IT’S been a journey totalling 1,200 miles, crossing four countries and spanning 14 days – but finally, the Road to Lisbon cycle has reached the hallowed site of the Estadio Nacional.
Honouring the 50th anniversary of the 1967 European Cup victory, the cycle, led by supporter Paul Muldoon, is fundraising for three charities close to the hearts of participants – Celtic FC Foundation, Irish charity Children in Crossfire and Solving Kids Cancer.
Setting off from Celtic Park on May 11, the 30-strong team initially headed south to Portsmouth, before boarding a ferry to Spain. In sunnier climes, the group travelled onward from Santander and across the Iberian Peninsula to the final leg – Lisbon.
Battling fatigue, the group paraded into the city on May 25, exactly 50 years since 11 men – all born within 30 miles of Celtic Park – conquered Europe with mesmeric attacking football.
Despite searing heat and arduous conditions, the cyclists mirrored the indomitable will of the Lisbon Lions and defied the odds. Reflecting on the momentous effort, chief organiser, Paul Muldoon, said: “It’s been an amazing achievement by the team. Rewinding back to May 2016, we were asking people to come on this journey and not every cyclist was in the Mark Beaumont category.
“Some have been completely new to cycling but they’ve been out on those cold October and November mornings and rain-soaked nights putting in the work. They’ve taken this challenge head on and given up a lot of weekends, as well as time away from their families, to support this vision of honouring the Lisbon Lions.
“Every single day has been different. We encountered serious challenges going through the Yorkshire Dales, mainly because of the steep incline but we all came through it.
“Santander was tough initially as we were climbing for long periods but it was so picturesque – the spectacle of the Spanish mountains was breathtaking.”
Fittingly, the awe-inspiring effort of cyclists has drawn generous donations from those keen to support the charitable spirit of the challenge. To date, the cycle has raised a staggering £41,000, with proceeds to be split between the three nominated charities.
Speaking on the stunning fundraising total, Paul said: “I’m so grateful to the Celtic Family and I get quite emotional thinking about it. Nothing surprises me when it comes to their generosity.
“Often you are going back to the same people for money and they always dig deep. Looking at the emails every night and seeing the total steadily rise has been incredibly moving.”
The advent of Celtic’s finest hour has seen supporters from all over the world pilgrimage to Lisbon, joyously descending on the Portuguese capital in fervent celebration.
With festivities a half-century in the making, Hoops fans are creating a carnival atmosphere befitting that fateful night in 1967. Emphasising the unity of the fans in Lisbon, Paul said: “So many of these projects have started as dreams steadily built over days and months. We have very much tried to align all the Lisbon projects and I became aware of the guys from The Lions Road (two Celtic supporters, Martin Coyle and Barry Sweeney, travelling to Lisbon in a 1967 Hillman Imp) back in August.
“I met those guys when our project was going through some dark days. We were being let down by different support companies and they were facing similar obstacles so we kept in close contact.
Paul also underlined his elation at the freedom allowed to fans visiting the city, ensuring revellers will be able to pay homage at the site synonymous with Celtic folklore – the Estadio Nacional.
He added: “We’ve worked really hard to allow access for fans to get into the ground for the anniversary and that has been a mountain to climb – I’d like to thank the club for their help on that one – and I am delighted that every supporter in Lisbon can be inside the stadium on the day.
“We’re also attending a celebration dinner, organised by my good friend, Jim McGinley, for supporters in the city. Finally, working with the Mayor of Lisbon, we’ve organised a street party to take place at 6pm on the anniversary – Lisbon will rock with Celtic fans from all over the world.”
Praising the achievement of the cyclists, Celtic FC Foundation Chief Executive, Tony Hamilton, said: “It’s difficult to find superlatives describing the scale of this achievement by The Road to Lisbon team. I applaud Paul, as well as each and every cyclist, for dedicating considerable time and effort into making this audacious challenge a reality.
“These past weeks have seen incredible feats of human endurance matched only by remarkable generosity – and the sheer resilience of these cyclists will live long in the memory.
“It’s an enormously special time for everyone connected with Celtic and events like these prove that that our fans are peerless on many fronts, not least in charitable giving.
“We at Celtic FC Foundation are truly grateful for their efforts.”
You can still donate to The Road to Lisbon cycle HERE:
or text LISB17 followed by £1, £5 or £10 to 70070