The memory is ingrained deep in the psyche of all Celtic fans — the moment you saw Jozo Simunovic head the ball into the net against Kilmarnock last April in a game honoring another Number 5, Billy McNeill.
You may have been at Paradise, or maybe you were watching at home. Maybe you were in a pub with like-minded Celtic supporters.
Or if you were at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae, California, as I was, watching with the San Francisco CSC, you might have done what we did: Cheer wildly for the goal, and when the gravity of fate made us realize that Number 5 had scored 67 minutes in, a hush of awe washed over the room.
Shortly afterward, I put the picture of Jozo pointing to the heavens after scoring that goal as the photo on my cell phone. It stays there to this day to remind me about how, on that day, the forces of nature sent a clear and unequivocal sign to Celtic and said, “There’s nothing stopping you now.”
Those who know me in Celtic circles know that I am a full-throated defender of Jozo Simunovic in the face of some of the naysayers within our support. Yeah, he may have knees of glass and, yeah, he may have been in injury recovery a little longer than might be convenient. But when he does make his way onto the pitch, Jozo is a machine.
Not only does he patrol the backfield with aplomb, he has also been known to wander forward and at a few opportune times — like in the game against Hearts back in February — his forehead happened to be in the right place at the right time to head Ryan Christie’s corner into the net to make the score 5-0. Or when Jozo took some initiative and drove forward to take a Greg Taylor cross in the game against Kilmarnock in March, only to be carried by momentum over the goal line but not before heading the ball back to Odsonne Edouard, who scored.
Jozo has earned a spot in Celtic lore not only for his goal in the Billy McNeill game or for launching Kenny Miller in a textbook tackle that should be taught in football academies worldwide, but also for his firm and steady defensive play for the Hoops. It is unfortunate that, due to injury, he could not reach his full potential for the club, but by the same token his play while in good health was of the highest quality.
They say things like this come in threes, so after Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic, who might be next? Some are speculating that it might be Kris Ajer, who has been rumored to be on his way out for some time. My sincere hope is that this is wrong, but it remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, thank you, Jozo, for all those moments with the Hoops, and you are always one of us.
[Blogger’s note: A few weeks ago, I went “off script” and wrote a blog item about Nairn County FC in the Highland Football League after their statement assured that their team and staff would be paid, and club resources would be used to help the community through the Covid-19 crisis. Lo and behold, after exchanging emails with the club’s Donald Graham, I am now in possession of a maize (not yellow) and black NCFC scarf. Thanks, Donald, and mon the Wee County!]
Celtic historian. European away trip veteran and travelogue writer.
Celtic Park tour guide and match programme contributor. Marathon man.
A man of multiple talents and one of Celtic’s “go-to guys” for institutional knowledge, Matt Corr wears many hats for the Hoops. The Celtic faithful have regaled in Matt’s reports from away games in Europe over the last couple of seasons – as well as his Celtic Star articles about past games and other historical characters and events. Not to mention that he ran the New York City and Tokyo Marathons last season on behalf of the Celtic Foundation, with another notable fundraiser scheduled for later this year. Watch this space.
I caught up with Matt between the globetrotting, the Celtic Park tours, his book-writing, and his marathon training for this interview, appearing both here in this blog and in The Celtic Star.
Q: First, Matt, thank you for taking time to talk with us. For a man who seems to have lived a life in green-and-white, can you take us back to the beginning – how did you become a Celtic supporter and, over the years, how did you come to be a Celtic historian?
A: Hi, Larry. Thanks for inviting me along. I guess like many supporters, Celtic was “given” to me by my dad. He was a lifelong supporter, heavily involved in the Celtic Supporters’ Association — running buses to the games, establishing and running the social club in our area — from being a young man until long after he retired. He was the full package. Once I was old enough to go along with him and my elder brother, the autumn of 1965, that was me hooked. With a brief break in the mid-’70s, when I played on a Saturday afternoon for St Roch’s Boy’s Guild in the Garngad — Jimmy McGrory’s old team — Celtic has been my thing. Dad and I attended games all over the UK and Europe together, even into the new millennium, by which time my own kids were coming along. That “rite of passage” is one of many things which makes Celtic just that little bit more special. The “fairytale club,” as Billy McNeill once said. You don’t really “choose” to support them. It’s in your DNA, if that makes any sense. When I mention that on a stadium tour there is a room full of “nodding heads,” so I don’t think it’s just me!
terms of the history aspect, that’s perhaps a bit more difficult to
be specific about. It just sort of happened, I guess. Dad had started
buying the match programmes from the early ‘60s and the Celtic
Views from its launch in 1965, so that became a ritual and we built
up quite a collection over the years. That would pretty much be my
core reading material sorted as a youngster and we continued doing
that up until I was working, and even beyond that. As a kid, I would
absorb anything I could get my hands on regarding not just Celtic but
football in general, old books of my brother’s, newspapers, library
books etc. I became a bit of a sponge. A football geek perhaps. By my
early 20s, I was
competing in the annual Radio Clyde “Kick-off” quiz programmes,
both individually and as part of the Celtic team, and on one
occasion, we represented the club in the national Rothman’s quiz
finals, winning the Scottish heat but losing to Leeds United at
Elland Road in the semi-final. Good times those.
Q: As one of the most prolific writers on all things Celtic – on club history and the travelogues on the European away games – I would assume that, like me, Celtic fans who cannot make those games revel in the reports from places like Cluj or Rome. To your credit, the reports seem to be, in equal parts, half travelogue and half game reports. Can you take us through how you came up with the idea of hitting the road with the Hoops and some of the ups and downs of following the Bhoys abroad?
A: That all started in Athens. I had only been writing for The Celtic Star for a few months. Just small pieces initially, a title win article here, an anniversary there. That kind of thing. The tie with AEK was the first time I had traveled abroad myself, following my retirement. Kids and pals were working but I wanted to go. Rather than the usual day or overnight trip, I decided to turn it into a short holiday break, allowing me to see the city a bit differently, and take in the other stadia if possible. Suit myself. I was a bit nervous about doing that but decided to give it a go. The diary idea just sort of came into my head. I thought it would be a good record, if nothing else, and it might be a bit of fun to do. People might find it interesting. Idea was to present a different perspective on the match — or maybe that should be event — insofar as what the supporters were doing or feeling. How we mixed. What the place and the locals were like. Bring those aspects to life if you will. The actual game itself is covered by the regular and club media, so I don’t tend to focus so much on that, other than the key highlights. It’s more about our story, who we are and how we manage the challenges and enjoy the places and the people we meet abroad, the laughs, the songs and the tears, all in the course of following the team we love.
terms of those highs and lows, for me the result is king, so a defeat
is always horrible. It doesn’t get any better as you get older.
Particularly, when you lose it at the death, as seemed to happen to
us constantly at one time. We were seconds away from a memorable
point in the Camp Nou in 2012, for example, albeit we beat them a
fortnight later. The clock opposite us stayed on “90” forever.
That was a sore one. And the delays can be a killer, particularly
coming home following a defeat on a long day trip. That’s the
‘never again’ moment. But the highs make it worth it.
Particularly if you can share those with your kids. Experiences you
can’t buy or describe. Triumphs like Amsterdam and, more recently,
Rome. There is no feeling quite like celebrating an away victory in
Europe with your kids. Magical.
Q: Let’s put you on the spot here: In following the Bhoys on the road, is there any place that you particularly liked? Particularly disliked?
A: Not too many places I particularly disliked spring to mind. If pushed, I’d probably go for Kiev, although that’s partly down to timing. We went there with Celtic in November 1986, around six months after Chernobyl. It was still part of the Soviet Union at that time, pre-Glasnost. That was a surreal trip, from rolling up to Desmond White’s old office in Bath Street to pay for a visa, getting on a flight with the players, to the Aeroflot stewardess wearing her “Woodhill against the Brits” lapel badge. Celtic fans will always find a humourous angle, even in the most trying of circumstances. We’re chanting “Here we glow” as we left the plane. And “Ooh, ah, up the Czar!” The people were nice enough but the place itself had nothing. You couldn’t buy a gift to take home. The hotel was giving change out in chewing gum and ran out of beer within about an hour. We ended up gatecrashing a wedding, just to get a drink. The poor bride was dancing with guys wearing Celtic scarves, whilst her new husband was wondering what he had done wrong in a previous life. There were guys following you in the street trying to buy your jeans, the ones you were wearing at that time. We were followed constantly for three days. Bonkers.
negative experiences were more to do with the people than the place.
My first continental trip was to the old Stadio Comunale in Turin,
back in 1981. We were basically under siege from arrival in the early
hours of the Tuesday until our departure from the railway station
late on the Thursday night. Fans were getting stabbed, assaulted,
robbed. That was a scary introduction, albeit the atmosphere in the
stadium was incredible. Our pub was attacked in Blackburn, although
that remains one of the best nights ever. And I’ve seen both sides
of Amsterdam. Our first trip there was a blast, with over 8,000 of us
celebrating a famous win but the trouble in the main square the last
time ruined that visit for me.
the plus side, we’ve been to some wonderful places. In terms of
scenic beauty, Salzburg was stunning. I suspect Seville was too, we
just couldn’t see any of it under a blanket of Celtic supporters.
And St Petersburg, although it was minus 12 there. Barcelona has
everything and Lyon and Paris are wonderful cities. I love Italy with
a passion but whilst we’ve had some great trips there, we’ve
tended to play in the industrial cities, like Turin and Milan, until
this season, when the background to the Lazio clash and the threat of
hassle pushed me towards doing the day trip with my daughter. We’d
been to Rome together previously and for me it’s up there with
Florence, Venice and Siena as amongst the most beautiful places on
the planet to take in.
terms of sheer enjoyment, my favourite trips with Celtic would
probably involve Germany. I’m not really sure why, they just seem
to to work brilliantly. The fans love their football, the beer is to
die for and the atmosphere in the grounds is superb. Stuttgart was
very special on the Road to Seville, as my dad and elder son were
there — so three Matt Corrs — as was my older sister. Dad was
terminally ill and we knew it would be his last trip. And there was a
huge Celtic support in the ground as we qualified on the night,
although, me being me, I still complain to this day that we blew a
great chance to get a win in Germany. And I loved Munich a few years
back, the party in Marienplatz. That’s another stunning city.
are a huge part of that enjoyment. The Stade Rennais fans were superb
last autumn. That was a real carnival atmosphere in a very historic
“Celtic” city, full of colour, friendship and fun. And staying on
that theme, perhaps the friendliest supporters, and people generally,
I’ve come across in recent years were the Bosnians of Sarajevo.
That was also the saddest, moving yet most inspiring trip I’ve ever
done with Celtic, or at all actually, and by some distance.
But if I could only visit one place again, it would be Lisbon. Standing on the marble lip of the Estadio Nacional, being photographed with one of my sons with the European Cup, on the very spot where Cesar lifted the cup in 1967, and where my dad, uncle and thousands of Celtic fans who had endured the countless trophyless years were witnessing history, well, it just doesn’t get any better than that.
Q: One article that has always stuck with me – and I linked to it in my blog at the time you wrote it – was the testimonial last year on Jimmy Johnstone’s birthday highlighting his life; in my opinion, it was one of the best pieces I have read. The history of the club is there, obviously, but from a writing standpoint, how do you pick the most unique or interesting highlights of Celtic history or Celtic lore to write about?
A: I’m not sure how best to answer that, Larry, to be honest. It’s not always planned in advance by any means. A lot of it is just instinct. And timing. For example, my first Celtic Star article was published back in April 2018. I had retired recently and was enjoying reading the various pieces in there when I saw the invitation for other writers to get involved by submitting their own. That’s what I wanted to do. Let’s give it a go. We had a chance to clinch the title at Easter Road that weekend, so I decided to write about the first time I had witnessed that there, April 1977. It was just a short “coming of age” story with a bit of self-deprecating humour. The Star editor, David Faulds, sent a “keep them coming” message back and that was that. It’s his fault! By the way, we lost that weekend to Hibs, so I haven’t submitted anything which might tempt fate similarly since then, in case I jinxed us! My next pieces followed up on that double-winning season. They were more detailed and were quite well-received. That gave me the confidence to keep going and try different things. Like the verse dedicated to the Lisbon Lions, “the men who put the star above our crest,” published the next month for the anniversary. Then a photograph I saw on Twitter gave me the inspiration for the John Thomson piece, “a familiar face was missing.” It was an incredible image, which I had never seen before. So I checked out the background. We all know about the tragedy and the immediate aftermath. But not so much about what happened next.
terms of the Jinky story, I would say that came from my work on the
tours. Jimmy is a big part of my tour. He is a unique character,
genius of a player but with the same strengths and flaws which many
of us in the west of Scotland identify with. We love a laugh and a
drink, usually together. So did he, and he did it whilst playing in
the best Scottish football team of all time. And under Jock Stein, a
noted teetotaller and strict disciplinarian. It’s a movie script
waiting to happen. Some of the best Jinky stories involved flying and
sailing, Red Star Belgrade and Largs, so I had my strapline. And his
75th birthday was approaching. So all the stars aligned,
if you like. I loved doing that piece. He brought — and still brings
— a smile to so many Celtic faces, albeit there was a real sadness
in the way his life ended.
Celtic story tells itself. It’s a treasure trove for writers. I
look for something a wee bit different, which perhaps hasn’t been
covered before in that way, or for some time. The two recent
photographs of the autographs from the ‘30s are a classic case in
point. Introduced to me out of the blue. I thought I would produce a
couple of articles, which would be interesting content for the Star
and would make a couple of my pals happy. Something for them to keep.
A win/win. And then when I started digging, the stuff I found was
incredible. I had stopped doing these kind of detailed pieces of work
to focus on the book, however, like Al Pacino in Godfather 3, “just
when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
the way, I am currently working on part 7 of that two-part article!
Q: Further on the writing end of things, I understand that you have a trio of books in the works on the Treble Treble coming out soon, one for each season in the trilogy. Is this something you can expand on a little and, if so, what can we expect?
A: Absolutely. Each book will be a step-by-step walk through that season, looking at and listening to the key people involved, the context, and drawing on my own personal memories, experiences and observations from childhood all the way through to the present. Facts on their own can be a bit cold, so there is humour and sadness thrown in there throughgout, as with most of the Celtic-related stories I do. I genuinely believe that it will only be later, perhaps much later, that these incredible achievements – Invincible, Back-to-back Trebles then the holy grail of the Treble Treble – will be truly appreciated. That was the case in Lisbon and probably for the 7-1 game, the Exhibition Cup, Coronation Cup etc. I know I look back on the Martin O’Neill era and think I didn’t realise just how good that side was at the time, daft as that may sound. The current era will be the same and I’m trying to capture that now, so that we have that definitive record as a legacy, for us to enjoy and for the next generation to understand.
Q: I understand that the first book – “Invincible” – is nearly complete, covering the 2016/17 season and the first treble of the Treble Treble. The Celtic Star has excerpted a chapter already online. The attention to detail in this chapter is astounding, so my hat is off to you there. So my question mainly deals with your writing process for these projects: Is it photographic memory, taking a huge amount of copious notes? How do you gather the information for your writing?
A: I’ve actually completed that first book now, which feels brilliant. It’s been a year in the making and has pretty much taken over my life. I’m not a huge note-taker, although sometimes needs must. My normal approach is to develop the outline structure I want then build the storyline up around that, with deadlines I want or need to meet. It’s my work now, it’s not a hobby. Old Project Managers don’t die, they just write Celtic books! Once I’ve decided on the subject and range of a particular chapter, then I’ll braindump directly on to the page from memory. Then I’ll research the people and the specific games involved in much more detail, watch the video again, read the match report. Then I get to work. Once I’ve written the chapter, I’ll go back over it again to amend, add or delete as appropriate. And only once I’m happy with it, will I submit it to my editor for review. It will then go through a further proof-reading process, before coming back to me for final comment. The editorial and design guys will then bring the manuscript to life, so it’s very much a team effort.
Q: I am going to name names here and ask you to briefly touch on their significance in the history of Celtic. We talked about Jinky Johnstone earlier, so let’s start with Billy McNeill.
A: Billy? Mr. Celtic to me growing up. Everything a Celt should be. Dignified, ambassadorial and classy. A true leader and serial winner. And his ability as a player sometimes gets lost within all the “captain stuff,” if that makes sense. Not too many centre-halves have scored in three separate national cup finals, far less in the world club final. I loved it that he witnessed his statue going up but it was distressing to watch him fight through that dreadful illness. Wonderful man, much missed.
Q: Jock Stein.
A: The greatest. Big Jock manager of Celtic. In my opinion, Jock turned Celtic from a Scottish football club with a proud history into a global institution, the best team in Europe if not the world at one point and a major European force for the best part of a decade. Despite his domestic dominance, I always feel that one European Cup is scant reward for what he achieved at Celtic Park. Other regrets for me? Milan 1970 and his final season and subsequent departure from the club. He should probably have moved on after winning the double in 1977, or moved upstairs to a proper role to allow Billy to pick up the team.
Q: James McGrory.
A: Ah. James Edward McGrory. The finest goalscorer in top-flight football in these islands bar none. Records broken everywhere. I had the pleasure of meeting him as a kid, in the old Celtic Supporters Association hall in Kinloch St, where he was signing autographs of his book, still one of my most treasured possessions. I’d love to see a statue at Celtic Park for Jimmy, that pose where he is horizontal in the act of scoring against Aberdeen. The Human Torpedo. We went to the same school and played for the same Boy’s Guild team, St Roch’s in the Garngad, albeit Jimmy scored edged me in the goal-scoring stakes…by about 546.
Q: Henrik Larsson.
A: From one goal-scoring legend to another, Larry. You’re on fire here. I’m often asked who my favourite Celt of all time is and the answer is Henrik. A fabulous player, a team player, he could do anything against anyone. And he was a role model off the park. No nonsense. Henrik was surrounded by great players in the Martin O’Neill era but he was undoubtedly the key man in the best Celtic side I witnessed as an adult. If ever a man deserved a European winners medal it was Henrik in Seville in 2003. He was sublime that night. Dragging us back into the game twice. Wonderful player. World-class.
Q: Kenny Dalglish.
A: I remember Kenny playing at right-half against Raith Rovers at Celtic Park in the late ’60s. His surname was misspelt to include an “e” for some reason. Always sticks in my mind. Then I saw him break through as a striker by scoring seven goals in two games in 1971. He just never looked back after that. I was broken-hearted when Kenny left in 1977 and, if I’m being honest, I really grudged him his success at Liverpool, as I wanted him to be scoring European Cup-winning goals at Wembley in the Hoops. Looking back, I think we both knew that wasn’t going to happen. He was probably just too late in breaking through at Parkhead, as by then the Lions had peaked and the great new hopes like Kenny, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari, David Hay and George Connelly didn’t stay together long enough after the penalty defeat by Inter in the 1972 semi-final. That was probably our best chance of recovering from the horror of Milan 1970 to secure a second “Big Cup,” albeit Ajax were a tremendous team at that time. I know we reached the semi-final again two years later and were treated abysmally in those two Atletico Madrid ties, however, I felt the 1972 team was perhaps Jock’s last great side. Kenny and Dixie Deans were a fantastic strike force around 1972/73, only bettered for me by Larsson and Sutton. In later years, I thought he showed tremendous courage and dignity in the aftermath of Hillsborough.
Q: Paul McStay.
A: What a player the Maestro was. Saw his debut against Queen of the South and wasn’t immediately aware of what all the hype had been about but within a week he blew that away, with a wonderful goal at Pittodrie, at that time one of the toughest venues in Europe to go to. Pivotal in Billy’s two great sides of the early ’80s then our centenary, it was a crying shame that he was left to carry that team with John Collins for the first half of the ’90s. He deserved to be playing alongside the best. Gave Celtic his best years before that ankle injury finished his career, just before we took off again. It would have been wonderful to have seen Paul and Henrik play in the same side. Tremendous player. True Celt.
Q: Steve Chalmers.
A: Stevie, God rest him. Another local guy who used to act as Santa at our Celtic supporters’ Christmas parties back in St Aloysius’ in Springburn. So I always had a soft spot for him. Born in the Garngad but lived in Springburn, just up the hill from where we did, so he was a local celebrity. I love it that Stevie scored the winning goal at Lisbon. I’m pretty sure his sons were at primary school with me at that time. Meant we could all dream. Another Celt with a wonderful scoring record and a lovely man.
Q: Willie Maley.
A: With over 50 years service, it’s puzzling why there is no permanent memorial to Willie Maley at Celtic Park. Hopefully, that’s something which will be addressed in time. I’m actually reading his book at the moment and it is wonderful stuff. Like listening to the man himself speak. One of THE key men who shaped the history and direction of the club, like Brother Walfrid, James Kelly, Jimmy McGrory, Jock Stein and Fergus McCann. Celtic was his life and his passion. An inspirational figure for me. And I love the song written in his name. sums up everything about Celtic for me, that does. A fitting tribute.
Q: Bobby Murdoch.
A: When you are described as the best player — the world-class player — in the Lisbon Lions, by people who know their football, then you must have been pretty special. Although I watched Bobby play for six or seven years, I was probably too young to appreciate just how good he was. I think I started to realise that when I saw and heard the impact he made on joining Middlesbrough in the mid-’70s, where folk like Jack Charlton, Terry Cooper and Graeme Souness were singing his praises. Jock pushed him back from his attacking role on the right to midfield, on his arrival in 1965, where Bobby formed the engine room at Parkhead with the shy, retiring Bertie Auld. The beating heart of the team. Tough and extremely talented, a powerful combination in every sense. Struggled with health issues and passed away a very young man, in his early 50s, the first of the Lions to do so. God bless you, Bobby.
Q: Bertie Auld.
A: Where do you start? Still entertaining us in his 80s. My son treated me to hospitality at Celtic Park a couple of years ago. We’re having a couple of pints and taking it all in when Bertie walks into the lounge, walking through the throng, having a chat. Celtic royalty. We’re debating who is going to approach him like a couple of big kids when he strides over to us. “Can I have a photo, boys?” Unreal. They broke the mould with Bertie. Story goes that Jock arranged for him to be transferred back to the club from Birmingham once he knew he was taking over at Parkhead. Could be something in that. He scored five goals at Broomfield in Jock’s first match then a double in the cup final the next month as we fought back twice to win the trophy, a first in over seven years and the catalyst for everything that was to follow. Bertie’s 1965 double tends to get disregarded, with the focus being on Cesar’s winner. And I love the singsong in the tunnel in Lisbon. Classic Bertie. I tell the story on the tours with the rider that I believe the European Cup was won in that moment. The Italians probably thought they were playing a pub team. Then they got the beating of their lives. The statistics are staggering. Finished Inter as a force in world football, and defensive football in general for a while. And a “gallus” wee guy from Panmure St in Maryhill was key to that, in my opinion.
Q: Charlie Tully.
A: Charles Patrick Tully. Piling on the agony, putting on the style. I would have loved to have seen him play. My dad was at Brockville the day he scored directly from a corner-kick before being told to take it again. Which he promptly did, and he scored again. Unreal. There’s the fairytale kicking in again. Who else could have done that? I saw a clip recently of him doing the same thing for Ireland against England, so it definitely wasn’t a fluke. The Tully stories are legendary. “Who’s that guy next to Charlie on the balcony at the Vatican?” You get the idea? He was born to play for Celtic.
Q: And last, a free-kick curveball, Shunsuke Nakamura.
A: The Japanese Bhoy. Genius of a footballer. I fell in love with him, so to speak, on his debut. I’ve never seen anyone with such technique and grace. An incredible talent, who I wish we had retained much longer. His free-kick against Manchester United at Parkhead is the best Celtic goal I have ever seen. Sheer perfection, and it had to be. One chance. One spot to hit. Pressure on, big-time. And he delivered. I will never tire of watching that, or the many other fabulous goals he scored. My kids still wind me up as I used to celebrate some of his touches or passes like goals. He should have been a world star in my opinion. Could have played at any level yet his best days were in Scotland. Strange.
Q: Who have I missed who deserves to be in the pantheon of Celtic greats?
A: Danny McGrain is the one who springs immediately to mind. The best full-back in the world for me at his peak and another who gave everything for Celtic. He was indestructible. I was at Brockville the day he fractured his skull, then there was the diagnosis of diabetes on return from the Germany World Cup of 1974, then a dreadful ankle injury which forced him out of the game for 18 months or so, the key factor for me for that horrific last season under Jock. He then returned to inspire the “Ten men won the league” title win and was the creative force behind the best Celtic team goal I ever saw, the one at Love St in 1986, when Danny would be 36-years-young. A wonderful player and a humble man, as I have witnessed first hand since I started working at the club.
at the other end of the history spectrum, James Kelly. For me, Kelly
was Celtic’s first superstar. I’m not sure folk really appreciate
how vital his signing was to the club back in 1888. That was a huge
statement of intent from the new club, as he was far and away the
best player of his day, part of that wonderful Renton side who were
the best in the world at that time. The signature of Kelly attracted
others to join and, within one season, “The Irishmen” were in the
Scottish Cup Final, challenging the established order, Queen’s
Park, Third Lanark, Dumbarton. And within a few years, Celtic were
the dominant force in Scottish football. Kelly and Maley were the key
men in triggering that success.
James would be the first of the on-field heroes but others would pick up that mantle over the years. I loved David Potter’s recent series in The Celtic Star, covering his “players of the decade.” They’re all in there, Sandy McMahon, Patsy Gallacher, Bobby Evans amongst others. I don’t believe there is a club in the world with such a litany of fabulous players over such a sustained period of time. The stories are all passed down until we feel that we witnessed them personally. They are part of us. We mourn John Thomson and we sing about James McGrory. You either get that or you don’t. It defies explanation.
Q: Looking at the current club over the last several years, or at least in the Treble Treble years, do you see anyone on the current team – Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, James Forrest – joining the ranks of the future Celtic legends?
A: Definitely, yes. Obvious one is Broony, given the medal collection he is pulling together and the sheer volume of games he’s amassed over the years. I didn’t foresee that back in 2007, to be honest. And both Calmac and James are heading that way too, albeit it’s becoming much rarer for players at that level to remain in Scotland throughout their careers. Here’s hoping. Kieran Tierney was another who I felt would pick up that status. I really thought he would succeed Broony as Celtic captain. KT’s celebration at the end of the 2017 cup final is one of the most powerful and emotional Celtic images I have ever witnessed. Spine-tingling stuff, as he grabs the badge and trophy, still bleeding and dazed, gesturing to the crowd. I was really disappointed when he headed south last summer, although I bear him no ill-feeling. I like to think that we might see him again at Parkhead at some point in the future.
Q: Putting you on the spot one last time: Favourite Celtic player of all time, and favourite Celtic game of all time. Go!
A: I probably covered the player earlier. There are three who I feel are just that bit more magical than the rest, Jinky, Kenny and Henrik, with Larsson just getting the nod as No.1 for me. All three were world-class whilst they played for us, despite the suggestion that Dalglish “became a player” when he moved south. Complete nonsense. He walked into that Liverpool team to replace their beloved Keegan. Kevin was some player but no one talks about him down there in the same breath as Kenny now. Just below those three, I would have Paul McStay and Danny McGrain, with Nakamura and Lubo missing out only due to the short time they stayed with us. John Collins was another fabulous talent. So many.
going to be cheeky in terms of the game. Can I pick two? One from
childhood and one as an adult? OK, so the first one would be the 1972
Scottish Cup Final against Hibernian. Celtic won 6-1 and my hero of
the time, Dixie Deans, scored the first hat-trick since Jimmy Quinn
some 68 years earlier. It was also the highest score in that final
since Renton did it the year we were formed, in 1888, when both James
Kelly and Neil McCallum, Celtic’s first goal-scorer, played for
them. That would all click into place later. For me, it was the first
time I had seen Celtic win a cup final, at the third attempt. One
more defeat and I suspect I was being lined up for adoption. Dixie
had missed the penalty against Inter which knocked us out a couple of
weeks before that, so there was a bit of redemption for him too.
And the other? The victory over Barcelona on our 125th birthday. A magical night. Barca were the best side on the planet at that time and we had taken them to 94 minutes or thereabouts a fortnight earlier, before that Jordi Alba sickener. My son and I were there that night and we thought the opportunity to take something from then had gone. And in the second leg we were without some key players from memory. Broony and Hooper spring to mind. Miku was playing. But then the fairytale kicks in. I’ll never forget the moment when Tony Watt was bearing down on us and the bedlam when he scored. Then Messi pulls a late goal back and we’re out on our feet. There’s no way we’ll survive. But we do. It was a huge deal. I take a call from my Man United-supporting brother-in-laws, who I think were in Braga. They just heard and want to congratulate me. Rod’s crying in the stand. He wasn’t the only one.