Saturday, 11 September 2010

The legend of Stein

Stein c.1978, on the training ground
It's 25 years yesterday since the death of legendary manager Jock Stein. Though hardly a fan of the Old Firm, my earliest footballing memory (the first match that had me glued to the telly, the season before I saw Jimmy Sirrell's Brentford, my grandfather's team, take on his soon-to-be charges Notts County in my debut live game, at Griffin Park) was Celtic's 1967 European Cup triumph on 25 May.

The 'Lions of Lisbon' triumphed 2-1 over favourites Internazionale Milan in front of some 70,000 people at the Portuguese National Stadium in Lisbon, to become the first British club to take the ultimate European honour. It certainly helped to forge my love of Scottish football. Two years later, having dallied with Manchester United, tempted by the wizardry of my boyhood hero Denis Law, I cast my lot in with Dumbarton... and the rest is history - albeit of the obscure kind!

In terms of managerial giants, Stein is definitely up there with Brian Clough. Though an equally larger-than-life figure, he was far more considered and restrained. Writer and academic Bob Crampsey, also sadly no longer with us (and perhaps the leading historian and advocate of the Scottish game in recent times), once said of Jock that he was "the most powerful intelligence I ever met". In a strange way the difference between the two is encapsulated by the fact that they both managed an unruly Leeds United for 44 days. But whereas Clough's  was a reign that ended in ignominy, Stein left to take the reins of Scotland. Poignantly, his passing came at a moment of genuine triumph: under his tutelage, the Scots team had secured a 1-1 draw with Wales at Ninian Park to clinch a World Cup play-off place against Australia, with the prize at stake a place at the 1986 finals in Mexico.

"We went from one extreme of emotions to the other that night," former Dumbarton and Everton hero Graeme Sharp, who played that night, told The Scotsman. "On the pitch, when the final whistle went, we were delighted to have got to the World Cup play-offs, we were elated. We were unaware of what had happened with Jock until we got back to the dressing room. At first we thought it might not have been too bad but there were whispers that it was and then we were told he had passed away. There was such a sense of shock among the players and backroom staff. I was staying with Andy Gray that night and when we drove home we were still in a state of shock."

Appropriately,  Scotland held one minute of applause to mark the 25th anniversary of Stein's death, just before Tuesday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein at Hampden Park.  The display hardly fitted his memory, but at least a 2-1 victory was grasped, albeit in the 97th minute.

Undoubtedly the greatest encounter between Jock's Celtic and Dumbarton was in 1970, when the Sons took the Hoops to the edge in the replayed semi-final of the Scottish League Cup, 0-0 after extra time on 7 October, and 3-4 on 12 October. Stein was, of course, very willing to pay tribute to the endeavours of the minnows from Boghead. He represents a style, approach and set of football values that we very much need in the modern game.

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