It’s 6:30 a.m. Pacific time, and I’m already awake — fallout from the 8- to 9-hour time difference between here and Europe when dragging myself out of bed to watch Celtic and St. Pauli matches live — and because the Winter Solstice is tomorrow, the sun is just making its way on the horizon behind the hills to the east.
But I confess, after a sleepless night — in a good way — I am still buzzing about yesterday’s win. My daughter, who was born in Kodaira-shi in the Tokyo Metropolitan District to her Japanese mom and me, now has an adopted older brother named Kyogo Furuhashi, who becomes a part of the family by virtue of his Larsson-esque play this season.
This is a Monday I don’t mind facing. In fact, I’m planning to break my mask protocol and wear my Celtic mask for two days in a row when I go into work later. Even in America, the reach of Celtic has a profound effect on its followers, and I know I’m not the only one. Across four time zones, there’s an excellent chance Yanks who bleed green-and-white are still buzzing about the results at Hampden.
Thank God Eddie Howe balked at joining Celtic and is now toiling — to be diplomatic — at Newcastle. Howe would have never — never — accomplished the same 180-degree turn with the Hoops as Ange Postecoglou has in the last several months.
As an aside, I don’t know where Dom McKay might be these days, but he’s owed a huge debt of gratitude for bringing in Postecoglou and the wave of players in during the last transfer window, many of whom made the difference yesterday with long-time Celtic veterans like Tom Rogic, Nir Bitton and Callum McGregor.
Put aside the fact that Postecoglou won, in a matter of months, the same number of trophies that Steven Gerrard took years to finally accomplish at Sevco before taking the first train out of Glasgow for Aston Villa. Ange is no stranger to silverware, and for those of you keeping score at home you can count Hampden as his ninth — three with South Melbourne, three with Brisbane, one with the Socceroos, one with Yokohama Marinos, and now one with Celtic.
But they said Postecoglou was not built for the SPFL. They said he’d be gone by Christmas.
In what has sadly become a hallmark of the Scottish mainstream sports media, they thought wrong.
And this team Postecoglou has put together, what more can you say? It’s a team that is once again geared to win trophies. Against most odds. Against the resistance of a Celtic board that balks at expense.
And what about this kid?
Kyogo was not 100 percent yesterday, coming off a hamstring injury. But he was ready to play regardless. Postecoglou said on Sunday that no one was keeping him off the pitch, and for this we are truly thankful. The kid delivered.
It wasn’t just Kyogo. It was everyone, a team effort. Even Carl Starfelt — who Michael Stewart couldn’t slam hard enough on the game broadcast, early and often — had an OK game with a couple of miscues that resulted, arguably at most, with Hibernian’s only goal. But the point here is that everyone stepped up, because that’s the Celtic way.
My Celtic Star colleague Niall J points this out in more depth in his article here. It’s worth a read, outlining the contributions the team has made. But it bears repeating. Rogic? Awesome. Bitton, coming in for the dinged-up David Turnbull? Phenomenal. McGregor, the captain? No doubt the man we want in charge. Cameron Carter-Vickers? His solid defense clearly earns him the nickname “The Rock,” in deference to actor Dwayne Johnson.
[Cameron “The Rock” Carter-Vickers. Hmmm. That has a nice ring to it.]
The only thing missing, sadly, on Sunday was the absence of Jota, who is out with an injury. If anyone has contributed to the success of the club this season, it is clearly Jota. And for him to be absent in the victory on Sunday was definitely heartbreaking.
But of all the deliriously joyous events and happenings at Hampden, this one was probably the best.
Some cardboard cutouts are destined for the trash bin. And some are present at the final at Hampden. If you listened closely enough after the game, you could hear Bertie Auld say, “That’s entertainment.”
Coffee’s ready, finally. We’re away to St. Mirren on Wednesday — here we go again, we’re on the road again. Mon the Hoops!
Forgive me for going off-script and weighing in on Celtic while we’re still outside the parameters of the regular SPFL season — a self-imposed rule I have set on myself and this blog. However, this weekend warrants a few comments and points which could be marginalized, or even forgotten, by the time we pick up the regular season again on Sunday.
Like . . .
Damn, can we tifo!
Recently I was explaining tifo to a friend who follows sports marginally, and if anything only sports in the U.S. He couldn’t understand why fans would make so much of an effort, and I just threw up my hands and changed the subject.
Anyway, despite the fact I am not a big fan of pyro, the pregame and 67th minute tributes to Bertie Auld on Saturday were both phenomenal. The Green Brigade gets high marks for bringing high quality to the stands, each and every time, regardless of whether it gets the club in trouble or not. It was phenomenal, and regretfully I could not find a still from the 2nd half demonstration by the Green Brigade.
You’ll have to settle for videos gleaned from social media, like this one here.
Of course, Sunday’s Wile E. Coyote tifo — whatever the Ibrox crew was doing on at Hampden the day after, which seemed to be purchased at ACME– paled in comparison. As it always does, and as they always do.
A yellow for Furuhashi
An incident in the St. Johnston game which caused some ripples was when that paragon of class officiating Nick Walsh — yeah, that’s the epitome of sarcasm right there, as Walsh should be nowhere near a grade-school match, let alone a Cup semifinal — gave Kyogo Furuhashi a yellow card. But the fact of the matters is that it was completely warranted.
Furuhashi was floored by some mouthbreathing, hammerthrowing nobody on St. Johnstone — playing their Livingstonian 10-0-0 formation all game — and Kyogo got up and was clearly justified in pushing him. A small tete-a-tete which amounted to nothing, except to Walsh, who made it a serious offense thanks to the fact that it was a Celt involved.
Daijobu desu, Furuhashi-san — That’s OK, Kyogo. It’s good to see that Kyogo has probably had his fill of the rogue’s gallery of talentless thugs that populate the SPFL and is now standing up for himself.
Welcome back, Jamesy
Oh, man. Have I been waiting for this, and it’s a plot line straight out of Hollywood. Who better to honor a legend like Bertie Auld than a potential legend-in-waiting like James Forrest?
Forrest scored in the 74th minute from a cross that pinballed off St. Johnstone goalkeeper Zander Clark and others, and slotted home the 1-0 winner on Saturday. If there was ever a fitting “welcome back” after recovery from a long injury, it was this for Jamesy.
Love seeing that kind of play from a homegrown hero like Forrest.
One more thing
My friend Matt Corr’s latest book — “Harry Hood: Twice as Good” — has officially been released into the wild, and it’s an ideal holiday gift for that Celtic fan on your list. You can pick up the book at the Celtic Star Bookstore, and you can marvel at how great Harry looked in the San Antonio Thunder jersey late in his career . . . not to mention all the tales of glory from his Celtic days as well.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. We travel to Bayer Lederhosen — sorry, Leverkusen — this week before taking up the regular season tasks against Aberdeen on Sunday. Mon the Hoops!
I read the news today, oh boy . . . and after reading the headlines before grabbing a quick cup of coffee and toast on my way out the door to go to work, I rued the gloom that eventually ended up following me for the entire day: Celtic legend Bertie Auld had passed away.
There are only a handful of players in the wider Celtic’s history that define a certain aspect of the club’s persona.
Vision was always defined by Brother Walfrid, who had the idea to feed the poor through the game of football, and then later by Willie Maley, who brought the foundation of quality players to the Hoops.
Leadership was always defined by Jock Stein on the sideline — espousing pure, beautiful, inventive football — and Billy McNeill implementing it on the pitch.
Skill had a wide variety of representatives in Celtic’s history, but none was superior in all of Celtic history than Jimmy Johnstone.
Personality and heart had but one shining representative: Bertie Auld. He understood and reflected what it means to be Celtic. He was faithfully Celtic, through and through.
Had Bertie done nothing else in his entire Celtic career, he achieved legendary status in Lisbon even before the game began: As the legend goes, in the tunnel awaiting to go out onto the pitch, standing next to European powerhouse Inter Milan, Bertie started singing “The Celtic Song,” in which the rest of his teammates joined in to the bemused Italians. John Fallon gives a great description of the scene in Clover Flims’ “The Fans Who Make Football” in their Celtic episode starting at around 20:50 – however, the whole episode is worth a watch, if you haven’t already seen it.
But he did so much more. For the fans who were not born yet, or not old enough to experience the glory and significance of the 1967 European Cup, Bertie Auld was the conduit – the connection to the heyday when Celtic was the first non-continental team to bring the trophy up to the British Isles. His accessibility – Bertie was always available for banter with fans, and was never at a loss to regale the public, whether it was a small group or a broadcast studio audience, with tales of Celtic greatness — was a touchstone of what it means to be Celtic.
The testament of how loved Bertie was by Celtic fans is the number of pictures posted on social media by people who had their pictures taken with him. Those are only the ones that are being shared, and there are probably more that aren’t, but it speaks to the fact that Bertie was always accessible and available to the people, and always made time for the fans. Always.
One of the most moving tributes-in-288-characters was posted on Twitter by Celtic Park tourgide Davie McLaughlin, with a picture of Bertie and Davie’s son.
His love for Celtic was boundless, and it showed. Day in and day out. He understood that football is nothing without the fans, and as a result, he seemed to give back to the fans a hundredfold, because at the end of the day we are all Celtic.
Bertie understood that. He was one of us, and that’s why we all loved him.
That’s what I thought this morning, driving down Highway 9 from Felton to Santa Cruz on my way to work, negotiating every serpentine curve through the redwoods, all the while singing “The Celtic Song.”
But I’m hearing the song in Bertie’s voice, not mine.
Requiesce in pace, Bertie. You’ll never walk alone.
As a relatively new Celtic fan — only four seasons still makes me a neophyte in the grand scheme of Hoops history — one of the things that, at least to me, has always ranged from a mild mystery to a downright conundrum is the club’s assigning of player numbers.
This observation first occurred to me while I was still grieving the departure of Mikael Lustig, who had sadly moved on from Celtic to KAA Gent, before ending up now at AIK in Stockholm. His number 23 went immediately to a new acquisition at the time, Boli Bolingoli. I thought it was odd that the number of a beloved Celt would be transferred so quickly, but I guess it is par for the course in the football world.
You move on, and your number is up for grabs, apparently. It’s as simple as that.
Or is it? Is there more to it than meets the eye, a certain metaphysical reason behind a player ending up wearing the number of a legend?
We have a new number 8 who replaces a recently departed number 8 — departed in a football sense, that is. Little has been said about Kyogo Furuhashi inheriting Scott Brown’s number. On the surface there may seem to be few similarities between the two, but if you look back the Hoops legend from Dunfermline and the new kid from Nara may be more alike than meets the eye, primarily and most importantly, both are quick and good with the ball. Also, it can be argued that Brown inherited the number from another Celtic legend, Paul McStay, and Brown admirably filled the legacy of that Hoops great.
We could go on and on about this, because examples here are plentiful: Liel Abada’s number 11 runs through the scenic route of the retraced steps of Scott Sinclair back to Bobby Lennox, while the number 5 has a magical and mystical significance insofar as the last player to wear it, Jozo Simunovic, scored after 67 minutes in a game honouring the greatest number 5 to play in green-and-white, Billy McNeill.
Then there’s the iconic number 7: Last worn with historical significance by the King of Kings, Henrik Larsson, but with a lineage that goes back to the greatest of all Celts, Jimmy Johnstone.
Today, photos of new Celtic acquisition Josip Juranovic have the new player wearing number 88, that of a Celtic historic goal-scoring magician, Gary Hooper. During his time with Celtic, Hooper — who is still playing in Australia — was an exciting player to watch, and it remains to be seen whether the magic of the number rubs off on the Croatian defender joining Celtic from Legia Warsaw.
This magic sometimes transfers — Brown to Furuhashi seems, at least so far, to be proof of that.
But sometimes it doesn’t — Lustig to Bolingoli being Exhibit A here, to say nothing of Albian Ajeti’s number 10, with a pedigree that spans the timeline through Moussa Dembele, Jan Vennegor of Hesselink, John Hartson, Tommy Burns, and Bertie Auld.
You can say it’s only a number, but fate, superstition and the football gods may have other intentions. No one knows for sure.
Nevertheless, on Thursday we have the second leg against Alkmaar Zaanstreek — AZ to the cool kids — away in the Netherlands, bringing with us a 2-o advantage from last week’s Europa League match at Parkhead.
If he had done nothing else in his Celtic career, this would have cemented him into Celtic lore forever: Bertie Auld started singing “The Celtic Song” in the tunnel in Lisbon as the teams waited to go out onto the pitch for the European Cup in 1967, accompanied quickly thereafter by the rest of the club.
But he did more — so much more — that he became a Celtic legend.
The club reported today a confirmation that Bertie is suffering from dementia, and is being cared for at home.
“Everyone at Celtic would like to add their best wishes to Bertie and his family. Bertie is a true Celtic icon, one of our greatest sons and someone the Club and our supporters love and respect dearly,” the post from Celtic stated.
Bertie “gets it,” and has personified Celtic throughout his career, both on the pitch and off of it. Especially off of it, where he was always the perfect representative of the club with fans and the media. Always available and glad to talk to Celtic fans, he never put a foot wrong.
“Faithful through and through” describes Bertie perfectly.
I have said often on social media that Bertie Auld is a national treasure. I firmly believe that.
His jersey fit, both on and off the field.
Bertie understands and lives his life with the tenet of what football players should be, both on and off the pitch: always positive about the game, always accessible to the fans, always showing the good side of the club for which he played.
As with thousands of Celtic fans around the world, Bertie and his family are also in my thoughts in this challenging time.
The Celtic segment of the documentary series “The Fans Who Make Football, ” broadcast on Al Jazeera, pulls you in immediately, right from the start: “Celtic’s home ground is in Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded by Irish immigrants. So our story begins in . . . Albania.”
After that lead-in, how could you not want to watch?
Clover Films has done a remarkable job in this documentary series, with each episode appearing a few times a week on Al Jazeera (it is probably available on cable, but I don’t have it, so I watch on aljazeera.com), before becoming available on the documentary section of the Al Jazeera site.
The Celtic story begins in Albania thanks to the current Albanian president, Ilir Meta, being a Celtic fan and how he became one. It then pivots to the worldwide range of support Celtic has garnered over time. Without giving away spoilers, it deals with sectarianism and the symbiosis of football and politics that makes Celtic, well, Celtic.
Two items of special note are Lisbon Lion John Fallon, who recounts probably my all-time favorite Celtic story: Bertie Auld breaking into “The Celtic Song” — with the rest of the team joining in — in the tunnel before the 1967 European Cup match while their Inter Milan counterparts looked on curiously. And the segments in the film about Jay Beatty, whose childhood and adolescence seem intertwined with Celtic, are also very detailed and moving.
Clover Films has done a few documentaries in this series that are worth watching, as in “put down what you’re doing right now and watch this.”
The segment on FC St. Pauli is another gem, outlining the club’s history from one of the Nazi’s darlings in the ’30s to the paragon of antifascism it is today. Like Celtic, it paints a picture of a club with a worldwide reach due to their principles.
In addition, there are several Celtic “Easter eggs” in the FC St. Pauli documentary: Early on, there is a crowd shot where the fans are singing something to the tune of ” ’67 in the Heat of Lisbon,” the head of security in one shot is wearing a St. Pauli CSC cap, there is a group of Scots at the FC St. Pauli game talking about the club’s politics and how it aligns with theirs (and one of them is wearing a Celtic/FCSP scarf), and in the shot of the New York bar of St. Pauli supporters watching the Hamburg Derby where the group is singing “I Just Can’t Get Enough.”
There is one segment about Liverpool FC which shows how the club — and the city — overcame adversity over the years to rise to excellence, going in great detail about both the Thatcher administration’s hostility toward the city as well as the Hillsborough incident which took the lives of 96 fans.
Of special note is the documentary on Indonesia’s PSS Sleman. As Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, it is remarkable that women are in the forefront of the Sleman ultras, not to mention some of the demands they have made to the club to make it more fan-friendly to the point of holding boycotts.
Again, put down what you’re doing right now and watch each of these. You can thank me later.
And thank you, Clover Films, for a remarkable series.
One more thing
There’s been a tsunami of commentary about Neil Lennon’s departure, and rather than contribute a thimble of water in this giant wave, I would only like to add that the most tragic thing about the whole oredeal — yes, even more tragic than losing the 10 — is that Lennon’s career with Celtic might be defined by the dumpster fire this season has become, rather than being defined by his playing career and his successes in getting Celtic a hefty amount of silverware as a manager. I’d like to be wrong about this, and I would thank Lenny for his overall remarkable service to the club.
And personally I’d like to see Steve Clarke get the job once the season ends. Kilmarnock and the Scottish National Team have punched above their weight under his leadership, and it’s something we might need to get the club righted.
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.