BIG INTERVIEW: Lisbon Lion on Cesar, ‘Special’ Tierney & Ex-Celts in the Media

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Lisbon Lion Jim Craig talks to Celtsarehere.com about all things Celtic and his new book which is titled JIM CRAIG – RIGHT BACK TO 67, THE LISBON LION DIARY which is out at the end of November. You can pre-order on CQNBookstore.com now and you will get a signed copy as soon as the book comes out!

Why have you chosen now to release your Celtic Diaries and did you write them with a book in mind one day or were you just chronicling for your own benefit?

I had forgotten that I had the notes that I occasionally jotted down during my career, as I have a lot of material that I have written through the years – or as my wife used to call it ‘that stuff cluttering up the attic’.  I found them when I was moving house from Bearsden to Perthshire but it was just after the 40th anniversary of Lisbon and there was not the same amount of interest among the Celtic public at that time. However, I brought them out in time for the 50th anniversary and they have formed the background to initially the website and then my new book, Jim Craig – Right Back to 67, A Lisbon Lion Diary which is available out at the end of the month. You can pre-order now from CQNBookstore.com and you’ll get a signed copy.

What should Celtic fans expect from the book and what do you hope they will take from it?

The book is a review of the year of 1967, so it deals with the glamour days of the second half of season 1966-67, when the team picked up every trophy and then goes on to cover the first half of season 1967-68, when we were involved in the League, the League Cup, the European Cup and the World Club Championship with varying success.

However, the comeback from the bad times was one of that side’s best ever performances and I thought it deserved more than a mention. The fans will be able to go along with us game by game.

You’ve spoken before of meeting Billy McNeill when you were a younger lad before you famously became Lisbon Lions together- as a defender, how much did you look up to Billy in your early days and how reassuring was it knowing you had him in the heart of defence when you were going into battle?

I first met Billy on the night I was captain of Scottish Under-18 schoolboys against England. The match was played at Celtic Park in 1961. Billy had played in the same fixture three years before and by then was centre-half for Celtic. The Scottish selectors asked him to come in to the dressing-room to meet all of us as an example of what we could achieve if we worked hard. Little did either of us think that six years hence, we would be colleagues in the team which ran out in Lisbon.

When I made the first team in the autumn of 1967, Billy was very encouraging and helpful and I will always be very grateful to him for that. As for his contribution to the club, well, you could just feel the mood when the team was read out over the loudspeakers at Parkhead. When Billy’s name was read out in the CH role, everyone felt better…and that included the players!

What’s the most unusual thing to happen to you on a football field? Does one thing standout? 

I have various incidents that I recall with either affection or raised eyebrows, depending on the particular moment. This rather special one, though, was a tribute to a great player from another star and it came at a very unusual moment. On 17th December 1969, we thrashed Dundee United 7-2 at Parkhead in a league match.

The whole side played well but Jinky was in special form, tantalising the Terrors defence with his special skills and really stamping his authority on the game. At the end, as I was coming off the park with my immediate opponent – ex-Rangers and Scotland star Davie Wilson – wee Jimmy walked past. “Well done Jimmy” said Davie, holding out his hand “that was the best display I have ever seen by any player at any time”. What an accolade!

Celtic seem to get more criticism than ever for winning games from ex-Celts in the media – What’s your view on this and how do you rate Brendan Rodgers’ achievements to date?

I’m afraid that nowadays you do not just have to appear in the media, you have to be heard or seen making points that are controversial or eye-catching….whether they are right or wrong! That’s what many people seem to like. If any of you don’t like what you see or hear, then there is always the MUTE button or even The OFF one as well.

Brendan has done a great job since he came in and I would not be at all surprised if we picked up another treble at the end of the season. However (there is always a ‘however’) it would also be fair to say to say that the quality of the opposition in Scotland is not all it might be. Quite a number of clubs are in financial trouble and do not have the cash to bring in players of a better standard than the ones already in the club.

Even our traditional rivals from across the city are not in the best of financial health and I was really surprised at the poor state of the inside of Ibrox when I attended one of the ‘Derbies’ last season. If we don’t get the competition we need from teams in Scotland, then it means that when we hit the European scene, we have to raise out game quite considerably when we come up against some of the Continent’s best teams. This is difficult to achieve and it is no surprise that we can struggle at that level.

Seeing the strength of Celtic at the moment it must make you proud especially after the dark days of the 90s – I’m told you had a hand in the very early days of CeltsforChange when Celtic came close to closing their doors?

The early 1990s were difficult times for Celtic and I was very happy to join in with a variety of fans to help push through some changes for the better. All the things we take for granted today- a good side, a Celtic Park worthy to host top matches, lounges for the supporters, an attractive concourse outside the stadium – none of these were there in the early 1990s. We had some tough moments in our quest but it all came right in the end.

Kieran Tierney has the world at his feet, how far do you think he can go? Is he a Celt for life in your opinion?

Kieran Tierney is a special player, with everything that a top defender needs. He has pace, strength and tackles well; he also loves to come forward to help out the forwards. And, even better, he has always been a Celtic fan. I hope he will be at Celtic Park for a long time.

However (there is that word again) there is a serious financial gulf between what a player can earn in Scotland and what he could pick up in England. Right now, Kieran seems very happy with his lot at Celtic Park. Suppose, though, that he was being advised by a financial advisor that knows the British scene; what advice would he be giving our young star?

PRE-ORDER YOUR SIGNED COPY OF JIM CRAIG – RIGHT BACK TO 67, THE LISBON LION DIARY FROM WWW.CQNBOOKSTORE.COM

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