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Stein, John [Jock]free

  • Bill Murray

John Stein (1922–1985)

by unknown photographer

Sporting Pictures U.K. Ltd

Stein, John [Jock] (1922–1985), footballer and football manager, was born at 339 Glasgow Road, Burnbank, Hamilton, Lanarkshire, on 5 October 1922, the only son (he had three sisters, one of whom died early) of George Stein, coalminer, and his wife, Jane McKay Armstrong. After leaving Greenfield School, Burnbank, at the age of fourteen, he worked briefly in a carpet factory before becoming a miner in the Lanarkshire coalfield, an occupation which he continued until 1950. He first signed for Burnbank Athletic in 1938 but never played for them: his father did not like the way the club had secured his signature and so he joined Blantyre Victoria instead. As a coalminer, Stein was exempt from military service, and during the disrupted football of the war years, he played for Albion Rovers, in Coatbridge, from November 1942, and, except for a brief period on loan to Dundee United, he played for Albion until May 1950. By then he had a wife and family, having married, on 3 October 1946, Jeanie Tonner McAuley, a creamery worker, daughter of John McAuley, coal hewer. Dissatisfied with his position at Albion, he then went south to play for the non-league Welsh club Llanelli, his first full-time professional appointment.

Unhappy away from his family in Scotland, Jock Stein, as he was now known, was attracted back north in December 1951 to coach the Celtic reserve team. An injury to two of the regular first-team players, however, gave him a place in the senior squad which he never relinquished until forced to do so by injury in January 1957. Although he lacked speed, and was very much left-sided, his height made him strong in the air, and his ability to read the game made him an accomplished centre-half, who was particularly effective at stifling opposing forwards. He also brought his long and hard professional experience to a Celtic team which was recovering from a poor spell on the field. Although it had several star players who helped to take it to mixed success in domestic competition and outstanding success in the two international competitions it entered in this period (1951 and 1953), the team Stein played for (and captained from 27 December 1952) never reached the heights of those he later managed.

When Stein's playing career ended he coached the Celtic reserves from the summer of 1957 until he took up the position of manager of Dunfermline Athletic in March 1960. There he turned around the fortunes of the struggling club, saving it from relegation and then seeing it through to a cup final victory against Celtic in 1961. He took over as manager of Edinburgh's Hibernian on 1 April 1964, but after a successful spell with them he returned to Celtic on 9 March 1965 as manager. The Celtic chairman, Robert Kelly, whose interference in running the team had contributed to its decline in the early 1960s, later claimed that Celtic had allowed Stein to leave the club to gain experience in his trade. This is a myth, but Kelly did make up for his mistake when he brought back to the club the man many thought should never have left. Stein soon made it clear that, unlike his predecessor Jimmy McGrory, he was in complete control of the team and would brook no interference from the board.

Within a couple of years Stein took Celtic on the first steps to domestic and European triumphs: in his twelve full seasons as manager, in addition to the European cup, Celtic won ten league championships, eight Scottish cups, and six league cups. Inevitably his name remains linked to the famous Lisbon Lions, a team whose most expensive player cost the club a mere £28,000, and all of whom were born within a 40 mile radius of Glasgow. This was the team that won the European cup of 1967 with a 2–1 victory over Inter Milan at the Estoril Stadium (Estadio Nacional) in Lisbon on 25 May 1967.

Stein lived for football and the players under his care, skilfully managing such wayward geniuses as Jimmy Johnstone and constantly planning new strategies. He was also a consummate manipulator of the press. His Lisbon Lions, in addition to winning the European cup in 1967 and being losing finalists in 1970, won a record nine successive Scottish league championships from 1966 to 1974. Above all, the Celtic teams of the Stein years lorded it over arch-rivals Rangers, whose team of the early 1960s had been one of the best ever. Despite success in the latter half of the 1970s, Rangers had to wait until the Souness years after 1986 to regain the ascendancy that Stein had taken from them, and in 1997 they equalled Celtic's record of nine successive league championships.

Stein was Celtic's first protestant manager, and only the fourth manager in the club's history since its foundation in 1887. Although the club had always fielded protestant players, its origins and ethos were Irish-Catholic and this was a tradition protected by the family directors, all of whom were Catholic until the appointment of David Dallas Smith in 1991. Stein was offered a position on the board after he retired, 'with a special responsibility for fund-raising', but it was seen by Stein and many others as beneath the former manager's dignity. Stein, who was married to a lapsed Catholic, nevertheless had several family and friends who came from Orange backgrounds, some of whom shunned him after he joined Celtic. Stein, himself totally free from bigotry, maintained an enigmatic attitude to Celtic's Catholic traditions.

A strict teetotaller and non-smoker, Stein's obsession with football took its toll and he suffered his first heart attack in 1973. In 1975 he was almost killed when he was driving a car that had a head-on collision; Stein was totally absolved from responsibility. He was never quite the same powerhouse after this. After a brief spell with Leeds United from 21 August to 4 October 1978, he accepted the position of manager of the national team. In this position he took Scotland to the world cup finals in Spain in 1982 and to the brink of the world cup finals in Mexico in 1986. Stein died of a heart attack at Ninian Park, Cardiff, on 10 September 1985, just thirty minutes after his team had all but qualified for Mexico with a 1–1 draw against Wales. His funeral took place at Linn crematorium, Glasgow, on 13 September; his wife and their son and daughter survived him.

Although only an average player, as a manager Stein was the equal of his legendary compatriots Matt Busby and Bill Shankly. He also shared with them the personal experience that playing football was a much cushier job than a life down the mines. To the fans, Stein remained a giant figure, the Big Man. At Celtic Park the Jock Stein lounge was named in his honour, as was the west stand which completed the renovations of Celtic Park in the summer of 1998.


  • R. Crampsey, Mr Stein: a biography of Jock Stein CBE, 1922–85 (1986)
  • K. Gallacher, Jock Stein: the authorized biography (1988)
  • b. cert.
  • m. cert.
  • CCI (1985)



  • BFINA, Arena, BBC2, 28 March 1997
  • BFINA, news footage
  • BFINA, sports footage


  • BL NSA, ‘Celtic win the European cup’, 29EBBC REC 29M


  • three photographs, 1933–79, Hult. Arch.
  • group portrait, photograph, 1955, Hult. Arch.
  • photograph, Sporting Pictures UK Ltd, London [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£172,674.95: confirmation, 1985, CCI