Taking on the SFA – Fergus Style

94 fergus front door

Fergus McCann‘s influence proved to be immense in many ways.

First and foremost, he saved Celtic from oblivion. If Celtic had gone to the wall in 1994, there would have been far less pressure on Murray to overspend recklessly at Ibrox, less temptation to gamble with foolhardy tax avoidance strategies and no meaningful resistance to his plans for complete dominance of Scottish football.

Fergus revitalised the Celtic support as well as rebuilding the stadium, completely overhauling the business structure and overseeing the creation of the first genuinely competitive Celtic team for years.

It was during Fergus’s stint in charge of the club that Celtic acquired the services of genuinely international class players of the calibre of Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert, Marc Reiper and Lubo Moravcik which allowed the club not only to regain the upper hand in domestic football but also gradually re-established Celtic as a credible force in European competition.

Fergus’s attitude to the SFA hierarchy also deserves the highest praise. Unlike his predecessors, McCann was not willing to accept the unjust and unfair treatment which Celtic frequently received from the game’s administrators and he did not waver in his determination to pursue the issue.

The more the SFA closed ranks around James Farry, the more Fergus resolved to see justice prevail. Farry, as the SFA secretary, had deliberately delayed the registration of Jorge Cadete, a key signing for Celtic. As a direct result of Farry’s malpractice, Cadete was not eligible to play against Rangers in a very tight and ultimately decisive Scottish Cup semi-final tie which Rangers narrowly won 2-1. Even more importantly, the Portuguese striker also missed the league game against Rangers which ended in a 1-1 draw.

When he was finally allowed to play for Celtic, Cadete scored immediately against Aberdeen and went on to prove himself as a lethal, top-class striker. During the period of time when Farry prevented Cadete from playing, Celtic drew two games (1-1 with Rangers and 0-0 with Motherwell.) Those dropped points were the difference between winning the league and finishing second.

McCann’s anger and sense of injustice led him to raise the matter with the SFA and he demanded an investigation into Farry’s failure to deal with Cadete’s registration. When the SFA gave Farry its full support, McCann complained again and a second investigation also cleared Farry of any wrongdoing. Most people would have accepted defeat at that stage but not Fergus McCann. He instigated an independent tribunal, chaired by John Murray, Q.C. and after the first day of the hearing, when Farry had a nightmare under cross-examination, the SFA finally caved in. He was sacked for gross misconduct and his reputation was destroyed.

Long before John Reid spoke about Celtic no longer being prepared to “sit at the back of the bus,” Fergus had laid the foundations and set the precedent for confronting and successfully challenging the pro-Rangers workings of the SFA.


Henry Clarson


The Greatest Celtic Team That Never Was

quality street kids

As the ink dried on his Anfield contract in August 1977 and another record-breaking cheque was inevitably cashed by the Parkhead powerbrokers, the departure of Kenny Dalglish signalled the end of a golden era at Celtic Park.

Only ten years earlier, his green and white hooped predecessors had blazed a trail around Europe, bringing the ‘Big Cup’ home to British shores for the first time after a spectacular, quintessentially underdog victory against the mighty Internazionale of Milan. In just two years, Jock Stein had worked his own brand of sorcery on this hitherto unspectacular group of footballers and crafted them into the champions of Europe with only the minimum of domestic acquisitions. But as he stood at the pinnacle of European football, Stein already had designs on Celtic’s next generation of home-grown talent.

Milan’s glitterati had grown old and Stein’s Celtic had knocked the twice World Club Champions off their pedestal in breathtaking fashion. These eleven Scottish individuals, who would be known ad infinitum by the moniker of The Lisbon Lions, had certainly served Stein well and he was not about to let them go the same way as Helenio Herrera’s ‘La Grande Inter’.

How do you replace such an iconic captain and leader of men as Billy McNeill, who possessed all the natural qualities of a born winner? Or a winger of such supreme individual talent and panache as Jimmy Johnstone, whose strength and mesmerising dribbling ability bamboozled defences all over the world? Or the commanding and peerlessly influential and talismanic Bobby Murdoch, who could pass the ball with a range and precision that could orchestrate an entire match? These were just some of the dilemmas that faced Jock Stein but the breaking up of this incredible Lisbon Lions dynasty was made a lot smoother by the sheer raft of talent that were waiting in the wings.

Despite the phenomenal success of his team over the previous few seasons, Jock Stein had possessed the foresight to plan ahead and had signed a procession of prodigious Scottish talents, who had been learning their trade from the very best in European football on the Barrowfield training ground every day since their arrival at the club. Inconspicuous young men whose indoctrination into the Celtic way had been gradual and methodical. These young cubs were reared to replace the Lisbon Lions, the most celebrated football team in the history of the Scottish game.

Jock Stein almost simultaneously crafted two football teams in the late sixties and early seventies, that would ensure Celtic could enjoy utter dominance of the Scottish game for virtually a decade. His young collection of reserve team players would experience many talents, triumphs and tragedies throughout the most successful period in the history of Celtic Football Club and he believed they were so capable that he made a proposal to install them into the Scottish Second Division in 1968. Many clubs feared that they would win the league. The Scottish press christened the Lisbon Lions‘ heir apparent, ‘The Quality Street Gang’ and tales of the precocious second string’s successes have become the stuff of Celtic folklore.

During one almost mythical encounter with Partick Thistle in August 1968, and with Celtic needing at least seven goals to win their Reserve League Cup section over Rangers, they ran out 12-0 winners with Lou Macari scoring four goals.

Two months later Scotland’s national team boss, Bobby Brown, asked Jock Stein to supply him with opposition for a warm-up practice match. Stein sent him the Quality Street Gang and the kids destroyed a full Scottish International team, featuring Ronnie Simpson, Colin Stein, Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner, 5-2. Scotland defeated Denmark nine days later.

The 1969-70 Glasgow Cup Final was still a prestigious enough tournament to attract a near 60,000 crowd on a Monday evening and Jock Stein again took the opportunity to showcase some of his finest protégés. A George Connelly-inspired Celtic, with six Quality Street Kids in the line-up, swept a full-strength Rangers team aside and ran out 3-1 winners.

By the time of the 1970 European Cup final, some of the Gang had already forced their way into this great Celtic side and within a few more years many more would become household names. Indeed, many observers believed that the omission of George Connelly from Stein’s San Siro starting line-up had a major bearing on the outcome of Celtic’s second European Cup final in just three years.

The Quality Street Kids were the highest scorers in British football in season 1970-71 and Kenny Dalglish, who hadn‘t yet made his mark on the first team, scored an astonishing sixteen goals in just six games as the reserves wrapped up a League, League Cup and Second XI Cup treble. Their closest rivals, Rangers were defeated three times in just eight days in the League and two-legged League Cup Final. The scores read: 7-1, 4-1 and 6-1.

Kenny Dalglish had scored 43 goals in two seasons with the reserves but his exploits were being monumentally eclipsed by Lou Macari, who netted 91, and the highly-rated Vic Davidson, who scored an emphatic 92. Both Macari and Davidson’s totals also included a spattering of first team goals.

quality street dalglish
Dalglish and Davidson: 135 goals between them in two seasons!

Celtic’s stylish babes were destroying all reserve competition before them and although Jock Stein’s vision of them developing in the more competitive Scottish Second Division had been rebuffed by the SFA, he was at least able to challenge them by regularly staging Lisbon Lions versus Quality Street Gang practice matches at training. Instead of being over-awed by the legendary first-team figures, these cocksure kids fancied their chances and occasionally won the largely-attended bounce games.

So why has the wider football community not heard of the Quality Street Gang? Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson’s extensively lionized class of ’92, many of these underlings to the nonpareil Lisbon Lions capitulated in dramatic fashion and the gang broke up before realizing their incredible collective potential.

Some of the fabled Quality Street Kids went on to become revered throughout the football world with players such as Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari and Davie Hay achieving incredible success for club and country in the seventies and into the nineteen eighties but while the fortuitous few attained incredible glories, there were other phenomenal talents who fell by the wayside in spectacular style.

Scotland’s 1973 Player of the Year, George Connelly, from a small mining village in Fife, walked away from the game at just 26. He had been compared to Franz Beckenbauer and was the natural successor to the seemingly indestructible Billy McNeill but mental illness, alcoholism and a disdain for the limelight drove him out of the game at a lamentably young age.

quality street connelly
The imperious George Connelly struts his stuff in a reserve fixture at Celtic Park in the early 60s.

Tony McBride was a “pocket edition of Jimmy Johnstone” according to Jock Stein but he failed to make a single first team appearance on account of his frequent brushes with the law, much to the annoyance of the taskmaster Stein.

Brian McLaughlin was good enough to break into the first team at just 16. Yet his unfortunate and tragic downfall was prompted by a brutal career-threatening onfield assault in 1973 at the hands of a journeyman Aidrieonian thug, who is remembered for nothing else in the game. McLaughlin had it in him to be the Lubomír Moravcík of his generation but his sparkling career was molested and his grotesque injury literally brought a tear to Jock Stein’s eye.

The enigmatic Pat McMahon became Celtic’s first post-Lisbon signing and burst onto the scene in the 67-68 season with his Beatlesesque flowing locks and fresh-faced good looks. McMahon was an intellectual, who had trained in the Priesthood as a youngster before moving down to London. Much to his chagrin, he returned to reserve team football after 5 goals in 6 first-team matches and his Celtic career hit the skids. Oddly, he made no further first team appearance and was released after just two seasons.

And there were more. Paul Wilson could be considered something of an unsung hero of the wider Gang as his Celtic career was both lengthy and successful with his place in the club’s history being assured by virtue of his Scottish Cup-winning performance of 1975. Vic Davidson was undoubtedly a player who progressed on a level footing with Dalglish and Macari but only up to a certain point before his career tailed off and his potential was to be eternally considered as unfulfilled. Influential and popular members of the gang, Davie Cattanach and Jimmy Quinn were slightly older and their successes were enjoyed mainly at reserve level. And then there was John Gorman, a player who proved beyond doubt that Jock Stein was wrong to let him go. Not to mention the huge amount of talented young players who didn’t make it for any number of reasons, many of whom may consider themselves as unlucky as they may have succeeded at any other time in the history of Celtic Football Club.

The Quality Street Gang is as much a story about the transformation in attitude from those loyal Brylcreemed round-collared 1960s servants, who encapsulated Jimmy McGrory’s 1950s pipe-smoking discipline, to their floppy-fringed, sideburned superstar counterparts of the 1970s.

By the time of their European Cup semi-final first leg against Atlético Madrid in 1974, Celtic had reached two finals, four semi-finals and two quarter-finals in European competition in just eleven seasons. However, the Quality Street Gang were already fragmenting and Lou Macari had joined Manchester United for more pay in 1973. Davie Hay would follow him across the English border for Chelsea 1974 after going on strike with George Connelly over pay conditions and it wouldn’t be long before Kenny Dalglish left to become the King of the Kop. Celtic fans were left wondering just what might have been had the Quality Street Kids all reached their peak in the green and white hoops of Celtic.

Over forty years on, it is easy to get trapped in time when looking back through the scrap book of a football career which promised so much. The teenage Celtic babes of 1968, who seemingly had the world at their feet when they posed for the baying Scottish press in their green Celtic blazers at Glasgow airport prior to their Italian international youth tournament, may all have had the same destination stamped on their airline ticket on that Summer’s day in May but they would all ultimately travel on vastly different journeys over the next four decades. Some would enjoy the emphatic highs of the game at the very top level whilst others would suffer a far more grim fate in living with the melancholia that hangs heavily over the harsh reality of what-might-have-been.

The Quality Street Gang were brought up by the greatest football team Scotland has ever produced and the result was a group of young prospects who even threatened for a spell to emulate their predecessors. The kids were cultivated on the Barrowfield training ground and the Lisbon Lions passed on the torch so that their successors could continue their incredible forays into the latter stages of European football’s most prestigious tournament. Celtic won nine successive league titles but never reclaimed the honour of winning the European Cup for a second time. If only the Quality Street Kids had all hit their peak together there is no doubt that the Parkhead side would have lifted that glorious prize more than once.

With such a blend of monumental successes, likeable rogues and enigmatic underachievers it is perhaps no surprise that the 2013 Quality Street Gang book was being adapted for a major documentary film by director, Luke Massey. Celtic and Liverpool fan Massey, on the back of his success with war horror film Armistice, opted for this intriguing group of young footballers as his next project after reading the book over Christmas.

The bittersweet tale of unfulfilled potential has struck a chord with football fans for generations. Many of us can relate to the peculiar, all-too-human idiosyncrasies, which often contribute to the downfall of some of our greatest cult heroes. Icons who threw it all away at the mercy of alcohol, slow horses, loose woman or all of the above, and worse. We seem drawn to these slightly broken characters and their urchinular charms and, once we have become intoxicated by their incredible talents, we always have it in us to forgive their irresponsible ways; we always have another last chance to hand out to them because we know they will always let us down. That’s why magnificent players like Robin Friday, Andy Ritchie and George Best became and remain cult icons of the British game. Perhaps we see a human side and fragility to them that we can identify and sympathise with.

Despite the magnificent successes of Dalglish, Hay, McGrain and Macari, as the end credits roll on The Quality Street Gang, Celtic fans will be left wondering, “what if?”

Paul John Dykes

quality street book

Kilmarnock 0 Celtic 1

They say it’s the mark of champions to be able to grind out a win when you’re not at your best. However, it’s a sign of the problems in our squad when we leave Rugby Park with the home side feeling, quite rightly, unfortunate to lose.

Ronny’s line-up had a distinctly more attacking outlook to it, something a section of the fans have been clamouring for. However, giving Griffiths, Kazim-Richards and Commons the role of attacking support is a bit like asking Pavarotti to perform in Redditch Community Theatre Group’s performance of ‘The Buddy Holly Story’.

Injuries to Mackay-Steven and Allan coupled with the inexplicable exclusion of Johansen from the starting 11 didn’t help. It was apparent though before a ball was even kicked that this was a line-up devoid of much by way of attacking guile. Even though it’s understandable why Armstrong has been benched for a few games now, he can’t possibly have done any worse than what was picked to play out wide.

And, sure enough, Kilmarnock started hungrier. You know you’re in for a long afternoon when Kris Boyd can run clean through on goal so early on. Gordon to the rescue.

This was a first-half performance that was all too similar to the Dundee game. McGregor was the only player who looked remotely interested, but the midfield were static and two-thirds of the strike force were about as dangerous as… well Kris Boyd. In fact, probably less so.

After the interval Commons was hooked in place of Roberts. It was a slight improvement but, once again, raw talent – little substance – needs time to develop – what’s the point in playing him if he’s not our player… Is this sounding familiar?

Credit where credit is due to Kilmarnock. Bear in mind they were playing without top goalscorer Magennis and had to replace Boyd after about 50 minutes when his old joints started tightening. All the while Scott Brown was making Real Madrid look like they would rue the decision not to make Julien Faubert a permanent signing with the way he was being out-fought by the Frenchman.

It was turning into another one of those games when Ronny finally sent on Rogić to blaze the ball past MacDonald in the final minute. Truly phenomenal goal from a seriously important player this season. It was almost literally the only positive to take from the game from a Celtic point of view.

In all, it was another dire showing from all but a few in Green and White.

I read on social media that some Celtic fans are taking a liking to Colin Kazim-Richards because he’s an ‘honest player’ and ‘doesn’t hide’. Well I wish he would start pretending to be a professional footballer then and ditch the honest approach. Woeful performance.

Biton had a ‘mare, Brown was having trouble completing five-yard passes unless the receiver was wearing blue and white, and I’m not sure I even remember the last time Charlie Mulgrew tackled someone that didn’t play for Morton or East Kilbride.

The overall emotion was of sheer relief after this one. Motherwell did us a turn against Aberdeen but this level of performance is desperate. Hopefully this result will spur us on to better things as only a dramatic game at Rugby Park can (see Stokes, Anthony and Lennon, Neil).

Jim Brogan – First Name on the Team Sheet

mrh brogan foul


My friend’s father worked at Celtic Park in late 1971. The club had encountered problems with the new main stand. Utgent repairs were required and a squad of ten workmen (six Celtic, four Rangers) were entrusted with the repair work.

Each day Jock Stein would visit them to check progress and enjoy some banter with the workers. As New Year approached the prospect of the traditional Celtic v Rangers fixture naturally came into the conversation.

One day a prominent Celtic director appeared and generously doled out a complimentary ground ticket to each of the workers as a reward for their hard graft. Unfortunately for the Rangers supporters these tickets were for the Celtic end of the stadium. They were told brusquely that if they wanted the Rangers end, they should contact Ibrox for them. The prominent Celtic director departed and a few minutes later, big Jock arrived. When he heard of the plight of the Rangers men, he shook his head as if he had heard it all before and left them to it.

A full hour later he returned with 4 Rangers end tickets and swapped them with the workers in what was seen as a wonderful and much-appreciated gesture.

As the day of the big game loomed, the Celtic workers pressed Big Jock to name the Celtic line-up. The big man was as playful and coy as ever. He answered their question with one of his own:

“Which player do you think is first on the team sheet when we play Rangers?”

“Jinky, because he can unlock the tightest defences.”


“Big Billy. He’s our captain and leader.”


“Wee Lennox, ‘cos he’s the fastest thing on two feet.”


To stop the men becoming exasperated, Jock explained it was Jim Brogan, his first pick. Rangers had a strong physical presence and could easily intimidate other teams. You had to fight fire with fire. Only by playing hard men like Brogan, Hay and Murdoch could he allow the likes of Johnstone, Dalglish, Hood and Callaghan to express themselves and perform.

This was a rare insight inside Big Jock’s mind. The irony is that Celtic won the Ne’erday fixture due to a dramatic last-minute goal from a certain Jim Brogan. Perhaps Jock really did have the gift of foresight.

Stephen Murray

(First published in The Celt, November 2006)

Fast forward to January 3rd 1972. With the score tied at 1-1, Celtic score a last-minute winner courtesy of the unlikely figure of Jim Brogan. This match report is from the Herald:


mrh jinky goal



The biters were badly bitten at Parkhead yesterday. Rangers, who had narrowly beaten Partick Thistle with a goal in the second minute of injury time, were themselves stunned in the same way by Celtic when everyone had reconciled themselves to a draw.

Of all the instruments that might have inflicted on Rangers their first defeat after seven successive victories and their fourth in as many games against Celtic this season, the least likely to have been chosen was the head of Celtic’s left back, Jim Brogan.

With the game heading towards the draw that would surely have soothed the strongest passions, Billy McNeill took a free kick. The ball came to Hood and, as he brought it under control, Brogan began a run into the area which he timed perfectly to infiltrate in front of McCloy, meet Hood’s clever lob, and glance the ball home.

By appearing as he did, apparently from nowhere, Brogan brought an unexpected climax to a game, which, on their endeavour in the second half, Rangers hardly deserved to lose.

Before the interval Celtic had established a rhythm and, through Dalglish and Callaghan, a useful measure of control in the midfield. Rangers, who had optimistically began the game with four men upfront, were gradually forced to withdraw as Celtic exerted great pressure.

Celtic thus made more chances for themselves and before Jimmy Johnstone opened the scoring in 35 minutes, Deans, Lennox and Hood had all gone close. Apart from that, Rangers put themselves in difficulty by needlessly giving away free kicks in dangerous positions.

It was from one of these that Celtic’s first goal came, almost by way of being a punishment. From the left side of the area Hood flighted the ball to the far side, and there was Jimmy Johnstone, standing completely unmarked so that he only had to stoop to conquer McCloy with his head.

For their part Rangers showed splendid willingness to carry the fight. McLean passed the ammunition effectively and Stein and Derek Johnstone gave Connaghan more than one uncomfortable moment as they ran on to the high ball with which Rangers tested the nerve and judgement of the Celts’ goalkeeper.


Together the sides put together a first half of football as fluent and entertaining as anyone can hope for in a match where the usual tendency of the occasion is for the tension to subvert normal skills into rushed passing, uncompromising tackles and trigger happy shooting.

The second half was much more of a patchwork. Rangers swung all their considerable weight into their attempt to beard those formidable lions in their den.
The pressure was then on Celtic and Connelly, just as Smith had done, stood out as the cooling influence in defence.

Yet despite Rangers’ exertions, Hood twice had shots saved by McCloy and Mathieson had his name taken for bringing down Lennox as he sprinted clear – not by any means he worst foul of a match that was controlled with commendable lack of fuss by referee Mr Mullan.


But with nine minutes left Rangers were at last rewarded with what seemed likely to be the equalising goal. Mathieson pushed the ball forward and Stein and Johnston took it almost in tandem with a rush that broke through Celtic’s defence. It was Stein’s shot that Connaghan got his hands to but could not stop.

And that, we thought, was that – until Brogan’s bolt from the blue brought the game to a stirring end and left the masses at the Celtic end of the ground to noisily exult over their rivals who stood in mute disbelief at the other end.

CELTIC – Connaghan, Hay, Brogan, Dalglish, McNeill, Connelly, Johnstone, Lennox, Deans, Callaghan, Hood.

Sub McGrain.

Goals:- Johnstone 35, Brogan 90.

RANGERS – McCloy Jardine Mathieson Greig Jackson Smith McLean Johnstone Stein MacDonald Johnstone.

Sub Conn.

Goal:- Stein 81.

Attendance 77,000

Lady Penelope – Her Part in their Downfall

68 thunderbirds

As a tribute to Sylvia Anderson, the voice of Lady Penelope, we present a repeat of one of her finest episodes.

Click on the picture or the link to a classic hunderbirds adventure.

They Gave Us James McGrory and Paul McStay

amnesia mcstay goal celebration large

There are those who will try and tell you that Paul McStay was never the player the press made him out to be, that he never fulfilled his potential and that he was the best of a mediocre lot. The same people will also tell you that Kenny Dalglish was rotten for Scotland etc. etc. etc.

It seems that whenever a talent of any kind emerges in this country the first reaction is to praise it and the next to try and show how clever you really are by picking fault with it. Australians call it the Tall Poppy Syndrome – build ‘em up so you can chop ‘em down.
While the quality of Paul McStay’s play undoubtedly fell short of his own incredibly high standards in the latter years of his Celtic career, that is not entirely surprising. After all, he had been carrying the team for ten years.

The Maestro, like Danny McGrain before him, was the class player who chose to stay with Celtic when his career and reputation would undoubtedly have fared better with a move elsewhere.

Paul McStay was big news even before his Celtic debut, being the star tum in an eventful Scotland v England schoolboy international at Wembley. Legend has it that scouts from as far afield as Everton and Leeds had been tracking him from the age of 11, and in 1982, shortly before he made his entrance on the Celtic stage, he became the one and only Scotland captain at any level to pick up an international trophy as Scotland won the European Youth Championship.

When the young Maestro made his first appearance in 1982 he was joining a team containing some of the finest talent in Britain. If the manager had been allowed to hang on to members of that team and build on it who knows what the history of the club might have been. But we are all too sadly familiar with the story of what happened next to Charlie Nicholas, Big Billy and the others.

Barely two full seasons into his career McStay was already the fulcrum of the side and the man most looked to in the crunch games. The team around him was a patchwork of the talented and the committed (Aitken, McGrain, MacLeod) and the talentless who should have been committed (Melrose, Whittaker). As his career progressed he would sadly find himself increasingly surrounded by players from the latter category.

Under Davie Hay McStay didn’t really reach the heights that were now expected and rumours soon began to abound that the Maestro would be winging his way abroad. Juventus apparently were interested and there was a fantastic urban myth that he had a clause in his contract forbidding the club to sell his older brother Willie!

Summer 1986 saw Scotland competing in the the World Cup finals in Mexico. Sadly, Big Jock was not there to lead the team, and it would have to be said that Alex Ferguson didn’t really handle the job too well (hardly surprising given the fact that it was a part-time appointment). Incredibly, he chose to overlook the Maestro in favour of aged slaphead Eamon Bannon, only to reinstate McStay for the final, violent clash with Uruguay.

The decision to drop him was surprising because McStay had been such an integral part of the Scotland set up since his debut in 1983. Indeed it was young Paul who started the World Cup campaign off with a brace against Iceland, the first a rare headed goal, the second a memorable long range effort.

After his return from Mexico rumours started that all was not well with Paul McStay. Burn-out some said: too many games too young. It was also suggested that he was an asthma sufferer who could no longer operate for 90 minutes (apparently he does have a very slight condition).

The season after was the first of the so-called ‘Souness Revolution’, as Rangers (the deceased)bludgeoned their way to the League title. Truth be told it was more a case of Celtic throwing it away as wrangles over money and new contracts, especially in the case of McClair and Johnston, became very public.

Throughout that season McStay was steady if not spectacular, but appeared in serious danger of falling into a rut from which he might never have reappeared. But in the aftermath of that disastrous season Billy McNeill came back, and Paul McStay emerged to show the world what he could do.

The Centenary year will be remembered for many reasons, not least of which was the stunning play of Paul McStay: a turn and a look before rolling a forty yard pass to the feet of the onrushing Chris Morris on New Year’s day to set up the first goal; a crisply caught snap shot to rescue a point against Hearts; the sheer authority of his performance at Ibrox during the 2-1 victory there.

At the end of that season he picked up both Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year awards. He had finally become the player he had threatened to be. Even the Blue Noses 9when they still had a living club) voted him the player they would most like to see sign for them in their fanzine.

At this point, with the world apparently at their feet, the club began its long, slow stumble into oblivion. Having won the double the club (manager? board?) made the fatal mistake of resting on its laurels. No new faces were added until practically the start of the new season (two players, both goalies), the wisdom presumably being that the squad was already perfect. Wrong! Age and injury soon ravaged the team and McStay and McAvennie were left to carry the team. Then McAvennie left.

By season 89-90 Celtic had been allowed to decay to such a degree that there is a good case to say that McStay stopped us from being involved in the relegation battle that year.

At the same time his own influence over the game was diminishing, largely due to the fact that the players he was now playing with were consistently worse than their predecessors (Examples: centre forward – McAvennie to Coyne to Jackie to Cascarino to Payton to Biggins).

That season itself had been an unmitigated disaster, starting with Le Merde’s U-turn and ending with the dreaded penalty shoot out in the Cup Final with Aberdeen. In between we had seen both club captain and vice-captain leave within a month of each other (staggeringly bad management) and at the tender age of 25 Paul McStay became the club’s longest serving outfield player and club captain.

His appointment was expected but not universally welcomed, despite the fact that within a year of becoming Celtic captain he would also captain Scotland to the Euro ‘92 finals (Big Dickie Gough coming back and being handed the armband for the actual tournament; loyalty Mr Roxburgh?).

The ‘Alphabet Of The Celts’, published around the time, commented that, “He might be a better player without the burden of captaincy”. Yes, and he might have been a better player without the burden of the nine other haddies he’d been playing with.

After yet anotller barren season in 1991 Big Billy was shown the door and Liam Brady took the plunge. Unfortunately it was three months before he had the chance to utilise the consumate talents of his club captain. McStay picked up the first serious injury of his career during the pre-season tour of Ireland. By the time he returned the team had shown signs of promise without any consistency and an inability to break down a packed defence had seen them flounder in the league and exit the League Cup at Airdrie.

McStay’s return was against Dundee United and he didn’t disappoint, spraying passes all over the park, appearing in attacking positions, helping out defence arid controlling the midfield. He continued in this vein for the rest of the season.

Sadly, he was denied another shot at the Scottish Cup on that cruellest of Hampden nights against the then existant Rangers.

The last day of the season saw Europe slip away thanks to a self-destructive performance against Hibs and the Maestro throw his jersey into the Jungle. We feared the worst.

Throughout the season speculation about his future had been rife. The contract signed in such optimism in 1987 had run its course and McStay was in no rush to make a decision. Certainly not with the shop window of Sweden ‘92 coming up.

The European Championships in 1992 was the first time Scotland had qualified for this competition, the last time only eight teams were to be involved.

Drawn against Holland, Germany and the CIS (the former USSR) the common wisdom was that Scotland would be lucky to emerge alive never mind make progress. However, the team confounded their critics to produce three performances of grit and skill, and at the heart of nearly every productive Scottish move was McStay. Against Holland he had the measure of Rijkaard, even out-jumping him on several occasions to win high balls. Against Germany he put McAllister through one-on-one with the ‘keeper three times in the first fifteen minutes (needless to say the media-hyped McAllister squandered all three chances) and against the CIS he capped a marvellous tournament with the opening goal, a typical 25-yard daisy cutter.

For six weeks in the summer of ‘92 every Celtic fan dreaded looking at the sports pages as team after team was linked with McStay (he certainly had talks with Udinese, a Bundesliga team and Arsene Wenger’s Monaco) but the player himself seemed remarkably unenthusiastic about the prospect of a move.

An incident from just before Sweden probably says more about his decision to stay than anything else. Haying been away from home for six weeks preparing for the Euros, Radio Clyde gave each player the chance to choose a song and dedicate it to someone back home. The Maestro chose ‘Missing You’ by John Waite.

Essentially he was a home bird and at that time his wife was expecting their first child, hardly ideal circumstances under which to up sticks and move. Maybe the welfare of his family came before his career.

His decision to stay brought immense relief to the beleaguered Celtic support who had been resigned to losing their best player and club captain, and his form at the start of the next season brought even more joy as he picked up just where he’d left off.

But it didn’t last. By the end of the season he was a shadow of the player of 1992.

The years of carrying the team were beginning to take their toll, injuries were becoming more frequent and the turmoil at the club certailny wasn’t helping anyone.

He could still raise his game, though, as Bobby Robson and Sporting Lisbon found out at Celtic Park in 1993. Frank Connor, temporarily in charge, told McStay to get his passes in rather than take people on. The result was that Robson had to concede to placing two markers on McStay in an attempt to contain him.

The March takeover by Fergus and the rebels gave hope that we might see some players drafted in that could again bring out the best in Paul McStay. He did finally lift a trophy as captain and certainly some of his performances during 95-96 were vintage Maestro, but for McStay the takeover came two years too late. His knees and ankles were already shot.

Against Dunfermline in January of this year he scored in the hoops for the last time, a fierce shot from the edge of the box that left the ‘keeper waving at the top row of the stand as the ball shot past him.

At Dunfermline in March he couldn’t even run. He limped about the park for 90 minutes. It was painful to watch such a great player reduced to that.

His decision to retire was taken, like his decision to stay in ‘92, with his family in mind. All too aware of others who played too long – apparently Tommy Smith, the Liverpool hard case from the ‘70s, needed help to get out of bed every morning such was. the state of his legs – McStay again decided that there was more to life than football.


Down and Out in Paris and Kinning Park (pt 1)

bugle hun

The Rue du Copeland, seven in the morning. A succession of furious, choking yells from the street. Madame Oraanj, who kept the little hotel opposite mine, had come out on the third floor. Her bare feet were stuck into baffies and her blue rinsed hair was streaming down.

There were eccentric characters in the hotel.

The slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people – people who have fallen into solitary, half-made graves of life given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.

There was Monsieur Rayon du Luna, a striking Scotsman, who whilst dressed in a navy pin-striped suit would sometimes hold court in the bistro below.

Madame O insisted that he had not removed the vile garments in years. He had no legs and transported himself about on a modified tea-tray with wheels obtained from a settee it would appear. I understand his wheelchair had been sold some months earlier to pay an outstanding bill at the club to which he was no longer a Member.

It was a great disappointment, when I had come to Rayon for help, to find him even worse off than myself. ‘Good heavens, what are you worrying about? Never worry, mon ami. Nothing is easier to get than money.

In spite of all this Monsueir R managed to keep a fairly smart appearance with his pin-striped suit. He shaved without soap and with a razor-blade two months old, tied his tie so that the holes did not show, and carefully stuffed the soles of his shoes with newspaper. You would never have thought he had recently been sleeping under the Seine bridges.

Or there was Monsieur Blanco. A resident of the hotel, we would sometimes go to the rue du Broomloan together. He would stand there sometimes for hours staring at the buildings. I understand he used to keep company with Rayon but they fell out some time ago over the some trivial matter.

‘Ah, mais, mon ami, the ups and downs of life! The Administration – every penny gone. I have tipped waiters and I have been tipped by waiters.

‘Ah, but I have known what it is to live like a gentleman, mon ami… Ah well, ca reviendra. Victory is to him who fights the longest! Etc etc.’

Or there were the Hurlocks, for instance, an old, ragged, dwarfish couple who plied an extraordinary trade. They used to sell souvenirs of the Chateaux du Ibrox on the Boulevard St Edmiston.

The curious thing was that the souvenirs were sold in sealed packets as photographs of the old chateaux but were actually photographs of a pornographic nature. The buyers did not discover this until too late, and of course never complained.

It would be fun to write some of their biographies if one had time. I am trying to describe the people in our quarter, not for the mere curiosity, but because they are all part of the story.

Poverty is what I am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum.”

(To be continued…)