Aside from the club’s founding father, Brother Walfrid, there can be no greater figure in the club's history than Jock Stein. Although he was never the greatest of players by his own admission and, after arriving late in his career before retiring through injury, he played relatively few games for the club, it was his nous as a manager that turned around the fortunes of Celtic Football Club.
His success speaks for itself and his impact was immediate in Scotland, and pretty soon the players he had coached the previous decade as young reserve hopefuls would lift the European Cup in Lisbon.
Bill Shankly is famously quoted as telling Stein in Lisbon, "John, now you're immortal." Never has a truer phrase been spoken.
There were 10 titles won under Stein as Manager, nine of them all in a row.
THE DEBUT BEFORE THE DEBUT In the summer of 1945 as the worst ravages of war dissipated and football gamely tried to kick-start some life back into the sport, Celtic took part in a five-a-side tournament out in Coatbridge. The stringent inflexibilities of modern day Champions League organisation weren't in force at the time so the lack of bureaucratic red tape and the possibility that the Bhoys may not have been taking the tournament as seriously as they might have done, combined to ensure that Celtic turned up a man short.
A 22-year-old unused central defender from home side Albion Rovers stepped in from the sidelines to rise to the challenge and donned the green and white hoops for the first time. The guest player won a wallet that day - it wasn't to be the last prize he won with Celtic and it's hardly the highest flight of the imagination to surmise that thousands of us, players and fans alike, still profit from the myriad of treasures that wallet unleashed.
“Unlike many other Celts, I cannot claim that Celtic was my first love … but I can say that it will be my last love.”
PRELUDE TO PARADISE Jock Stein started as a 16-year-old with Blantyre Vics and within four years he was on his way to Albion Rovers. The Coatbridge side gained promotion for season 1948/49 to earn a fleeting liaison with the top flight. Stein lasted just one more season though before he replied to an advert placed by Jack Goldsborough of Llanelli in Wales. The advert was looking for: "players of proven ability. Transfer fees no detriment...only top players need apply." His wages rose to £12 a week, double what he was getting in Coatbridge and it wasn't unknown for crowds to hit the 15,000 mark at Llanelli.
It wasn't all wine and roses though during his year-and-a-half in Wales, although his wife Jean and their young daughter moved down to his lodgings in Llanelli, they kept up the rent on their council house back in Hamilton and news came down of a burglary. A second break-in was too much for Jean, so Stein started to think about moving back to Scotland. Celtic needed short-term cover in defence as well as an old head to influence the younger players in the reserve side. Celtic assistant trainer, Jimmy Gribben, remembered 'something' about Stein and for the princely sum of £1,300, the club thought they had stumbled upon their temporary stopgap and the player himself hoped his security problem at home would be over.
As a player, Jock Stein saw success in both the league and Scottish Cup.
DEBUT BHOY Despite this dream transfer, the probability of Stein becoming the stuff of Celtic legend was still miles from anyone's thoughts as the 29-year-old shook hands with new manager, Jimmy McGrory. Then fate intervened for this fourth-choice centre half. Jimmy Mallan (who won a wallet with Stein back in those 1945 five-a-sides), Alec Boden and Johnny McGrory were all sidelined with injury and the latest deputy stepped into the line of fire. It was for a home game against St Mirren on December 8, 1951 when two goals from Jim Lafferty gave the Hoops both points in a 2-1 win n front of 20,000.
Stein never lost his place in the side and never looked back, but destiny played its part once more when yet another injury had a crucial role in his career. In a game against Falkirk, skipper Sean Fallon cracked his arm bone in a clash with former Celtic legend Jimmy Delaney and a 'temporary' club captain was required. Bobby Evans and Bertie Peacock would have been more than fitting replacements but Fallon suggested to McGrory that Stein be handed the job and the history of Celtic took another twist.
HIGHLIGHTS As a player, Jock Stein saw success in both the league and Scottish Cup with a solitary win in each – something he was to significantly eclipse as a manager. There was another piece of silverware, though, as in 1953 against all the odds, Stein skippered the un-fancied Celts to victory in the Coronation Cup and the League and Cup Double of 1954 was added to the silverware. And that double was won in consecutive games as, on April 17, 1954, a 3-0 win over Hibernian at Easter Road tied up Celtic’s first title in 16 years and, the following Saturday, a crowd of 130,060 saw the Hoops beat Aberdeen 2-1 to lift the Scottish Cup.
"We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football."
MR STEIN It was, of course, as a manager, though, that Jock Stein was to become one of the greatest Celts in the history of the club. In 1955 against Rangers of all sides, Stein picked up the ankle injury that was to effectively finish his playing career and once again the Celtic story turned another corner. He took up coaching the reserve side in 1957 and then had successful managerial spells at Dunfermline and Hibernian before returning to Celtic in March, 1965. The Scottish Cup was won almost immediately and from then on in, the silverware just flowed towards Paradise.
There were 10 titles won under Stein, nine of them all in a row. Cup wins also ensured two trebles inside three seasons as Stein’s team won eight Scottish Cups and six League Cups – five of those all in a row. The crème de la crème, though, was the European Cup in on May 25, 1967 as Jock Stein’s Celtic beat Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon to create the greatest day in Celtic Football Club’s history.
148 CELTIC CAREER APPEARANCES League: 106, Scottish Cup: 21, League Cup: 21
2 CELTIC CAREER GOALS League: 2
2 CELTIC PLAYING CAREER MAJOR HONOURS League Titles: 1, Scottish Cup: 1
25 HONOURS AS CELTIC MANAGER League Titles: 10, Scottish Cup: 8, League Cup: 6, European Cup: 1