Friday, 30 August 2013

The Ghosts of the past...

The Ghosts of the past…
An Olympic champion once said that ‘Gold medals aren’t made of gold, they’re made of sweat and determination.’ Both those qualities were found in abundance at Celtic Park this week when Shakhtar Karagandy came calling with a two goal lead and more arrogance than their limited footballing ability should have allowed them. After 44 minutes of physical effort from both the players and the fans, it looked as if the visitors might get to half time with 0-0 on the scoreboard. That was until Kris Commons decided to unleash a shot of ferocious power and accuracy which signalled that Celtic were far from finished in this tie.  The ghosts of yesterday would have smiled to see that old Celtic Park roar drive the Bhoys on to a famous victory. The despair of the first leg was forgotten as Celtic blasted the time wasting, diving and occasionally thuggish visitors into the Europa League. It was no more than they deserved.

As I looked around the Stadium at full time from my vantage point in the Jock Stein stand watching the celebrating thousands share yet another magical moment, I couldn’t help but think of the generations of Celtic fans who have backed the club since that first tie in May 1888. What a journey they have come on! My own family have followed Celtic for 5 generations now and as I get older I think of those, now long gone, who once shared this ordinary space with thousands of others and made it sacred by their dedication to the ideals of Celtic and their passion to see the club succeed. They treasured Celtic and passed it on to their children like an heirloom of great value. The great North Stand now stands where the old Jungle was and before that the old curved roofed shed with its rusty holes, leaks and grass growing on the terrace steps. From there, the hard core would belt out their songs of hope and joy and find their hard lives illuminated by those who wore the green and played the game in that quintessentially Celtic way. They would marvel at the great temple of football which stands there today and be glad that their Celtic, the club they loved so much, is still thriving, still giving its support memories to cherish.
As I watched the joy on the faces of young and old in those moments after Celtic’s victory it made me a little emotional. I was a reminded that history is remade every day, that all our glories of the past are simply markers on our journey. There are undoubtedly more pages to be written and new heroes to emerge as this great club continues its amazing journey. We who follow Celtic take pride in all the club achieves for it has punched above its weight for virtually all of its existence. Few clubs have the bond with their followers Celtic has. Reading the messages on Twitter and Facebook in the wake of Celtic’s victory demonstrated the genuine strength of feeling thousands have for Celtic. Even those with little connection to the club have warmed to our magnificent support and our club’s unique history and want us at the Champions League party. Xavi Alonso of Real Madrid tweeted…

What a night for Celtic FC !! Celtic Park buzzing again. I wish we could meet in group stage and play for once in there.’

The draw didn’t pair Celtic with his tremendous Real Madrid team but hopefully one day our two great clubs can meet again. Barcelona’s Director of Football, Andoni Zubizarreta said of the tie with Celtic…
"Celtic again, it's like meeting old pals. I love going to Celtic park, the atmosphere is great".

Our club has a reputation which goes far beyond any expectations of a team playing in a small league on the periphery of Europe. AC Milan announced on their Website that the Group involving Celtic, AC Milan, Barcelona and Ajax should be termed ‘The Group of Nobility.’ Not just because the Clubs involved have won 16 European Cups between them, but because they play the game in the best traditions of free flowing, attacking football. The word ‘Nobility’ it should be noted has its roots in the Latin ‘nobilitas’ meaning noted or high born. But it can also denote people who behave with integrity, honesty and generosity. In that sense, Celtic, born among the poverty and despair of the late nineteenth century east end of Glasgow, created to feed the poorest of the poor, is indeed noble. 

Barcelona called it the ‘Group of Champions.’ While Ajax Manager and old adversary Ronald De Boer stated on their club Twitter Feed after seeing his club’s opponents, "Three great teams, Wonderful for the fans." It is remarkable that Celtic are held in such esteem by the great clubs of Europe and much of this is down to the tremendous support our fans give the team in Europe and the fact this drives the players on to heights they seldom achieve in the domestic game. We know we can’t compete financially with the giants of Europe but when its 11 against 11 under the lights at Celtic Park anything is possible. If I’m being honest, in my heart of hearts I can’t see Celtic getting out of the incredibly tough group they’ve been drawn in but that’s not the point. The point is we are where we belong, among the elite of European football. The point is we will pour that Celtic passion from the stands onto the field, drive our team on and show the watching world that there are no fans quite like Celtic fans, no arena quite like Celtic Park. If we take a few scalps along the way then I’ll be as delighted as anyone but one thing is for sure we’ll enjoy watching our team on our field of dreams.
125 years ago a good man, a friend of the poor, said he would start a football team for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and unemployed. He could not have envisaged the success his club would attain nor the fame it would win across the footballing world. Nor could he have predicted that those supporters who built this club literally with their bare hands would be feted as the greatest fans in Europe by so many who know football well. 125 years on we are still dreaming our dreams and who knows what the future holds.

What I do know is that that when Barcelona come calling on October 1st and the Champions League anthem is echoing around the Stadium, I’ll think for a moment  of those who have made this club what it is over the past 125 years. I know the ghosts of the past would smile down on dear old Paradise and be proud that Walfrid’s team is again living their dream.  Then I’ll turn to the field and roar the Bhoys on with all the rest.
God bless you Glasgow Celtic, from desperation to celebration, it’s a story like no other.




Sunday, 25 August 2013


The Mighty Atom

The Poorhouse in the 19th Century was not a pleasant place. The austere  and daunting building which once stood on the outskirts of Millford in Donegal was built in 1846 and saw its share of misery in the dark years of the Great Hunger. As the century neared its end, poverty and ignorance remained endemic in Donegal and the Poorhouse was seldom less than full. In March 1891 a child was born to illiterate and poor parents in the Millford Poorhouse and they called him Patrick and that impoverished wee boy was to have a major impact on the history of a football club on the other side of the Irish channel. His family, desperate for work to give themselves some pride had heard there were jobs to be had on Clydeside and like so many Donegal folk through the years, crossed the sea to Glasgow.  Young Patrick came too.

In the 125 year history of Celtic Football Club a few players have been genuine footballing geniuses.  Patsy Gallagher was one such genius. When Willie Maley signed the skinny little Irishman from Clydebank Juniors in 1911 and introduced him to the first team, Jimmy Quinn, that bull of a centre-forward, who was Celtic’s leading scorer remarked, ‘Boss, you can’t put that wee lad onto the park, if you do it’ll be manslaughter.’  Quinn was right to be concerned as football in the early twentieth century could be brutal. Tackling was robust to say the least and teams knew that if a player limped off there would be no substitute to replace him, that novelty was still decades off. Skilful players were usually targeted from some ‘treatment’ from defenders who wore boots more suitable for working down a mine. You had to be tough or quick to survive the physical side of football in Edwardian Britain. However, despite Quinn’s concerns about ‘Wee Patsy,’ within a few weeks he was in the starting eleven for the visit of St Mirren to Celtic Park. The tough Centre forward, from the Celtic heartland of Croy, had his eyes opened on that blustery day as Gallagher gave defenders the slip with audacious dribbling and lightning speed. Celtic won 3-1 and a legend was about to be born.

Patsy Gallagher played with such grace, style and courage that those who saw him recognised that they were in the presence of greatness. Press reports of the time speak of the ‘Mighty Atom’ who could fool the best of defenders with his dribbling and feints and who possessed a shot of ferocious force for such a slight man. He also had an eye for the killer pass and his scoring prowess puts him sixth in Celtic’s all time goal scoring chart just behind his concerned team mate the ‘Mighty Quinn.’ It has been said that Patsy was like a combination of Jimmy Johnstone and Henrik Larsson, a creator and a finisher in one feisty, courageous package. His antics on the field were the stuff of legend and his arrival signalled the beginning of another golden era of Celtic domination of Scottish football. Within a year of his debut he was outstanding and scored as Celtic defeated a strong Clyde team 2-0 in the Scottish cup final of 1912. In Patsy’s 15 year career with Celtic he won six league titles four Scottish Cups, four Glasgow cups and eleven Glasgow charity cups. He played for the Northern Irish and Free State Irish teams in the days before FIFA told the two Associations to either join together or separate completely and stop picking players who had already played for the ‘other’ Ireland. He also represented the Scottish League.  But as most fans know football is about memories and not just counting medals. Patsy gave the Celtic supporters some incredible moments.

James E Hanley in his excellent book ‘The Story of Celtic’ (published in 1960) spoke of Patsy Gallagher in this manner…

‘It is hard to refrain from claiming that he was the greatest forward the Scottish game has ever seen. From the beginning, fresh from Clydebank Juniors, a stripling of seventeen, he caught the popular fancy with his unorthodox style, his inexhaustible treasury of tricks, his magical elusiveness expressed in uncatchable wriggles, slips, swerves, hops and famous 'hesitation' stops. Physically speaking, he should have been wafted off the field like thistledown. His small, fragile form seemed altogether out of place in First Division football. Only his supreme cleverness saved him from annihilation, for he had incredible pluck and tenacity and took alarming risks. For such a puny frame his stamina was phenomenal, and at the close of play he was worrying the opposition with the same degree of doggedness that had marked the opening minute.' (p. 89)

 Jimmy McGrory recounted his first Cup Final against Dundee in 1925 when as a young forward he saw ‘Peerless Patsy’ score perhaps the most audacious goal in Celtic history. Patsy raced at the packed Dundee defence, jinking past one tackle then hurdling another. When it seemed as if the packed defence must see him off he’d swerve past another defender until he was close to the goal. At last a robust challenge knocked him off balance and the defenders rushed at him as he fell to the turf. Incredibly Gallagher trapped the ball between his feet and somersaulted into the net to score an incredible goal! Hampden rose to a man for this exceptionally gifted footballer. They knew a genius when they saw one.

Off the field Patsy was a character with as much fire and devilment as he showed on it. His good friend and Rangers player Andy Cunningham begged him to play in the blue of Rangers in a charity game. Patsy was torn as he was real Celt and worried about his own supports feelings on the matter. Cunningham persuaded him that he should put pride aside and play for the blues after all his reputation would put thousands on the gate and as a good Christian he couldn’t refuse a charity? It is said that thousands attended the charity game to see Patsy in the blue of Rangers. Celtic fans were among them just to see what would happen. Patsy trotted out in the blue shirt of Rangers and the groans of the Celts were drowned out by the cheers of the Rangers fans. He played a blinder and dazzled the crowd with his skills. As the game ended the Celtic fans shook their heads as the teams began to leave the field. They stood looking in puzzlement though as Patsy began to remove his blue Rangers shirt in the centre of the field. Puzzlement turned to laughter and cheers when they saw that under his blue mud splattered shirt was the pristine Hoops of his beloved Celtic. Patsy had worn both shirts for the 90 minutes with the one he loved closest to his heart.

On another memorable occasion, the dictatorial Maley had the team in a plush spa hotel with orders to bed down early and avoid the Bar. Just to be sure no one broke the curfew, the Boss sat in the Hotel foyer watching the door. Knowing this Patsy, who fancied a pint in town, persuaded a chambermaid to fetch him some women’s clothes and make up. The slim Patsy then dressed as a woman, complete with a wig, and walked through the foyer, swaying boldly past the watching Maley. To his astonishment Maley stood like a gentleman and held the door for him as he left the Hotel and headed for the pub.

Patsy Gallagher deserves to be remembered among the very highest echelons of Celtic legends. This supreme footballer gave Celtic 15 dazzling years before Celtic announced he was retiring without bothering to tell him. It seems they wanted to save some money by getting rid of a loyal and dedicated Celt. This Celtic great, who once had poisoned toes because Celtic refused to buy him new boots forcing him to borrow a pair that were a size too small, shook his head at their parsimony and played for 6 more years at Falkirk. He was, in the press reports of the day, simply peerless, a player without equal in the game.

The great Patsy Gallagher died in the Summer of 1953 as Celtic were setting about winning the Coronation Cup. In every discussion Celtic fans have about who was the greatest ever Celtic player his name will be mentioned. Patsy was a fantastic footballer and if his genius was not captured on film it perhaps leaves us to ponder the testimony of those who saw him play all the more keenly. The waif of a boy who showed up at Celtic Park as a thin 17 year old and who dazzled the supporters for 15 wonderful years will not be forgotten by the Celtic faithful. Not bad for the baby born into poverty in the Millford Poorhouse all those years ago.

 Patsy Gallagher 1891-1953 Proud Celt, genius, Legend


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

History, Hoops and Hope
Philip Sheridan may not be a name familiar to many of you. He was the son of Irish immigrants to the USA and a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War. What Sheridan did at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864 should offer some hope to those of us who watched that painful display by Celtic in Kazakhstan this week. On a misty morning in October 1864 the Confederate Army attacked Union forces near Cedar Creek and inflicted serious casualties on them. They had crept forward under cover of the fog and hurled themselves onto the slumbering camp of the Union forces. Surprise was total and seven Union Divisions were mauled and retreated in disorder. That was when General Sheridan took matters into his own hands. He rode towards the distant sound of gunfire and met stragglers fleeing the Confederate advance. He ordered his men to halt the stragglers, by shooting some if necessary, and form a defensive line. Sheridan then rode into the thick of the confused battle famously rallying his flagging troops with the words "Come on back boys! Give 'em hell, God damn 'em! We'll make coffee out of Cedar Creek tonight!" The effect of General Sheridan’s appearance on the battlefield electrified the Union troops and the retreat was halted.  The Union Army was reinvigorated and turned to face the Confederates who were already confident of victory. The Confederate Army of General Early was stopped in its tracks and was never able to advance on Washington again. Abraham Lincoln commented that Sheridan had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and ordered that a 100 gun salute be fired in Washington to honour of this brave son of County Cavan immigrants.

What has all of this got to do with Celtic I hear you say! Well, history teaches us that what looks like certain defeat can be turned around with the application of belief and organisation. Celtic's defeat in Kazakhstan was greeted with much negativity and some recrimination. It is, of course, only half time in this tie. Our club has always fought the odds and often snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, I recall Cologne beating us 2-0 in the 1990s and arriving in Glasgow with that typical German swagger. They left after a 3-0 defeat and their arrogance somewhat tempered. Way back in the 1960s, a useful St Etienne team beat Stein’s Celtic 2-0 in France. The 80,000 who turned up for the second leg saw Celtic rip the French side apart and beat them 4-0. We also routed the despicable Rapid Vienna 3-0 following a 1-3 reverse in Austria although those cheats used play-acting and lies to advance on that occasion. Few will forget the devastating destruction of Sporting Lisbon by a Tommy Burns inspired Celtic. A 2-0 defeat in Portugal was followed by a 5-0 rout at Celtic Park when fans and team fused and overcame the odds! Then there was last season when we were 1-3 down at home to Aberdeen with 20 minutes left to play.  Few will forget that comeback which was capped by an incredible overhead kick by Samaras in the last minute.

Of course many fans are rightly angry and entitled to criticise team selection, strategy and formations used in the debacle in Kazakhstan. Of course certain players didn’t perform and require a size 10 up the backside after letting everyone down. And yes, the policy of selling our top players and not replacing them before vital European ties is one which requires major scrutiny. It gambled with our European future and looks increasingly like the parsimonious biscuit tin mentality of the past. All of this is open to valid criticism and the fans are right to ask why they part with hard earned money to buy season tickets and follow the club when the Board seems determined to short change them when it comes to replacing stars who have been sold. It is fair to say that Hooper and Wilson wanted to leave but nonetheless replacements of equal stature should have been lined up. The Champions League is our field of dreams. Last season, it kept us going through the long, dark Scottish winter and provided us with some memories which will never fade. It’s where this club should be and where our fans deserve to be and every effort should be made by Celtic FC to ensure it happens.

And so our forces retreat to Glasgow like the battered Army of General Sheridan all those years ago in the Shenandoah Valley. Next Wednesday we will gather at Celtic Park and try to turn the setback we endured in Kazakhstan into a victory which ranks with the best we have achieved in Europe in recent years. The odds are high but we all know that the Celtic supporters will rally and get right behind the team. European nights under the lights at Celtic Park have a magical quality which makes you feel that great things are possible. Who could have predicted Celtic defeating Barcelona, (twice) Juventus, Lyon, Porto, Benfica and the then reigning European Champions, AC Milan at Celtic Park in recent years? When our crowd roars and our players rise to the occasion anything seems possible. So when kick off time arrives next Wednesday, forget the criticism, however justified, and get on with what we Celtic fans do best and that is supporting out team with 100% commitment.  Bring the thunder which inspires our players and awes the opposition. Then maybe, just maybe the dream of playing in the Champions League can come true again.
Joan of Arc, the teenage girl who rallied France and helped defeat the English is credited with saying, ‘All battles are first won or lost in the mind.’ We Celtic supporters and our team are not admitting defeat yet because we know from long experience that it isn’t over until it’s over! My message to our players and fans is a simple one and if I may paraphrase General Sheridan, who once snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on a bloody battlefield long ago…
"Come on back bhoys! Give 'em hell, God damn 'em! We'll make the Champions League yet!’

Friday, 16 August 2013

An Gorta Mor and Celtic FC

An Gorta Mor and Celtic FC 
The event which most British historians erroneously call the ‘Great Irish Famine’ has left an indelible mark upon the psyche of the Irish and their progeny. It led to the death of at least a million people although the true number is likely higher. It also led to the scattering of up to 2 million Irish to every corner of the globe and played a significant role in the birth of Celtic FC.  It signalled in the minds of many Irish people that the British didn’t give a damn about the them and that Ireland would do well to be well rid of their historical oppressors. 

A friend had long recommended that I look out for an old book which he claims was the best history of An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) ever written.  I had wanted to find a good book which looked at the human suffering involved in the famine and not just bland statistics or biased political point scoring.  Despite keeping an eye on the book stores and charity shops and I didn’t find the said ancient and fabled book entitled ‘The Great Hunger’ by Cecil Woodham-Smith and first printed in 1962. Then in one of those serendipitous moments I saw two in a charity shop in St Andrews!  £3 changed hands and they both came home with me. It made sobering and grim reading but it was an excellent read. It also made me angry that people could allow such horrors to unfold and perversely claim it was ‘God’s judgement on a lazy and indolent people.’  The opening paragraph sums up Ireland’s plight in a straight talking style which augured well for the rest of the book…

At the beginning of the year 1845 the state of Ireland was, as it had been for nearly seven hundred years, a source of grave anxiety to England. Ireland had first been invaded in 1169; it was now 1845, yet she had been neither assimilated nor subdued. The country had been conquered not once but several times, the land had been confiscated and redistributed over and over again, the population had been brought to the verge of extinction—after Cromwell's conquest and settlement only some half million Irish survived—yet an Irish nation still existed, separate, numerous and hostile.’

Despite the unification of Ireland and Britain in 1801, an act which followed the brutal suppression of the United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798, Ireland was disdainfully treated as a colony and not an equal partner in the United Kingdom. The majority of the Irish population were poor, dispossessed and Catholic. Many harboured resentment that their once proud nation was under the heel of an uncaring ruling class who, with a few noble exceptions, only wanted to exploit the country for their own personal benefit. When the potato harvest failed in 1845 it was the only crop to fail. The barley, wheat and oats thrived. The cattle, pigs and sheep were plentiful too. Ireland exported food throughout the famine period, often under armed guard to stop the ‘starving wretches’ stealing the food they needed to live. One heart-wrenching description from 1847 describes a desperate people watching the old and young wither and die as food was exported before they could take no more…

‘The Irish watched with increasing anger as boatloads of homegrown oats and grain departed on schedule from their shores for shipment to England. Food riots erupted in ports such as Youghal, near Cork, where people tried unsuccessfully to confiscate a boatload of oats. At Dungarvan, in County Waterford, British troops were pelted with stones and fired 26 shots into the crowd, killing two people and wounding several others. British naval escorts were then provided for the riverboats.’

Charles Trevelyan was appointed by the UK Government to oversee the relief of distress in Ireland. His actions continue to cause debate among historians but certain things are clear; Trevelyan didn’t like his posting or the Irish and dragged his feet when it came to intervening in the crisis. The form of ‘Laissez Faire’ Capitalism he supported did not allow for Government money to distort trade by buying food to feed starving Irish peasants. Businessmen and Land Owners had to be free to maximise their profits after all. His slow response condemned countless thousands to death. He wrote to a friend in a letter which still survives, stating that the famine was an…

‘effective mechanism for reducing surplus population" as well as "the judgement of God", sent to teach the selfish, perverse and turbulent Irish people a lesson’

Little wonder with such men in charge that the growing disaster of An Gorta Mor became a catastrophe which saw the population of Ireland fall by 25%. In 1848 Trevelyan was made a Knight of Bath, one of the highest orders the British crown can bestow. Simultaneously the Irish were dying in their thousands.  In that same period Historian and author of the children’s book ‘The Water Babies’ Charles Kingsley visited Ireland. He saw the horrors unfolding and reacted with cold racism by stating…

"I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along the hundred miles of that horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault, But to see the white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours."

And so it was that the Irish in their hour of need were viewed as indolent, lazy, white chimpanzees and abandoned by God. Those who could fled the horrors of Ireland to places such as Liverpool, London, Glasgow or America. They continued to die on the coffin ships, in the fever sheds of the New World and in the slums of Britain and America. They faced prejudice, discrimination and ridicule. It is a credit to the fighting spirit of the surviving Irish that despite the barriers they faced they established themselves in these places and eventually thrived.

In 1840, just a few short years before the catastrophe of An Gorta Mor hit Ireland, John and Elizabeth Kerins struggled to keep their family going in a small rural cottage in Ballymote, County Sligo. That year a baby boy was born to them and they called him Andrew. By the time Andrew was 7 or 8 years old he would have seen the awful effects of the starvation on County Sligo. The County was severely affected and its population dropped by around 30% in the black years of hunger. Somehow John and Elizabeth managed to keep Andrew and his brother Bernard alive and Andrew entered training for the Marist teaching order when he was a young man. It must have been bitter indeed when his work took him to Glasgow and he saw the immigrant Irish and their children still suffering deprivation and hunger in a city which described itself as the ‘Second City of the Empire.’ It is of course history that this child of the famine decided to act in a more humane way than Charles Trevelyan had forty years earlier. He declared in a statement all who love Celtic know well…

"A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and the unemployed."

That is why Celtic came into being and why we still rightly remember today the catastrophe which so afflicted Ireland during An Gorta Mor. Had there been no mass starvation in Ireland there would have been a much reduced flow of migrants to cities like Glasgow and Celtic may well have never been born.

And those countless souls cast into mass graves, often without coffin or shroud, they should be remembered too. Not as ‘white Chimpanzees’ or ‘selfish and perverse’ but as the victims they were. They were born into a cruel and hard time with the added complication of being despised by many of those who ruled over them. Their children, cast like wind-blown seeds all over the world, overcame hardship and difficulty to make better lives for themselves. Perhaps there is small consolation in that, that the Irish, so beaten down, but never enough to stop them rising up again. That is a lesson for us all in courage and tenacity.

Rest in Peace all victims of An Gorta Mor. Born into a heartless time.
''Oh God that bread should be so dear and human flesh so cheap.''

Never Again!



Sunday, 11 August 2013



Why we follow Celtic

It’s no secret that this heart of mine

Is coloured white and green

But let me tell you why my friend

I follow Walfrid’s team


They were born among the destitute

They were raised on people’s toil

They fought so that the Shamrock

Might yet bloom on Scottish soil


They fed the poor and hungry

They gave the people pride

They welcomed all who chose to play

For Walfrid’s famous side


They played the game the Celtic way

Brought Irish flair and fire

Then tempered it with Scottish steel

To greatness they aspired


From the St Mary’s Hall to Lisbon's sun

What a journey they have made!

And Walfrid’s team is now renowned

Wherever football’s played


From Maley, Doyle and Thompson

To McGrory and Jock Stein

 Dalglish, McStay and Larsson

Great men have worn the green!


And the people who gave this great club life

Who built it from the start

Still come each week to feel that pride

Which swells their Celtic hearts


‘Football without fans is nothing’

A wise man once did say

As he led our Bhoys to glory

And made them play the Celtic way


So why have we followed Walfrid’s team

Across these many years?

Perhaps because they made us dream

As we shared the joys and tears


Today he sits,  cast in bronze

To watch us come and go

Those eyes which saw such suffering

As few of us could know


He’d smile to know we still revere

His famous Celtic team

Still reach out to those in need

Still proud to wear the green!













Friday, 9 August 2013

John, you're a Celtic man...

John, You’re a Celtic Man…
You may not be familiar with the name John Batters but we of the Celtic persuasion may owe the 98 year old a quiet word of thanks. In the 1950s and 60s Mr Batters was the Doctor at Hibernian Football Club when a certain John Stein was mulling over an offer from Bob Kelly to become Celtic Manager. He asked John Batters what he thought he should do. He could stick it out for a few years yet at Hibs who were starting to play some excellent football or take a chance and return to Celtic where he made his name as a player? Dr Batters was quite clear on the course of action Stein should take and replied…’ John you’re a Celtic man, you should go or you’ll regret it.’ Stein’s wife Jean was less sure but the good Doctor persuaded her too that it was right for Stein to head west to the club he had served so well as a player and which he clearly still had great affection for. Once Jock had made his terms clear to Bob Kelly and the Chairman had agreed to Stein having complete control over the team, Stein agreed to take over at Celtic Park and the rest is history.
Jock Stein was not a man to be trifled with. His hard life in the Lanarkshire coal mines taught his self-reliance, loyalty but also the need to put his trust in others.  He once said…’
 "You go down that pit shaft, a mile underground. You can’t see a thing. The guy next to you, you don’t know who he is. Yet he is the best friend you will ever have."
Alex Ferguson recalled that during the miners’ strike of 1984 Stein saw lorry loads of ‘Scab’ coal on the move and stopped them with the withering words…’I hope you’re proud of yourselves, you’re doing people out of a living.’ Solidarity was important to a man who knew the hardships involved in the mining industry. He went out of his way to donate to the miners’ hardship fund as that bitter strike of 1984 dragged on and Thatcher stopped any welfare relief to the families of struggling miners.  Jock’s whole working life had been mining and football and both demanded teamwork and loyalty. He also knew the pain of being snubbed as a younger man by people he had known for years in Burnbank because they saw his playing for Celtic in the 1950s as akin to treason.  This increased when he became Celtic manager and shattered Rangers domination of Scottish football. He would shake his head at any pettiness or bigotry he endured and would mumble to Sean Fallon his lifelong friend, ‘Fuck them!’ Jock had no time for bigotry, recognising that the miners who trusted each other with their lives each day didn’t question your faith or politics. They were all comrades and that’s what mattered if they were going to safely finish their shift a mile underground and get home in one piece.

Jock was bringing all of those life experiences and attitudes to Celtic Park in the early spring of 1965 at a time when Celtic needed it. Billy McNeil, upon hearing that Stein was returning said, ‘Oh, that’s fantastic! Let’s see how this will change now!’ Change it did as Stein made every player aware that second best was no longer good enough. Unlike the gentlemanly Jimmy McGrory, Stein was often in his track suit at training barking out orders, working with the ball, demonstrating new routines for free kicks and new tactical approaches. He was always inventive, always looking to improve the tactical approach to the game. He had travelled to Wembley in 1953 to watch the brilliant Hungarians destroy England 6-3 and his eyes were opened. Such brilliant attacking play was the way the game should be played. Individual flair and skill was blended into a flexible but essentially attacking team plan to great effect. The stunned English team, convinced the Wembley drubbing was a fluke, headed to Budapest the following year to seek revenge and were again destroyed. This time by a score that would in later years have made Jock smile, it was 7-1. Stein had also watched Real Madrid rout an excellent Eintracht Frankfurt team at Hampden by 7-3 in 1960 and again saw that the future of football lay in attack. He once said that while it’s important to win a match, what was equally important was the manner in which you win.’
 As he looked around the Celtic dressing room in the spring of 1965 he would have seen keen young students such as McNeil, Chalmers, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone ready to learn from the master. What heights could he attain with this raw young team? How far could he implement his dream of dominating the game by the application of attacking play?  The next decade was to prove that Stein to be the greatest manager in the history of the Scottish game. Not only did his team sweep all opposition in Scotland aside with verve and skill, they also competed at the highest level in European football for a decade reaching 4 European Cup semi-finals and two finals. If the zenith of his achievement was that stunning destruction of the ultra-defensive Inter Milan in Lisbon, it cannot be disguised that such displays from Celtic were commonplace in that golden era. His mantra was clear as he spoke to the team before that historic final in Lisbon….
"If you're ever going to win the European Cup, then this is the day and this is the place. But we don't just want to win this cup, we want to do it playing good football - to make neutrals glad we've won it, glad to remember how we did it. We must play as if there are no more games, no more tomorrows…’’
By God they did play as if there were no more games. Inter were destroyed that golden day and Stein’s approach to the game vindicated.  Astute football fans the world over remember the great teams because they played the game in the correct manner. Stein’s team stands tall among them. He said in the afterglow of his Lisbon triumph…
"There is not a prouder man on God's Earth than me at this moment. Winning was important, aye, but it was the way that we have won that has filled me with satisfaction. We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football. There was not a negative thought in our heads. Inter played right into our hands; it's so sad to see such gifted players shackled by a system that restricts their freedom to think and to act. Our fans would never accept that sort of sterile approach. Our objective is always to try to win with style."
Stein was right of course, there has been since the earliest history of the club a definable ‘Celtic way’ of playing the game. His team played football in the best traditions of the club and McGrory, Tully, Patsy Gallagher or Willie Maley would have approved. Jock Stein, the boyhood Rangers fan made the modern Celtic. He forged the club an identity beyond Scotland which endures to this day. It could be argued that along with Brother Walfrid and Willie Maley, Jock is the most important figure in the club’s history. I leave the last words of this blog to two men who wore the blue of our great rivals. Alex Ferguson, a man who learned a huge amount from Jock Stein, said of him…
"I am proud to say that I knew Jock Stein as a manager, as a colleague and as a friend... he was the greatest manager in British football... men like Jock will live forever in the memory."
Jock Wallace, a man steeped in the traditions of Rangers FC, was also a man who recognised Stein’s greatness. He had no doubt watched the Celtic manager help the dead and dying after the dreadful disaster at Ibrox in 1971 and recognised his common decency and humanity. He also had respect for Stein’s achievements on the field and said of big Jock...
"Jock Stein was the greatest manager ever to draw breath. There was no one who came anywhere close to him."
Stein would no doubt smile at such praise and point to the players who achieved the victories as the people due the praise, but for all his modesty this astute and intelligent football manager was worthy of all the praise heaped on him. The people who mattered to him were the ordinary Celtic fans and he once said of them…’ "I'm happy where I am, I like the people I work with, I like the players and the directors of this club but most of all I like the fans and to see them happy makes me happy."  No one in the history of Celtic FC made the fans as happy as Jock Stein did. The big Miner from Burnbank dragged the club he loved from mediocrity and restored it to greatness. He did so without compromising the principles of attractive attacking football the club had been renowned for. Indeed, he took Celtic to new heights of brilliance and success and for that we will be eternally grateful.
Doctor Batters had urged Jock Stein to go to Celtic in early 1965 with the words… John you’re a Celtic man, you should go or you’ll regret it.’ Every Celtic fan is delighted that Mr Stein listened to him and followed his dream of changing football forever. He changed Celtic forever too and said once to Archie McPherson, ‘We all end up yesterday’s men in this business, all end up forgotten.’
Trust me Jock, as long as Celtic Football Club exists no one will ever forget you and your magnificent team.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The queue at the Asda was full of the usual screaming weans demanding sweets, stressed mums and bored looking men.  The guy behind me mumbled ‘busy today eh?’ I turned and nodded, ‘Aye, not my idea of a good time.’ In that split second I realised I was talking to a Celtic legend. After that I didn’t care if the queue took an hour to clear. There’s an old saying which runs ‘Never meet your heroes.’ The perceived wisdom is that they usually disappoint you when you do. Not this guy. Once I’d thanked him for his contribution to Celtic and shook his hand we reminisced about moments which in a way we shared, me on the terraces and him on the pitch. I recalled his spin and turn in the centre circle at Parkhead which left two Rangers midfielders lost before his perfect pass to the overlapping Chris Morris opened up their defence. Morris swept the ball across goal and McAvennie smashed it home but that goal was made by the man they called the ‘Maestro,’ the one and only Paul McStay. That game played in January 1988 showed a young player at the very peak of his game.

 Way back in 1980 a team of 15 year old Scots showed up at Wembley to take on an England team who all looked at least 6 inches taller than the Scottish team. Men against boys the commentator quipped as big Paul Rideout stood beside the young McStay. 90 minutes later Scotland had beaten England 5-4 and McStay had hit two. The commentator changed his tune and the watching Tims were glad this young McStay was on Celtic’s books. Two years later the bulk of this talented crop of young Scots were European Champions at under 18 level and McStay excelled. It was no surprise that he was a first team regular at a very young age. His ability to tackle, pass and control the game from midfield marked him out as an excellent player. His combination play with Tommy Burns and Murdo McLeod exemplified one of the best balanced midfields the club has had, combining as it did power, pace and left/right footed players. Early success in his career came at a time Aberdeen and Dundee United were the main contenders for honours. The 1980s saw 4 different clubs win the SPL but the arrival of Souness at Ibrox led to the playing field being tilted in their favour, mostly by the application of money. Football was about to change and not for the better.

Paul McStay became Captain of Celtic in 1990 as the club was in turmoil. He was clearly the best the best player in a struggling team and few could have blamed him had he chosen to play elsewhere. Indeed he threw his boots into the Jungle after the last game of the season in May 1992 and many thought this was his goodbye. However, this Celtic man from a Celtic family stuck it out. There was to be more bitter disappointment ahead as Celtic went on a six year trophy drought. Ironically, it was McStay, Celtic’s best player, who had the bad luck to miss the deciding penalty in the 1994 League cup final which the team lost in a shoot-out with Raith Rovers.  The forwards who failed to score with the dozen or so chances which came their way that day were more to blame than the tireless McStay but his anguish was clear for all to see. In 1995 he led Celtic to the Scottish cup final against Airdrie and in a tense, messy game Pierre Van Hoojidonk’s header earned the Hoops their first trophy since 1989. McStay was ecstatic and his Manager Tommy Burns raced onto the field to embrace his inspirational captain. It was an emotional moment for all who saw it. Celtic were back and the pain of those barren years was over.
Paul McStay led Celtic during some of the darkest days of the club’s recent history but his dogged determination and ability kept the fans believing that things could get better, that the good days would return. He turned in some brilliant performances, even in the midst of poor seasons. His wonderful goal at Ibrox in 1994 brought Celtic an unexpected victory. His last minute equaliser against Hearts in a game which looked lost in the centenary year typified the never say die spirit of that team. His part in one of Celtic’s great European nights when they destroyed Sporting Lisbon 5-0 was crucial. His scintillating passes which opened defences or switched play in a heartbeat were a joy to watch. Those of you too young to have seen McStay play can at least look at footage of him and surely judge him to be among the finest players to have graced the Hoops. Only Billy McNeil has played more games for Celtic than Paul McStay and that tells you all you need to know about the Maestro. He wore those Hoops 678 times and never gave less than 100% for the club loved as much as any fan.

I met Paul McStay on one other occasion apart from our chat in the supermarket queue. He was signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans outside Celtic park in 1997. It was that tense year when Rangers made it 9 in a row and his season had been hampered by injury. That dramatic season turned on some pretty brutal Old Firm games and the old war horse was nearing the end of a great career. I shook his hand and thanked him for all he had done for Celtic. He smiled, ‘Don’t thank me,’ he replied, ‘I’ve made a living doing something I love. It’s been incredible playing for Celtic.’ I asked him before we parted if we could stop the ‘ten.’ ‘We will because we need to!’ he replied emphatically.  He was right and we did.
Paul McStay’s time at Celtic was turbulent to say the least. He won three titles, three Scottish Cups and a league cup. Further recognition of his ability lies in his 76 Scotland caps from an era when there were more good Scottish players around. He had been footballer of the year and young footballer of the year. His career can be split into two halves, the successful 1980s when Celtic competed well and won their share of honours and the traumatic early 1990s when we all suffered so much before the phoenix finally rose again. He was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame and voted by Celtic fans into their all-time greatest Celtic team. Leaving Celtic Park must have been a wrench for a man who had spent 16 years there but all players, no matter how gifted, know when it’s time to call a halt. It was a time of change when he left Celtic. The ending of an era in some senses but he would have looked on in satisfaction as new players such as the young Swede with the dreadlocks arrived to fight for Celtic and lead the club to an overdue renaissance.

 Paul McStay deserves to be remembered as one of the great Celtic players. The fact that he often played in Celtic teams which couldn’t match his level of ability is no slight on this excellent footballer. David Potter, Celtic historian and author, said of him…
He is a lovely man and those of us who were privileged to watch him in his prime will never doubt that we saw a great player. But oh, what a player he would have been if he had come twenty years earlier or ten years later!’

 The thought of Paul McStay playing with the Lisbon Lions or with Martin O’Neil’s Celtic side is mouth-watering indeed but he was of his era and was an exceptional talent then. He was a brilliant player in good times and a beacon in darker times. Twice in my life I was privileged to shake his hand and thank him for his contribution to Celtic. This short blog is my homage to a Celtic great and an opportunity to express the gratitude of many Celtic fans who loved the Maestro.

 Thank you Paul. You’ll never walk alone!