Saturday, 18 June 2016

When the Fates Conspire

When the fates conspire

The mid-1960s through to the mid-1970s is considered a golden era in the history of Celtic Football Club. Not only was the team a force to be reckoned with at home and abroad, they were also building a second string of talented players which might well have carried Celtic’s dominance of Scottish football on for many more years. The so called ‘Quality Street Gang’ was an extremely talented group of young players which it was hoped would in time replace the legendary Lisbon Lions. Celtic, as one of the best teams in Europe could attract youngsters from all over Scotland and the brightest and the best learned their trade under the watchful eye of Jock Stein who allowed them to train with the first team on a regular basis.

The Quality Street Gang contained players of real quality such As McGrain, Dalglish, Davidson, Connelly, Wilson, Hay and Macari. Other gifted players who may not be so readily known to the younger Celtic supporters also played in that talented young team. Among them were Tony McBride, John Gorman, Bobby Wraith, Billy Murdoch, Dave Cattanach, Pat McMahon and the supremely gifted Brian McLaughlin. A mark of how good this group of youngsters were is the statistics for season 1970-71 which were recounted in Paul John Dykes excellent book on the Quality Street Gang...

‘’The Quality Street Kids were wreaking havoc as the highest goal scorers in Britain. Kenny Dalglish was mesmerising with 16 goals in a mere six games. With such glorious firepower the reserves wrapped up the League title, the League Cup and the Second XI Cup treble. Rivals Rangers were beaten three times out of hand in eight days of madness – the League and two-legged League Cup Final. The games weren’t even close: 7-1, 4-1 and 6-1. Kenny Dalglish may have plundered 43 goals in two campaigns but his exploits were overshadowed by Vic Davidson, 92, and Lou Macari, 91.’’

History was not kind to Celtic in subsequent years as so many of that excellent group of youngsters were not to serve Celtic in the manner it was hoped. The Board in their short sighted parsimony under paid players and ensured once they reached maturity and mixed with well-paid English based Scots in the national team, they became disgruntled. David Hay was being paid £60 per week basic at Celtic and when he was sold to Chelsea he started on a wage of £210 per week. ‘I only wanted what I was worth’ Hay would later reflect and he would have stayed with the team he loved if they had paid him an appropriate wage. Macari was sold to Manchester United, Dalglish to Liverpool and the excellent George Connelly was lost to football altogether as he fought his own personal demons. Others were allowed to leave and only the wonderful Danny McGrain stuck it out at Celtic for virtually his whole career.

The promise of the late sixties and early seventies had been allowed to slip away partly by circumstance and partly from the actions of a board which seemed to think there would always be more talent coming through to replace those they sold. Some of the Quality Street Gang went on to have excellent careers while others pottered about at lesser clubs or left football altogether. One of the most promising players of that era was Brian McLaughlin. The Falkirk lad was Celtic mad and his dreams came true when he was signed by Celtic on an ‘S Form’ in 1968. He was described by Tom Harvey, the Janitor of St Mungo’s High School in Falkirk, who also happened to be a Celtic scout, as the most talented Schoolboy player he had ever seen. His potential was recognised and he signed his first professional contract with Celtic in 1971, making his debut at just 16 in a 6-2 victory over Clydebank. Brian was tagged with the nickname ‘Super’ by those who trained and played with him. Jock Stein thought he had the most potential among a glittering group of youngsters at Celtic Park.

Within a couple of years the talented right sided midfielder was pushing much more experienced players for a place in the side. Supporters warmed to the pacey, skillful Falkirk lad and a bright future seemed assured. Brian played at Ibrox in August 1973 and helped Celtic to a 2-1 victory in front of more than 63,000 fans.  That September though his career ground to a juddering half following a tackle by Clyde defender Willie McVie, which even in the harsh world of 1970s football was described as ‘brutal.’  Celtic were cruising at 2-0 in a game they would win by 5 goals when McVie’s horrendous challenge arrived. The damage it inflicted to McLaughlin’s knee was career threatening and Stein was said to be very dismayed as he listened to the physio’s report. Here was one of his brightest young stars taken out in a brutal and cynical manner. It was a cruel blow and one the talented youngster never really recovered from.

Celtic stuck with Brian McLaughlin and helped him through a long and arduous recovery process. He would go AWOL on occasion and show up at his extended family’s home in Donegal. He did play the odd first team game after his injury and managed a goal in the European Cup against Jeunnese Esch of Luxemburg. However it was clear he struggled to find the sparkle and form which made him the most sought after youngster in Scotland. He was transferred to Ayr United in 1977 and scored against Celtic in a memorable 2-1 win for United. His career continued in relative obscurity until he retired from football.

Brian passed away at the tragically young age of 54 in 2009. He followed the fortunes of Celtic all his life. They were his team and if the fates conspired to deny him the great career at the club he loved, we should still remember him fondly. All who met him spoke of a ‘great wee guy’ with a heart of gold.  Perhaps it could be argued with some truth that he didn’t fulfill his potential at Celtic Park but given the horrendous injury he suffered we can forgive him that. For a while at least he lived every young Celts dream of pulling on those hooped shirts and representing the team he loved. No one can take that away from him.

Rest in Peace, Brian.

Brian McLaughlin (1954-2009)
Celtic player and Celtic Fan
Hail Hail

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