Tommy Gemmell

Lisbon Lion

Born: 18 October, 1943

Died: 01 March, 2017

TOMMY Gemmell, who has died aged 73, was arguably the best full-back in the world at his peak. He played football not so-much with a smile on his face, more with a huge grin. He loved the game, he loved playing it and his attacking, cavalier style was an integral part of the Lisbon Lions legend.

His goal got Celtic back on terms with Inter Milan in that unforgettable night in Lisbon in May, 1967 when they won the European Cup.

Not content with one European Cup Final goal, he would score another, Celtic's counter in their losing final against Feyenoord in 1970.

Gemmell was not the first attacking full-back, but, he took the concept of the full-back as an auxiliary winger to new heights during his years with Celtic.

He was born in Motherwell and the Steelmen were his team as he grew up in Craigneuk. He tasted early success – in the classroom as Dux of Craigneuk Primary – and on the football field as Craigneuk won the local Primary league. At Wishaw High School, football began to surpass learning for Tommy and, aged 16, he left to become an apprentice electrician at Ravenscraig Steelworks.

He was also playing youth football with Meadow Thistle and, after impressing in a representative game at Fir Park, he was offered the chance to train two nights per week with the Celtic part-timers. He also signed for junior side Coltness United, before signing a provisional form with Celtic the following evening, 21 October, 1961, along with a certain Jimmy Johnstone.

Gemmell was still a part-time footballer, continuing his electrician's apprenticeship, when he made his first-team debut, against Aberdeen, at Pittodrie, on 5 January, 1963. This was the first of what would be 434 games for Celtic, in which he scored 69 goals, including 34 penalties.

The following season, he made the left-back spot his own, although, naturally right-footed, he could play on that side if required. That season was his last as a part-timer, Gemmell completed his electrician's apprenticeship and immediately signed full-time forms with Celtic.

The return of Jock Stein to Celtic totally changed the landscape of Scottish football. Gemmell and Stein had a sometimes prickly relationship off the park, but, on it, it worked and on 2 April, 1966, Gemmell won the first of an eventual 18 Scotland caps in the 4-3 loss to England, at Hampden.

The following season was unforgettable, as Celtic won every competition they entered, capping this with that immortal 2-1 win over Inter Milan in Lisbon. Gemmell's opener in the final was not the only landmark goal he scored in Europe that season, his strike against FC Zurich, back in September 1966, was Celtic's first European Cup goal. He was an ever-present for his club that season, and for Scotland, as he was one of the 11 Wembley Wizards who thrashed world champions England, on 15 April, 1967.

The following season he scored against Racing Club of Buenos Aires during the bad-tempered World Club Championship match, however, his behind the referee's back kick at one of the Argentinian thugs, caught by the tv cameras, is more often remembered.

This was one of two high-profile moments when Gemmell reacted strongly to unpunished violence against him. In a World Cup qualifier, against West Germany, in Hamburg in 1969, he memorably “booted up the bahookie”, Helmut Haller after the German had tapped his ankles and escaped censure from the referee.

The red card he received saw him dropped from the Celtic team to face St Johnstone in the League Cup final and this incident fatally weakened the always testy relationship between him and Stein. He was placed on the transfer list, but, it would be over two years, during which he scored his second European Cup Final goal, then, almost immediately the rift between player and club widened when Gemmell and Bertie were sent home for misbehaviour on an end of season tour to the USA.

Gemmell left Celtic, signing for Nottingham Forest in December, 1971, trebling his wages by doing so. He played at the City Ground for two seasons before going to the USA to play for Miami Toros, before returning to Scotland to play out his career with Dundee. Here, there was a final playing hurrah as, in December, 1973, he captained the 'Dee to a 1-0 League Cup final victory, over Celtic; laughing in the face of some disgraceful barracking from the Hoops fans who used to worship him.

During the close season of 1977 he became manager at Dundee, succeeding Davie White. He brought Jimmy Johnstone to Dens Park, and helped develop the young Gordon Strachan, but, with the club heading for relegation in April 1980, he resigned. Apart from nearly two years as Albion Rovers manager between January, 1986 and November 1987, he was finished with football playing or management. Or so he thought: In April, 1993 he was persuaded to return to Albion Rovers, but, stayed for just nine months, before resigning again.

While at Dundee, Gemmell had taken his first steps in business, buying and running a hotel in Errol. He later ran another hotel, prior to entering the insurance and financial planning industry, where he did well with various companies, rising to managerial level. He also had a spell as a football reporter with Radio Clyde, where his trenchant views made him very popular with the listeners.

His first marriage, to Anne, collapsed during his time running the hotel in Errol and simultaneously managing Dundee. He divorced and remarried. His second wife Mary, survives him with David and Karen Michelle, the children of his first marriage.

Tommy Gemmell loved fast cars and a good time. He loved life. With Celtic he won 14 medals – one European Cup-winner's, six Scottish League-winner's, three Scottish Cup-winner's and four League Cup-winners, adding that fifth League Cup-winner's medal with Dundee. He was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and named as left-back in The Greatest-Ever Celtic team. Not bad for a boy from Craigneuk.

Matt Vallance