Throwing It All Away

The salutary tale of 7:1 ‘keeper Dick Beattie and his part in English football’s worst ever match-fixing scandal

goalie beattie

Dick Beattie played his first game for Celtic against Clyde at Shawfield on October 20th 1954.

He arrived with flaws in his game – an inability to cope particularly well with cross balls being one of the more notable – but was prepared to work hard and learn his trade. As a result he made his way into the team that will be forever associated with October 19th 1957 when the Hoops not only retained the League Cup but shared an eight goal thriller with their then very much alive and kicking Glasgow rivals.

As Johnny Bonnar’s successor he was brave, athletic and skilful. He had three impossible saves against Hibs at easter Road early in the match on December 29th 1956 and then the game of his life at the same venue versus the legendary Reilly, Baker and Ormond forward line on November 23rd 1957, a match during which he even saved an Eddie Turnbull penalty kick.

There was the occasional bad day, of course. He was having a magnificent game for a ten man Celtic side against Clyde in the Glasgow Cup on August 20th 1958 when he hit a short goal kick to Dunky Mackay with five minutes left to play. Dunky played it back to him, Dick fumbled it (this was in the days when ‘keepers could pick the ball up from passbacks remember) and in came Johnny Coyle to make it 1-1. Beattie had been cutting out Tommy Ring’s crosses all night, but a minute after his passback blunder he missed his first cross and it was 2-1 for Clyde.

Against Motherwell on January 2nd 1959 he lost another two goals in the last two minutes in a game which ended up a 3-3 draw and that signalled the end for Beattie as Celtic’s ‘keeper.

Dick and his distinctive orange jockey cap (he was a keen gambler on horse racing) took off to England where he landed at Portsmouth, and in a whole heap of trouble in the shape of a weasel by the name of Jimmy Gauld.

Nick Hazlewood recounts the subsequent fall from grace of Dick Beattie in his book “In The Way”:

“Dick Beattie was an accomplished custodian who had played for Scotland at both junior and under-23 level. His career had him to St Mirren, Celtic, Peterborough and Portsmouth and he was considered by some to have been one of the finest goalkeeper of his generation. But on 19th April 1964 he was exposed by The People newspaper – he may have been one of the best at saving, but he doubled up as the undisputed king of not saving.

In an article by Michael Gabbert and Peter Campling headed ‘I took bribes to let goals through’, Beattie was named as the ‘worst offender in the whole gigantic scandal of bribed soccer players’.

The newspaper went on to say: ‘He was the most persistent of those who have thrown matches, and the most successful in making it appear that he was playing to win. And he certainly made handsome profits in direct bribes and in betting on matches that he had fixed. He could have been the finest goalkeeper in Britain. But he was a big spender and greedy for money. He was easily tempted.’

In a confession extracted by the People’s investigative team, Beattie was to admit to a whole litany of malpractices. According the keeper, another footballer at Portsmouth had introduced him to a bookmaker who promised good money for every Portsmouth game that the Scotsman could throw.

One example Beattie gave the paper was a match against Peterborough in April 1962, when his bookie watched from the stands as Beattie contrived to let in three goals. Sitting in the bookie’s car outside Bedhampton Station, Portsmouth, Beattie was handed £100 in used fivers.

There was a big irony here, too, for so impressed with Beattie’s performance were Peterborough, that two months later they splashed out and bought him.

Not that this instilled in him a newfound sense of loyalty – the Scotsman continued to throw games and The People sympathised with Peterborough by paying Beattie a backhanded compliment: ‘He was an artist at deliberately letting in goals while appearing to have unluckily missed making a miraculous save.’

goalie beattie gauldGauld (left) was described by trial judge Mr Justice Lawton as an “unpleasant rogue and the spider in the centre of the web”.

How were Peterborough to know?

Jimmy Gauld, the ‘Mr Big’ of the fixed-odds scandal, didn’t know of Beattie’s connection with the bookmaker. Beattie’s involvement with Gauld was in addition to the fixed games and involved straightforward betting on matches. Players fixing scores for Gauld would be obliged to bet on the matches in which they were playing, using their own money. In this way bribes could be disguised and the players involved became more committed to keeping their word.

It was a very lucrative practice. For fixing the Portsmouth v Peterborough game, Beattie received £100 from his own bookmaker and a further £300 from Gauld – for his very own bet that he could help Portsmouth to lose. Conversely, there was also big money to be lost if things didn’t go right. Beattie was betting £50 a time, a huge amount that was probably the equivalent of half his match fee. It made him all the more hungry to make sure that things went to plan – but it wasn’t always easy.

One weekend Gauld and Beattie bet on the result of the Peterborough v Queens Park Rangers game in which Beattie was playing and doubled it up with a bet that Brentford would beat Exeter, a game in which they had absolutely no influence in.

The latter half of the double was a straightforward bet on current form, and it was the part of the bet that went to plan. The part involving Beattie wasn’t so simple, as The People pointed out: ‘It was touch and go whether he could contrive a defeat for Peterborough. At one point the score was 1-1 with only a few minutes left to play. Then he managed to throw the ball straight to the feet of a QPR player who banged it into the net. “It was a very near thing,” said Beattie, “and there was a hell of a row about it in the dressing-room afterwards.’”

After the game Beattie met Gauld outside a hotel in Nottingham to receive another £200. Gauld told The People that the keeper was ‘flat broke’ when he arrived – ‘he didn’t even have the money to buy petrol to get him home if I failed to turn up’.

Beattie was eventually sunk when Gauld started blabbing to the press. Any honour among thieves rapidly evaporated when the newspaper offered soccer’s Mr Big £7,000 to name names. A registered letter from Beattie to Gauld connected the goalkeeper to the case and a recording Gauld made of Beattie finished him off.
At the trial in Nottingham ringleader Gauld was fined £5,000 and sentenced to four years imprisonment.”

Beattie was found guilty of match-fixing and spent nine months in prison. He was also banned from football for life. On his release he took up a new trade and spent many years away working as a welder in Saudi Arabia and Iran mong other places, but died of a heart attack in Scotland in 1990. He was 52.

Beattie’s entry in the pages of the Celtic Wiki ends on a sympathetic note: “It was a sad end to the career of a man who was commonly regarded by team mates as a hugely warm and likeable character. An ex-Posh team mate had described him simply as “..a hell of a nice guy”. In these times when even the most mediocre of players are millionaires it is easy to condemn all those involved in what became known as ‘The Fix’. But it has to be remembered that these were mostly players whose short and physically demanding career was largely during the time of the maximum wages.

Richard Beattie’s career should have been defined by his memorable seven finger salute. Instead the shadow of scandal is forever cast across his moment in the Hampden sun.”


1966 World Cup Tribute

Anyone know where we can see a performance of McGlashan’s tour de force, ‘Traveller in Time’? (@2.30)


Pink Kit Launch

Anybody who even thinks of slagging the pink kit should have a look at this first.

(Watch out for George of the Jungle near the end… his first – and last – modelling assignment)

A Game of Two Haffeys

From the sublime to… Frank Haffey. In his book about goalkeepers, ‘In The Way’, Nick Hazelwood reserved a special mention for another of Celtic’s illustrious custodians of yesteryear who became something of a colourful legend in his own inimitable manner.

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Scotland the grave?

Yuri Gagarin came home from the first manned spaceflight in April 1961. The Daily Mirror greeted the Russian astronaut and his spaceship Vostok I with the huge headline, ‘WELCOME BACK TO EARTH’. In London violent clashes broke out after a massive ‘Ban the Bomb’ march. Meanwhile in Israel, Adolf Eichmann stood accused of the slaughter of six million Jews in the Second World War. In Florida 5,000 American-sponsored counterrevolutionaries were preparing for a farcical invasion of Cuba. In Lucca, Italy, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker was about to be sentenced to 19 months’ imprisonment for possession of drugs and, back in Britain, What’s My Line? was put off the air by a strike of BBC electricians.

It was a crucial moment in the history of the world, in so many ways a turning point – but if you happened to be Scottish there were more significant matters to be dealt with: how to recover from a 9-3 defeat by England at Wembley and how to get your hands around the throat of a man called Haffey.

That afternoon, 15 April 1961, has become the most extravagant symbol of one of the enduring traditions of goalkeeping folklore – the almost supernatural incompetence of the Scottish custodian. It’s a tradition that says that Scotland is to goalkeeping what Bosnia is to peacekeeping. It’s a tradition that says that if a Scottish goalie walked in front of a double-decker bus it would go between his legs, and it’s a tradition that continues by saying that when the rest of his international team-mates are practising swerves, dribbling through cones and throwing medicine balls at each other, the hapless Scots keeper is doing a specially designed exercise – ball-retrieval repetitions.

In the popular consciousness – though probably only the English one – the abiding images of the Scottish keeper are of a man wrapped around a goalpost, legs flapping like the torn shreds of an old kite caught on an electricity pylon, or a man tangled in a mass of netting like some cast-off from a failed Houdini experiment. The word that’s most commonly applied is ‘butterfingers’. It’s also a tradition that says that Wembley is the graveyard of Scottish custodians and that it is here that the Scots come to bury their keepers.

But is it fair? Is it a tradition that has a firm grip on reality or the slippery Flora-coated fingers of an old Frank Haffey?

There are many instances that the advocates of the tradition would put forward in addition to the 1961 debacle. The afternoon in September 1885 when Arbroath put 36 goals past the despairing fingers of the keeper of a team called Bon Accord for one.

It was the first round of the Scottish Cup, and even before the kick-off it was reported that the difference in class between he two teams was apparent – Bon Accord turning out in a variety of different-coloured shirts, working trousers supported by braces and no boots. In Contrast Arbroath were kitted out in neat maroon shirts and white shorts.

Nevertheless, Bon Accord’s luckless keeper, Andrew Lornie, could hardly have expected what was about to befall him. In a game described by the Arbroath Guide as ‘the most amusing football match ever seen’, the home team forwards ran amok, firing 15 past Lornie before the whistle for half-time.

Lornie was ordinarily a right-half with no experience of goalkeeping – he had agreed to fill in in the absence of Bon Accord’s normal keeper. It is said that he wasn’t to blame for a good 20 of the goals, but it is nevertheless also rumoured that he retired from the game soon after, a tad embarrassed at his inclusion in the record books.

At the other end, the Arbroath keeper Jim Milne had the quietest afternoon of his career – he didn’t touch the ball once. On a day that saw the heavens open, not only on his opponents, Milne sought refuge from the rain under a spectator’s umbrella and lit up a pipe. Mmmm, Condor! (I’ve also read an account of this match that has Lornie under the brolly smoking a pipe, which would explain a lot – Historical Ed)

It didn’t help the reputation of Scottish goalkeepers, nor indeed Scottish football in general, that on that very same afternoon, less than 20 miles away, Dundee Harps were putting a mere 35 goals past Aberdeen Rovers’ goalkeeper. For a brief, euphoric moment they must have believed that they were about to enter the record books for the highest tally of goals ever scored.

And then there’s Joe Crozier. The official Scottish records don’t recall him as the national team’s most unfortunate keeper – but that’s what he was. Joe, who played for Brentford, was called up twice by his Country during the Second World War, but for unofficial internationals against the ‘auld enemy’, designed to lift morale – which they most certainly did if you happened to be a Sassenach. Crozier watched forlornly as eight crashed past him at Maine Road in 1943 and was probably even more downcast as a further six were rattled in just four months later at Wembley. An international keeper with an average of seven against – Crozier must have been relieved that the games weren’t credited in the official annals.

It was 1961, though, that was the big one. Six years after losing seven goals to England, Scottish supporters could be forgiven for thinking that their nightmare had come true. Never has a game been more successful in wounding national pride than the 9-3 hammering of April 1961. There are several reasons for the longevity of its survival in the national psyche: the sheer scale of the defeat, to the team the Scots would least like to be defeated by; the truly inept performance of the team’s goalkeeper; and the presence of one Jimmy Greaves in the victorious England team. This was the game that both conceived and delivered the legend of the Scottish goalkeeper.

It was a match that the Sunday Express described as a ‘nightmare massacre … this Sassenach cakewalk’, and it began with a 20-yard volley from Bobby Robson that saw Scottish goalie Frank Haffey diving seconds too late.

By half-time Haffey and his team-mates were three down, but not out. Denis Law had had a goal disallowed for offside, and within minutes of the restart Scotland had scored twice. They were within an ace of pulling it back when a controversial goal settled the day. From a free-kick which the Scots argued was taken yards from where the offence had been committed, the men in blue were forced to watch in agony as the ball trickled from Haffey’s hands and rolled inches across the line. There was to be no looking back for the English.

There may, of course, have been mitigating circumstances for such a heavy loss. One of the stories doing the rounds at the time was that the reason Scotland lost was down to the colour of the ball – orange, the colour of rampant Protestantism. In the sectarian Protestant/Catholic split that is Glaswegian football, it was said that there was no way a Celtic goalkeeper was going to hold onto the thing and no way that Rangers full-back Bobby Shearer was going to kick it!

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Under a vicious parade of nine painful photos, the Sunday Express filled their back page with the headline ‘The man who let through 9 goals’. Haffey is seen grounded, stranded, despairing, clutching, flailing, crawling, sprawling, agonising and failing identified in the most cruel and graphic of ways as the man responsible for what the paper called ‘a slaughter in the spring sunshine’.

It was all rather tough on Haffey, an isolated figure as he left the field. He wasn’t the first-choice keeper for the game and was clearly out of his depth. But despite his inappropriateness for the big match, the greater part of the blame should surely have gone to a misfiring Scotland team in which others were most certainly more culpable.

Haffey had been drafted in to cover for. Tottenham’s Bill Brown on the basis of being a competent if somewhat erratic Celtic keeper. He was a likeable, big-hearted man prone to both blunders and pranks, but also playing decent football in a club not at its best.

Anecdotes of his goalkeeping eccentricity abound: how even as a youngster, playing Boys’ Guild soccer, he had shocked his team-mates when, in an attacking position, they were put off by the sound of music emanating from their own goal. Turning to look back, they found the young Haffey sitting on his crossbar singing his heart out.

It was a favourite trick even in adulthood, according to Stuart Cosgrove who in Hampden Babylon writes, ‘In more than one crunch game when the pressure was off and the ball was in the opposition’s half, Frank would climb on to the bar and endear himself to the Celtic faithful by pretending to sleep on the woodwork.’

The blunders were, naturally enough, part and parcel of the man too. One story tells of how, against Hearts, a 40-yard speculative shot from Johnny ‘Jumping Jack’ Hamilton passed through Haffey’s legs as he bent down to collect it.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that when he stepped onto Wembley’s turf, he stepped out of his class and in so many ways will never be forgiven.

In actual fact the press were mixed in their treatment of the young goalkeeper. Monday’s Daily Record didn’t know which way to look. Under a picture of Haffey leaving the field at the end of the game, the paper talked of a national disgrace, adding, ‘He’s just been beaten more times than any Scottish international keeper in history … so no wonder Frank Haffey’s so unhappy as he leaves the pitch at the finish.’

But in another article it dredged up the ghost of goalkeeping failure past – Freddie Martin, the man who had conceded seven goals to England in 1955: ‘Only one man can really understand the goalkeeping nightmare that was Wembley for young Celtic keeper Frank Haffey … And no doubt Martin will join us as, with Scots footballers everywhere, we send a “cheer up” Monday morning message to young Haffey saying, “Don’t worry, Frank. Just try to forget it.” ‘

In the Daily Telegraph, Welshman Donald Saunders debated whether it was the ineptness of the keeper or the brilliance of England’s Johnny Haynes that was the decisive factor in the massacre: ‘Always the English will believe the genius of Haynes earned glorious victory; Scotsmen will for ever blame Haffey’s shortcomings for ignominious defeat.’ He concluded, though, that ‘England would have destroyed Scotland on Saturday whoever had been in goal.’

There was no ambivalence to Hugh McIlvanney’s searing condemnation in The Scotsman: Greatest humiliation in the 90 years of international football
It was a night (in West End pubs later) when most preferred to identify themselves with Rangers or Celtic rather than Scotland, although the representatives of Parkhead were not rushing to defend the performance of Haffey.
The young goalkeeper’s was the biggest personal tragedy on a day when there were no shortage of them. He might have saved at least four of the goals, including the vital first in the eighth minute … After that mistake he erred with the clumsiness and regularity of a substitute in a second-class work’s team. Admittedly, the actions of some of the players in front of him were liable to convince him that he was, in fact, in such a side.

Haffey seemed to exacerbate his reputation, not least of all because he didn’t seem to realise the degree of his disgrace. He may have looked a downtrodden, lonesome figure as he trudged off the field, but just minutes later he was astonishing his teammates by singing happily in the bath. It was almost as if he knew that this was the final chance he was ever going to get of playing for Scotland and, despite the enormity of the calamity, he was darned well going to enjoy every last minute of it. As the team bus pulled away from Wembley it was attacked by a mob of outraged Scots. Bottles, cans and stones rained down on the coach, but as his colleagues cowered below their seats Haffey beamed radiantly and waved with all the aplomb of passing royalty.

Some didn’t see the funny side. At Glasgow’s Art Gallery and Museum in Kelvingrove a young man threw a lump of sandstone at Salvador Dali’s famous crucifixion painting Christ of St John of the Cross and followed up by tearing the canvas straight down the middle. Word went around town that as he was carted off to Barlinnie prison he told the police, ‘I’d had a few drinks in me at the time, and I thought it wis a picture o’ big Haffey swingin’ fae the crossbar!’

Haffey’s career in Scotland was not to last too much longer. He wasn’t selected for the national side again and although he played 200 times for Celtic, including giving a great performance in the 1963 Scottish Cup final against Rangers, he soon headed off to a new life in Australia where, after playing for clubs with exotic names such as Hakoah, St George, Budapest and Sutherland, he began moderately successful careers as both a cabaret singer and radio disc jockey.


haffey small

HAFFEY, Francis

Goalkeeper 1958-64

b. Glasgow, 28th November 1938

CAREER: Campsie Black Watch/CELTIC trial) Ne’erday 1958/CELTIC 18 Feb 1958/ Maryhill Harp (farmed-out) 1958/Swindon Town 9 Oct 1964/free 1965/St George-Budapest FC (Sydney) 28 June 1965/Hakoah (Sydney)/Sutherland FC player-coach by 1976.

Debut v Third Lanark (h) 4-1 (SL) 30.4.58

“Is Haffey an improvement on Beattie?” was the question until Celtic knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup on February 28th 1959 and Bobby Evans approached the big ‘keeper with his hand held out in congratulation at the end.

It was Haffey versus Rangers again in the Charity Cup semi-final of May 2nd 1959. He was “Haffey the Barrier, Haffey the Cat, Haffey the Hero” on Ne’erday 1960 when he even saved a Billy Little spot-kick up in the postage stamp corner in the 59th minute.

Against England at Hampden (9th April 1960) he saved another penalty this time from Bobby Charlton but the referee ordered a re-take. Hendid not accept the 9-3 humiliation at Wembley of April 15th 1961 as casually as Denis Law has made out.

So affected was he that John Fallon expected to be in the Cup final side versus Dunfermline the following Saturday. Frank rescued his career from the catastrophe and carried on.

As a Celtic goalie he is associated with moments of high comedy. 3rd February 1962: he tries to steer a free kick smartish to Dunky MacKay and puts it in his own net; 17th March 1962: furious rowing with Crerand and McNeill and the ref has to calm down all three; 2nd March 1963: he throws a pass-back between his legs to Jim Kennedy as he staggers out of the penalty box with the ball; 13th April 1963: Frank duffs a clearance right to McDonald’s feet for Raith’s equaliser in the Scottish Cup semi-final; 26th October 1963: penalty for Celtic 9-0 up against Airdrie; fans chant for Haffey; Frank ambles up, cannonball shot, Roddie McKenzie’s save is stunning, Frank applauds.

But otherwise the man was brilliant. Only he and McNeill stood between Celtic and a real thrashing in the Scottish Cup final replay of 15th May 1963. A broken ankle against Partick Thistle in the Glasgow Cup (13th November 1963) signalled the end of his career with Celtic. Frank (who always just happened to have his music with him) commenced a new career as a cabaret performer in Australia and took a vivid interest in Australian Rules football.


SL: 140 apps. 41 shut-outs. SLC: 24 apps. 9 shut-outs. SC: 34 apps. 10 shut-outs. Eur: 3 apps. 1 shut-out.

Total: 201 apps. 61 shut-outs (30%).

Alphabet of the Celts, McBride et al.

haffey paper

Looks Familiar…

lookalike whyte

lookalike greig

The Lion of Lisbon Who Came of Age in London

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Among the many achievements of Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson was representing Great Britain at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. The Evening Standard invited Ronnie down to Highbury in 2003 to recall the part he played in that tournament as a callow 17 year-old.

Ronnie Simpson’s football career was as astonishing as it was long-lasting. For starters, he became the youngest player ever to turn out in the Scottish League. That day in 1945, he played in goal for his Glasgow school team in the morning before turning out in front of 25,000 at Hampden Park for Queen’s Park against Clyde in the afternoon. Wayne Rooney, eat your heart out.

Ronnie was just 14. A quarter of a century later Simpson was still going strong, having at 37 set another record by becoming the oldest player ever to be voted Scotland’s Footballer of the Year and, at 36, the most venerable ever to make a debut for his country.

He marked the occasion at Wembley by helping England’s auld enemy deliver the first defeat for Aif Ramsey’s fabled newly-crowned world champions (1966). In between he just got on quietly assembling his own legend with a decade’s sterling service for Newcastle and then, just when he’d gone part-time with Hibs in his thirties and was about to retire he got an SOS from Celtic where he was guaranteed immortality as the on-field patriarch of Jock Stein’s peerless Lisbon Lions who brought the European Cup to Britain for the first time in 1967.

So it was a little difficult to tell Scotland’s greatest goalie, at 72, why Standard Sport wanted to invite him to fly down to London from Edinburgh for the day.

What, to talk about his two FA Cup Final triumphs for Newcastle or the nine trophies he helped win in his six twilight seasons at Parkhead?

Er, no, it was to remind him of the Olympic medal he never quite managed.

“Aye, it’s a good job you’re not taking me to Wembley then,” he agreed ruefully, recalling how in the bronze medal play-off of the 1948 Games there, he had an absolute shocker for the Great Britain side in the 5-3 defeat by Denmark. “You know, it was probably one of the worst games of my career.” I reminded him of the testimony of team-mate Jack Rawlings who had noted how “poor Ronnie let in four under his body that he would normally have stopped and sat in the dressing-room afterwards just crying his eyes out.”

Simpson couldn’t remember the tears; what lived with him was the exhilaration of feeling like an Olympian. Particularly now he was back at Highbury. For this is where the adventure had begun rather more happily.

simpson olympic

A young Simpson (right) guarding the GB goal against Holland in the August evening sun in 1948 with the Dutch forward seemingly an early exponent of the Hand of God.

He was only 17, working as a trainee sub-editor for a Glasgow newspaper during the week and playing for Queen’s Park, the Hampden-based amateurs, in the First Division on a Saturday. In Scotland, they knew him best as the son of Jimmy Simpson, the former Rangers and Scotland captain.

In England he was a no-one. Yet suddenly he was transported into the spotlight. For a fortnight the nation’s gaze was only on this unknown amateur crew of young Scottish journeymen, including half-a-dozen of Ronnie’s mates at Queen’s Park and a few English luminaries like the captain and Bishop Auckland legend, three-time Olympian Bob Hardisty.

Down in London, Ronnie found himself having dinner with Winston Churchill, watching Emil Zatopek running to glory, getting on a plane for the first time ever to go to a practice match in Switzerland. This was the time of his young life. “We were given no chance against nations like [the eventual winners] Sweden who had no pro league and could simply choose their best players. You’re talking about some of the best in the world,” recalls Simpson.

Ah, but the British Olympic Association weren’t going to be shown-up at their own game at their own Olympics – so they appointed as manager a young man they felt was going places.

Enter Matt Busby.

“It was a six-week education I’ll never forget. Matt had just won the English Cup with Manchester United and there wasn’t one of us he didn’t make a better player. Just as Jock Stein was, you just knew he was special. We’d play on a Saturday and go to Old Trafford to train with him on a Sunday. I think he saw this as a big stage for himself and was taking it very seriously.”

The first match was against Holland at Highbury. “1 was used to Hampden but this was different. What a thrill. The place seemed jam-packed but when you are a young boy, you don’t feel the pressure. And I had a good game that evening.”

Great Britain won 4-3 after extra time and when they went to Craven Cottage in the next round and beat France 1-0, it was evident Busby had worked miracles. “Perhaps there became a bit too much expectation,” Ronnie remembers.

The fun and games finished when they went to Wembley and lost 3 -1 in the semis to Yugoslavia. “Busby had become close to us all and the last thing he told me was that if I ever thought of turning pro, I should ring him.”

Ronnie wondered what would have happened if he’d ever made that call. Tom Curry, Busby’s assistant at Manchester United who had helped to train the ‘48 Olympians was one of the 23 who died a decade later in the Munich air disaster.

Instead, Simpson went his own way after National Service, giving up his job as a sub-editor for the ‘outdoor life’ which ended-up taking him all the way to Buenos Aires where, even before Celtic’s infamous 1967 World Club Cup Final against Racing Club had begun he was k.o.’ d in his goalmouth by a missile from the crowd.
At Highbury, one of Arsenal’s backroom staff, a Celtic fan, pops in to pay homage. They still revere Ronnie as ‘Faither’ of the 1967 legends, the wee goalkeeper with the coolness to outrageously backheel his way out of trouble, miles out of his box against an onrushing Inter Milan striker while his young team-mates swept irresistibly to victory. A cottage industry still surrounds the triumph. Ronnie, who ran a pub and a sports shop for a while, was a meeter and greeter at Celtic Park and, with the rest of the Lions, even had an annual freebie to Las Vegas to meet US-based Bhoys fans.

“You know, it would have been nice to say I won an Olympic medal,” he says, but those who see the world in green and white are just thankful that despite the tears his London experience persuaded a raw 17-year old that football was going to be more fun than the newspapers.

(Adapted from an article by ian Chadband in the London Evening Standard January 15 2003 and which appeared in the Celt in January 2005.)


simpson card

Ronnie died 20 April 2004. His entry in the Alphabet of the Celts reads as follows:

Celtic asked Queens Park for the loan of boy goalie Ronnie Simpson, son of Jimmy of Rangers, when Willie Miller was on international duty at Wrexham (October 19th 1946). Ronnie had made his debut for the Spiders at the age of 14 years 304 days.

When he won his first Scottish cap he was 36 years 196 days old and no stranger to Wembley: he had been there in the 148 Olympics and won cup medals with Newcastle in 1952 and 1955.

He had also played for the Magpies against Celtic at Celtic Park in the Cup-winners match, September 12th 1951.

Sean Fallon secured him for Celtic from Jock stein at Hibs for half the asking price of £4,000 and he became Celtic’s regular goalie as of September 25th 1965 when Celtic beat Aberdeen 7-1 in the League.

His youth was suddenly renewed: first League Championship medal , May 7th 1966; first cap April 15th 1967; first Scottish Cup medal, April 29th 1967; Scotland’s Player of the Year, May 5th 1967; European Cup winners medal May 25th 1967 (with the tears running down his cafe at the end).

Ronnie’s shoulder went out for the first time at Shawfield on february 12th 1969. He was sidelined until October 4th but the arm dislocated again nine days later and he said goodbye to the first class game after almost 25 years. He took to the field with the other Lisbon Lions to salute the fans before the Clyde game of May 1st 1971.

The players didn’t just call him ‘Faither’ because of his age. He stamped his authority on the team of Celtic’s golden era. how would Jock Stein have done without him?

He ranks with Celtic’s best between the sticks: McArthur. Adams, Shaw, Thomson, Kennaway and Miller. Ronnie Simpson seldom made a mistake. He is an all-time Celtic great.

For Celtic Ronnie made a total of 188 appearances in all competitions, 91 of which were shut-outs (48%)

Alphabet of the Celts, McBride et al.

Another Tale From The Crypt

crypt burns red card

I don’t know how many of you even remember Hugh Burns. If you are under the age of twenty-five it is quite unlikely that you’ll have any idea who he was. If you are older, chances are that – whatever team you support including, I suspect, many Rangers fans – you would like to forget him.

Small on talent, even smaller of brain and massively ugly Burns was the Rangers right back during much of the second coming of Jock Wallace between the autumn of 1983 and the spring of 1986.

As has been noted before in previous ‘Tales’ the very late Seventies and early Eighties when John Greig was manager was a dismal era in Rangers’ history with several of the creatures of that era such as Stevens, McAdam and Dalziel already having been mentioned in this column to date.

But speak to any sensible Rangers fans – honestly there are a few – who were around at the time and they’ll tell you the return of Wallace brought about an era that was even bleaker for Rangers. Quite a few of the failures of the Greig era like Dave McKinnon. McCloy, Russell and Paterson survived the change in manager, while added to the squad were hopeless duds like Bobby Williamson and Cammy Bell.

And through the ranks came not just Gordon Ramsay but one Hugh Burns.

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Burns as he appeared on a Panini sticker. Probably best stuck on something you would prefer young children not to go near as a warning – like a bottle of Paraquat.

As noted earlier, Burns was low on talent but massively ugly – a prototype for Poached Egg Broadfoot in some respects – but he was also a nasty, rather vicious player with, to use the journalese, a ‘short fuse’.

If you want an illustration of his brainless nastiness go on to You Tube and look up a Rangers versus Aberdeen match from 1985 in which Burns is given first use of the soap* following a dreadful tackle on an Aberdeen player.

As commentator Archie McPherson notes in the moments before the assault, the Rangers right back had been , for no obvious reason, well out of position and in a match in which the wild challenges had already been flying in – including one by a slimmer-than-now Ally McCoist that somewhat belies his cheeky chappie image – with the yellow card being brandished practically from the kick-off, only a dimwit would have not decided to be just that bit more careful when lunging in to tackle the opposition’s swift left winger.

Step forward Burns who even has the stupid audacity to look shocked at the referee’s decision.

Rangers fans of the era – the sensible ones at any rate – saw that Burns represented much that was wrong with the way that their team and club seemed to be headed. Charitably they would have conceded that he was at least enthusiastic, but any virtues were vastly outweighed by his sheer lack of talent. He played only a handful of games under Souness before moving on to first Hamilton Accies and (surprise! surprise!) Hearts.

He didn’t make much impact with them either and after spells with Kilmarnock – then a lower division team – and Ayr United he ended up in the juniors with Larkhall.

Rangers supporters at the time might have disliked Burns simply because he was rotten but Celtic fans loathed him because he was somebody who epitomised much of what we disliked about Rangers. Rumours abounded that any chance of surviving the arrival of Souness Burns might have had dissipated when he made disparaging comments about the religious background of the wife of his new ‘gaffer’. I have no idea if there was anything to this story – Souness was in truth unlikely to have not recognised that the right back he inherited was total crap without the off colour remarks – but Danny McGrain mentioned in his autobiography that Burns – ‘a fan in a jersey’- seemed to be rather more caught up than was healthy in the more ‘heady’ aspects of the Celtic versus Rangers rivalry when he was playing against Celtic.

Hugh Burns seems to me, though, to represent something of not just the darker underside of what Rangers and/or Scottish Football were and sometimes are, but the darker underside of Scotland as a whole.

He was from South Lanarkshire but he could have been from any one of those small to medium villages and towns in Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, West and East Lothian, West Fife, Stirlingshire or Clackmannanshire.

Towns that had been in decline well before the onset of Thatcher, places which have been ignored for generations, places where the local Subway’s colour is not green but black, towns where the bottom traffic light has a protective grille over it, places where Rangers have a massive following but which nevertheless felt betrayed – even kicked in the teeth if you please – when Souness signed a player who had been brought up as a Roman Catholic.

The kind of place where no amount of headline grabbing lawmaking by Alex Salmond et al will change a single thing.

Hugh Burns may well just have been a.n.other Rangers player who, like hundreds before, him was fulfilling no more than a boyhood dream in playing for his team; but none who have played since, even Iain Ferguson, has seemed so clearly to personify something genuinely distasteful and backward, something Rangers themselves were just about beginning to become embarrassed with as they came to fully understand what they really meant to their keenest and most loyal followers – their very own Heart of Darkness.

*Dontcha just love these old clichés? To further enhance the cliché I’ll add that it may have been Burns’ own first use of soap.


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For some reason Burns aquired the nickname of ‘The Goose’, perhaps because ‘The Curlew’, to which he bore more than a passing resemblance, was just too surreal. On reflection, if you put a size 5 football in front of a goose and watch the results, the epithet becomes somewhat clearer in its derivation.