When the older men in my family gathered in drink at weddings and funerals, tales from the Big Lisbon Storybook would bring down the curtain on the day’s festivities.

By about the age of nine, I was word-perfect in them. How my uncle John, a bookish and cautious man, had been one of the first to clear the perimeter moat and reach the pitch after the final whistle had blown. And how this had sparked a wave of panic in the other men. All of them had been instructed by my gran – the matriarch – to keep an eye on “Our John” and make sure he didn’t get into any trouble.

And, of course, the sacrifices each of them had had to make to be at Lisbon and how their wives and girlfriends were only finally placated when they watched the game on television and became part of the confederacy.

But one tale enchanted me more than all the others. It was about John ‘Yogi’ Hughes, even though he hadn’t played that day.

The story goes that as these McKenna and McCabe men made their way back towards Lisbon city centre they began to rationalise what had just happened. And that one of my uncles – who idolised Hughes and could never bear a word of criticism about him – uttered the immortal phrase: “I still think Big Yogi should have been in the starting line-up.”

They had all then laughed and suggested that only my uncle, who often over-thought these things, could have produced something like this after Celtic had just been crowned the best team in Europe.

Yet it was also an indication of how highly-regarded Hughes was by the Celtic support and what affection they held for him that many might have felt his absence from the Lisbon team was a blow.

Certainly, having played in five of the eight games leading to Lisbon and having been a first-pick well into the month of May, he would have been regarded as a strong contender for a starting berth.

And besides, Italian teams would not have been accustomed to dealing with players such as Yogi: a big man with a deft touch, comfortable on either foot but capable of brushing opponents aside. It had even been suggested that Juventus had made enquiries about him, following the success of another big and skilful British player, the great Welsh international John Charles.

I’ve since heard various stories about why Yogi didn’t make the final Lisbon XI. The most plausible is that he himself had declared a minor niggle in the weeks prior to the game and that, although fit enough to play, the fine margins that dictate team choices saw his place go to Stevie Chalmers. My friend’s uncle claimed he worked with a cousin of Big Yogi who says he was told he was definitely injured. Maybe. A thousand other theories are out there.   

What has never been in any doubt is that Hughes was a true Lisbon Lion and contributed to the successes of 1967 as much as any of the others.

Celtic Way:

My father’s generation certainly held this to be true and continued to celebrate his successes in a Celtic jersey for several years after Lisbon. They all regarded him as one of the team’s biggest personalities, mentioned alongside Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch and Tommy Gemmell among the squad’s most gifted players.

His statistics are incredible, given that he was deployed more often as a winger than an out-and-out striker. He scored 189 goals for Celtic in 416 appearances and played an integral part in the most richly rewarding period in club history, the first six years of the nine-in-a-row era when for four seasons the Hoops were feared as one of the top three football clubs in world football.

The supporters delighted in his rampaging style and the delicate skills that confounded opponents who were often expecting a roughhouse. And, for those who witnessed them, his goals have passed into Celtic lore.

There was a goal at Dens Park where my dad swore he danced past almost the entire Dundee team before firing home an unstoppable 25-yarder. Some said that he needed more consistency, though a goal ratio approaching one in every two games is the very definition of consistency. The fact remains, though, that whenever Hughes picked up the ball anywhere on the park the crowd rose to their feet anticipating something special.

Three years after Lisbon, Hughes gained a measure of recompense when he scored one of the most important goals in Celtic’s history. This was the equaliser in the 2-1 European Cup semi-final win over Leeds United at Hampden in April 1970.

This match is rightly stamped with the genius of Johnstone who was simply unplayable. But it also featured a gargantuan display by Hughes, who gave Jack Charlton, the best centre half in England, the toughest night of his career.     

Not long before he departed Celtic for Crystal Palace in late 1971, I met Hughes.

I had been chosen out of the weekly draw as 'The Celtic Boy' by the club’s weekly newspaper The Celtic View. This entailed a visit to Parkhead, two seats in the middle of the main stand and a picture with your favourite player. Johnstone was my choice but wasn’t available that day. I was told he was out ‘injured’ but, years later, when I came to understand these things, I discovered he’d had a row with Jock Stein following an ‘incident’ the previous week.

Instead, I met Hughes. Any disappointment I had about missing out on Jinky was soon healed.

Yogi, perhaps having sensed this seven-year-old’s despondency, made my day memorable… simply by being funny and decent and gentle.

He was everything you hoped a Lisbon Lion would be away from football. His kindness that February day in 1971 will never be forgotten. And nor will his great deeds in a Celtic jersey.

God bless John Hughes.