This iconic image portrays a true footballing genius at work. Bobby Lennox, cool, calm, composed, the ball obeying his every command, feinting to move one way but shifting his body to line up another shot on target. He scored a prolific 273 goals in all competitions wearing the green and white hoops of his beloved Celtic. Linger a moment, pause and reflect. You are witnessing a true master of the craft of putting the ball in the net. The one and only Bobby Lennox.
Robert Lennox was born in the coastal town of Saltcoats in Ayrshire in August 1943. The resort has never been a footballing hotbed but was a popular destination for Glaswegians to spend their “summer” breaks before the advent of the continental package holiday. In fact, Bertie Auld, Lennox’ s team-mate, was quite stunned to discover that he came from Saltcoats as he had no idea that “people actually lived there”.
Any Celtic fan can tell you that the team that won the European Cup came from within thirty miles of Glasgow. In fact, 10 of the team lived within 10 miles of the city and it was only Lennox who extended that radius by 20 miles. Bobby has lived all his life there and plans are well advanced to have a statue erected in his honour in his home-town in recognition of their most famous citizen.
When Bobby Lennox made his debut for Celtic in a 2-1 victory at Dundee in 1962, they were a club in statis. Their last title win had been in 1954 and since then their deadly cross-city rivals Rangers had won the title four times. Lennox did not make an immediate impact but scored his first ever goal for the Bhoys against Third Lanark in a 4-4 draw but failed to impress manager Jimmy McGrory and at one point was on the verge of being transferred to Falkirk.
Then in February 1965, the incomparable John “Jock” Stein took over as manager and Bobby Lennox’s career was about to reach heights that neither he or the Celtic fans could have possibly imagined.
One of Stein’s first tactical innovations was to switch Bobby to the inside-left position so that he could utilise his blistering pace to devastating effect. He worked relentlessly on improving his sprinting and could often be seen on Saltcoats beach running up and down in the sand. His first trophy for Celtic arrived that season as they came from behind twice to beat Dunfermline 3-2 in the Scottish League Cup Final to claim their first domestic honour in seven years. Bobby Lennox still regards this as his proudest moment as a Celt. It was to be the start of a magnificent era of unprecedented success.
Celtic became unstoppable and won the Scottish League title the following campaign in 1966, the first of nine consecutive championships. They won the Scottish Cup six times and the League Cup four times in the same period and of course were the first ever British side to win the European Cup in 1967. Lennox played in every one of those campaigns and was the only player to be selected by Stein in every season that he was the manager.
With his scoring record of an astounding 273 goals, Bobby Lennox was one of the key orchestrators during that halcyon era. He was the top goal scorer in the Scottish league in the 1967/68 season with 32, and in the same campaign, he scored in 13 consecutive games for Celtic between March and May, a record that has only ever been bettered once since. He is the second highest ever goalscorer for Celtic behind the legendary Jimmy McGrory.
When asked to describe his favourite goal for Celtic, his choice was not an obvious one. In the 1960’s the Glasgow Cup was contested as intensely as any other competition in Scotland. Celtic faced Rangers at Ibrox, two months after losing to them in the final of the Scottish Cup. It was a comfortable 4-1 victory for Celtic and Bobby scored his first ever goal against the ‘Gers. “I got the ball about 35 yards out in the inside right position,” said Lennox. “I just took off, got away from John Greig and hit a left-footed shot from the edge of the box. It rattled high into the roof of the net. That was a sweet goal!”
Bobby Lennox was one of the legendary Lisbon Lions side that destroyed the invincible aura of catenaccio style football when the Bhoys produced a stirring comeback to defeat Inter Milan 2-1. Later that year he was one of the unfortunate victims of the infamous “Battle of Montevideo” when Celtic lost the play-off decider 1-0 to Argentina’s Racing Club. During the game, Lennox was outrageously sent off despite being the victim of a cynical challenge by one of his opponents.
An outraged Jock Stein, refused to accept the decision and sent him back on the pitch, the referee expelled him again, Stein pushed him back on again at which point a police officer brandished a sword to ensure he left the pitch. Bobby also played in the 1970 European Cup Final in Milan which ended in an unexpected 2-1 defeat to the Dutch Champions Feyenoord. It was the biggest disappointment of his football career. Celtic have never reached the final of Europe’s most prestigious tournament since.
In addition to his European triumph in Lisbon, a month previously Bobby had played in a decisive match at Wembley which resulted in Scotland being acclaimed as the “unofficial World Champions“ in their homeland. He was a member of the Scottish XI that took on the World Cup winners England at Wembley and scored the final and decisive Scottish goal in a famous 3-2 victory. In doing so he also became the first ever Celtic player to score at Wembley.
Despite being such a prolific marksman in his home country, and with his vast range of experience playing against the top European sides, Lennox was scandalously misused and underused by the Scottish International team and only ever made ten appearances, scoring three times in the process. In fact, he was not even selected to play a single game in their qualification group for the 1966 World Cup and a lack of goals that Lennox could have provided cost them dearly.
He thought he had worn the famous green and whites hoops for the final time when, in March 1978, during Stein’s final season in charge, he left to join Houston Hurricane in the newly formed North American Soccer League. Although he and his family enjoyed their new lifestyle in the States, when Billy McNeill the new Celtic manager approached him about a return to playing for the Bhoys, he could not resist and in September 1978 he was back as an integral part of the new supremo’s team-building plans. The return worked for both men. At the end of his first season Celtic were League Champions again and the following season, at the age of 36, he played his last game for the club when they beat Rangers in the final to lift the Scottish Cup. He was the last of the Lisbon Lions to play for the Celts and his career finished with yet another trophy.
Lennox was adored by his colleagues and fans alike who christened him with the sobriquets of “Buzz-Bomb,” in recognition of his breath-taking speed, or “Lemon,” due to his ability to make defenders look like “suckers”. As his fellow Celt Danny McGrain used to always opine “He was born quick!” He always had a ready smile for the cameras but not everybody realised he wore false teeth and as the Celtic fans rushed onto the pitch at the end of the European Cup win in Lisbon to celebrate their victory Lennox suddenly remembered that his false teeth were stashed in goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson’s cap at the back of his net. Fortunately, he managed to retrieve them before delirious fans grabbed his gnashers as souvenirs.
Lennox was held in high regard by his fellow professionals. Bobby Charlton said that he was “one of the best strikers I have ever seen” and Real Madrid icon Alfredo Di Stéfano stated that he “admired Lennox greatly”. Such was his innate modesty that the man himself was flabbergasted to be the subject of such high praise from these esteemed judges. In terms of his achievements in football at club, European and International level, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever to have graced the green and white hooped shirt and will forever hold a place in the hearts of Celts across the world. As his captain and manager Billy Mc Neill eloquently stated, “He knew what it meant to wear the Celtic shirt”.
Bobby Lennox was awarded the MBE in 1981 and was inducted into the Scottish Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2005. Undoubtedly these were fitting accolades for a man who in 571 appearances for Celtic had won The European Cup, 11 Scottish league titles, eight Scottish Cups and five League Cup winner’s medals during his distinguished career.
Bobby Lennox, a glorious footballer, a gentleman and a true Celtic great.