Friday, 27 September 2013

The Talented Mr Lennox
As I stood one damp Glasgow day looking at the statue of Jimmy Johnstone outside Celtic Park, I couldn’t help but notice his best friend from the days of glory coming out the stadium front entrance. The frame may have aged and the hair greyed but there was no mistaking this Celtic great.  I shook his hand and said simply, ‘Thanks for all you did for Celtic.’ He smiled, said thanks and then looked at the statue and said, ‘That was my wee mate there, still miss him.’ I nodded and replied, ‘We all do Bobby, we all do.’

Bobby Lenox and Jimmy Johnstone were inseparable in their heyday spearheading the attack in Celtic’s finest ever side. While Jinky attracted the eye for his incredible dribbling ability and his huge capacity to take the rough play of defenders and come back for more, Lennox was absolutely lethal. He possessed a turn of speed which must rank him among the fastest players in Celtic history. It is worth remembering that while the great Henrik Larsson hit 242 goals for Celtic in a glittering spell at the club, Lennox scored 273. Indeed, this would probably have been in excess of 300 if it wasn’t for the decisions of linesmen who wrongly flagged him offside on many occasions when his sheer speed had fooled them.  The classic example of this was his ‘goal’ against Liverpool which was wrongly disallowed costing Celtic a place in the Cup Winners Cup Final. Only the legendary Jimmy McGrory scored more goals for Celtic than Bobby Lennox.
His total medal haul of 1 European cup, 11 league Championships, 8 Scottish Cups and 5 League Cups is simply astonishing. He scored for Scotland at Wembley in their 3-2 victory over the then world champions and hit the winning goal against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. All of that suggests a player of the highest calibre and Boby Lennox was certainly that. The great Real Madrid player Alfredo Di Steffano said of him….

‘The Scotsman who gave me the most trouble was Bobby Lennox of Celtic. My Testimonial at the Bernabeu was against Celtic as they were Champions of Europe in 1967 and although I remember the Bernabeu rising to Jimmy Johnstone, I admired Lennox greatly.’

Manchester United Legend and no mean judge of a player, Bobby Charlton, came up against Lennox for England and in friendly matches and was duly impressed. He said…

‘If I had Lennox in my team, I could have played forever. He was one of the best strikers I’ve ever seen.’

Those of you too young to have seen him play at least you have video footage to give you a glimpse of the talented Mr Lennox. The Saltcoats boy who ran along the beaches of his native Ayrshire to build up his stamina and incredible speed gave the fans some fantastic memories. His hat-trick at Ibrox as Celtic demolished Rangers 4-0 in 1966 will live long in the memory of those who saw it. His goal in the 1969 Cup final epitomised his speed and lethal finishing. Then there was his contribution to the epic victory in Lisbon in 1967. Yet Bobby was a modest man, quick to point out that team mates such as Murdoch and Auld often set up his goals. He would often say he played with terrific players without mentioning the fact that he was a terrific player himself.  It’s easy to forget how physical the game was in the 1960s and 70s. Players like Lennox took an incredible amount of punishment from ruthless defenders. I recall him out pacing the Rangers defence at Ibrox in 1976 only to be scythed down by John Grieg and left with a broken leg. The Referee awarded a penalty and then bizarrely changed his mind and gave a dubious offside decision. Grieg wasn't even booked as Lennox left on a stretcher. The punishment players like Bobby and Jinky took would surprise the modern fan. It took a particularly violent foul to have a player even booked in those days and many defenders hacked away until the Ref finally took their name. For many of them though, Bobby was simply too fast to catch.

Bobby Lennox arrived at Celtic Park from Ardeer Recreation FC in the dark days of 1961. Celtic were struggling badly and Manager Jimmy McGrory added the pacy teenager to a reserve team which contained many of the men who would go on conquer Europe a few years later. All of that seemed far away as Celtic struggled to match the powerful Rangers, Hearts and Dundee teams of the era but of course all of that was to change with the arrival of Jock Stein. He moulded the so called ‘Kelly Kids’ into a powerful attacking force which went on to become the greatest club side in Scottish history. It is testimony to Lennox that he was there throughout Stein’s reign and won an astonishing 11 league championships with the club. Stein used his pace on the flanks to great effect and brought out the best in a talented and supremely fit footballer.
His last game for Celtic was the cup final of 1980. If you watch footage of the winning Celtic goal that day in all its scrappy gloriousness, you will see the face of the ever enthusiastic Bobby Lennox race to congratulate George McCluskey and Danny McGrain. Almost 20 years since he first signed for Celtic, this lifelong Celt still took great joy in the club’s successes. The man who recalled coming up to Glasgow as a wee boy with his dad to watch Celtic play Arsenal in the Coronation Cup went on to be one of the mainstays in the club’s most successful era.

As I watched him walking towards his car that day outside Celtic Park, some of the younger Celtic fans walked past him without a second glance not recognising this Celtic great. The older generation though don’t forget their heroes. From the quick smile to the ‘Alright Bobby’ or handshake, they let this Celtic great know that they’ll never forget his achievements. Yes, he played with some great players but he was among the best of them. He was also a decent and fair man who was hardly ever booked in a long and glorious career despite taking a lot of stick.

We won’t forget your wee mate but trust me Bobby we won’t forget your contribution to Celtic either.  

Bobby Lennox. Celtic Great.


No comments:

Post a Comment