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Jock Stein ... The Man And His Methods
The best unsolicited tribute to Jock Stein came from the chairman of an opposition First Division side, whose team had just been swept aside by the soccer whirlwind called Celtic.

The best unsolicited tribute to Jock Stein came from the chairman of an opposition First Division side, whose team had just been swept aside by the soccer whirlwind called Celtic.

The club chairman took him aside in the boardroom and as Stein sipped his customary Coke joked: ‘We were all jogging along making a living until you arrived.’

But it was a joke with the ring of truth, for it was a revolution which Stein and his methods brought to Scottish football, and one which fortunately many clubs have tried to follow.

That revolution gave the most important people in football - the fans a real glimpse of another soccer world which most of them had seen on their television screens and seemed to be the copyright of European teams such as Real Madrid and Benfica.

Of course, no one, least of all Stein himself, would claim that there was no good football played by Scottish teams in Europe before his Celtic side.

The Baxter-inspired Rangers European Cup side of 1964-5 might have won it, but it all ended in the dying moments of the Prater Stadium on a freezing December day as Baxter fell to the ground with a broken leg.

It was a cruel finish to perhaps the most memorable of the Ibrox side’s Continental displays, when they beat Rapide Vienna.

Bob Shankly’s Dundee side, finally beaten at their first attempt in the European Cup in the semi-final against A. C. Milan, could perhaps have gone on to greater glory if they had been kept together.

But it was the Celtic team of 1967 which did win it, something which only a few years earlier most fans would have considered as remote as landing a treble chance jackpot.

Scottish football until then could boast some of the biggest crowds in European matches, their fervour was matched by few nations, the press coverage the most intense.

However these were only fringe sideshows. It was winning the Cup, and becoming the first British team to succeed, which firmly put Celtic on the soccer map as one of the European elite.

Still, five ties in one season, even if they do land Europe’s top club honour, are not the only part of Stein’s success.

His greatest achievement is in making a success of a club where, before he arrived as manager, there was more talk of past glories and future promises than present achievement.

In the long grind of domestic soccer his Celtic side have managed to lift much of the drudgery out of the routine league programme by producing exciting football.

The box-office figures prove it. Any club needs to attract the floating football fan to boost their attendance, the type of fan who owes no allegiance to any team but picks his match Saturday by Saturday for the quality of the soccer.

Celtic’s average attendance has jumped from 28,000 to 46,500 since he went to Parkhead.

His players call him ‘The Big Man’, this 46-year-old miner with a limp who, when he walks through the streets of football-mad Glasgow, makes more heads turn than Royalty.

What has spun Stein from a start in football 28 years ago as a £2: a-week player with unglamorous Albion Rovers to a position where he now drives, at speed, an expensive Mercedes and measures his salary with top business executives.

For a start, and it is an important start, he has a total commitment to football. He talks kindly about ‘football people’ as if they were a chosen race apart.

That list of ‘football people’ would include very few of the legislators who roll up to Hampden in the chauffeur-driven limousines as part of the official party on Cup final and international matches.

It would include some of his fellow-managers, trainers, players, referees and folk associated with football in a very humble way, but as long as they are dedicated to the sport they rate high in Stein’s book.

He works fantastically long hours at his football, to the total exclusion of any hobbies except an occasional game of golf, and

sometimes seems sceptical of other people in football who do not devote all their time to it.

But his secret is not just time spent working at, or watching, football. Plenty of other managers work just as hard, for not a tenth of the success his team has won.

Perhaps the answers lie behind the public face of Jock Stein in the part, which despite the fact that he is a manager, the fans never see.

The average fan on the terracing might spot him ducking into a dug-out, sometimes see a gloved hand shooting out waving instructions, or if he is on the pitch at a bad injury . . . but that is the only public glimpse they get during a game.

The real football face of Jock Stein is, as with any good manager, a complex mixture of regimental sergeant-major and sporting psychiatrist.

He overlords most of the Celtic training sessions himself, the sweat-lashed hours when the fitness which has helped to overwhelm so many opponents, is perfected.

An unknowing onlooker might find it a little odd, the sight of a middle-aged man looking a bit like a huge teddy-bear in a green track suit.

It’s not odd to his players. I remember once watching a training session at the Hindu Country Club in Buenos Aires, the team’s headquarters in that ill-fated World Championship attempt...

The manager was involved in one of his favourite training tactics, firing in shots at Ronnie Simpson.

The sweat poured off Simpson as he jumped and dived under the brassy Argentinian sun. He muttered to himself, but still the balls kept coming at him.

Yet that little episode, repeated at every training session, is one of the reasons why Ronnie’s career stretched out well beyond a normal player’s spell.

However, even as the shots sped at Simpson, there was still time for the manager, as if by some built-in X-ray, to whip round and tick off some member of another training group whom he considered as a bit slack with his work.

Away from the training ground at team tactics talks he can dissect an opposing team with the skill of a soccer surgeon, neatly spotting a weakness with instructions where his own team can pounce.

Part of this comes from an amazing total recall of moves during a game. Even when watching a TV re-run of a match he can tell at least ten moves before anyone else when an incident is coming up.

But perhaps the secret of the psychiatrist part was best summed up by Manchester United’s Pat Crerand, a youthful wing-half under him when he was first at Parkhead as chief coach . . . ‘Jock never asks a player to do something which is beyond him.’

Maybe that all sounds like a formula which should achieve the impossible, and win every game of football.

But Stein maintains firmly: ‘There is always the unexpected in football. That’s what makes it the game it is.

‘The team who can overcome best the unexpected happenings during a game will be the winners.

‘Anyway, players are not puppets. You don’t sit in a dug-out and pull strings to make them jump.’

Although the spotlight has fallen on him in an era of a public and press very concerned with managers, it is when he talks about his

own players that he can become really excited.

Jock Stein may draw up the plans, but he has no misguided ideas about who carries them out...

i0I have heard him make scathing comments about referees, about the press, about legislators. But, at least to anyone outside the dressing-room, criticism of individual players, apart from disciplinary cases, is not made.

If there is to be criticism of the team‘s performance when they have had a bad game then it is kept in general terms, individuals are not named for a public witch-hunt.

Stein’s face, Stein’s quotes with a regular newspaper column and Stein’s TV appearances - a more polished delivery now but still the same homely Lanarkshire accent have made him one of the best known men in Scotland.

Tommy Docherty once quipped: ‘When my mother sends me the papers from Scotland, Jock’s on the front page and Harold Wilson’s on the back.’

He has made sure since he went back to Parkhead that Celtic’s name is rarely out of the headlines. But the Sir Matt Busby diplomatic method of dealing with the press is not for him.

Stein tells a pressman if he does not like what has been written about his team. And few have not had the daunting task of facing up to a full-scale verbal explosion with him at some time.

It can be a shattering experience, but except in a very few cases, once the argument is over it is forgotten.

And, it is balanced by the fact that, especially abroad, few managers have a shrewder idea of when to release stories to give the maximum help to columnists struggling with communication difficulties.

Stein’s public relations also include many visits to supporters’ clubs; events which can have little interest for the national press but are important to his club's image just the same.

I think he would place alongside the team’s success the fans’ success in equal importance.

Bad behaviour by supporters and although it has been good in Scotland a section of the Celtic fans have been notoriously trouble-prone on trips to England - concerns him deeply.

However, big crowds excite him. The day after the team returned from Lisbon speculation swirled round his future at Parkhead.

Ground-staff were still tidying up from the terracing the bits of litter left by the huge crowd who had packed the stadium the night before to welcome the team home.

As the gold European Cup gleamed on the desk in his office, he told me: ‘i love to see these crowds at a game, and I like to think my team has at least given them value for their money.

‘That’s one of the reasons I would find it very difficult to leave here.

‘I used to find it heartbreaking at Dunfermline when sometimes there were only a few thousand in the ground for a game.

‘Yet I believed then that I had a team as good as Celtic or Rangers but like so much of Scottish football, if only they had got a few more people in to watch how much better it would have been.’

The technical jargon which so many coaches sprinkle freely through their conversations is not used by Stein.

His concern is that the fans should be entertained, yet strangely enough, in his Dunfermline days his first spell as manager his reputation was more as a defensive-minded boss than one who favoured attack.

‘I’ve listened to managers after a 0-0 draw tell you it was a great game. Maybe it was for them, with things happening right technically and tactically,’ he says.

‘But, with a few exceptions, if there are no goals, then it’s not happening right for the fans.’

The Stein career has been written about a dozen times, it has been put in strip cartoon, it has become part of soccer legend...

How he left Albion Rovers for the obscurity of Welsh non-league side Llanelly . . . how he was rediscovered there by Celtic and brought back to coach their youngsters.

How he got a first-team chance and then captained the side to Coronation Cup triumph, and a League and Cup double.

How an ankle injury stopped him playing football, how he became chief coach with Celtic, then remade Dunfermline, revitalised Hibs, and returned to his greatest days at Parkhead.

Still, maybe in the myth that has been wrapped round a story that sounds as if it was a film screen-play, it’s sometimes forgotten that all during these years the experience which finally flowered at Parkhead was being slowly built up.

Part of his success may also be that he does not wallow in nostalgia. He is grateful to players who have been in teams which won trophies for him, but he would just as soon talk about the promising kids on the Parkhead staff, than past achievements.

But sometimes there are occasional looks back into the past. He always claimed that watching the Hungarians conquer England at Wembley in 1953 -the first foreign team ever to achieve that - changed his football outlook.

And in his home he keeps a film of that game, with those ‘Magical Magyars’ led by Puskas, ripping England apart.

Stein has said he is unlikely to stay on as a manager after he is 55, that’s in 1978. When you look at the pressures which have fallen on managers since 1958 there’s no doubt they can only increase in the next ten years.
But, until then and he is in a small elite band of managers in the happy position of saying when they will quit it’s likely that the world of soccer will still be sitting back in wonderment asking . . . ‘What’s that big man up to now ’ ...

From Playing for Celtic no 1

By Rodger Baillie

Submitted By Lizardking Randalstown Hoops

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Posted by voc1967 on Tuesday 21 January 2020 - 13:08:18 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
 
 
 
 
 
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