If ever there was an image to represent the greatest trophy presentation of UEFA’s most prestigious club competition, Billy McNeill at the Estadio Nacional will always come to mind. Similarly, we could arrive at the same conclusion when asking fellow Celts to advise of the first image they envisage with regards to Big Billy. I would have no hesitation in guessing, it would refer to him lifting the European Cup. The word ‘iconic’ links both together perfectly.
Since 1955, trophy presentations of the European Cup (1955 – 1992) and UEFA Champions League (1993 – present) have taken place. Some less remembered than others. However, in my opinion, the one which stands out from all spanning 65 years, was the presentation in Lisbon, on the 25th May 1967.
The selection of the Estadio Nacional to host the 1967 final was the perfect environment from a locational point of view. The compact stadium surrounded by woodland was a typical postcard-style setting as indeed the perfect advert for tourism. There was a romantic association with the venue for starters.
Numerous books have been written since 1967 on Celtic’s ultimate achievement in European football on that famous day. Most books have been terrific in detail of the coverage in the build-up, the match itself and returning to Glasgow as European Champions. However, I consider there is still mileage to extend on the detail relating to the actual presentation to support the justification for it to be the greatest in the history of the competition.
Most significantly, the captain lifted the cup as a single entity with no teammates by his side. So why was this? To explain this better, we need to go back to when the final whistle was blown by the West German referee Kurt Tschenscher. When he announced full time, the Celtic players hardly had the chance to embrace each other to celebrate. This was because many jubilant Celtic fans emerged from different areas of the stadium on to the pitch to join in on the celebrations. On the scale of the victory, this was justifiable but caused a tricky situation for the players doing their best to get back to the dressing room for normal service to resume and start proceedings of medals and trophy presentation.Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:
It is important to stress that this was a new trophy designed by Bernese Goldsmith and jeweller Jurg Stadlemann. A trophy specially commissioned by UEFA General Secretary Hans Bargerter. It is 73.5 cm in height and weighs 7.5 kg with gold inlay. The previous version remained in the Real Madrid’s trophy room in the Bernabéu Stadium. Hence for the players, back-room staff and management, this was the opportunity and chance of a lifetime for the newly-crowned Champions of Europe to celebrate as a group.
As history has shown us, and based on accounts from the players when speaking of events after the match, a collective decision was made for Billy McNeill and Sean Fallon to collect the cup. Let’s remember, here we had victorious players, management and back-room staff having to free themselves from devoted fans in extreme heat whilst, at the same time, trying to remain intact of jersey, shorts, socks and boots. Several Lions have spoken of their kit including boots being requested as souvenirs. Jim Craig recently reminded us of when he eventually got back to the dressing room, his shorts and jockstrap were his only possessions. Indeed thanks to ‘Cairney’, those very pair of shorts are still being displayed in the boardroom at Celtic Park. Other players were in the same situation. Swapping jerseys with the Inter players was no mean feat. Only a handful of Celtic players were successful. Aristide Guarneri’s jersey is also in the same cabinet as Jim Craig’s shorts.
When it comes to Big Billy’s experience, he returned to the dressing-room with an aching back due to the amount of celebratory pats he was getting on his journey to the dressing room. No matter what, Billy was the captain and collecting the cup was paramount. Therefore, in his spare jersey, he and Sean Fallon embarked on their mission to collect the Holy Grail.
We have all seen great footage and photos of Big Billy being assisted over the moat and onto the steps of the iconic tribune / stand where the European Cup along with waiting dignitaries, VIPs and guests were situated.
What justification supports it to be the greatest and why?
This was the area of the stadium fit for a king. The marble setting was lavish and magnificent. As a backdrop to the incredible image covered by many media outlets, Billy looked majestic as he held aloft the newly designed cup into the glittering sunlight.
I have seen so many different angles of the presentation, however, even now there remains a regal feeling about the presentation. Perhaps the setting, the magnitude of the victory and the display of conquer are contributing factors to it being in a sense an image from Roman times similar to an environment of opulence where Emperor Julius Caesar would have been idolised. This of course is not to become confused with Billy’s nickname of ‘Cesar’ as that has a different reference.
Something else of interest to note in the initial exchange of the Cup by Americo Tomaz (President of Portugal) is that he hands the cup to Billy with the front facing towards Billy. Therefore, when Cesar raises it, the back of it went into the air. In my opinion, it does not interfere with the image. In fact, I would argue it is more powerful.
In the photo provided to support the grandeur and magnificence of the presentation from an iconic perspective, we see Sean Fallon in the background absorbing the ambience and experience of jubilation in the stands and on the pitch, whilst Big Billy confirms Celtic as Champions of Europe!
Hence with regards to other presentations, there is no contest. Lisbon will always be the greatest. In addition, Big Billy will forever be in our hearts as the first ever winning captain to have raised, by all accounts, the most iconic trophy in world sport.
Eddy GradyWatch SAUL DAVIES with A Celtic State of Mind here: