‘Operation Lisbon’ the papers called it. It was their term for the departure of the group of first-team players who headed down to Seamill for a week to prepare for the European Cup final against Inter Milan the following Thursday.
It had been a difficult few days since we reached the final, as there was the matter of some tricky league matches to deal with and our thoughts were naturally focused on those. However, now we had become league champions, we could put all those matches behind us and concentrate on what the fans were calling ‘The Big One’.
Seamill was certainly a popular choice with all the boys. We treated it like home, knew most of the permanent residents by their Christian names and thoroughly enjoyed the chances to swim or play golf. We trained as well, of course, but even when doing that, the atmosphere was quite relaxed.
While we had played on the previous Saturday, Helenio Herrera, the Inter manager, had taken the opportunity to make a flying visit to Lisbon and when the chance came for him to appear on TV as well, he did just that, taking his time in front of the cameras to appeal to the local fans to support his team;
“Portuguese fans, you must cheer us on against Celtic. I am your friend and we want to keep the European Cup safely in Latin hands”.
It was a heart-felt plea……if a very biased one ……but would it convince the local supporters? Time would tell.
There were a couple of stories in the press which caught the attention, one about a colleague and the other about a Scots team still in one of the major European trophies.
The colleague, of course, was Joe McBride, who had played his final game during this season on 24th December against Aberdeen, yet, almost unbelievably, still finished top of the First Division’s scoring charts with 33 goals; and the team in question was Kilmarnock, getting ready to face Leeds in a Fairs Cup semi-final first-leg tie. Unfortunately, three of their top forwards – winger Tommy McLean, inside-right Jackie McInally and outside-left Brian McIlroy – are all receiving treatment for injuries.
I don’t know how the other guys were feeling on that day when we travelled down to Seamill but I can honestly say that I was loving the whole experience. Just put yourself in my position and judge it for yourself. Some guys –fine players too – could go through a long career and never win a major trophy or reach the final stages of a major trophy; and now here was I, a player in his second season at the club he had always supported and I was getting ready to play in a European Cup final. Lucky, no doubt!
Happy?..you had better believe it! Long may it continue too!