Twenty eight years ago today Jock Stein died. Like many football fans, I had watched the Scotland v Wales match on TV and had not realised the tragedy taking place on the side-lines as the game inched to its conclusion. Scotland’s progress towards the 1986 World Cup soon became academic as it became clear that the greatest manager in Scottish football had died.
He was a Titan of the game, leading a team of Scots to European Cup glory against the might of the Italians of Inter Milan.
He was a remarkable man, whose full story can be read in Archie MacPherson’s excellent biography. I won’t try to replicate that in a blog post.
But, to a boy growing up in Coatbridge in the 1970s, he was an immense figure (as he was to people who were NOT boys growing up in Coatbridge in the 1970s).
He was always not simply the great Celtic manager but also the most famous ex-Albion Rovers player, just ahead of Jock White, Jim Brown and later Vic Kasule.
A man from the coal mines who rose to the heights of his vocation (and to him it clearly was a vocation) through hard work and an ability to inspire others.
A man who was never prepared to accept that his team was second-best, even when, on paper, it palpably was!
In the 1970s we had a Golden Age of football managers, I think. Now, when rolling news and the Internet means that every twitch and sneeze of a manager makes headlines and when every word is forensically dissected (and I plead guilty to that as regards Mr McCoist), whilst managers are ever more prominent, now that Sir Alex Ferguson has retired, there is no one who can match the impact and stature of Stein, Shankly and Busby, all of whom, of course, came from similar backgrounds.
He was a major figure not just in football but in Scottish society.
Would he have been a great manager today, in the time of pampered players and huge wage packets?
I think there is no doubt he would. His skills came not from shouting at people, but in nurturing abilities, building on the skills they had, and being a motivator and man-manager par excellence. I suspect that a football team managed by a Stein in his prime today would have been challenging for the European Cup as much as his Celtic team did in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
More than that though, Jock Stein was not just a great football manager, but a great Scot.
If there had been an independent Scotland in the 1970s, and a vote for a President who was NOT an active politician, then, despite the undoubted opposition of some, but not all, Rangers fans, Jock would have been in pole position. He would have been supported by Celtic fans, of course, but as an ambassador for Scotland he too would have appealed to the neutral and non-aligned.
(And although he was not an active politician, there is no doubt that he had clear political views, founded upon his home and work upbringing and that these were staunch Labour opinions.)
Along with Sean Connery he was probably the best known Scot around the world (or at least the football-playing parts of it). He was recognised not just for what he achieved, but how he did so.
On a personal basis, he recovered too from dreadful injuries in a road accident on the awful A74 (and it is not unreasonable to suggest that there being such a high-profile victim of a crash on the route played a part in its ultimate upgrading).
It seems remarkable that he died twenty eight years ago. It also seems very strange to think that, if he was still alive, he would have been ninety years old (ninety-one next month). That of course is a consequence of the effects of a public figure dying too young – they become frozen in people’s recollection.
It is very hard to imagine JFK as a geriatric, or Marilyn Monroe being of pension age.
So too with Jock Stein – he is forever frozen in the memory as he was on the pitch in Lisbon in 1967, or as he was later as Scotland manager (and to be frank, he did not seem to have aged that much – or rather he always looked like a man in late middle age).
As Bill Shankly said to him on the pitch in Lisbon:- “John, you’re immortal now.”
And he was right.
Some might recall today his dealings with Celtic after he stopped being manager, or his short time at Leeds or his lack of success (as it was viewed at the time) as Scotland boss, but not me and not today.
When I drive past the Jock Stein Sports Centre in Burnbank tonight I will remember him, and I am sure many people all around the world will do so too.
Posted by Paul McConville
Jimmybee has been good enough to compile a list of quotes from Mr Stein. He posted them in the comments but I thought it was worthwhile putting them into a post of their own.
On becoming manager of Celtic: “If I can achieve for Celtic what I have achieved for Hibs, then I feel I will have done well for them.”
On being questioned about being the first Protestant manager at Celtic: “25% of Celtic’s managers have been Protestant!”
On becoming Celtic manager: “I lost some friends when I made the move, but if that’s what matters to them, then they’re not really friends at all.”
“I enjoy being manager here, because I like the people who support us.”
“The most pleasure any manager can get is seeing everyday boys joining the Club as youngsters and growing into men and giving themselves a better social standing than they could ever have dreamed of previously.”
“I think it’s important to win a match, bit I think what is even more important is the manner in which you win.”
“I’d far rather not talk about players; they are the people who make things happen.”
“There is no substitute for experience.”
On journalists being late to his conferences: “If they were interested in what I had to say they would get here in time. The door stays shut.”
Before the start of season 1966/67: “I think we could win everything in front of us. I think this could be a season to remember.”
“We all end up yesterday’s men in this business. You’re very quickly forgotten.”
On the Ibrox disaster: “This terrible tragedy must help to curb the bigotry and bitterness of Old Firm matches. When human life is at stake this kind of hatred seems sordid and little. Fans of both sides will never forget this disaster.”
“Ach, Rangers are alright, but they still haven’t invented blue grass.”
“Jock, if there were two players, one Catholic and one Protestant, who would you sign?”
“Because I know that Rangers would never sign the Catholic.”
TV Presenter: “Scott Symon, Rangers manager, what do you think the score will be in the Old Firm match?”
Symon: “I think 2-0 to Rangers.”
TV Presenter: “And you Mr. Stein what will the Old Firm score be?”
Stein: “Only a fool would try to predict the score in an Old Firm game.”
“The best place to defend is in the opposition penalty box.”
“If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.”
Rangers fan: “You only won the European Cup because you had 5 Protestants in your team.”
Stein: “Well you’ve never won it and you’ve got eleven.”
After beating Vojvodina Novi in the Quarter Final: “I feel we have the players fit to wear the mantle of Champions of Europe. I have told them so. Now it’s up to them.”
“It’s not religion that’s the problem – it’s the lack of religion!”
On reported interest from Manchester United: “I’m happy where I am, I like the people I work with, I like the players and the directors of this club but most of all I like the fans and to see them happy makes me happy, so I’m very happy here.”
Before the European Cup Final 1967: “If you’re ever going to win the European Cup, then this is the day and this is the place. But we don’t just want to win this Cup; we want to do it playing good football – to make neutrals glad we’ve won it, glad to remember how we did it.”
Before kick off in Lisbon 1967: “We must play as if there are no more games, no more tomorrows.”
After winning the European Cup: “There is not a prouder man on God’s earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, aye, but it was the way that we won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads. Inter played right into our hands; it’s so sad to see such gifted players shackled by a system that restricts their freedom to think and to act. Our fans would never accept that sort of sterile approach. Our objective is to try to win with style.”
Lou Macari on becoming Celtic manager: “The problem for us is that Big Jock and his players spoiled it for everyone who came after them…”
Alex Ferguson on Jock Stein: “I always thought Jock Stein was the perfect International manager. But you, England, don’t have anyone like that. You don’t have Jock Steins; you’ll never have a Jock Stein.”
“Unlike many other Celts, I cannot claim that Celtic was my first love, but I can say that it will be my last love.”
Top 5 quotes (in Jimmybee’s opinion)
5. On the release of the Celtic View: “Have the first issue ready for the week after the Scottish Cup Final and leave a blank space on page one for a picture of the boys with the Cup.”
4. After winning the European Cup: “We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football.”
3. “Football is nothing without fans.”
2. “It is up to us, to everyone at Celtic Park, to build up our own legends. We don’t want to live with history, to be compared with legends from the past. We must make new legends.”
1. “Celtic jerseys are not for second best, they do not shrink to fit inferior players.”
Please note that these quotes have been taken from numerous websites such as BBC, Celtic Minded and Celtic Wiki.
Thanks to Jimmybee for the quotes.