Back in August, Leigh Griffiths scored a wonderful free kick against Suduva that sent us on our way to clinching a place in the Europa League group stages. But the goal was significant for Leigh himself, as it was his 100th goal for Celtic. In 131 years of Celtic history, Leigh became just the 29th man to score a century of goals for the club.
When I wrote of that achievement soon after, I suggested that maybe he would look to a long Celtic future and maybe he would go on to join the even more illustrious group that have done it again. There’s only five of them. Jimmy McGrory is out on with 468, but the other four men in that list are men of great renown. Henrik Larsson is the most recent of the five and the only one I can remember playing. Jimmy Quinn is the earliest on the list and predates even the McGrory.
The other two are Lisbon Lions. Bobby Lennox is second only to McGrory on the list of all time scorers, while Larsson splits the Lions.
But sadly, so soon after losing the leader of the Lions, we’ve lost the man who scored 236 goals for Celtic… but none of the other 235 are quite as legendary as the winning goal in the 1967 European Cup final.
I mentioned in my tribute to Billy McNeill last week that Stevie Chalmers was similarly suffering with dementia, but I didn’t think we’d be paying tribute to him so soon after losing Cesar. It’s been a very tough week for everyone connected with Celtic, but particularly those closest to the two legends we’ve all lost.
But it should be noted that we were lucky to have Stevie Chalmers at all. Way back in 1955 he was given just weeks to live after being diagnosed with Tuberculosis Meningitis. Thankfully his life was saved by Dr Peter McKenzie, a Rangers supporting doctor, and he ended up with over 3300 more weeks!
Within that period he had a twelve year spell at Celtic, as well as time with both Morton and Partick Thistle before retiring in 1975 – the same time as Billy McNeill. The half of his time at Celtic wasn’t the best of times, but it meant he like many others hit the ground running when Jock Stein arrived. He went on to win the first six league titles of the nine in a row, as well as three Scottish Cups and four League Cups.
Unfortunately, he missed out on a second European Cup final in 1970 after breaking his leg in the League Cup final earlier that season. It’s curious that one of Celtic’s prolific strikers should be injured midway through each season we reached a European final, given Joe McBride had similar issues in December 1966. Although despite that, Joe beat Stevie to be Celtic’s top goalscorer in the 1966/67 season!
It’s sad that such a prolific goalscorer as Stevie Chalmers only managed five caps for his country, but enough has been written about those issues that I won’t go into them further today. Suffice to say that he scored three times across those five caps, so he certainly did what was asked of him of him on that stage as well.
As with Billy McNeill, no one is surprised by today’s news of Stevie’s passing. Dementia is a horrible affliction for anyone to suffer. Many speak of seeing their loved ones slowly disappearing because of it, until eventually the person they knew is all but gone before the body finally gives up. Yet you know they’re in there somewhere, suffering because of it.
For me, the shock of losing two of the Lisbon Lions so close together and to the same degenerative syndrome is hard. But there’s also a peace that comes with it, knowing that neither Billy nor Stevie are suffering any more. I didn’t know either of them personally, I’m not connected to them through anything other than the club we all love. But when we say that football is more than just a game, it’s to things like this that we are referring.
These men, these legends, we are attached to them, we care about them. It’s just not the same with modern football where players come and go. These two men alone had thirty years at Celtic between them. They were two Celtic men like the rest of us, they just happened to be gifted enough to play for the club. We can identify with that, we can identify with them.
And so for the second time in a week I’m mourning the death of a man I never knew, remembering the joy he brought me from events than happened before I was born. That’s what this club does to us, it’s the legacy they leave behind.
When I was in Lisbon a few years ago to see Celtic take on Benfica, I finally got along to the Estadio Nacional. While there I queued up to do two things. I queued up to get my picture taken with the European Cup on the same spot where Cesar had held it aloft one sunny day in May 1967, and I queued up to score a penalty into the same goal where both Tam Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers helped turn the game around earlier that same day.
I’ll let you in on a little secret though. I had to queue twice for the penalty, the first one was saved. The video I have of the second attempt is over-celebrated because of that. Some of us just aren’t good enough to wear the jersey!
But other men are. They write the fairytales for this magical club. And Jozo Simunovic, Celtic’s current number five, only added to that at the weekend by scoring the only goal in a manner reminscient of our dearly departed Lisbon Lion number five.
It’s not the first time that’s happened. When Jimmy Johnstone passed away in 2006 it was Celtic’s then number seven, Maciej Zurawski, that opened the scoring the League Cup final. When Tommy Burns passed away two years later, it was number ten Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink who scored the title clinching goal at Tannadice.
It took a bit longer for Celtic to score after Bobby Murdoch’s death in 2001. Indeed, we had two league defeats after the title was wrapped up without Celtic scoring before we finally broke that duck in the Scottish Cup final. Who was it that day? Celtic’s number four, Jackie McNamara.
If you really want to stretch it a bit, a couple of days after Tommy Gemmell passed away it was another Celtic full back who equalised against St Mirren in the Scottish Cup. Although Mikael Lustig doesn’t wear the same number three as Tam did.
So now I’m wondering… will we see Leigh Griffiths back this weekend for the game against Aberdeen? If he’s even on the bench on Saturday I’m lumping on him as first goalscorer!
But that is to come, and hopefully will help us to finally seal the league title. In the meantime, it’s another week of mourning for us all. Another legend is now at peace, gone from us but never to be forgotten.
Thank you Stevie.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)