I WAS truly sorry to hear that the former great Real Madrid player Alfredo di Stefano died recently from a heart attack at the age of 88.
Like so many people of my generation, whether players or fans, I had nothing but admiration for di Stefano’s amazing skills and his contribution to football. In the 1950s and 1960s, youngsters grew up regarding him as an absolute hero for the way he played the game. If he was playing now, he would be one of a small handful of players right at the top of the list of the very best, such as Lionel Messi – just like di Stefano, another Argentinian-born player who has made his name in Spain.
I had the pleasure of playing in Alfredo di Stefano’s testimonial match on June 7th, 1967, just two weeks after we defeated Inter Milan 2–1 in Lisbon to become the first British side to win the European Cup. The great man had apparently waited until after that final to see who he would invite to play against his Real Madrid team in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid. Despite our win in Lisbon, Real Madrid still believed they were the best side in Europe – and that they would prove it in the testimonial.
Well over 100,000 people turned out to watch Celtic play Real Madrid in that game. Alfredo only played for less than 15 minutes at the start and then was replaced. Celtic made one change from Lisbon, with John Fallon taking over from Ronnie Simpson in goal. Although it was a “friendly” match, neither side really played that way as the Spaniards were determined to show they were the “real” champions of Europe.
The match has been remembered by many people as “the Jimmy Johnstone Show”, with wee Jinky himself saying afterwards he had never played better than on that night in Madrid. He tormented the Real defenders time and again and eventually, in the 69th minute, laid on the pass that saw Bobby Lennox score. Celtic won 1–0 and removed any possible doubt that we were the best team in Europe. The only disappointment was the sending off of Bertie Auld together with Amancio, who was one of those frustrated defenders who had tried every possible way, legal or illegal, of getting Jimmy Johnstone out of the game.
Playing in Alfredo di Stefano’s testimonial was yet another highlight from my Celtic playing days. To be a part of it was something that, as a young boy, I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams, yet there I was, sharing the field with the great man and his Real Madrid team-mates … and winning.
Have you got your copy of Heart of a Lion yet? It’s available online at amazon.com, waterstones.com and bookdepository.com, among others, and is full of stories and anecdotes from the 1967 European Cup Final, my six years at Celtic and the times I spent with other clubs, including Heart of Midlothian. More details are elsewhere on this website.
The teams for the Alfredo di Stefano testimonial match were:
Real Madrid: Junqera, Calgne, De Feilipe, Sanchis, Pirri, Zoco, Serena, Amancio, Di Stefano (sub Grosso), Velasquez, Gento.
Celtic: John Fallon, Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Bobby Clark, Billy McNeill, Willie O’Neill, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, Willie Wallace, Bertie Auld, Bobby Lennox. Subs: Simpson, Chalmers, Gallagher, Cattenach.
Scorer: Lennox, 69.
Crowd: Approx 120,000.
Referee: S. Zariqulegui (Spain).