Great Honest Mistakes of our Time

Now that we’re no longer paranoid we can take the occasional teary-eyed nostalgic look back at some of them…

honest mistakes ref

April 1989 and the world is about to be introduced to a size 5 leather Mitre football that defies all known laws of physics and movement. Isaac Newton, had he been alive, would have been eating his words.

Celtic were playing Rangers (RIP) in the final league derby match of the season and had to win to have even the faintest hopes of retaining the league title they won in a blaze of glory 12 months previously during the Centenary season. But the joy of that seemed a long way off then.

The summer of 1988 had been a disaster of our own making. In key areas of the team we required fresh blood. Tommy Burns and Billy Stark had been outstanding but both were over 30. Roy Aitken was a similar age and behind the scenes there was trouble brewing as star striker Frank McAvennie was agitating for a move back to London. You will be unsurprised to hear that his model girlfriend was a major motivation in this request.

Even without these issues the fact was that our squad was very small as we were about to find out.

During that summer we bought two players, both goalkeepers. One was an Englishman called Ian Andrews who had arrived from Leicester. He was young but had some promise in that he had won a couple of U21 caps for his country. The other was Alan Rough, former Thistle, Hibs and Scotland legend. He wasn’t young but had a cupboard full of Scotland caps and the experience of three World Cup finals behind him. The reason for both these buys was that we had no fit ‘keeper. Reserve goalie Alan McKnight had moved to West Ham to get first team football and Pat Bonner had knackered his back at the end of the season forcing him out of the cup final, but had, somehow, still been allowed to go to the European Championships with Ireland, where had been a star. However that tournament hadn’t done his back or Celtic any favours. He would be out for a couple of months and his absence contributed massively to our horrific start to the league campaign.

Of our first 8 league games we won 3 and lost 5, shipping 15 goals in the process, 5 of them at Ibrox on a day that was almost entirely blamed on Andrews. But the awkward truth was that our central defence of Aitken and McCarthy were far more culpable in the overall calamity.

Other stand out disaster performances came at Easter Road with a 3-1 loss and a home spanking from Aberdeen, again 3-1. Andrews this time was very much to blame and, like the crosses into his penalty area, was dropped shortly after never to be seen again (in truth his career never recovered from Ibrox).

Meanwhile over the river Rangers (RIP) hadn’t been sitting on their hands during the summer the way Celtic had. They had gone out and bought England right back Gary Stevens from Everton and striker Kevin Drinkell from Norwich City. After the season started they would also sign Andy Gray for a short while and would continue to add to their squad as the weeks went by. During the calendar year of 1988 they would add six players who went straight into their first team and a couple more squad players. We added no one and we had the smaller squad to start with. What did we want to happen?

In November we got some measure of revenge over Rangers (RIP) with a 3-1 win at Celtic Park, but in January our squad size was again a factor as we went to Ibrox without the injured Paul McStay and again came away with a hammering; 4-1 this time (as if it wasn’t bad enough we had taken the lead in both games at Ibrox).

Oh, and to add insult to injury, we lost McAvennie with a broken arm after 20 minutes, so that should probably read injury to insult, but you know what I mean. Just in case you are wondering, the challenge that broke his arm wasn’t deemed a foul, but you probably guessed that already.

In January Big Billy finally brought in a new player. We had played and struggled badly against Dumbarton in the 3rd round of the Scottish Cup and on the back of that we bought their centre half Steve McCahill.

He may have been a huge Celtic fan, he may be a nice guy, but there was no way he should have been anywhere near the first team squad at Celtic and that was about to be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.
And so to the big match. Rangers (RIP) were well up for this one. They hadn’t won at Celtic Park for 10 years, but they had an almost unstoppable momentum and victory here to all intents would wrap up the league. They also had an almost full squad to choose from, the only notable absence being Ian Durrant who suffered a horrific knee injury the previous October that severely curtailed his career (say what you like about him, he could play and he was never the same player when he came back).

Meanwhile we had lost Derek Whyte to injury meaning that Steve McCahill would start. We had also finally lost McAvennie. After he returned from injury his demands for a transfer became public and he was sold in March. Despite his desire to leave his performances that season were often summed up with the phrase “1 man army”. His departure was a huge loss. Celtic lined up;

Bonner, Morris, Rogan, Aitken, McCahill, Grant, Stark, McStay, Walker, McGhee, Burns

Rangers (deceased) were in about us from the start, the tone set when McCoist beat Aitken in an early tackle. The Hoops were second to everything and we were a goal down within 4 minutes.Walters turned Rogan inside-out at the goal line and was hauled down. From the resulting free kick Drinkell easily lost his marker and headed the ball goalwards. McCahill got in the way and deflected the ball past Bonner. Roy Aitken went absolutely spare.

They were running us ragged. After 31 minutes they were awarded another free kick 25 yards out. Ferguson hit it hard, Bonner could only parry the ball straight into the air and watch as it dropped into the net.

Two down and almost unable to get out of our own half, the manager reacted. He withdrew Stark and put on Joe Miller. It had an almost instant effect. Celtic began to hold the ball and make headway into their half. By the half-time whistle we had taken a hold of the game and early in the second half we scored.

Miller gathered the ball in his own half and made his way down the right. He gave it to McStay, who played in the overlapping Morris whose cross was gathered by Walker and beautifully finished in off the post.


We had almost completely turned the tables on them, we were the ones on the front foot and finally the pressure told. Another cross from Chris Morris was intercepted by Gough, but he mistimed it and the ball skidded off his boot towards Mark McGhee. On the way it hit Gough’s hand and fell dead. Penalty!

After a discussion Joe Miller stepped up and hit the weakest penalty you’ll ever see. It was easily saved.

honest mistakes penalty miss

Disaster, but still we kept at them until there came the moment that defined the game.

Again Morris was played in, this time about level with the 6 yard line (his previous crosses had been level with the 18). He appeared to overhit it. Mark McGhee was close to their keeper Woods, but careful not to give away a foul. Woods was struggling as the ball came closer. He missed it and the ball hit the inside netting at the back post.

Delirium and chaos on the terraces, redemption from two down and a missed penalty.

At high pressure matches like this I’m always nervous about the referee. I always check that he has pointed to the centre spot before celebrating the goal and there he was pointing and running away. Time to smile!

But suddenly he stopped. The linesman had raised his flag. The Celtic players surrounded the ref as he walked over for the dreaded “consultation”. He then signalled that the ball had gone out of play!

So let’s get the story straight; Chris Morris hit a cross that went out of play, back in and then back out again (because it crossed the goal line and hit the net) all while going up and down at the same time?

Not since the magic bullet theory postulated by the Warren Commission has there been a more ridiculous assertion. After the ball left Morris’s boot it remained untouched until it hit the net. Woods never got near it, neither did McGhee. For this theory to have credibility there would needed to be a hurricane force wind blowing instantly east and west at the same time. There wasn’t. There also wasn’t any great fuss made in the match reports by the press. It was simply accepted that the ball must have swung out of play, then back in… er, then back out again. Nothing odd in that.

As the man once said “You canny change the laws of physics”; obviously the second part of that phrase must have been, “unless you need to preserve a lead for Rangers (RIP) and then you can make up anything you want!” But given that Star Trek is set in the 23rd Century and Rangers (RIP) died in the early part of the 21st I suppose we can understand why the second bit lost its relevance and popularity.

Anyway, with that Celtic finally ran out of gas. Heartened by a penalty save and a sympathetic linesman Rangers (RIP) held out. The league duly followed but Big Billy had one last hurrah as we fought out a hard won 1-0 win in the cup final, Joe Miller making up for his penalty miss with the only goal and that goal was far more valuable.

In truth the league was long over before that penalty miss. Funnily enough, that cup final is the source of one of their main refereeing gripes – their cornerstone evidence that Celtic were always the favoured team – when Roy Aitken stole a throw in. Yes, you read that correctly; we once got a throw-in that we shouldn’t. It was in our half as well, but from that we went into their half. They had possession but it was a poor clearing header and from that we scored the only goal. So ignore all the disallowed goals, denied penalties, broken bones that aren’t fouls and curious red cards. Thrown ins are the crucial point apparently. (If we were cataloguing all the throw ins we should have got against them that went the other way we would be here until the 23rd century._

That was the first of their nine in a row league wins, but you can look back and smile at that now because every one of them was simply another down payment on their demise as their ambitions rapidly overtook reality and the money started to run out.

The impact of this game on Celtic was that there was almost a mass brawl in the dressing room over who should have taken the penalty. Many thought that Aitken should have taken the captain’s responsibility and this game all but signalled the end of Steve McCahill’s first team career at Celtic. He became that most unwanted thing; the successful reserve captain. Ashtray on a motor bike.

The next year would see us humiliated with the Merde signing for us then them, the signing of inadequate players and the removal of legends either past their prime (Burns) or hounded out (Aitken). The dark years beckoned.


AB Murdoch



Escape to the Country – avec Charles Le Vert

story escape to the country 1

story escape to the country 2

Charlie’s Virtuosity Vanquishes Vojvodina

67 Charlie-Gallagher

In 1967 Celtic won the European Cup, an achievement so outstanding for that time that the pride, the ecstasy and the magical memories will live forever. Any Celtic supporter of that era, I’ve no doubt, would wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments.

Jock Stein, the Lisbon Lions and the rest of the squad left us a legacy that will most probably never be equalled.

This story is in honour of one of that squad and the vital role he played in getting Celtic to Lisbon. The man in question is Charlie Gallagher, my boyhood football hero.

Charlie Gallagher was a footballer blessed with a unique blend of skills and was a player who had a complete mastery of the ball. He was equally adept on both left and right sides and he was the finest passer of a football I ever had the privilege to watch. Of all the skills in his repertoire the one that I’ll always remember is the long-range pass to his winger. Charlie would ping the ball 25 or 30 yards and swing it inside the line into the winger’s stride, a fantastic skill to witness and one only the most gifted of players could execute. He also played the game the way it was meant to be played. He was elegant, graceful and sporting, very much Corinthian in attitude. There was only one way Charlie Gallagher helped to win football matches and that was with the application of superior skills to that of the opposition.

The European Cup was a distant dream for every Celtic supporter when season 1966-67 began, but four wins from four ties against Zurich and Nantes piloted us into the quarter-finals. The European Cup was still a dream, only now it wasn’t quite such a distant one.

The quarter-final draw paired us with the strange and not so well known name of Vojvodina from Novi Sad in Yugoslavia. Not a famous team, not a team heard of by many of the supporters I knew – an unknown quantity, and the unknown is always a worry in football. Little did we know how much worry Vojvodina had in store for us.

Celtic lost 1:0 in Novi Sad and by all accounts were fortunate to get away with just a single goal deficit. The worry began.

March 8th 1967 was the date set for the second leg. I turned 16 that week and I think I got my first grey hair through worrying so much about the match. I was also in the process of joining the RAF as an apprentice, but the game had priority in my mind. My future career would have to wait, at least until March 9th.

At the time I was working in a leather works in Main Street, Bridgeton. Not a place you would expect to find an abundance of Celtic supporters. It was a good place to work, though, with a lot of decent and friendly people there. Though not died-in-the-wool Rangers supporters, most of them would have leaned that way if pushed, so naturally, being the youngest in the place and the only Celtic fan, I took my fair share of ribbing.

My juvenile boasting that Celtic would win the European Cup fell on deaf ears or, in most instances, met with the Glaswegian response of, “Your heid’s full of wee motors son!” Therefore Vojvodina had me worried in more ways than just their ability to beat us at football. My delicate 16 year-old ego was in danger of taking a battering.

67 vojvodina ticket

The Wednesday arrived and it was easy to tell it was the day of the match. My stomach was gripped with nerves, a symptom that would have no relief until the referee’s final whistle that night. I worked until 6.45 that evening then, with the usual “Good luck to you and your team” from the men I worked with I set off for Celtic Park. I didn’t know it at that moment but I was about to witness one of the most dramatic football matches I have ever seen.

75,000 spectators were locked inside the ground that night. I managed to get to my usual spot at the Celtic End near the right-corner floodlight pylon. I was absolutely delighted when I heard the team news. Charlie Gallagher was playing. Although I was biased about his ability I also believed that Charlie was a lucky talisman for the team.

Celtic ran out wearing their all-green strip, another reason for apprehension for me. I always preferred – and still do – to see Celtic play in their traditional hoops. On this occasion, though, that was a minor worry.

67 vojvodina 3

This was the big test – could Celtic overcome that 1:0 deficit and get to the semi-final of the European Cup? It was the proverbial atmosphere where you could cut through the tension with a blunt butter knife. 75,000 hearts started beating a little faster as the match kicked off.

The game completely lived up to its billing. Celtic were magnificent, totally committed to attacking play and testing Vojvodina to the absolute limits of their ability. Charlie was having one of his finest ever games for Celtic, using all of his passing and probing skills and playing his heart out, like the rest of the team. What was worrying for us mere mortals watching was the fact that Vojvodina were proving themselves to be an excellent team. Understandably they were not as committed to attacking play as Celtic, but when they did get forward the anxiety on the terraces was tangible. It was like being at a Celtic-Rangers game as they were back then – every time they crossed the halfway line we feared they would score.

Half-time arrived with the score at 0:0. The mood among the fans, however, was still one of confidence. The Celtic performance in the first half warranted no less than that.

The second period started in much the same fashion as the first, with Celtic relentless in their pursuit of the elusive opening goal. Twenty minutes into the half their efforts were rewarded. A Tommy Gemmell cross from the left wing was fumbled by the goalkeeper and then sent netbound by the evergreen Stevie Chalmers. The stadium absolutely erupted. The noise, the passion, the support for the team reached levels that I had never experienced before.

67 vojvodina

All that was needed now was that vital second. Surely, we prayed, Celtic would get the result their performance deserved. The last twenty minutes were nerve-racking. We needed that vital second goal but Vojvodina were remaining resolute in defence and a goal from them would surely shatter our dreams.

They say that fortune favours the brave. The performance of the Celtic players that night epitomised that saying. Their overwhelming desire to win that match was inspiring to anyone who witnessed it.

The match entered its last minute and Celtic won yet another corner. This was surely the last opportunity to win the game in regulation time.

Step forward Charlie Gallagher.

I believe that if Billy McNeill had been standing in the jam-packed Jungle that night then Charlie could have put the ball on his forehead from the centre spot, that’s how much I rated his ability.

It was like a moment frozen in time. Charlie flighted one of his impeccable corners, big Billy’s jump was timed to perfection, his forehead met the ball and directed it with power into the roof of the net.

antony vojvodina

I remember a split second of silence then an explosion of absolute ecstasy from 75,000 throats. People around me were hugging, kissing, dancing… Celtic Park was definitely Paradise for the next ten minutes.

Vojvodina just had time to kick off before the referee blew for full-time. We had won 2:0 and were in the semi-final of the European Cup. The dream was a massive step closer.

Everybody remembers that it was big Billy who scored the goal, and rightly so. But this is written for the man with the cool head and the uncanny ability to put the ball exactly where Cesar wanted it – the one and only Charlie Gallagher.

T.L. Russell

87 vojvodina players celebrating

NTV 259

On sale from May 11th…

259 cover front small
Buy online and get the paper copy together with this month’s full colour 114 page PDF.

259 spreads

Includes paper copy and PDF.


Goldilocks and the Three Bears

In this season’s NTV trip down Amnesia Lane, AB Murdoch takes a look back at the club’s Centenary season, thirty years on.

In part 6 (NTV 256) he looks back on a quiet afternoon in Kinning Park and some dodgy defending in the league…

88 title mcavennie fight

The weekend of October 17th 1987 was a bizarre one, the London stock exchange suffered a bad crash after years of growth paid for with the selling off of formerly nationalised industries such as British Gas and weather forecaster Michael Fish told the country they didn’t need to worry about the weather coming in because it wouldn’t amount to anything.

Cue a hurricane that uprooted trees, caused significant other damage and resulted in some deaths.

Things were no more settled in Glasgow as derby weekend came around.

The crowd at Ibrox that day waiting for the teams to come out were slightly surprised when they came out separately. The normal protocol even then was for the teams to come out together.

Of course, after the fact lots of different stories sprang up. One of the more colourful, which even made it into the pages of NTV, was that one of the Celtic team had attempted to clear his nose in the tunnel, only to cover one of his opponents in the contents of his nostril. Result: chaos.

It was later claimed that Rangers had always intended to run out on their own for some reason, but whatever the truth, the players seemed very on edge. Even the toss of the coin threw up a twist as we chose to defend the Copeland Road in the first half.

The opening few minutes of the game saw lots of hustle and bustle, quite a few fouls, but precious little football. In particular Falco had made a terrible challenge on McStay very early on. But on balance Celtic seemed to have the territorial advantage.

About ten minutes in Tommy Burns looped a high ball into the box. It wasn’t the best cross – too close to the goal to give the forwards a chance to do anything – but McAvennie, having been told not to get involved in anything, put in a hard challenge on the Rangers goalkeeper Chris Woods as he tipped the ball over the bar, forcing the Ibrox man into the net.

The keeper looked unhappy with the challenge and the home crowd made their feelings well known, but the ref seemed content to give the corner and move on.

Shortly after that the real fun started. McStay played in Morris who crossed a low ball in, although it wasn’t going anywhere close to any of the Celtic players. Gough cut the ball out and sent it back to Woods.

All simple enough. Except at this point McAvennie arrived and for reasons known only to him decided to give Woods a clip round the ear. Woods pushed back and before anyone could move both had a hand on each other’s throats. Butcher appeared from the side and shoved McAvennie, then Roberts appeared and also started in on him as Woods came in for seconds. McAvennie hit the ground.

More chaos.

The actions of Roberts would later be described by Police Inspector James Moir thus: “I then saw him (Roberts) quite deliberately punch the Celtic player McAvennie on the side of the head”.

The referee, Jim Duncan – not a noted Celtic sympathiser, had some hard choices to make; cards were inevitable, but the colour and the number was the tricky bit. Boiled down to the core four players were involved.

First up was Woods – straight red.

The Broomloan Road stand went mad, Losing their keeper was a massive boost for us.

Then the ref turned to McAvennie – straight red. The celebrations became slightly more muted.

Next up Butcher – yellow. Same for Roberts, who was busy putting on the keeper’s jersey.

Given that they had lost their goalie Celtic seemed to have the advantage, especially since the player we had lost was a forward and slightly less crucial to the essential setup of the team, certainly compared to a keeper or the central defender who replaced him.

The game calmed slightly after that. Everyone seemed shell shocked. Celtic almost took the lead when Roberts attempted to throw the ball out over-arm and misjudged it, nearly throwing it clean into his own net.

Then, after 33 minutes, Walker latched on to a McCarthy clearance and ran clear of Butcher before sliding the ball under Roberts. Excellent – a valuable lead and something to hold on to.

88 walker

It got better two minutes later as Stark played the ball to Walker, who chipped a first time lobbed pass towards the onrushing Grant. Butcher attempted to intercept but only succeeded in sending the ball in a beautiful loop over the stand-in ‘keeper to double our lead.

Grant was so happy he raced towards the Celtic fans as if he had judged the shot, sank to his knees and blessed himself. The Broomloan stand was in raptures. The history buffs knew that we were 2 days short of the 30th anniversary of the 7-1 game and soon the chant “We want seven” was ringing round Ibrox.

Celtic's Peter G

The home crowd was not happy at half-time.

All we had to do was keep it together in the second half and it would be a valuable victory and the planets seemed to be aligning after 62 minutes when a Rangers attack fizzled out and Butcher seemed to lash out at the Celtic goalie Alan McKnight. That was certainly the ref’s view as he sent off Butcher with a second yellow card.

So we’re now a man up and two goals up. All we had to do was keep our concentration levels and not do anything stupid.

They had a goal back within two minutes as McCarthy decided not to bother marking McCoist, who then scored off the post giving them a lifeline and planting a seed of doubt in our minds.

Celtic had chances, but the luck seemed to have turned, especially when a Billy Stark header came back off the underside of the bar rather than go in.

The finale seemed almost inevitable; a ball into the box, a few miskicks and a goalkeeper throwing himself in entirely the wrong direction for no good reason leaving Gough with an almost empty net.

They went berserk. From kick off they played the ball back to their stand-in ‘keeper, who decided to take this opportunity to conduct the crowd as they sang about being up to their knees in blood.

From the Broomloan stand it felt like a significant defeat as the final whistle blew.

Meanwhile, outside the ground the crowd leaving stadium weren’t in the mood to simply head off thinking it was honours even. The roundabout next to Ibrox was a battleground and walking back to the buses next to St Anthony’s was a challenge as an assortment of missiles came raining in. Not a pleasant experience.

The immediate analysis of the game was not much better from our point of view as yet again we had let a two goal lead slip, but this time against a seriously weakened opponent. This was our chance to effectively remove them from the title race and we had blown it badly.

But in the cold light of day there was one undeniable truth: if we had been offered a 2-2 draw before the game we would have taken it.

A point at Ibrox was not a bad outcome. It kept us four points ahead of Rangers and, better yet, Aberdeen and Dundee United had played out a 0-0 draw while Hearts were losing to Hibs for the first time in years so we had actually closed the gap on them to one point.

But the fall out from this game would last for months and not just in pious words from newspapers that did their damnedest to hype things up in the build-up to these fixtures.

For a start we had to replace McAvennie for the next fixture against Dundee United. Easier said than done with McGhee still injured. Also doubtful was Tommy Burns who had aggravated a leg injury at Ibrox. Into the squad came 17 year olds Steve Fulton and Dugald McCarrison.

Fulton wasn’t selected, but McCarrison played the full game. In the end we lost 2-1, but that didn’t really reflect the way the match went as McStay nearly uprooted the posts with a superb shot in the first half and we generally had the better of the play. Two goals in the final 10 minutes for United finished us for the day. Celtic’s goal was a deflected looped effort from the increasingly marginalised Tony Shepherd.

The damage from this defeat wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Although Hearts beat the now doomed Morton to go three points clear at the top of the table neither Aberdeen or Rangers had played because they were meeting in the League Cup final the following day. That turned into quite a match. Both sides led at various points and eventually the cup was decided on penalties, Paul Nicholas the Welsh midfielder blasting his kick high over the bar to send the cup to Ibrox. Due to their not so great league position there was no talk of trebles.

The Monday after the cup final a story emerged which really cemented Graeme Roberts in his role as the bell end’s bell end.

At that time Celtic and Rangers had a joint sponsorship deal with the Glasgow fashion shops Wrygges Man, which operated out of the department store Goldbergs. Players posed for the shop catalogue, turned up on the catwalk and so on.

All quite harmless. Except Roberts decided he didn’t want to do it because Celtic players were involved and after the events of the previous week he tried to get the entire Rangers squad to refuse any further co-operation. Another Rangers player was also rumoured to be trying to get out of the deal – Ally McCoist – but his angle was that Top Man would pay him more. Always looking for the bottom line was Ally.

This quickly passed, but the attitude of Roberts was having the desired effect as the Ibrox hordes couldn’t get enough of him. He was one of them, something I think we can all agree on.

The following Wednesday we got back to winning ways, but only just and not in a way that pleased the manager.

With 85 minutes gone we were leading 3-0, although given our performance that scoreline was somewhat flattering.

The goals had arrived thanks to a superb free kick from Archdeacon and two from Billy Stark.

So far so normal, but in 85 minutes we lost as bad a goal as you ever will see as Bonner and McCarthy contrived to present Manley with an empty net.

We compounded that by conceding again three minutes later.

Big Billy was fuming in the press conference. For the third game in a row his team had conceded late goals. It seemed as though the Hoops just couldn’t see games out and it didn’t help that McAvennie still seemed to be finding his feet and Mick McCarthy was no one’s idea of a stable centre half.

We remained in second spot for the time being, but both Aberdeen and Rangers had a game in hand and our next fixture was a bit of a cracker – Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

This was not the time for shaky defending and uncertain attacking.


With much thanks to the scrapbook of Manus Gallagher. Pics from the wonderful Celtic Wiki.


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Remembering Tommy Burns

Tommy’s entry in an Alphabet of the Celts by Eugene MacBride, Martin O’Connor and George Sheridan covers the flame haired maestro’s playing days, Andy Murdoch looks back at TB’s career as seen from the Jungle and Average Joe Miller reflects on the day of Tommy’s funeral.

Jock Stein signed Tommy Burns as a full professional in 1974 and envisioned him as a first team man of 1977: “Doesn’t he have class! The way he passes the ball he could develop into another Baxter or Auld. His left foot makes the ball talk.”
Sure enough, Tommy won his first championship medal in 1977, won another in 1979 and his first Scottish Cup badge against Rangers in 1980. He was the schemer of the flag sides in 1981 and 1982.

In the Feyenoord Tournament played in Rotterdam in 1982, Ruud Gullit, Wim van Hanagem and Wim Kieft all played but the Man of the Series was Tommy Burns.

He won his first cap against Northern Ireland at Hampden on May 19th 1981. His control was “impeccable” and “he showed a willingness to take defenders on” but Tommy himself felt as if he drifted out of the game in the second half which cost him his place at Wembley on May 23rd, although he travelled with the squad, along with Davie Provan and Danny McGrain. Tommy had to wait until 1988 for a crack at the English.

Scotland were short of real class at the 1982 World Cup and Tommy, the man who could thread a needle with his left foot, was having his best season yet. On May 14th Jock Stein announced his name in the initial 40 from which the squad for Spain would be picked but, despite a fair game versus Wales at Hampden on may 24th, Tommy seemed unable to do enough to impress big Jock and was ultimately not selected for the final party of 22.

Against Sporting Lisbon in the European Cup on November 2nd 1983, Celtic took the field 2:0 down from the first leg. Tommy ran amok and Celtic won 5:0. Dynamo Kiev took precautions against that sort of performance on October 22nd 1986; they whacked Tommy hard and early.

By then he had another Scottish Cup medal (1985) and another championship badge (1986) for his collection.

This out-and-out Celt celebrated the Centenary Year by scheming the double home.

The way he played had to be seen to be believed. Celtic could be running about like headless chickens then on would come Tommy. Rationality restored.

At Celtic Park on November 12th 1988, “he guided a free-kick into the heart of the Rangers defence, a slanting and deceptive ball and one that so baffled Butcher that the big England defender glanced into his own net for the equaliser.”

Tommy played his last game for Celtic during the first half hour of the friendly versus Ajax on December 6th 1989 before being summoned off to admit the heir apparent, Steve Fulton. He removed his boots and threw them into the Jungle in farewell.

At Rugby Park, the fans chanted his name from beginning to end of the match against Hamilton on 25th April 1992 demanding he be made manager. He was duly appointed and took Killie into the Premier Division on May 15th 1993.

An all-time Celtic great, he was appointed to succeed Lou Macari as manager of Celtic in 1994, much to the widespread approval of the fans.

Celtic career:
App Gls
League 353 52
L Cup 70 15
S Cup 43 11
Europe 34 3

Total 500 81

Tommy Burns

In my list of favourite players as a teenager, many years ago, Tommy Burns came after people like Dalglish, McGrain, McStay. But having said that the finest 15 minutes of midfield football I ever saw was produced by Tommy Burns against Dynamo Kiev at Celtic Park on the 22nd of October 1986.

Kiev had players such as Blokhin, Belanov and Rats. They had destroyed Athletico Madrid in the cup winners cup final the previous May and their team was the basis for the Soviet national team.

But they couldn’t handle TB that night. He had them chasing shadows, until one of them stamped on his knee and finished his season. It also had a major impact on ours; four days later we lost the league cup final thus giving Souness his first trophy as a manager.

Had Burns played would we have won? We can never say for sure that we would, but you could certainly say our chances would have been enhanced.

I always thought Tommy Burns had a habit of producing that extra bit just when we needed it; the Centenary Cup Final was like that. Paul McStay had been having a fantastic season, but United had put the shackles on him pretty tight that day. During the second half, when Celtic were a goal behind, it was Tommy Burns running the show, demanding the ball, spreading the game out, even playing some nice passes with his right foot.

The following week he came on as a substitute for Scotland at Wembley. In his book – brought our shortly afterwards – he said he would be eternally grateful to the Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh for that because he now had one cap for each of his children.

His lack of any real international career was used as some as evidence that there was an anti-Celtic bias in the selection of the national team. Tommy himself never thought that. He always believed that Jock Stein (not noted for his anti-Celtic sentiment) simply never stopped thinking of him as “wee Tommy from the Calton”. Again, in his book he cites that as the real reason he wasn’t picked for the 1982 World Cup squad. There was also the fact that Scotland had an unusually strong midfield at that time.

In December 1989 Tommy was allowed to leave his beloved Celtic for £50k to join then second division Kilmarnock. He had several offers from Premier and First division clubs, but new Kilmarnock chairman Bobby Fleeting convinced him that Killie could make back in to the top division and stay there (from 19 years distance we can safely say he was right).

TB’s first game for Killie was against East Fife at Bayview, in December. A come down from the premier league to say the least and the day could scarcely have been worse. First the team bus broke down in a blizzard, the players had to be ferried to the ground in a fleet of taxis, which due to the delay in getting there had to double as changing rooms, the game went ahead but was eventually abandoned due to the weather. After the game Burns commented to one of his new team mates that he thought he would die due to the cold during the game.

But things got better for him at Killie. They were promoted from the Second division and in 1992 TB was appointed manager (they had offered it to him as a temporary post, but he insisted on it being full time).

He took them to the Premier League in 1993, even went to Ibrox and won in the autumn of that year and took Killie to the Scottish cup semi where they lost out in somewhat controversial circumstances to Rangers (the winning goal from Hately may not have crossed the line).

But in the spring of ‘94 Fergus McCann took over at Celtic Park. The Celtic manager at the time was Lou Macari who had publicly supported the old board. His days were numbered.

The final fixture for Celtic that season was a friendly at Old Trafford. Tommy was there as a guest. Shortly after that he resigned from Kilmarnock and joined Celtic as the new manager.

Within one year he had ended the 5 years trophy drought, bringing back the Scottish cup. The following season he led us back to the newly rebuilt Celtic Park and put together the best Celtic team since the Centenary team he had starred in.

They were a joy to watch. Boyd and Hughes were strong at the back, McNamara and Donnelly inventive and exciting on the right, Collins and McKinlay were a threat from the left and up front Van Hooijdonk was deadly. At the heart of it all McStay had one last marvellous season.

But despite the statistic of losing only one league game it still wasn’t enough to prevent Rangers again lifting the league trophy.

His last season as Celtic manager was an acrimonious one as player disputes and disagreements with Fergus McCann intensified. At the end of the season he was told his contract as manager would not be renewed. He was offered the role of running the youth academy. He declined the offer.

His teams at Celtic had always tried to play football. For him there was always only one direction in which Celtic should play and that was toward the opposition goal. He always had the players’ backing, always had their point of view in his mind, possibly as a result of his occasionally fractious relationship with managers he had as a player himself.

Those were possibly the things he lacked as a manager; the cynicism to pull his players back and kill a game; the mind games that Jock used to play (“I’m thinking of dropping you”) to get a bit extra out of the players and maybe the fact that to be a successful manager you have make decisions (such as looking a young player straight in the eye and telling them they aren’t good enough) that will eventually have someone think, not to put too fine a point on it, that you are a complete bastard.

After he left Celtic he joined Reading, but it didn’t work out. You got the feeling that despite what his own club’s result would have been, he would almost certainly have been more concerned with what happened in Glasgow – not through any lack of professionalism, but simply because Celtic was in his blood, he couldn’t just switch it off.

When he returned in 2000 to help Kenny Dalglish it was a low key homecoming, but Martin O’Neill thought enough of him to retain him. This time he was in charge of the club’s youth academy, the academy he had formed in 1994 when he appointed Willie McStay and the same role that Fergus had offered him in 1997.

Gradually he became more and more involved with the first team and by the time O’Neill left in 2005 and WGS came in Tommy was a firm fixture on the first team training ground, helping the younger players hone their skills, offering a word of comfort to those not getting a starting spot, always there with a laugh and a joke to lighten the mood if things weren’t going well.

Under WGS he retained that role (Strachan joked early on that almost everyone on the managerial squad at Celtic such as Tommy and Danny use to kick lumps out of him back in the day). But in March 2006 in was reported that Tommy was undergoing treatment for melanoma skin cancer. The treatment seemed to go well and we all hoped that would be that.

Then rumours began to surface that it had returned, and if this type of cancer returns it tends to be stronger and more difficult to shift. On March 2008 the club confirmed Tommy was be undergoing further treatment.

He died 20 years and one day after the centenary cup final, the day that (asides from his wedding day and the birth of his children) probably meant more to him than any thing else. The day that he was interviewed in tears, holding the Scottish Cup and apologising on national TV to a young boy in hospital who he hadn’t had time to visit yet.

No wallowing in public adulation for Tommy; for him it was always about the fans, the people who worked hard to buy their tickets, the people who stood and cheered for Celtic.

The reaction to his death was universal. Everyone who knew him was distraught and almost all of the tributes to him concentrated of Tommy Burns the man, not the footballer (although you could eulogise about his talent for long enough). That was the measure of the him; yes he was a very good footballer, but there are plenty of them about. There aren’t many people in this world as kind, generous and giving of themselves as Tommy Burns was.

AB Murdoch

Tuesday 20 May 2008

I’ve walked along the Gallowgate so many times heading up towards Celtic Park, my usual route. I always get the thrill.

Not today.

There is no game, even though there are plenty of fans heading the same way.

No tunes or noise from the Celtic pubs at the Calton/Barras. All is quiet, closed, flags at half-mast.

My insides are churning. I’m on my own, loads of things running through my mind but I’m trying not to think too much of why I’m making this journey.

At the junction where the Gallowgate, Bellgrove Street and Abercromby Street intersect there’s a banner hanging there on the corner for ‘Calton’s No.1 son’.

As I turn down Abercromby, my eyes have welled up as I see the turnout already outside St. Mary’s Church.

I pick up the Requiem Mass programme on entering the church. I recognise the picture straight away; it brings a big smile to my face as it’s one we have also used on the front page of NTV.

I take my seat, look around and recognise many faces from supporting Celtic and many from the football world, not just my team.

The service takes place and its hard to keep the emotions in check. We’ve all been in this position with our own family and friends and this is no different.

We laugh and smile at stories, but most importantly, we respect, for a man whose faith was so dear to him. I can understand why so many people get so much good out of religion, seen it many times and I’m seeing it so much today.

The service is nearing its end Then the coffin is lifted. For me this always confirms that the person I’ve come to respect is finally going away. Always looking for someone to tell us it’s a big mistake, but sadly we know it’s not.

As it reaches the church doors, the applause rings out from the people outside. This reminds us that we are not the only ones here after being transfixed for so long.

We filter outside and watch the cortege pull away.

I’m now heading back down the Gallowgate. I’m on my own again. No mates to talk about the game, there was no game today. Just tears in my eyes so honoured to have been asked to represent Not The View, just ordinary fans.

I look down once again to the Requiem Mass programme. On the back there’s the great man’s words, “I’m just a fan who got lucky”

Tommy Twists, Tommy Turns, Tommy Burns.

AJ Miller

Bobby Murdoch – Different Class


Bobby Murdoch – Different Class by David Potter; Empire Publications; 345 pages paperback (including 16 pages of b/w photographs and full statistical records); £10.99

Oh they gave us James McGrory and Paul McStay,
They gave us Johnstone, Tully, Murdoch, Auld and Hay…

A David Potter book and yet another essential addition to the Celtic bookshelf.

Modern footballer biographies should generally be treated like the SARS virus, but this one has everything going for it; a legendary player who was also a wonderful character and whose career blossomed during extraordinary times, both for the club and for society as a whole. In the hands of a skilled writer the finished product is as good an example of the genre as I’ve read.

Part biography, part autobiography and part social history (where else are you going to see John F Kennedy, The Beatles, The Book of Revelations and the West Indies cricket team – to name but a few cultural reference points – all mentioned in the same context as one of the Lisbon Lions?) It chronicles the life and times of a man whose adulation and status as one of the greatest Celts of all time came not as a result of any media constructs, but from the grass roots supporters. As Potter points out, even twenty years or more after his football days were over, Murdoch would be mobbed by fans on his frequent visits to Celtic Park, many of whom were too young ever to have seen him play on anything but VHS.

One of the remarkable aspects of Murdoch’s Celtic career, as recorded in the book, is that it very nearly didn’t get off the ground at all. Pitched into a shambles of a team in the early sixties, he must have been made of strong stuff to survive the barracking of his own supporters, frustrated by years of seeing the club run into the ground by a myopic board and never slow in those days to single out individual players for the treatment, even if they were inexperienced youngsters.

Potter isn’t afraid to confront such issues as the behaviour of the Celtic fans during the sixties either, a refreshing change from some of the romantic sanitised green -spectacled views of the period often put forward by official histories.

Having been played all over the pitch and never guaranteed an extended run in the team, even when playing well, Murdoch had decided to hand in a transfer request after being left out of the squad which travelled to Switzerland for a European match in 1963. He was even considering emigrating to Australia.

The turning point for Murdoch and Celtic was the arrival of Jock Stein. Subsequent events are part of Celtic folklore, of course, and it’s generally accepted that the ’65 Cup Final against Dunfermline was the lighting of the green touch paper. Yet that result was anything but a foregone conclusion and Potter brilliantly recreates the tension surrounding that game and the euphoria after it, relating that he ‘couldn’t eat his fish and chips after the game for sheer delirium mingled with the gnawing fear that it had all been a dream.’

Throughout the book the author intersperses the narrative with personal and humorous anecdotes of this kind adding both a fan’s eye view of Murdoch’s progress from callow youth with some potential to essential fulcrum of the ’67 team as well as a colourful backdrop to the events unfolding to a largely incredulous support.

By the time Lisbon came round Bobby had sustained the troublesome ankle injury which was to plague him throughout his playing career and beyond. In fact he was very nearly declared unfit to take part in the game. Considering he was involved in the build-up to both goals, how different the history of Celtic might have been…

Tributes to Murdoch’s consummate skill as a player appear throughout the book from a variety of team mates and opponents. One of the most glowing comes courtesy of Giacinto Facchetti, an adversary on that day in Lisbon. Commenting on the absence of Inter’s influential midfield player Suarez, he says: ‘I cannot stress enough that the absence of Suarez was a major blow to us. He was our playmaker and the most vital member of our team. It would be like Celtic taking the field without Murdoch.’

Apart from being a fitting tribute to the part that Murdoch played in Celtic’s success, Potter has done a remarkable job in conveying the insecurities of a man playing for his livelihood and facing increasing worries over injuries, weight problems and the arrival of younger players, signed by the manager to be groomed as his replacement. Being captain in Billy McNeill’s absence of the team which failed so miserably in the 1970 League Cup final against Partick Thistle also seems to have had a profound effect on him. In my opinion this part of the book portrays the vagaries of this most fickle of occupations as well as anything I’ve read since Eamonn Dunphy’s diary of his life at Millwall.

Yet his resilience and strength of character once again saw him return to top form and have a few more successful seasons with Celtic before finally leaving to join Jack Charlton at Middlesbrough. It has been well documented in other books about this era that not all of the departures of the Lions to pastures new were particularly well handled by Jock Stein, and Bobby Murdoch’s was no exception. But it says a lot for him that he never expressed any bitterness about this in public and indeed he went on to enjoy ten happy years on Wearside.

While it’s true that Bobby’s recurring injury meant that he was never the player in the North East that he had been in his pomp, he still retained his class (there weren’t too many European Cup winners playing in the English league at the time) and still had his astonishing ability at passing a football. Consequently, his time at Ayrsome Park was anything but a failure. Led by Murdoch, Charlton’s team gained promotion to the old First Division and enjoyed a relatively successful spell after years in the doldrums. He was also instrumental in nurturing the career of a young Graeme Souness (‘I sometimes wish I hadnae bothered’ he is quoted as joking as Souness led Rangers to several leagues in a row).

It’s to Potter’s credit that he is able to infuse this part of the Murdoch story with (almost) as much life as his career in Scotland, albeit with occasional glimpses at what was happening back at Parkhead; doubtless Bobby would have been doing the same at the time.

When his boots were finally hung up in 1976 he was persuaded to stay on at the Boro as coach and then as manager. The latter job turned out to be a disaster, but by that time Middlesborough were in a financial mess. Potter likens Murdoch’s managerial career to that of McGrory at Parkhead: ‘Both were outstanding players… and often assumed that players knew how to play the game as well – and as fairly as they did. They were great ambassadors for their clubs but failed at managerial level to bring success.’

The portrayal of Bobby’s final years is poignant, given his ill-health and pain from his football injuries, but his good humour and humanity shine through until the end.

While he might not have accumulated the financial rewards that his skill would have derived for him in the modern era, Bobby Murdoch has secured his place in the pantheon of all-time Celtic greats. David Potter’s book enhances that status and ensures that future generations will have a worthy testament to how it was achieved. It’s an honest, affectionate portrait of a man who seemed to epitomise the best of his working class background and of the teams he became intrinsically linked with.

Read it. You won’t be disappointed.