Saturday 24 August 2019

Obituary: Stevie Chalmers

Hero of Celtic's golden era, who scored the winner for the 1967 'Lisbon Lions'

Goal: Stevie Chalmers
Goal: Stevie Chalmers

Stevie Chalmers, who died last Monday aged 83, was a footballer who in 1967 earned Scottish sporting immortality as one of the "Lisbon Lions" when he scored the goal that made Celtic the first British winners of the European Cup. He is the second Lisbon Lion to die with dementia in a week following the captain Billy MacNeill on April 22.

Playing the ultra-defensive Inter Milan in the Portuguese capital, the Glaswegian underdogs went 1-0 down to a seventh-minute penalty then spent much of the rest of the game laying siege to the Italian goal.

Just after the hour mark, a 25-yard rocket from left back Tommy Gemmell restored parity. Then with six minutes left, Bobby Murdoch shot from just inside the penalty area and centre-forward Chalmers, standing on the edge of the six-yard box, stuck out a leg and diverted the ball past the wrong-footed Italian goalkeeper, Giuliano Sarti.

It was a classic poacher's goal, and though to some it seemed merely fortuitous, with Chalmers just happening to be in the right place at the right time. In fact, the Celtic manager, Jock Stein, had spent many training-ground hours drilling positional play into his forwards. "It was no fluke, believe me, that I was standing where I was," Chalmers insisted.

Twenty thousand travelling Glaswegian fans erupted, and a few minutes later Celtic were kings of Europe. Years after, Chalmers was asked how he had felt when the winner went in. "Exhausted!" he replied. "Cramp was coming on, but it evaporated as soon as that ball hit the back of the net."

Thomas Stephen Chalmers was born in the cash-strapped Garngad area of Glasgow (now referred to as Royston), a stronghold for Irish Catholic immigrants, on December 26, 1935. Football was in his genes - his father, David, had played for Clydebank in the 1920s - and young Stevie began making his way through the junior ranks, initially with Kirkintilloch Rob Roy.

But when he was 20 he was given three weeks to live after contracting tuberculosis meningitis. He spent six months in hospital, and recalled: "I noticed how my fellow patients kept disappearing. The curtains would be dragged right round their beds before they were wheeled away."

Once recovered, he spent three years with the North Glasgow side Ashfield, also winning international honours with Scotland juniors. He did his National Service in the RAF, and was once given a lift home from Sussex to Glasgow in a fighter jet. "I vomited violently and copiously in the aircraft," he admitted. "It was the only flight I took in my two years of service."

In February 1959, he signed for Celtic, making his first-team debut only a month later. For the next few seasons the team was in a relative slump, but in 1965 Jock Stein took over as manager and ushered in a golden era. Over the next five years, Chalmers won four league titles, three Scottish Cups and four Scottish League Cups, as well as that glorious night in Lisbon.

When Celtic reached the European Cup final again, in 1970 against Feyenoord, Chalmers was missing, having broken his leg in the Scottish League Cup final earlier in the season, and his absence was keenly felt as Celtic went down 2-1 after extra time.

After that he lost his status as an automatic first choice, and in 1971 he had his last game in the green and white hoops, a 6-1 victory against Clyde; it was the last time the 10 outfield Lisbon Lions turned out together. He had played more than 400 games in all competitions, and his tally of more than 230 goals makes him the club's fifth highest all-time marksman.

He also played five times for Scotland, scoring three goals. He continued in the top division, spending a season at Morton and three at Partick Thistle before retiring in 1975 and going on to work in Celtic's pools office. He wrote a memoir, The Winning Touch, and in retirement he lived in Troon.

Chalmers, who had been suffering from dementia, was married to Sadie. She survives him, along with their three daughters and three sons.

Sunday Independent

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