Today marks the 82nd birthday of Lisbon Lion Willie Wallace and everyone at Celts Are Here wishes the former Celtic striker many happy returns.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be in Wispy’s company on a few occasions and since today marks his birthday would like to share an interview I did with the Celtic Legend a couple of years ago.

Wallace was last spotted on a zoom video link being projected into Celtic Park on the 55th anniversary of the Lisbon achievement joining fellow Lions Jim Craig, John Fallon, John Clark, Bobby Lennox and John Hughes.

It could be said that the versatile player was the missing piece of the jigsaw for Jock Stein up until he signed Wallace from Hearts for a fee of £30,000.

“I was having a dispute for almost four years with Hearts over my salary, it would seem ridiculous in today’s football world as I was asking for a rise of five pounds per week. During this dispute the Manager, Tommy Walker, was relieved of his position by the Board of Directors. Mr Walker’s positions Manager of the Club was then taken over by the Coach, John Harvey.  John was a good friend of Jock Stein’s and they had worked together with the Scottish team.  I think this was the reason for me to be transferred to Celtic rather than an English club.”

There has continued to be a debate amongst some Celtic fans as to who would have played in the final had Joe McBride not been injured with many assuming Wispy was signed as a replacement for the injured McBride.

“I was not bought as a replacement for any player as I could play in a number of positions up front and in midfield therefore I was an asset as a member of the squad and not a replacement. Joe McBride was a gentleman and was one of Scotland’s great centre forwards. Joe had a great personality and was well thought of by all of the squad, likewise was Steve Chalmers. Steve was a person one could trust and was a very good friend and colleague. Both were excellent strikers as their goal scoring records show.”

Unfortunately, as time goes on our Lisbon heroes are starting to deplete in numbers as in the past year we have said goodbye to Charlie Gallagher and Bertie Auld. Wispy used to share a room with the late Bertie and has fond memories of those times spent together.

“Who else would the Boss have put in with Bertie, as Bertie and I had a good friendship and had a similar sense of humour and got on very well. Bertie would always say exactly what he thought and is a true Celtic man through and through. Sharing a room with Bertie was exciting as one never knew what was going to happen as practical jokes were never far away. Maybe the Boss thought that the two of us in the one place would make his job easier. Being together in Lisbon was no different from any other occasion as we shared a room on most away trips.”

Celtic had the chance to double our tally of European Cup victories when we faced Feyenoord in Milan in 1970. Wallace had once again played a crucial role for the Hoops scoring against Benfica and Fiorentina on the way to the final and had seen some of the younger players break into the team from the Quality Street Gang.

“On the day we played in a way worked out by the Boss and with discussion with all the players. Not one person is to blame for the defeat that night. We played well for the first twenty minutes but after that they were a class above us. George Connelly was a young player making his way into the squad with three or four other boys his age. He had played some games in the build up to this final particularly scoring the goal agains Leeds United at Leeds. The team at Celtic Football Club at that time was selected by only one person the Boss Mr Jock Stein. He obviously thought George should be on the bench that night and he selected a team he thought good enough to win on the night. George came on as a substitute and did well. Unfortunately, on the night Celtic were not good enough.”

There have been many changes at the club since the 1967 European Cup final with the Lisbon Lions not always getting properly acknowledged for their achievements under the old board with the arrival of Fergus McCann being seen as a positive.

“Yes, things became much better for the Lisbon Lions when Mr McCann became involved. Before he arrived there was a Director of the Club who I do not wish to name, made the comment that “the Club won the European Cup, not the players”.

Once again, all the very best to Wille Wallace on his special day!



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