When Celtic arrived home after their defeat by Feyenoord on May 6, 1970, everyone at Parkhead was understandably deflated, while the fans were in mourning for the lost chance of glory.

That Celtic had made a second European Cup final and had taken it to extra time, playing some fine football for some of the match in Milan, was all forgotten in the realisation that Celtic had been beaten by a club who had been rank outsiders to win the tournament. Little did anybody know at that point that Feyenoord were the harbingers of the Dutch ‘total football’ approach – some say they learned it from Stein’s European Cup winners of 1967 – that would reach its zenith with Ajax’s hat-trick of European Cup wins and the Dutch international side’s performances in the World Cups of 1974 and 1978.

Celtic manager Jock Stein could see that football at the highest level was changing fast. Even as the players went their separate ways for a well-deserved summer holiday, Stein was already planning his next moves. He knew that the era of the Lisbon Lions was all but over, and indeed he had been planning Celtic’s transition for several years.

Stein could be quite ruthless at times, though he had a soft spot for numerous players over the years – he once said his greatest achievement in football was to keep Jimmy Johnstone in the game when the wee man threatened to put himself out of it with his misbehaviour.

When it came to the aftermath of that European Cup loss 50 years ago this week – Celtic had also lost to Eddie Turnbull’s Aberdeen in the previous month’s Scottish Cup final – Stein had one massive advantage over all the other Scottish clubs who were also having to make changes in the way they approached the game. For as the line-up for the European Cup final showed, Stein was ready, willing and able to bring on the first members of the replacements for the Lisbon Lions, the youngsters who had already been dubbed the Quality Street Gang.

It should be remembered that the average age of the Lions in Lisbon was just 26, a mark increased by the inclusion of 36-year-old Ronnie Simpson in goal. They were by no means an old squad, but Stein had deduced that even exceptionally fit men like the Lions would eventually suffer a diminution in their powers. Hence the attention he gave to the Quality Street Gang.

Looking back to that night in the San Siro, there were indications of how Stein was proceeding as the Lions faced the end of their Celtic careers. Veteran goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson had retired and been replaced with Evan Williams, the Dumbarton-born former Third Lanark and Wolves player. Davie Hay’s outstanding form in the reserves saw him take the right-back position from Jim Craig, while Jim Brogan came in at left-back in place of John Clark. Stevie Chalmers had broken his leg early in the season and never fully recovered which meant that Stein could keep his promise to John ‘Yogi’ Hughes that he would play in the final.

There were still seven Lions on the team sheet, however, though many people queried why Stein left young George Connelly on the bench after he had been such a success against Leeds United.

Hay and Connelly were the advance guard of the Quality Street Gang, and while skipper Billy McNeill, along with Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox, would remain mainstays of Stein’s Celtic as they drove to their nine-in-a-row league championships, the defeats to Aberdeen and especially Feyenoord forced Stein’s hand.

The manager had already lauded his youngsters as they gelled together in the reserves. In the late 1960s, Stein made the serious proposal that Celtic’s reserves should be allowed to compete in the old Second Division, then the second tier of Scottish professional football. It was rejected on the grounds that Celtic’s reserves would probably win the division, so how could they be promoted?

A turning point had come in 1968 when Celtic Reserves faced Partick Thistle in their section of the League Cup. Rangers were seven goals in front in the section so Stein offered each of the reserves £20 if they could overturn that lead – Thistle’s reserves were duly hammered 12-1. And in that year Scotland manager Bobby Brown asked Stein to provide a team for a practice match against the full international squad – Stein (below) sent the Quality Street Gang and they beat Scotland, Billy Bremner and all, by a 5-2 scoreline.

Stein had made the reserves train and play with the first team and the Quality Street Gang’s confidence soared as they learned from the masters. Now after Milan, Stein began to insert members of the Gang into the first XI. Reading the names 50 years on you can see why the manager was sure he had real talent on tap. Hay, Connelly, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari, Vic Davidson, Paul Wilson, Pat McMahon, and Brian McLaughlin all made it into the first team, and enjoyed differing degrees of success.

Lions Willie Wallace,

John Hughes, Tommy Gemmell, Stevie Chalmers, and Bobby Murdoch all went to England over the three years after Milan.

With hindsight we can see that the defeat by Feyenoord was a catalyst for Celtic, and the genius of Stein was to manage that change and still stay top.