Jock Stein was one of the classic triumvirate of Scottish football managers from the coalfields to the south-east of Glasgow. With Matt Busby and Bill Shankly he took Britain and Europe by storm and imposed a Scottish style of management and play on all-comers. Jock did it in Scotland and with Scotland. His crowning glory came in 1967 when his Celtic lifted the European Cup. The legend of the Lisbon Lions was born.
He was born John Stein in Burnbank, North Lanarkshire in 1922. Son of a miner, he became a miner in the heavily industrialised area. He was clearly intellectual, but had no hope of attaining the proper education to advance out of the pit. He was able to kick a ball though, and learnt to play to a modest standard at school. He was from a protestant family and his father was a staunch Rangers man. The town of Burnbank was divided on sectarian lines with one end of the town for the Catholics and the main Protestant area in the centre.
He was genial, intelligent, shrewd, tee-total, a dancer and a singer. He spent a lot of time socialising in the pubs, but never drank, as his co-workers did to excess, and was never known to take his “jaiket aff” and get in a fight. His loyalty to the miners never wavered and would shout abuse at scabs during the 1984-85 miners’ strike out of his speeding Mercedes.
He started playing fitbah for a local side and was reliable and solid. He was left footed and used his right leg to stand on, but developed the use of his knee to compensate, and he was good in the air. But he could be tough and when necessary he would sort out the opposition. He started playing for Albion Rovers in 1942, but his limited ability and passion for the game, drove him to analyse and think tactically. He studied all the other players in the league and had a cunning bordering on deviousness with which to defeat them with his wits.
There was not much call for this in football, as the manager would turn up for the game and announce the team and let them play. But Stein was becoming the manager in his own right. Throughout this period he was still working down the pit. By 1949 he was getting disillusioned and moved to Llanelly (now Llanelli). He was paid well and for a season and a half had an impact on a non-league team that needed a solid player at the back. The mining background probably produced an affinity. But to play a cup game against local rivals Merthyr Tydfil with 13,000 watching was quite impressive.
But his wife Jean wanted to return hame, and he had to go back. He decided he was giving up football and fade into obscurity. But Celtic scout Jimmy Gribben, was asked to find a replacement by Chariman bob Kelly and he remembered Jock’s name. He signed for Celtic and his career was revived.
There were those in Burnbank who never forgave him. His friends had come to terms with him marrying Jean a Catholic, but for even his closest friends playing for Catholic Celtic was not acceptable and he was rejected. In private moments he would reveal the pain it caused him. The Celtic fans were not best pleased either, they had a massive following but had seriously underachieved since before the war. To get a moderate player signed from the non-league was not what they wanted. Fortunately not that many knew about his background yet.
When he arrived, in December 1951, there had been some injuries so he was straight in the first team. He had a steady performance and exuded confidence that impressed. Celtic finished 9th that year. The next year Jock led them to the league title as captain. Unfortunately the next season he injured his ankle and it he never regained full fitness, retiring as a player in 1957. He was made reserve team coach by Bob Kelly and trained some of the legends he was later to manage in the first team. But a Protestant would not go any further in Celtic at that time and he moved to Dunfermline as coach.
His first managerial post brought immediate results. Six wins out of six saved the Pars from relegation. He brought an energy, passion and determination to the dressing room that rubbed off on the players. There was not much time for tactics but he had lit the blue touch paper. He would start to employ mind games to good effect, out thinking the opposition manager about the mental state of his players and how to react.
The improvement continued in 1961 and reaching the cup final he booked the Seamill Hydro, Celtics traditional pre-final hotel, to get one up on his rivals. After a titanic clash, Dunfermline triumphed in the replay. Jock had won a trophy and put himself in the public eye. The next year he took to Europe with relish, and reached the quarter final of the Fairs Cup with an attacking style. But despite the love they had for him in Fife, Hibernian tempted away in 1964, he won a summer trophy that year, but looking ever westwards he was snapped up by Bob Kelly at Celtic. Insisting on getting his own way he started his tenure at the club he elevated into International stardom on the 9th of March 1965. The end of the season saw them win the Cup and the first trophy for 11 years and they played in an attacking style worthy of the clubs traditions.
The next season he was after the dominant Rangers. Despite his wide emotional range, Jock was a private man. He had a burning desire to defeat the Ibrox side, hatred was not too strong a word. Did he harbour resentment at being called a turncoat, did he have to prove himself as a protestant in an ostensibly Catholic club or more likely was it just his professionalism that dictated what the priorities were. I think the latter, but whatever it was he was coming for them.
His first old firm game was a 2-1 loss. But revenge was coming in the League Cup final. Jock got the team on edge in preparation and got his team to sort out Willie Johnston Rangers threat early on. He was clattered and it set the tone. Celtic set down the agenda with a physical encounter. It was a statement that they were not going to lay down and was a blueprint to be followed for the many years. Celtic won the cup 2-0.
A close loss to Rangers in the cup final was followed by winning the League with a draw at Motherwell on the last day.
Jock was awarded Manager of the year, also British manager of the year. A tour of North America cemented the team for the next tumultuous season that ended in glory in Lisbon. They were an unstoppable juggernaut, not only in victory, but in attacking style and determination to win driven by the manager’s hatred to lose. A confidence based on a no fear mentality. The league was won against the background of a serious challenge in the European Cup. Different environments, player behaviours and above all tactics challenged his ebullient team.
They reached the final and not only did twelve men from Glasgow triumph against champions, Inter Milan, they trounced them. Dismissing their defensive catenaccio style with attacking élan. Mind games with the opposition and the referee, who after the award of a dodgy penalty against Celtic early on, was the subject of unbelievable tirade from Stein as he walked off the pitch and up the tunnel. Typically of the big Barra, he summoned up his rage and targeted at a man who could have been bribed by the Italians. He made it clearly known his suspicions and let the whole world hear. Any possible bribery issue was out in the open. He continued to berate Inter’s manager, Herrera, in the tunnel. The language barrier was a problem, they nearly came to blows, but the message was clear enough. In the half-time dressing room, Jock was serenity itself, urging the players to keep playing the way they were.
The genial giant from Burnbank was able to access the fierce strength of a miner when it suited him. His team went out and played Inter off the Park. It could have been a cricket score, but for the goalie. A stunner from Tommy Gemmell on the hour, and a late winner turned in by Stevie Chalmers were a mere formality. Not only had Jock and Celtic arrived, but they had changed the style of European football that was to be continued in the Dutch total football style. But did it all come too soon?
Domination at home continued as Rangers were never allowed a kick. The league was won nine times in a row. The 1970 European Cup semi-final was a classic and a fine example of Stein’s and Scotland’s dominance over the best side in England, Leeds led by Don Revie. But the final was a disappointment going down to Feyenoord. Stein’s meticulous preparation failed him and the team he watched were significantly better in the final, losing in extra time. Could the Dutch have learnt from him and played a trick on the master that they had learnt from. In a sense this started a slow decline for Celtic. Rangers started to catch up and won the cup in dramatic style in 1973 and the league the next year. European success evaded them and he moved to Leeds in 1978.
But he was not happy in England and managed to engineer a move back as Scotland manager as the hapless Ally MacLeod resigned. He had taken on the job in1965 and was disappointed, failing to qualify for the 1966 World Cup finals when much of his talent was unavailable. People worried about his relationship with Ernie Walker, his boss at the SFA. But the two had a similarly distracting public front and were football mad and had a similar attitude. It was a new lease of life for the big Barra. His new start was at a time when the fans were in beast mode, much like the nihilistic English supporters. There were serious dangers from the crowd in and out of the stadium. They were banned from Wembley in 1981, but still got tickets and swamped the stadium. Jock asked for calm and respect and he got it, applauding the fans after a hard won 1-0 victory.
Qualifying for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, playing Brazil and USSR in Scotland’s group and the game was afoot. A stunning early goal against the Brazilians only tempted them into a samba leading to a famous 4-1 loss. An early lead against USSR was squandered late on with defensive mistakes. Although the performances had been good and the spectre of Argentina had been partly vanquished, qualification for the second round had failed to be grasped again.
More losses followed, but a resurgence for the 1986 World Cup qualification, led by Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish took them to Cardiff for a date with destiny. A draw gained from a late penalty took Scotland through. But in the final minutes Jock suffered heart problems that took his life. Bereft, Scottish football mourned the loss of their greatest son. The agony on dying at such a moment was not lost on many thoroughout the World of Football. It would never be the same. Success, for Scotland abroad could possibly be delineated by the breadth of his career and influence.
He would play the same way in Scotland, with the first team being replaced by youngsters coming from the same training pitch, with the same tactics and methods. Europe required new tactics, the players had to listen because he would only explain once. He would be the first to get out on the training pitch in a track suit and work the lads. He would terrify them with his shout “Hey you”, amuse them with his banter, occasionally smothyer them with his love. He had the full range of personal attributes for his performance. For he was a private man, and protected his family aggressively. Perhaps for him it was a job, that he threw his whole being into and had another life at home. His work rate was phenomenal and would travel to England watching games, driving to Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. He became a popuylar pundit at the BBC, where he would be able to give them an incisive sound-bite that accurately summed up the game. He was immense presence that was always ready to give advice to others in the game. He always had a comment for the press and savaged them if there was any criticism at all, phoning them at home and terrifying them into respect.
His effect on the sectarian issues in Scotland are worth considering. On signing a Rangers player, the press were eager for a statement on the issue, he merely commented on the player’s ability and how he would be a useful contribution to the club. When his bitter rival, Willie Waddell manager of Rangers, made a press statement against sectarianism in 1972, Jock had his own response. At a Celtic game at Stirling Albion, he dived into the crowd to sort out some of his fans singing IRA songs and impounded the tricolour. This was his only statement on the issue, the rest he demonstrated on the pitch and his football hatred of Rangers in battle.
But the players he had were outstanding, there were the Lions themselves immortalised elsewhere. There were the gifted but troubled who could not be cajoled into reaching their potential. Foremost of these was Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone who many view as the greatest Celtic, Scotland and even World player. Him of the run that would befuddle the best defenders and the goal scoring mentality and best of all the motivation on seeing a Rangers shirt. He was like a son to Jock, but his drinking got him into a lot of trouble and Jock had to get him out of it many times. Eventually he had to be let go. He was brilliant, but would he have been such a free-spirit if tamed, maybe we are greedy in retrospect.
The new breed of Kenny Dalglish, a fellow Protestant who spurned the club of his upbringing and was joined at the hip to Jock in the 1970’s. But Kenny’s independence took him away to Liverpool. Celtic expected loyalty and that meant low wages. By the lure of English lucre was too great for many a Scottish talent.
But above all he kept his working class roots and treated the players hard but fair. He did not stand for prima-donnas and would read out the team before the game without explanation. If you did not like being dropped tough, you did not need an explanation.
As the new era of superstars dawned, perhaps his methods were not as effective. The old Scottish style of football hard, but fair, passion and flair was being replaced by chequebook management. But he brought a new sense of professionalism to Scottish football. From my backward perspective he was Scottish Football.
Sorry Rangers fans, if you don’t agree, prove me wrong and go out and win. But I expect you will have to learn from Jock Stein to do it though.