Sunday, 18 February 2018

The man who loved the green

The man who loved the green 

Love Street was packed to the rafters for the cup replay between Celtic and St Mirren on a crisp February night in 1980. Thousands of supporters were locked out when the stadium reached capacity a good 30 minutes before the game began and there was a raucous and noisy atmosphere.  St Mirren could boast a fine side with players like Jimmy Bone, Doug Somner, Peter Weir and Frank McDougal. Celtic knew they'd be in for a stern test and so it proved. The game flowed from end to end in the early stages and Bone scored for St Mirren after 11 minutes. Celtic, roared on by the bulk of the 27,000 crowd pressed for an equaliser but looked stretched themselves on occasion when St Mirren counter attacked. Doyle equalised in 30 minutes but shortly afterwards Tom McAdam was sent off after a clash with a St Mirren player. It looked a very harsh decision and Celtic would play out the remainder on the game with 10 men. When St Mirren went ahead in the second half, things looked bleak but Celtic rallied and pushed their opponents back. Chances came and went in an increasingly shrill atmosphere before Bobby Lennox score for the Hoops to make it 2-2. The game entered extra time and the effervescent Johnny Doyle score the decisive goal to put Celtic through to the next round. It had been a stirring performance from Celtic and the players had risen to the challenge. None more so than Johnny Doyle who had what many consider to be his finest game in the Hoops. 

Johnny Doyle signed for Celtic in the spring of 1976. His time at Ayr United had been marked by fine wing play but occasional flashes of temper which had him in trouble with officials. He had inspired Ayr United to a fine 3-0 win over Rangers during his time there but many felt his fiery temperament would make a move to a bigger club unlikely. He once said... 

'Some say as a player you should turn the other cheek but it's always been an eye for an eye with me.' 

He was Celtic mad and got his dream move to Celtic Park at a time Jock Stein was recovering from a serious car accident and Sean Fallon was leading the side. There is no doubt Stein would have been consulted on the transfer though as his influence was all pervasive at Celtic. His first full season saw a rejuvenated Celtic win a league and cup Double and Doyle played his part. The supporters could see a player who clearly loved the club giving his all in the green and white and they took Johnny Doyle to their hearts. He wasn't the biggest physically relying on his speed to out-pace defenders but he was absolutely fearless and would never shirk from a tackle. Defenders got away with more in those days and he took his fair share of rough treatment but generally kept his temper in check. He was more likely to react to poor refereeing decisions and his mouth got him into trouble with officials on more than one occasion.  

Season 1977-78 proved to be a disasterous one for Celtic. Dalglish had gone south, McGrain had been injured and was out for months and the calming influence of Pat Stanton was also lost to injury. Celtic suffered 15 league defeats in 36 games and finished fifth in the table. They failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in years and it seemed that everything which could go wrong did. Doyle , who was in and out of the side with injuries himself, was involved in a bizarre incident during a game at Somerset Park which summed up a crazy season. 

As Celtic pressurised the Ayr United defence he received the ball out wide and fired a cross towards the penalty box. The ball thudded into the face of Referee Bob Cuthill who collapsed like a felled tree. When he recovered his composure he astonishingly concluded it was deliberate and sent a furious Doyle off. 

The following season saw the weather postpone a huge amount of football and Celtic didn't play a league match between December and early March. They were miles behind but with games in hand and when the weather improved, they began a crowded fixture list with few expecting them to do much. Win followed win as Celtic climbed the table relentlessly until on a bright May evening in 1979 it all came down to the final match of the season. Celtic knew if the beat Rangers they would be champions, anything less and the Ibrox club would win the league. What followed was one of the most dramatic games in Celtic's long history.  

Rangers took an early lead when Alex McDonald scored against the run of play. Things took a turn for the worse when they were reduced to ten men. Johnny had needlessly got involved with Alex McDonald as the latter lay on the ground. Whatever was said by the Rangers player, Johnny gave him a dunt in the ribs with his boot; nothing too severe but enough to have the linesman on the Jungle side waving his flag. After consulting the linesman, the Referee sent a horrified Doyle off. This Celtic mad player had seemingly let his side down in the most vital game of the season. He cut a distraught figure as he trudged off the field leaving his team mates to try to come back from a goal down and a man down. What must he have been thinking as he sat alone in the dressing room listening to the unfolding drama playing out on the pitch being relayed to him in roars and songs from the crowd? What would the supporters think of him if his foolishness cost them a chance to become champions? We can only imagine his despair. 

Of course, Celtic rose magnificently to the challenges they faced on that epic night at Paradise. They beat Rangers 4-2 in an encounter many who saw it still regard as the finest derby match they have seen. Doyle may have been saying, 'I let you down,' to his team mates that night but they didn't let him down and he can seen in pictures celebrating their victory on the field after the game. His face a mixture of delight and relief. It was an epic finish to the season and he had played his part in an unexpected and unlikely championship win. 

1980 saw Johnny competing with Davie Provan for the right-wing berth although he was occasionally used in a more central attacking role. Highlights for him that season were definitely his performance against Real Madrid at Celtic Park in the quarter finals of the European cup. With 67,000 Celtic fans creating an electric atmosphere, Johnny arrived between two Madrid defenders to bullet a header into the net. The team went on to record a fine 2-0 win against the Spaniards and no one was more delighted than John Doyle. He also played in the riot torn cup final against Rangers that year which turned with George McCluskey's extra-time goal. There was no love lost between Johnny and Rangers and he delighted in beating them as all fans of Celtic do. He was a constant thorn in their side during those games and took a lot of rough treatment but he always bounced back for more. 

The arrival of Frank McGarvey and the emergence of Charlie Nicholas meant Johnny was limited in his appearances in season 1980-81. He turned down moves to Motherwell and Hearts preferring instead to stay at his beloved Celtic and fight for his place. He loved being a Celtic player and as a Celtic fan was understandably reluctant to close that chapter of his career. As it transpired, fate conspired in the cruelest possible way to bring the curtain down on the career and life of John Doyle. 

While carrying out electrical work at his home was electrocuted and died in October 1981. He was just 30 years old. The Celtic support was stunned at the news and realised that we'd lost one of our own. Johnny, like all of us, had his flaws and wasn't perfect but he loved Celtic and in some games it appeared he cared too much as he tore into officials or opposition players. The supporters took him to their hearts because he was one of them, a fan living the dream of playing for Celtic. 

When Celtic clinched the league title against St Mirren at a noisy Celtic Park in May 1982 the fans roared out, 'We won the league for Doyle.' The Celtic support don't forget their heroes and they especially remember those who care as passionately about the club as they do. Johnny lived and breathed Celtic much like his great friend Tommy Burns and the fans loved them for it. 

Rest in peace Johnny. The man who loved the green. HH 

Johnny Doyle (1951-81) 
Celtic player and Celtic fan 

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