Stein worked as a coalminer while playing football part-time for Blantyre Victoria and then Albion Rovers. He became a full-time professional football player with Welsh club Llanelli Town, but returned to Scotland with Celtic in 1951. He enjoyed some success with Celtic, winning the Coronation Cup in 1953 and a Scottish league and Scottish Cup double in 1954. Ankle injuries forced Stein to retire from playing football in 1957.
Celtic appointed Stein to coach their reserve team after he retired as a player. Stein started his managerial career in 1960 with Dunfermline, where he won the Scottish Cup in 1961 and achieved some notable results in European football. After a brief but successful spell at Hibernian, Stein returned to Celtic as manager in March 1965. In thirteen years at Celtic, Stein won the European Cup, ten Scottish league championships, eight Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. After a brief stint with Leeds United, Stein managed the Scottish national side from 1978 until his death in 1985.
Born in Burnbank, South Lanarkshire, Stein saw football as his escape from the Lanarkshire coal mines. In 1937 he left Greenfield school in Hamilton and after a short time working in a carpet factory went down the pits to become a miner. In 1940, Stein agreed to sign for Burnbank Athletic, but his father vehemently objected. Soon afterwards, he instead joined Blantyre Victoria, another local junior club.
Stein first played for senior club Albion Rovers as a trialist in a 4–4 draw against Celtic on 14 November 1942. Three weeks later, manager Webber Lees signed Stein for the Coatbridge club. He continued to work as a miner during the week, which was a reserved occupation during the Second World War. This allowed Stein to play regularly, as many of their other players were serving in the Armed Forces. He had a brief loan spell with Dundee United in 1943. Rovers won promotion to the First Division in 1947–48, for only the fourth time in the club's history. During the 1948–49 season, Rovers conceded 105 goals, won only three league games out of 30 and were relegated back to the Second Division.
In 1950, Stein signed for non-league Welsh club Llanelli. For the first time in his career, he became a full-time professional footballer, earning £12 per week. Llanelli had gained promotion to the Southern League in 1950 and signed several Scottish professionals. In 1951, the club's application to join the Football League was rejected and there were rumours of financial problems. All but two of the Scottish professionals left.
Stein initially left his wife Jean and young daughter Ray in Scotland when he moved to Llanelli. His family moved down soon afterwards, but his council house in Hamilton was burgled about eight weeks after they moved. Jean wanted to return to Scotland, and Stein accepted her desire in light of his own disillusionment with the problems at the club. When asked what he would do by the Llanelli manager, Stein said he would probably quit football and become a miner again.
In December 1951, on the recommendation of reserve team trainer Jimmy Gribben, Celtic bought him for £1,200. He was signed as a reserve but injuries incurred by first team players resulted in him being elevated to the first team. In 1952 he was appointed vice-captain; when captain Sean Fallon suffered a broken arm, the captaincy was passed to Stein.
Celtic finished eighth in the Scottish League during 1952–53 and were only invited to the pan-British Coronation Cup tournament due to their large support base. Celtic beat Arsenal, Manchester United and Hibernian to win the trophy. This success was built upon in 1953–54, as Stein captained the side that won a League and Scottish Cup double. It was their first League championship since 1938 and first League and Scottish Cup double since 1914. As a reward for their achievement, the club paid for all of the players to attend the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland. Celtic had also sent their players to watch the England v Hungary match in 1953. Stein was influenced by Scotland's poor preparation and the impressive performance of Hungary. Stein received his only international recognition in 1954, when he was selected for the Scottish Football League XI. It was not a happy experience for Stein, as his direct opponent, Bedford Jezzard, scored two goals as The Football League XI won 4–0 at Stamford Bridge.
In 1954–55, Celtic finished second in the league and lost the 1955 Scottish Cup Final to Clyde. Stein was forced to retire from football after suffering persistent ankle injuries during the 1955–56 season. While playing in a friendly in Coleraine in May 1956, he landed awkwardly and rolled over on the ankle. Two weeks later he had an operation to remove a bone nodule, after which he was ordered to rest until fully recuperated. While on a holiday in Blackpool, the ankle irritated Stein, who found that it had become septic. He was no longer able to flex the joint and had to stop playing, officially retiring on 29 January 1957.
In July 1957, Stein was given the job of coaching the Celtic reserve team. His squad included a number of young players who would later play under him in the first team, including Billy McNeill, Bobby Murdoch and John Clark. In his first season as a coach, Stein won the Reserve Cup with an 8–2 aggregate triumph over Rangers. Despite this success, according to football journalist Archie MacPherson, Stein felt he could not progress further at Celtic due to his Protestant faith; Celtic had only previously appointed Catholics as manager, though one of these, Willie Maley had spent 50 years at the club and Stein was only the fourth person to be appointed Celtic manager, after Maley, Jimmy McStay and Jimmy McGrory, who was manager for 20 years. It was later suggested that Stein was allowed to leave Celtic temporarily with the intention of later appointing him manager, but MacPherson found no evidence for this.
On 14 March 1960, Stein was appointed manager of Dunfermline. When Stein was appointed, the team were only two points above last place and mired in a battle against relegation. The team had not won in four months, but then won their first six matches managed by Stein. To build upon this initial success, Stein signed Willie Cunningham and Tommy McDonald from Leicester City. Dunfermline became a powerful force and Stein guided them to their first Scottish Cup victory in 1961, winning 2–0 in a replayed Final against Celtic. This success prompted job offers from Newcastle United and Hibernian, both of which were rejected by Stein.
In the 1961–62 season, Dunfermline progressed to the quarter-final of the 1961–62 European Cup Winners' Cup and finished in fourth place in the league. Their league position earned a place in the Fairs Cup after a Greek club withdrew. Dunfermline defeated Everton in the 1962–63 Fairs Cup and retrieved a four-goal deficit against Valencia, but then lost in a play-off game. Towards the end of the 1963–64 season, it became apparent that Hibs wanted to replace their manager, Walter Galbraith. It was reported in the media on 27 February that Stein would leave Dunfermline at the end of the season. A fortnight later, amidst speculation that Stein would move to Hibernian, Galbraith left the Edinburgh club. On 28 March, Dunfermline lost in a Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers. It was announced two days later that Stein would leave Dunfermline with immediate effect, allowing him to take charge at Hibernian.
Stein was appointed manager of Hibernian in March 1964. Although Hibs had a bigger support base than Dunfermline and had enjoyed success in the 1950s, the club was struggling. When Stein was appointed, Hibs were in 12th place and struggling against relegation during the 1963–64 season. The players noticed an immediate difference between Stein and previous managers, in that Stein would take an active part in practice sessions. Stein built his defence around John McNamee, who had been discarded by Celtic, and Pat Stanton. In midfield he had Pat Quinn and Willie Hamilton, who were talented players but had under-achieved. Hamilton had problems with drinking and gambling, but he produced his best performances under Stein's guidance. Stein led Hibs to victory in the Summer Cup, their first trophy in ten years. Neil Martin scored regularly and was capped for Scotland under Stein.
The 1964–65 league season started with an Edinburgh derby defeat by Hearts, but Hibs managed to recover from this setback. Stein then invited Real Madrid for a friendly game in Edinburgh, which Hibernian won 2–0 in front of a crowd of 32,000, further boosting his prestige. Wolves asked Stein if he wanted to replace Stan Cullis as their manager. Stein then approached Celtic chairman Bob Kelly, ostensibly to ask his advice about the Wolves job, but in the hope that he would be offered the Celtic manager's post. Kelly first offered Stein the position of assistant manager (to Sean Fallon), which Stein rejected. Kelly then offered Stein the chance to be joint manager with Fallon, but this was also rejected by Stein, who insisted on full control and suggested he would take the Wolves job instead. Billy McNeill believed that Kelly's initial reluctance was due to Stein's religion. Kelly eventually agreed to offer Stein full powers over team selection. Hibs tried to convince Stein to stay, even attempting to persuade his wife Jean, but becoming Celtic manager had been his long-held ambition. While Stein was still Hibs manager, he arranged for Celtic to sign Bertie Auld from Birmingham City and allowed Hibs goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson to join Celtic. Some people claimed with hindsight that he had deliberately allowed Simpson to join Celtic before moving himself, but in fact it was due to a wage dispute.
It was announced on 31 January that Stein would leave Hibs for Celtic at the end of the 1964–65 season. Stein left Hibs in early March, after he had arranged for Dundee manager Bob Shankly to take the Hibs job. When Stein left, Hibs were near the top of the league and in the semi-finals of the 1964–65 Scottish Cup. Hibs had defeated Rangers in the quarter-final, in his last game as Hibs manager. They failed to win either competition, however, and Stein later admitted that "leaving Hibs at that time was probably my most embarrassing experience in football". Stein was statistically the best ever manager of Hibs, with a win rate of 62%.
He returned to Celtic in March 1965, becoming the club's first Protestant manager and the fourth manager in club history. Celtic were struggling in the league and continued to have mixed results, winning his first game 6–0 at Airdrie, but then losing 4–2 to Hibs and 6–2 to Falkirk. In the period between the announcement of Stein's move to Celtic and his arrival, Celtic had progressed to the semi-finals of the 1964–65 Scottish Cup. Celtic were drawn against Motherwell, who had dangerous forwards such as Joe McBride and Willie Hunter. Stein prepared the Celtic players with tactical advice, which they had never received before. Celtic came from behind twice against Motherwell to force a replay, which they won 3–0. This set up a final against Dunfermline, who had beaten Hibs in the other semi-final. Celtic again came from behind twice before Billy McNeill scored the winning goal, giving Celtic their first Scottish Cup since 1954.
For the 1965–66 season, Stein made one major signing, Joe McBride from Motherwell. McBride rewarded Stein with 43 goals that season. Celtic lost the first Old Firm derby that season, but gained revenge by winning the League Cup final against Rangers. Celtic reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, but were beaten 2–1 on aggregate by Liverpool. Five minutes before the end of the second leg at Anfield, Bobby Lennox appeared to score a goal that would have put Celtic through on the away goals rule, but it was controversially disallowed for offside. Celtic were involved in a tight Scottish league championship race with Rangers, who they also played in the 1966 Scottish Cup Final. The final was lost after a replay, to a goal by Kai Johansen. Stein blamed John Hughes for failing to mark Johansen. Celtic won the league championship, however, for the first time in 12 years.
Stein was very confident entering the 1966–67 season, saying to his players that he believed "we could win everything". Celtic won the first Old Firm game of the season 2–0, scoring both goals in the first five minutes. The team went on a long unbeaten run that was finally ended by a 3–2 defeat by Dundee United on 31 December. Stein surprised some observers by signing forward Willie Wallace from Hearts in December, when the team was already scoring freely and had strikers Stevie Chalmers and Joe McBride at his disposal. As it happened, McBride soon afterwards suffered a knee injury that required surgery.
In the 1966–67 European Cup, Celtic progressed through the first two rounds with relatively comfortable wins against Zurich and Nantes. Celtic then faced Yugoslav side Vojvodina, who Chalmers later described as "the best team we played in the whole tournament". A miss-kick by Tommy Gemmell allowed Vojvodina to score the only goal of the first leg, played in Yugoslavia. In the return game, Celtic drew the aggregate score level with a goal by Chalmers in the 58th minute. Stein was agitated during the game, frequently glancing at his watch. Near the end, he remarked to Sean Fallon that "it looks like bloody Rotterdam!", citing where a play-off match would have been held if the tie had finished level. Instead, McNeill headed in a tie-winning goal from a corner kick during injury time. Celtic then defeated Dukla Prague 3–1 in the first (home) leg of the semi-final, with Wallace scoring twice. In the return game, Celtic sustained heavy pressure but held out for a goalless draw. It became a common belief that Stein had abandoned his attacking principles for that game, but Bobby Lennox, McNeill and Chalmers all later said that Stein had not set out defensive tactics beforehand.
Four days after the second leg against Dukla, Celtic defeated Aberdeen 2–0 in the 1967 Scottish Cup Final. Celtic were involved in a close race with Rangers for the Scottish league championship, decided by an Old Firm game at Ibrox on the final day of the league season. Celtic needed a point to clinch the championship. Archie Macpherson wrote in his biography of Stein that it was one of the best Old Firm games he had seen, as both sides played without a fear of losing: Rangers needed the victory to win the championship, while Stein believed Celtic's best chances lay in attacking their opponents. Rangers took the lead in the 40th minute, but Celtic equalised within a minute thanks to a "scrambled effort" by Jimmy Johnstone. Celtic went 2–1 ahead with 15 minutes remaining, when Johnstone beat some opponents then fired a left-footed shot high into the net. Roger Hynd scored an equalising goal for Rangers, but the match finished in a 2–2 draw and Celtic won the championship.
With the 3–1 aggregate victory against Dukla, Celtic progressed to the 1967 European Cup Final. The other finalist was Italian giants Inter Milan, a previous winner of the competition. Despite initially falling behind to an Italian penalty, his team triumphed 2–1, winning much admiration for the positive attacking quality of their football. In winning club football's most prestigious trophy, Stein became the first man not only to guide a Scottish club to champions of Europe, but also the first to achieve this honour with a British club. He also became the first manager in history to win all competitions entered. The feat was done with a team all born within 30 miles of Glasgow. In a conversation with Bill Shankly shortly afterwards, Shankly famously told him "John, you're immortal now".
The following season, Celtic won the League and League Cup for the third season in a row. In 1969 they won another domestic treble, their second in three years. In 1970, Stein led Celtic to a League and League Cup double; they also finished runners-up in the Scottish Cup. He also guided them to their second European Cup Final, knocking out Benfica and Leeds United en route, but they lost to Dutch side Feyenoord in Milan. Around this time, Manchester United made efforts to persuade Stein to join them as manager. Stein declined their advances, a decision he later told Alex Ferguson that he regretted.
He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1970. Stein would have been knighted instead if not for an infamous Intercontinental Cup final match against Racing Club where four Celtic players were sent off.
The 1970s brought continued success on the domestic front. During this time Stein's Celtic completed a record of nine consecutive Scottish league championships, equalling a world record held at the time by MTK Budapest and CSKA Sofia This sustained success became routine to the extent that attendance figures fell during the later part of the run, with the decline at Celtic being above the league average. This prompted the Scottish Football League to consider league reconstruction, which was enacted in 1975.
Stein was badly injured in a car crash in 1975; he nearly died but eventually recovered. For most of season 1975–76, Sean Fallon assumed control as manager. Stein returned to his position at the start of the 1976–77 season. Davie McParland joined Celtic at this time, replacing Sean Fallon as assistant manager and working under Stein. McParland took charge of the 'tracksuit' aspects of coaching at Celtic whilst Stein watched from the touchline, still not fully recovered from the serious car smash he was involved in the year before. Stein signed Hibernian's long-serving captain, defender Pat Stanton. Later on in the season, Stein signed attacking midfielder Alfie Conn from Tottenham Hotspur. It was a transfer that surprised many, given Conn had played for Rangers in the early 70s, winning the European Cup Winners Cup for them in 1972 and scoring in a 3–2 win over Celtic in the 1973 Scottish Cup Final. Conn became the first footballer post-World War II to play for both Rangers and Celtic. Celtic, helped considerably by Stanton's organisation of the defence, went on to win their tenth league and cup double; Celtic finished nine points ahead of Rangers in the league and beat them 1–0 in the cup final courtesy of an Andy Lynch penalty.
Celtic struggled in the 1977–78 season and Stein was persuaded to stand down. He was allowed to nominate his successor, Billy McNeill, and Stein thought an agreement was in place for him to join the Celtic board of directors. Celtic instead offered a management position in their pools company, which Stein rejected as he believed he still had something to offer football. A testimonial match for Stein was played against Liverpool at Celtic Park on 14 August 1978. After the game, the Liverpool manager Bob Paisley encouraged Stein, who was three years younger than Paisley, to stay in football. There was also the example of Bill Shankly, who had experienced an unhappy retirement since leaving Liverpool in 1974.
In August 1978, Stein was appointed manager of Leeds United. The players at Leeds received the news well, but were concerned that Stein had never shown any previous interest in managing in England. Early results were mixed, although the Leeds chairman Manny Cussins detected some improvement from the previous few seasons, when Leeds had slipped from their dominant position in English football. Attendances at Elland Road were low and Stein apparently missed the pressure of big games against foreign opposition.
Ally MacLeod had just resigned as Scotland manager, having clung to office for only one match after their failure at the 1978 World Cup. Stein advised commentator Archie Macpherson to make it publicly known that he would be interested in taking the job. Cussins, who had sacked Brian Clough after just 44 days in charge of Leeds in 1974, refused permission for the Scottish Football Association to speak to Stein. Cussins could not convince Stein to stay, however, and he resigned to accept the position of Scotland manager. Stein had been manager of Leeds for just 44 days, like Clough, although his tenure and departure had no bitterness or rancour.
Stein was first appointed manager of Scotland on a part-time basis in the spring of 1965, taking charge of their attempt to qualify for the 1966 World Cup. Scotland achieved good results in their first two qualifiers, a draw against Poland and a win against Finland. Stein was criticised by the Scottish press after the team conceded two late goals and lost 2–1 at home to Poland, but they managed to beat Italy 1–0 at Hampden Park through a last minute goal by John Greig to raise some hope of qualification. Scotland suffered from several players withdrawing from the return match against Italy due to injury. Stein, by instinct an attacking coach, set his team up defensively. A 3–0 defeat meant that they failed to qualify from UEFA Group 8. Stein relinquished the Scotland job after this defeat to concentrate on his full-time role with Celtic.
Stein was appointed Scotland manager on a full-time basis on 5 October 1978, which was his 56th birthday. 65,872 attended his first game in charge, a 3–2 win against Norway at Hampden, despite the bus services in Glasgow being on strike. Stein had picked a team with only players based in England, but he felt that he could bring through more home-based players. He also believed that Scotland had tended to play with too much emotion and naivety, which he wanted to replace with an emphasis on retaining possession of the football. Two defeats to Belgium meant that Scotland failed to qualify for the 1980 European Championship. This was followed by losses to Northern Ireland and England in the 1980 British Home Championship, which led to some criticism in the media.
The Scots form improved in their qualifying campaign for the 1982 FIFA World Cup, finishing top of their group and only losing once. Scotland travelled to Spain in the summer of 1982 in what would be the only occasion Stein would manage a side at the finals of major international tournament. Scotland swept into a 3–0 lead in their first group game against New Zealand, but then careless defending saw the Kiwis stage a comeback, scoring twice. Scotland added a further two goals near the end to restore their three-goal advantage, but concern was raised at the potential repercussions of the two New Zealand goals should goal difference become a factor. Brazil were the next opponents, and Stein make a number of changes to his side. Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish were surprise omissions, whilst David Narey, Willie Miller and Steve Archibald came into the side. Graeme Souness took over the captaincy in McGrain's absence. Narey gave Scotland a shock lead when he opened the scoring with a powerful right-foot strike. Zico equalised just before half-time from a free kick, and then Brazil took control in the second half, scoring three times to send Scotland crashing to a 4–1 defeat. The final group game paired Scotland against the Soviet Union; both teams were level on two points each, but the Soviet's had a better goal difference. Joe Jordan came into the team for his first appearance at the 1982 World Cup, and gave Scotland the lead in the first half, but the Soviet's rallied and scored twice in the second half. The second goal was particularly galling for the Scots, and came as a result of defenders Alan Hansen and Willie Miller colliding with one another, allowing Ramaz Shengelia a clear run in at goal to score. Graeme Souness netted a late equaliser for Scotland, but there was little time left for Scotland to score a winner, and the game finished 2–2 with Scotland going out on goal difference. Stein commented after the final match: "I am very disappointed we have not qualified. If we had played the way we did in any other section we would have gone through", adding "We have proved we can compete at this level, if not win..... Tonight I think we have done Scotland proud, both on and off the field."
Scotland began their qualifying campaign for the 1986 FIFA World Cup with a 3–0 win over Iceland at Hampden Park in October 1984. Paul McStay scored twice in the first half, and came close to getting a hat-trick when he struck the crossbar in the second half. Charlie Nicholas scored Scotland's third goal. Stein observed that Scotland "won with style" and singled out winger Davie Cooper along with McStay for the flair they both displayed. The Scots turned in an even finer showing in their next tie, a 3–1 home win over Spain. Two first half headed goals from Mo Johnston gave Scotland a 2–0 lead at half-time. Spain pulled a goal back in the second half, but with 18 minutes remaining Kenny Dalglish dribbled past three Spanish defenders before striking a powerful shot high into the net for Scotland's third. It was Dalglish's 30th international goal, equalling the record held by Denis Law. Stein described the win over Spain as "the most satisfying since I became [Scotland] manager", adding that "we scored three goals against a quality team that came to defend". Spanish manager Miguel Munoz praised the Scots' performance, describing them as "tremendous". Performances and results were more mixed in the later qualifying ties, losing the return match away in Spain, going down to a 1–0 defeat against Wales in Glasgow and scraping a narrow 1–0 win over Iceland in Reykjavík. Scotland went into their last qualifying tie away against Wales needing at least a draw to secure a play-off spot.
On 10 September 1985, Scotland played Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff, in a 1986 World Cup qualification match. Wales had been leading 1–0 by a Mark Hughes goal, before Scotland were awarded a penalty kick with 9 minutes left. Davie Cooper scored to make the score 1–1; the resulting draw secured a qualification play-off against Australia. Stein, who had been in poor health and under intense pressure, suffered a heart attack at the end of the game and died shortly afterwards in the stadium's medical room. He was 62 years old. Stein was cremated at Linn Crematorium in Glasgow, at a private ceremony at which many past and present football figures were in attendance.
His death had a profound effect on Stein's assistant, and Aberdeen manager, Alex Ferguson. Ferguson regarded Stein as a mentor and was horrified by his sudden death. Ferguson was appointed interim manager and led the Scotland team to the 1986 World Cup. Scotland failed to progress beyond the group stage; Andy Roxburgh was appointed as Stein's permanent successor.
Since his death, Stein has been inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame and the Scottish Football Hall of Fame. He has been voted the greatest ever Scottish manager, and in 2002 he was voted the greatest ever Celtic manager by the club's fans. When Celtic Park was rebuilt in the 1990s, the traditional Celtic fans' end of the stadium was named the Jock Stein Stand. Stein was voted the greatest Scottish football manager in a 2003 poll by the Sunday Herald newspaper. A bust of Stein was presented to Celtic by a supporters' group and now sits in the foyer of the stadium.
On 5 March 2011 a over lifesize bronze statue of Stein by the sculptor, John McKenna, was unveiled outside Celtic Park. The statue depicts Jock Stein holding the European Cup, won in 1967. Celtic chairman John Reid said;
He married Jeanie McAuley in 1946 and they were together until his death 39 years later. They had a son George and daughter Ray. Ray died of cancer on 9 September 2006 aged 59, and was outlived by her mother, who died on 2 August 2007 at the age of 80. George is now living in Switzerland, where he was already living by the time of his father's death.Albion Rovers
Scottish Second Division promotion (1): 1947–48
Lanarkshire Cup: 1948–49
West Wales FA Senior Cup (1): 1950–51
Scottish League Championship (1): 1953–54
Scottish Cup (1): 1953–54
Coronation Cup (1): 1953
Glasgow Cup (1): 1955–56
Glasgow Charity Cup (1): 1952–53
Scottish Cup (1): 1960–61
Summer Cup (1): 1963–64
European Cup (1): 1966–67
Scottish league championships (10): 1965–66, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1969–70, 1970–71, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1973–74, 1976–77
Scottish Cup (8): 1964–65, 1966–67, 1968–69, 1970–71, 1971–72, 1973–74, 1974–75, 1976–77
Scottish League Cup (6): 1965–66, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1969–70, 1974–75
Drybrough Cup (1): 1974
Glasgow Cup (5): 1964–65, 1966–67, 1967–68, 1969–70, 1974–75 (Shared)
Rous Cup (1): 1985