Monday 16 October 2017, 05:49

Celtic fans & the Lisbon Lions: A 50-year love affair

  • Celtic supporters have been nominated for the FIFA Fan Award

  • Full-stadium tifo one of many tributes to European Cup-winning Lisbon Lions

  • Jim Craig, a member of that team, tells of his pride and gratitude

“Football is nothing without fans.”

It is a quote that, over the years, has become a slogan. Indeed, many supporters across the world will have seen these words - splashed, likely, across t-shirts or banners - without knowing the man who uttered them.

But Jim Craig knew that man well. He played under the great Jock Stein at Celtic for seven years and, together, they rewrote records and became champions of Europe.

Craig remembers, too, that Stein’s legendary line about the significance of supporters was no mere sound bite. It was central to his ethos, and that of his beloved team.

“Nothing without the fans? Big Jock stressed that constantly. And he meant it,” Craig told “In almost every team talk, he would make a point of how important the supporters were, how far they had travelled to see us play, the sacrifices they had made. And he would remind us that we had the power to give them a good day - to make them proud.”

Craig & Co didn’t require much convincing. They might have been heroes, the first British team to win the European Cup but, famously, all but one of them had been born within a ten-mile radius of Celtic Park.

“We were ordinary guys. Still are,” said Craig. “The vast majority of us were Celtic fans ourselves, and those who weren’t quickly became fans.

“I always say that there might have been better teams in the history of football – although I think the Lions could give anyone a game – but I don’t think any group of players has had a better relationship with its supporters. The fact it continues all these years later, and is as strong as ever, really is amazing."

More remarkable still is that the enduring adoration is not confined to the supporters who saw Stein’s side and revelled in their swashbuckling attacking style. The songs sung in their honour, the shirts and scarves worn in tribute, prove just as popular among generations who missed out on that privilege.

This year, with the celebration of that historic 1967 triumph’s 50th anniversary, the acclaim has risen yet further. Events from London to Las Vegas have been held in the Lions’ honour, and every Celtic match in 2017 has been marked by fans singing and displaying their mobile phone flashlights in the 67th minute.

The most spectacular display of all, though, came on 21 May, four days ahead of the anniversary. It arrived in the shape of the stunning full-stadium tifo that earned the Celtic supporters not only a nomination for the FIFA Fan Award, but the eternal gratitude of the men they were honouring.

“That was a special day,” said Craig. “You get some moments in your life that you’d love to be able to just keep in your mind, and that was one of them.

“It was also one of those moments, and there are many of them, when I looked around and wished that the rest of boys were there to see it,” added the former right-back, referring to the passing of four of the Lions, not to mention Stein and his backroom staff.

“I know they would have loved it because the stadium looked magnificent. I can certainly see why it has been shortlisted for this award and I really hope the fans win it.

“I’m extremely grateful to them, as I know all the guys are, not only for that display but for everything that’s been done for the Lions this year - and ever since '67. The Celtic fans are a special bunch, and we count ourselves very lucky that they’ve kept us so close to their hearts.”

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