Friday, 12 July 2013

Danny McGrain: Celtic Legend

Those of you old enough to have seen Danny McGrain play for Celtic will realise that you saw one of the great Celtic players in action. Danny clocked up an astonishing 657 appearances for Celtic in a career which saw him at Celtic Park for 20 seasons.  Danny won 7 titles, 5 Scottish Cups, 2 league cups and 62 caps for Scotland. As a right back, Danny had few equals in European football. His ability to combine wonderful overlapping attacking play with a no nonsense style of defending marked him out as an excellent player. His career with Celtic began in the wonderful year of 1967 and he saw all the ups and downs of the subsequent two turbulent decades. My memories of Danny are of him speeding up the wing at the old Jungle, playing one-twos with Provan or Dalglish and swinging crosses into the box. He’d also defend as if his life depended on it, crunching into tackles and battling it out with some excellent wingers. We’d roar out our appreciation to him… ‘Danny, Danny, Danny McGrain, Danny, Danny McGrain.’ He was a class act and we knew it.

There is a legend that as a schoolboy McGrain had been ignored by the scouts of Rangers FC (IL) as his name sounded rather Catholic/Irish.  Whether this is true or not it is an apocryphal tale of the moral darkness Rangers inhabited in those days. If the tale is true then Rangers missed out on a tremendous talent due to their narrow minded bigotry. Danny hailed from Drumchapel, a tough housing estate on the western fringes of Glasgow. He admits to being a boyhood Rangers fan but like Stein, Evans, Dalglish and so many other Celtic greats, he grew to love Celtic. He would no doubt echo the words of Jock Stein who said…’Celtic were not my first love but they’ll be my last.’ Danny came through the ranks at Celtic Park as part of the ‘Quality Street kids’ who followed the immortal Lisbon Lions. This group of young players included Dalglish, Macari, McGrain, Hay and Connolly and was truly a golden generation of Celtic talent. As Stein broke up the Lions, players like McGrain got their chance. He recalls his debut, at Tannadice in 1970 when he was so nervous Mr Stein had to force him onto the pitch.

 Danny overcame serious illness and injury in his career with the same determination he displayed on the pitch. At the 1974 World Cup he discovered he was a diabetic and this had a profound effect on his life. He recalls lying under the tap in the dressing room at half time during a Scotland v Zaire world cup tie. He drank pints of water as Willie Ormond was giving his team talk and this was later confirmed as one of the signs of diabetes. He also suffered a fractured skull in a game at Falkirk and was out for months. His clash of heads with the powerful Doug Somner was sickening and the ‘magic sponge’ wasn’t sufficient to revive him. He also injured his ankle in a game with Hibs which side-lined him for almost a year but this model professional fought back and was back in the first team fighting for the beloved Hoops.

 McGrain played in the famous ‘Ten men won the league’ game against Rangers in May 1979. It was his shot which was deflected by George McCluskey to win the cup in the infamous ‘Hampden Riot’ final of 1980. He can be glimpsed in the later part of his Celtic career in the 1986 league clincher at Love Street. His link up play in Celtic’s third goal was typical of this skilful and committed Celt. He was a mainstay in the team for so many years and his level of performance was consistently high.  He helped Celtic to 7 titles, 5 Scottish cups and 2 league cups. He played at the 1974 and 1982 world cup finals and represented Scotland on 62 occasions. My abiding memory of Danny was of him waiting patiently outside Celtic Park as fan after fan wanted a picture or an autograph. Some of the younger fans who asked him to sign their shirts were too young to have seen him play but as always the Celtic family recognises its greatest servants. An emotional Danny also carried the coffin of his long time friend Tommy Burns on that sad day at St Mary's Church. Like Burns he was a club man and like his great friend had time for the ordinary punters who followed Celtic.  Make no mistake about it, McGrain was an excellent player and contributed greatly to Celtic’s success in the 1970s and 80s. It is noticeable that the bad injury he suffered in October 1978 contributed to Celtic’s decline that season as they finished 5th in the SPL. He was their leader, their Captain after Dalglish left for Liverpool and Celtic lacked direction and leadership on the park. His return in season 78-79 saw him drive his flagging team on to a remarkable and unlikely championship. It was McGrain and Aitken who marshalled that young Celtic team to the title that year and no one celebrated more than Danny.

 The boy from Drumchaped can be proud of a career during which he played twice against Brazil at the world cup finals. He played in the infamous European Cup Semi Final against the brutal and shameless Athletico Madrid team who, according to Danny had, ‘their veins in their necks bulging with hatred.’ He played in a Scotland team which won at Wembley and was a mainstay in both the Celtic and Scotland teams for over a decade. This modest man was asked where he keeps his caps and medals from his successful career and replied… They’re up in the loft, mouldering away. I don’t need them on display. The kids know who I am.” The fans know who you are too Danny and that’s why we voted you into the all-time greatest Celtic team. Celtic fans are delighted to see such a great Celtic man involved in Neil Lennon’s coaching staff. He is there because his is a skilled and excellent coach. He is also a link to the past, a part of the continuity we find important in this great club of ours.

 Danny McGrain, like Burns, Lennon and many others we hold dear, is Celtic to the core. He gave great service to Celtic and played an important role in many glorious occasions in our club’s history. If you were too young to see him play, take it from me, this guy was class. The Celtic family is good at remembering and thanking our greatest servants and Danny is up there with the best of them. That’s why 45,000 turned up for his testimonial game against Manchester United in 1980 and why many more Celts showed up to honour him at his tribute dinner in 2007.

 Danny is the epitome of what Celtic is about. His style of play built around robust defending allied to swift and skilful overlapping. He could easily have been a winger given his close control and ability to cross the ball. That Danny didn’t come from a Celtic supporting background matters not a jot to those of us who saw this immense player give 100% for Celtic for so long. Yes he could skin defenders and lay on goals, but Danny went in where it hurt too and bled for Celtic on so many occasions. We knew we were watching one of the great Celts when we saw Danny play. He was admired, respected and even loved by some who would stand in the Jungle and make the old stadium echo to a familiar song for so many years… ‘Danny, Danny, Danny McGrain, Danny, Danny McGrain’

Daniel Fergus McGrain: Celtic Legend and one of the good guys.

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