THIS week sees the centenary of the birth of Jock Stein, one of the greatest football managers in the history of the beautiful game and still the only man to manage a Scottish side to victory in the European Cup.

I will leave it to the pundits and the fans to assess his legacy and decide on exactly his place in football’s pantheon. My task today as a history writer is to give a straightforward factual account of his early life and career in order to put Stein’s greatest achievement into context.

John Stein was born on Thursday, October 5, 1922, in Burnbank, Hamilton, in what is now South Lanarkshire. Burnbank had previously been a mining village before it was absorbed into Hamilton by an Act of Parliament in the 1870s, and it was still dependent on coal mining by the time Stein was born as the son of a miner, George Stein, and his wife Jane McKay Armstrong. He was their only son and Stein had three sisters, one of whom died young.

Educated at Greenfield School in Burnbank, he left at the age of 14 and after a brief time working in a carpet factory he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a coal miner, a job he would have for more than a decade all told. He was thus in a reserved occupation when the Second World War broke out, and he was never called up. Instead he worked down the pit during the week and played football at the Juniors level for local club Blantyre Victoria.

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Tall and solidly built, Stein played at centre half and earned the reputation of being a solid defender, so much so that senior club Albion Rovers in nearby Coatbridge came calling and signed him on a semi-professional basis in 1942. He was still working down the mines while learning about the game and training in his own time.

Stein stayed with the club until 1950 apart from a brief loan spell with Dundee United in 1943, and was a member of the team that won promotion to the old First Division in season 1947-48.

By now married to Jean, nee McAuley, and with a daughter, Ray, Stein was keen to progress in football and a former Rovers’ colleague Dougie Wallace persuaded him to turn full time with Welsh Southern League club Llanelli. His wages were just £12 per week, but Llanelli were in financial trouble in 1951 and with his wife not settling in Wales, Stein prepared to return to Scotland and the mining life.

In December of that year, Celtic’s reserve team trainer Jimmy Gribben persuaded the notoriously parsimonious Board of Directors to buy Stein for £1200, initially as a reserve player. Injuries saw him promoted to the first team and such was the impact he made that he became vice-captain in 1952, moving up to captain to replace Sean Fallon who had broken an arm.

Stein stayed as captain and his leadership was key to the club’s successes, winning the all-British Coronation Cup in 1953 and the Scottish League and Cup double in season 53-54. It was the club’s first double in 40 years. As a reward, the club paid for the players to attend the World Cup and Stein was hugely impressed with the training and tactics of Continental sides – the Hungarians in particular made Stein consider his whole attitude to football and how it was coached and managed.

He was already showing the huge aptitude to learn that would become his distinguishing mark Stein suffered serious ankle injuries in season 55-56 and they eventually put paid to his playing career in 1957. In July of that year he became coach of Celtic’s reserve team. Reserve football was much more important then than it is now, and Stein quickly began to prove his managerial worth.

He did enjoy beating Celtic’s Old Firm rivals throughout his career, but he detested sectarianism and bigotry and spoke out against it frequently.

Dunfermline Athletic saw his potential and appointed Stein as club manager on March 14, 1960. He saved them from relegation and the following season coached Dunfermline to their first Scottish Cup win, achieved somewhat ironically against Celtic.

He was headhunted by several clubs but chose to go to Hibernian in March 1964, gaining immediate success by winning the Summer Cup. Celtic’s dictatorial chairman Bob Kelly wanted Stein to return to Parkhead, but was put off by Stein’s demand for full control.

Kelly eventually relented and Stein became manager in March 1965. Success was immediate with Celtic beating his old club Dunfermline to win the Scottish Cup for the first time since Stein had led them to the trophy as a player in 1954.

The following season saw Celtic win the league championship, the first of nine successive titles, and that gained them entry into the European Cup. By now Stein had revolutionised the Parkhead club, and their tactics, with an entertaining style of play and training routines that were groundbreaking.

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As a so-called “tracksuit” manager, Stein was a part of the transformational Scottish approach to football management that saw the likes of Matt Busby, Bill Shankly – he was personal friends with the great duo from a mining background – Tommy Docherty and Eddie Turnbull change the way football was played.

In season 1966-67 Celtic won every tournament they entered including the European Cup with a famous 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon. The attacking play of Celtic bested the defensive qualities of Inter and the Cup was won by the Lisbon Lions, all of them born within 30 miles of Parkhead.

Stein said afterwards that Celtic had won by playing “pure beautiful inventive football”. Nobody disagreed.

Bill Shankly came into the Celtic dressing room and told his old friend “John you’re immortal”.

We know he wasn’t and next week I will conclude this account of the life of Jock Stein who would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Wednesday.