JOHN Clark has never forgotten his humble working-class roots. The former Celtic defender is rightfully proud of them.

Clark grew up in the often harsh but certainly tough environment of the 1940s and 50s. Ingrained in him was a strong work ethic and a steely determination to succeed. Class, humility and dignity.

It is 55 years since those traits took him to the game that defined Celtic’s modern-day history and put the gold star above the crest on today’s shirts.

Clark was part of Jock Stein's team that captured the European Cup with a 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon.

That Celtic side achieved the footballing equivalent of mission impossible, of conquering the sport’s Mount Everest. They are revered and known forever as the Lisbon Lions.

Many have shouted about Celtic's achievement from the rooftops ever since. Not Clark. A quiet man, he just takes enormous pride in the fact that it happened.

“I never wanted any of that [fame or celebrity],” he once said. “It wasn’t me. I preferred being in the background.”

From Bertie Auld starting the Celtic song in the tunnel to Stevie Chalmers’ winner, the stories are legendary in their own right. Some 55 years on they never lose appeal for Celtic supporters – or for Clark.

“Celtic winning the European Cup is an achievement that people thought would never have been possible – yet it happened,” Clark told The Celtic Way. “In 1967, Celtic were just a right good football team. I am proud to be a member of that team and to have played for the club at that time.

"It's 55 years since Lisbon and it is still a big thing in Celtic supporters' minds, especially the older generations.

"You can relive a lot of the things that happened. What sticks in my mind most is when the teams walked out of the tunnel and Bertie Auld started singing The Celtic Song then seeing a mass of green and white.

“You started to feel the pride in yourself and the achievement of actually being there. When we won it, the feeling was just something else altogether.”

Clark may well have shunned the limelight off the park but he was as vital cog in Stein's green and white Hooped machine.

He formed a formidable defensive partnership with Lisbon Lions skipper and close friend Billy McNeill.

The two at one point were inseparable. Clark insists that the iconic image of McNeill proudly holding aloft the European Cup that was beamed all over the world still fills his heart with pure and utter joy to this day.

He also believes it is the uniqueness of the image which sets it apart from all other trophy presentation photographs. He is not wrong.

The Celtic captain, elevated on a platform standing alone to parade the trophy to the thousands of fans in the stadium is an image for the ages. McNeill assumes God-like status alongside the famous silver cup with the big ears.

The image in itself is a statement, nay a proclamation, that Stein's Celtic side is the best in Europe.

Clark said: "In my opinion, that image is still the best ever photograph of a captain lifting a trophy. That photograph of Billy standing on the podium overlooking the stadium.

"I genuinely don't think there has been a captain of any team that has been presented with a trophy like that. Usually cups are presented to a team and all players are alongside their captain and they are jumping up and down like mad celebrating.

"We were about 200 yards away in the dressing room when that happened. That is one of the best and most outstanding memories.

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"It is one of the best photographs ever of a captain winning and lifting a cup. It is arguably one of the best sporting photographs of all time."

Clark has a treasure trove of memories from Lisbon alone. However, even he still chuckles at the celebrations back at Celtic Park when the victorious team took their bow.

The squad embarked on a traditional lap of honour inside Paradise complete with an accordion band – and all conducted on the back of a coal lorry.

It is clearly Clark's working-class upbringing that made the Celtic players' coal lorry celebration episode resonate so much with him.

Clark said: "Coming back to Glasgow we travelled on the bus from Glasgow Airport to Celtic Park. The crowds that lined the streets were unbelievable.

"When we came down Dalmarnock Road and onto London Road before we reached the stadium, it was bedlam. I don't think there has ever been anything like it.

"We had returned to Glasgow as the champions of Europe. We got into Celtic Park and the players were going down the tunnel and Jock Stein told us all to get on the back of a lorry. It was a coal lorry!

"Tell me another team that has paraded the European Cup to their supporters on the back of a coal lorry?

"The champions of Europe did a lap of honour around Celtic Park on a coal lorry. Nobody will ever do that again.

"Whoever came up with that idea is a genius. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and these are the moments that will never be erased from your memory.

"I've often wondered if the coal lorry is lying in a scrapyard somewhere. Think of the value that coal lorry will have now. It would probably have a greater value than some players!"

It was Stein who famously said "we did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football”.

Most of the Lions were ‘invented’ in the Celtic reserves setup, which Stein managed from 1957 until moving to Dunfermline Athletic in 1960. After a brief spell at Hibernian he duly returned to Glasgow’s east end in 1965 to assume full control of the first team.

The rest, as they say, is history. He remains the best manager Clark has ever served under.

“It was a massive compliment to Jock that most of the Celtic team came from the youth setup,” Clark said. “Ronnie Simpson was bought and so too was Willie Wallace but all the other players were originally in the reserve team setup.

"Even the players who featured in some of the earlier rounds were part of the Celtic youth setup.

"Jock was aware of most of these players before he went to manage Dunfermline and Hibs. When he came back to Celtic it was he who moulded us into all into a unit in terms of position.

"Jock was the best manager I ever played under but he also surrounded himself with good staff too. Sean Fallon was an excellent assistant and there were also guys like Neil Mochan, Bob Rooney and the masseur, Jimmy Steele.

"Those guys were with us all the time. Everybody was relaxed in each other's company right throughout the season.”

That paid off not just in the European Cup final itself but in the clean sweep of honours the team picked up that season. League, Scottish Cup, League Cup, Glasgow Cup and European Cup. Five trophies.

Celtic Way: The Celtic players parade the European Cup on the back of a coal lorryThe Celtic players parade the European Cup on the back of a coal lorry

Clark reckons the camaraderie that was fostered by Stein and in the changing room played a vital part in those successes.

"There were no big-time Charlie's among us,” he said. “We had good trainers, we trained properly and we worked hard. We were a fit team.

"We also had a team full of great characters. The characters in that team will never be replicated in another football team in Scotland. We all just came together at the right time, didn't we?

"I played with a lot of great players, that's the most important thing.

"We had Jinky (Jimmy Johnstone) who could terrorise anybody. We had Bobby Lennox and Stevie Chalmers with their frightening pace,

“In the middle of the park we had two cracking midfielders – Bertie Auld and Bobby Murdoch – with Willie Wallace coming deep. And we had the best scoring full-back in European football in the shape of Tommy Gemmell.

"Big Billy would chip in and score goals too and Jim Craig could venture forward and do things. Ronnie Simpson was just Ronnie – an excellent goalkeeper.

"I was told that my role in the team was to try to position myself where the ball would end up and always read the game. Billy and I never practised anything on the training ground with regards to needing to do this and that.

"We never did anything like that in our life. We did things naturally in the park. Big Jock gave us a licence to think for ourselves and think about situations and that was it.

"From the manager to the players to the backroom staff everybody played their own special part when Celtic won the European Cup.

“We just got in about it that day in Lisbon and we all did the job right. It was just a great feeling. I'll never forget it, the Celtic fans will never forget it.”

The Celtic team took their lead from the manager: they were confident without being cocky or arrogant.

They competed with the best because they were being guided by arguably the best manager Scotland has ever produced.

Indeed, Clark revelled in the fact that it was Stein who chased Inter Milan coach Helenio Herrera from the so-called Celtic dugout prior to the 1967 showpiece.

Herrera had tried to indulge in a bit of pre-match gamesmanship by occupying the bench reserved for the Hoops during the final.

Stein, Fallon and his backroom staff were having none of it and Herrera was sent packing with a flea in his ear.

“Big Jock won a victory before a ball was kicked in the European Cup final,” Clark recalls. “He claimed the dugout and the benches where the Celtic staff would sit.

"Herrera had tried to hijack them for Inter Milan and their backroom team. Jock and the rest of the staff had to get them to move and he succeeded. He won that particular battle.

"Celtic were a confident team under Jock but we were never over-confident. There was none of this ‘we are better than you’ stuff.

"We just believed in ourselves. We played with pride and enthusiasm for the game.”

In truth, Celtic administered a total battering of Inter in Lisbon.

Stein's men dismantled the Italians’ dreaded defensive catenaccio system with a fluid style and approach that was heralded the world over as a triumph for attacking football.

In fact, Clark is adamant that the hardest tie Celtic faced en route to lifting the Champions Cup was the two-legged affair against FK Vojvodina who hailed from the former Yugoslavia.

It took a McNeill header in the last 20 seconds for Celtic to overcome the 1-0 away deficit and advance 2-1 on aggregate at home.

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Yet Clark insists that all the hard work and preparation throughout the season came to fruition on that fateful night in Lisbon.

He said: "We played the champions of every country – Zurich from Switzerland, Nantes of France, Vojvodina of Yugolsvia and Dukla Prague of Czechoslovakia.

"The hardest tie we faced was against Vojvodina. We had to come from behind in that tie to go through.

"But Inter Milan were another great side and had wonderful players in their team and they had won the trophy twice before they played Celtic [in 1964 and 1965]. They were the millionaires of the football world of that time.

"Celtic winning the European Cup in 1967 still makes me proud of what the team achieved. After 55 years it is something that you will never ever let go from your own mind and your own thoughts and that's it.

"I was there – nobody can take that away from me.”

With the passing of time sadly comes the fact that seven of the Lions are no longer here.

Of the Lisbon XI Ronnie Simpson, Tommy Gemmell, Billy McNeill, Bertie Auld, Bobby Murdoch, Jimmy Johnstone and Stevie Chalmers are all gone. So too are other European Celts of that season Joe McBride, Charlie Gallagher and Willie O’Neill. None are forgotten.

“There is hardly a day that goes by when I don't miss them,” says Clark. “I will think of an individual in that team or just the collective and it will trigger a special memory and I will have a wee snigger to myself.

"That Celtic team did a lot of laughing. There were no cliques and we all get on so well and we all mixed together.

"The setup at the club revolved around the team and their families. The families are all still very close to this day."

Clark is 81 now. He has been associated with Celtic since 1958 – excepting the odd hiatus – first as a player, then as a coach, an assistant manager and, now, as the kit controller.

He once said: “I was a Celtic supporter, a Celtic player, it’s been my life… I’ve really enjoyed my life when I look back I couldn’t ask for any more. I will always be remembered as a Celtic person.”

There is probably not a more humble man in the club’s illustrious history. Not bad for a working-class boy from Lanarkshire.

None of them were ordinary boys though. Fifty-five years ago a group of unfashionable guys who’d spun round clothes poles in the housing schemes of Glasgow, Lanarkshire and beyond did a number on European football's sophisticates.

It is an achievement that still reverberates around the football world to this day.

"That team I played with, I was just really proud to play for them,” said Clark. “It just seemed to be planned that this was going to happen to a bunch of guys from the working-class areas of the west of Scotland. You cannot and will not forget it.

"As a team, we were all just happy to play and play well for Celtic. At end of the day, we were just a bunch of working-class guys who won the big prize."

Bill Shankly famously said to Jock Stein "John, you're immortal now" when Celtic captured the European Cup in 1967.

Alongside Stein and the rest of the Lisbon Lions, Clark is also a football immortal.

John Clark: European Cup winner, Lisbon Lion, Celtic legend.

Ironically enough, Clark would probably prefer to just be called John.

What is it they say? You can take the boy out of...