an English audience who rarely had anything other than contempt for anything in Scotland.
Lisbon is brilliantly celebrated in many forms, McIlvanney’s record is a huge part of a legend that will never be repeated.
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