The X Factor
The plush surroundings of the Kerrydale Suite of Celtic Park aren’t so far removed from areas of Glasgow where deprivation and lack of opportunity linger on. It was fitting then that the club founded to aid the poorest of the poor in Victorian Glasgow hosted one of those charity events which are such a regular feature in the Celtic family. They travelled from far and wide to celebrate the latest ‘Tommy Burns Supper,’ a tradition started by the Herriot Watt and Edinburgh Celtic Supporters Club more than two decades ago. There remains a very deep and tangible affection for Tommy and hundreds of supporters came to raise funds for his Skin cancer charity and the Celtic Charity Foundation. They also came to remember the man who seemed to have an effect on so many who worked with him or knew him.
The evening began with a speech from STV Political pundit and Celtic fan, Bernard Ponsonby who spoke with his usual authority and eloquence of how his family’s Irish roots and growing up in the Garngad made it virtually impossible that he would follow any other team than Celtic. Being born into a Celtic supporting family is something many of us take for granted but isn’t the only route to Celtic Park. He recounted that the actor, David Hayman, came to Celtic later in life after being impressed by both the club and the supporters. ‘This is a political club,’ Bernard said, ‘political with a small P. The people who follow this club won’t just pass on the other side. They’ll help those who need help. It is a club with core values.’
Among the first footballing guests to speak about Tommy Burns were Tosh McKinley, Tom Boyd, Gordon Strachan and Brendan Rodgers. Tosh was asked about the cross he swung in for the winning goal in the 1995 Cup final and said, ‘Makes a change, I usually get asked about sticking the head on Henrik Larsson.’ Tosh knew what that cup win meant to Burns and the wider Celtic support and was rightly proud that a Celtic supporting lad like him played a part in it. He recounted that him time at Celtic was sometimes less than plain sailing. After one match an elderly fan spoke to him outside Celtic Park saying, ‘Tosh, I’d compare you to Roberto Carlos…compared to him you’re shite!’ The sartorially elegant full back was then asked where he bought his sharp suits and replied, ‘It’s amazing what you can get with a crisis loan.’
Gordon Strachan was in top form remembering that epic 2008 championship win and how it was tinged with huge sadness as his great friend and colleague had passed before Celtic won that title. He recalled getting petrol from a garage on the London Road and being asked in the spring of 2008 by the owner who he thought would win the league. Strachan said…
‘I could see by the look of him he was a Rangers fan. I said Celtic will win it to which the man replied ‘naw ye won’t, Rangers will.’ I said ‘well what the f*ck are you asking for?’ In May 2008 as Celtic’s team bus drove back to Celtic Park from Tannadice with the trophy we passed the garage and I said, ‘driver, stop here.’ I went in and asked for the boss and the lassie said ‘He’s not working tonight can I take a message?’ I said, ‘Aye, tell him when he comes in Gordon Strachan said he can go f*ck himself!’
Speaking of his great friend and assistant Manager, Tommy Burns, Strachan recalled one match where the advice he got from his colleague was less than helpful…
‘We were playing Manchester United in the Champions League and they had Giggs, Berbatov, Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez running at us. We were hanging on a bit at the end and the crowd were getting on my back a bit demanding I change it. All I had was Ben Hutchison on the bench. I saw Tommy standing at the opposite end of the dugout watching the team hang on. He comes walking up to me as the crowd think ‘Aye, Tommy will tell him what to do to sort it.’ Well he stops in front of me, puts his hand over his mouth so no one can see what he’s saying and I’m waiting for the tactical master plan, and he said, ‘By the way the blind section and giving you some abuse!’ I looked along and saw a blind guy on his feet waving his arms shouting ‘Strachan yer f*cking useless!’ He canny even see the game and he’s giving me stick! Even his guide dog had its paw over its eyes!’
Brendan Rodgers spoke eloquently and with that media savvy he has. He wouldn’t be drawn on any upcoming transfer business and said when asked is anything happening, ‘Not at the moment.’ His thoughts on Tommy were formed firstly as a young fan from Ireland who followed the Hoops avidly. He was thrilled to work as a young coach under Tommy at Reading and found the man to be as decent as he had heard. When asked to describe Tommy in a few words he replied, ‘He had the X-Factor. He was the top man.’ When asked simply. ‘Celtic or Liverpool?’ he replied, ‘I’ve been a Celtic fan all my life so no doubting who I choose. It’s an honour to manage the club I support.’ When Pat Bonner was asked to sum up Tommy in a few words, he said that Tommy was ‘the personification of Celtic.’ Strachan said simply, ‘He was my best friend.’ Billy Stark spoke of the ‘unbreakable bond’ that the Centenary team had and that Tommy was at the centre of that.
The evening passed with many such anecdotes and now and then the assembled supporters would burst into those chants of ‘Tommy Burns, Tommy Burns, Tommy Burns,’ which used to echo around the stadium. Thousands of pounds were raised for charity and Tommy would have liked that. He would also be delighted that his people still cherish his memory and still remember the flame haired Calton boy who dreamed of playing for the team he loved and made that dream a reality.
There was laughter and tears in the Kerrydale Suite last night but pride also that such a fine man had contributed to Celtic’s history in such a meaningful way. His old friend Peter Grant said movingly, ‘I still talk to him every day.’ For Celtic fans who saw him play or were lucky enough to speak to him, they knew he was special.
Whenever I go to see Celtic play I think of men like Tommy and Jock and Jimmy and know that somehow their spirit is still around the place. To paraphrase Tommy…
‘They’re there and they’re always there.’