My own path through the football ranks was quite an unusual one. My first school was St Anthony’s Primary School in Govan, a rather old fashioned building – the toilets were outside and had no roof! – with a playground bounded at the top end by the gable end of a tenement building. That particular gable end gave me one of my best memories as a kid. The year above me were holding a cricket ball-throwing contest and one laddie’s throw slammed into the wall about five feet off the ground, the first time anyone in the history of the school had managed such a long throw.
Everyone was cheering like mad but suddenly the celebrations were cut short as cracks appeared in the plaster covering the outside of the wall and then big bits of the stuff fell off! Needless to say, sports day was abandoned!
After St Anthony’s, I moved on to St Gerard’s Senior Secondary, just along the road. St Gerard’s was a big school, with about 120 boys – and, of course, girls, although until 4th year, we were separated – in each of the first three years and a number of well-known names received their secondary education there. Future Celtic Chairman Brian Quinn was about five years ahead of me, as was Joe McBride; centre-forward Ian Lochhead was two years ahead and possibly the biggest name of all, Billy Connelly, was in my year.
St Anthony’s did not have a school football team, so when I started at St Gerard’s and discovered that they did have them, I was really delighted. There were yearly teams for 1st, 2nd and 3rd year and I made the team each year and also captained the sides from the centre-half position. In 4th, 5th and 6th year, there was just the one team and I played in it for my final three years at the school.
In my first year, after we had played a match at Pirie Park, our home ground in Drumoyne, just on the outskirts of Govan, most of the team wandered over to the slightly bigger pitch to watch the 3rd year side. They had a most important game against Govan High – an encounter which we all took seriously as a sort-of mini Old Firm match. It was a good contest and the opposing centre-forward caught my eye, a fairly slim guy who put himself about a bit, all elbows and aggression. The Govan High players involved in our game were just beside us and I asked one of them who the centre-forward was?
“Alex Ferguson” was the reply.
The boy looked a promising prospect. I often wonder what became of him?
It was a different world in many ways in those days. People did not travel too much and when they did, most folk used public transport, as cars were not plentiful, at least among the families of pupils at St Gerard’s. One story might illustrate this. For the first three years, we only played sides from the city of Glasgow but that changed in the senior team, who were entered into the Scottish Cup. One day, the players in the team were standing round one of the teachers’ staff rooms, waiting for the master in charge of the side to tell us who we had been drawn against. Eventually, he came out carrying a slip of paper. “We’ve got a home match against St Pat’s Coatbridge” he declared and then tried to give us a boost, “we’ll have a right good chance, don’t worry about it”.
I’m not sure that I was ‘worried about it’. What was really bothering me was the fact that I did not have a clue where Coatbridge was? My Mum’s family was in and around the Govan area; my paternal grandparents were in Leith. I had been to coastal resorts all over the country but Coatbridge was not one of them, so where was it? Thank goodness it was a home match…. they would have to come to us!
On the day of the cup tie, a bus pulled up outside Pirie Park and the players came off. They all looked pretty normal except for one who could have passed for a giant. He was about six feet in height and was built in proportion. I was in my fourth year at the time and this was my first season in the senior side where I was holding down the right-back slot. What a relieved man I was when the teams lined up and I saw that the giant was playing centre-forward for St Pat’s. My own immediate opponent was at least a foot shorter!
Then when the game got underway, the giant took over, stamping his authority on the proceedings. St Pat’s won 6-0 and the giant scored all six of them, his runs through the middle quite unstoppable. It was a very chastened squad of St Gerard’s players who lined up at the end of the game to congratulate the opposition, especially the giant, who turned out to be a very pleasant laddie off the pitch. It had a bad morning for my team but meeting John ‘Yogi’ Hughes for the first time made it quite a memorable occasion.
Cesar – and Lynn the Leap
I picked up representative honours during this period, firstly for Glasgow Schools against Bradford Schools on a couple of occasions then for the Scottish Schools under-18 side. We played the English Schools side two years running. The first match was at Turf Moor, the ground of Burnley FC, although we stayed in Preston, where we had the privilege of meeting the great Tom Finney. Unfortunately, we lost that one 2-1 but a year later had a fine 1-0 at Celtic Park, where I captained the side from the centre-half role, as a certain Ian Young was at right back.
In the dressing-room before the game, the selectors brought in a 21-year old star who had played in this match a few years previously and was now holding down a place in one of Scotland’s top teams. He was introduced to us and went round the dressing room to shake the hand of each and every player. And that was how I met Billy McNeill for the first time.
I met another star that year of 1961. I made the Scottish Schools Athletic squad – in the triple jump – for the triangular contest between Wales, Scotland and England, held in the Maindy Stadium in Cardiff. Unfortunately, I finished last of the six in my event but the better of the two Welshman, who was built like a tank and went by the name of Lynn Davies, was a particularly pleasant guy; Three years later, in the Tokyo Olympic Games, that same boy won the gold medal in the long jump!
Conflicts of Interest
A good friend of mine, Joe Connor, who was also a Celtic scout, was checking my progress and was keen to take me to Parkhead. I was equally keen but I had been accepted to start a five-year dentistry course at Glasgow University, had heard the usual tales of guys dropping out because they did not put enough work in and did not want to become another one. At the same time, the call from Celtic was a very flattering one, which every Celtic fan like myself would be flattered to receive. In the end, I accepted the invitation but played as an amateur without obligation. That way, I could train whenever I got the chance and played quite a few games in that season of 1961-62 in Celtic’s third team which won the combined Reserve League.
The following season, though, I had to drop out. Second year dentistry was tough, a long trawl through anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, classes all morning, labs all afternoon plus another on Saturday morning. The workload left little time for any concentrated training and I did not play at all that year – for any official team. I managed to keep training about three or four times a week; this consisted of a four-mile run if I felt in the mood, or a quick two-mile belt round the outside of Bellahouston Park if I felt lazy. To be honest, the latter runs were more frequent. Not very interesting but the stamina work was to stand me in good stead later on when the role of attacking full-back became more common.
On some Saturday afternoons, I tied my laces together, hung my boots over my shoulder and stood beside the dressing-rooms in the same park. Some teams usually had an absentee and I got a game for a variety of teams; I also got a boost to my ego as I was often asked to sign for the side afterwards!
I started playing properly again at the beginning of season 1964-65 and made the first team at Glasgow University. The standard was pretty good, the training was well thought out and our pitch at Garscadden was one of the best I ever played on. The team did well and I picked up a cap for the Scotland University side. In recent years, Glasgow University, like other educational institutions, has seen the need to raise money, so these pitches are now a fine housing estate.
For some years after Sunday mass, it had become the norm for Joe Connor, my Dad and I to chat about the football scene, with Joe particularly pleased I was playing again. What I did not know was that he had been watching some of my matches and had recommended me again to Celtic. Just after the New Year of 1965, Joe arrived at my parent’s house and informed me that Celtic wanted to offer me a contract. I was secretly pleased, as I had thought I had missed my chance at senior level. By then, I was halfway through my fourth year and felt that I could cope with whatever was thrown at me and spare some time for training. Mum wasn’t keen but Dad was quite blunt; “there are a lot of dentists, son, but not everyone gets the chance to sign for Celtic!”. That was exactly my own feelings, so I decided to take the offer. And as my Dad, born and brought up in Leith, was a dedicated Hibbie, those words from his mouth were really special!
So, on 7th January 1965, I walked from the Dental Hospital, – in Renfrew Street, just to the north of Sauchiehall Street – down to the Heilan’man’s Umbrella in Argyle Street to catch a 62 bus to Auchenshuggle, got off in London Road at the bottom of the large area for cars outside Celtic Park and made my way up to the ground, where Joe Connor was waiting for me.
This should have been one of the special occasions in my life but in reality, while the circumstances were exciting, the surroundings were disappointing. Celtic Park in those days was rather drab, the office area small and uninspiring, the surroundings dark, the lighting poor. The proceedings were handled by Sean Fallon, Joe Connor was also present and we were joined by Celtic manager Jimmy McGrory. I had read much about the achievements of this man as a free-scoring centre-forward, some of whose records are unsurpassed to this day. The rather squat figure with the bull neck still gave testimony to the strength and power he must have brought to his game. More surprising was the diffident, almost laid-back approach to the job of manager, which contrasted sharply with the heads of various departments within the Dental Hospital, my only means of comparison at the time.
The wage offered was £8 a week. Now, this might today seem hardly awe-inspiring but as a fourth-year dental student I was receiving 25 shillings (£1.25 ) a week from my parents, so things were looking up. I would be able to buy two coffees when I went on a date!
“Unusual” Handshakes Seal the Deal
Once all the papers were signed, I was taken in to meet the various members of the Board. I was firstly introduced to Chairman Bob Kelly, who held out his left hand – reversed – for me to shake. Later, I discovered that he had had a withered right hand since birth and always shook hands that way, but on that January evening, it totally confused me and I gripped his hand with both of mine, just to be on the safe side.
Next up was Desmond White, the Treasurer, who also put out his left hand in exactly the same manner. To say I was astonished was putting it mildly; I was beginning to think it must be a club custom. I later discovered that Mr White had been caught on the right arm by an aircraft propeller during the war hence his use of the left hand as well. Whatever, the reason, my bewilderment must have shown on my face. When I met the third director, a very jovial man called Tom Devlin, he started to put his left hand out then burst out laughing as he extended his right. The other director present, Jimmy Farrell, also found my reaction amusing and he congratulated me on my joining the club. In later years, he would play a big role in my life.
So that was it, I was a fully fledged Celtic player and the following evening, I returned for my first training session and a real surprise! Our sessions with the University team had been held at Westerlands near Anniesland Cross – now also a housing estate – and were handled by coaches who were usually graduates of Physical Education from Jordanhill College. They were well-structured, we got plenty of ball work and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
Laps of Labour
Imagine my shock, then, when I arrived at Parkhead for my first training session and found that all we did was track work. This seldom varied. We started with a quick lap of 440 yards then walked a lap; next a two-lap run (880 yards) and this was also followed by a walked lap; then 4 x 220 yards sprints, walking the other 220 yards in each lap; 8 x 100 yards sprints down the straights, walk the bends; then four laps of 50 yards sprint followed by 50 yards walk. And that was it. Requests to the coach or trainer for a ball were always met with the same response: “Och! You’ll get enough of that on a Saturday!”
Since the coach stood at the bottom of the tunnel and the only lights put on were the ones underneath the main stand, quite a few unwilling trainers ran down the home straight a damn sight quicker that they went down the back straight. However, there were a number of good trainers at these evening sessions which made them very competitive.
Good trainers many of these lads might have been but not all of them made the grade at Celtic Park for one reason or another. Frank McCarron, who captained the Scottish Schoolboys Under-18 side the year after me only played one match for Celtic before moving to Carlisle where a badly-broken leg affected his career adversely. There was Gerry Sweeney, a feisty wing-half ( a midfielder in modern parlance) who went on to have a good spell with Bristol City and Tony Taylor, a very quick left-winger who had a spell at Crystal Palace. At a time when few young players had cars, Tony had bought himself a Reliant Robin, a three-wheel vehicle which has become much better known than it was then thanks to the adventures of Del Boy and Rodney in Only Fools and Horses.
Tony was a little embarrassed by having a three-wheeler and when he brought it to training, to avoid receiving some stick from the senior players, he left it behind the flats on the south side of London Road opposite Celtic Park. However, none of the younger part-timers gave him any abuse; after every evening training session we broke the record for the number of people who could pack into a Reliant Robin and got a run into town! Some players in our group at night had already played for the first team, guys like John Cushley and Jim Brogan.
My rival for the right-back berth in the reserves – and already the incumbent – was a laddie from Lanarkshire, John Halpin, a nice guy who never showed any reaction to another right-back joining the club. Initially, he and I shared the right-back slot, or I played centre-half but as the season drew to a close, I seemed to be the first choice at full-back. In those days, Celtic had both a reserve side and a combined reserve side, so between the two the young players had plenty of matches to play, especially in the last few weeks of the season.
Before one of those matches, I had what some people might call a run-in with the new manager Jock Stein. It was before a night match, in chilly conditions, so I decided on extra coverage. Back then, my physique was of the slim variety, only 11 stone 7 lbs at 6 feet 1 inch and I took some time to get warm even though a lot of effort was being put in. My answer was a tee-shirt under the strip, which not only kept me warm initially but seemed to ‘even-out’ the body heat generated during the match. Without realising it, I was imitating the players on mainland Europe, many of whom wear an under-shirt, even in the warmest of weather.
Anyway, on this particular night, I was pulling on the tee-shirt when I heard a voice behind me say “hey, hey, hey”. I turned round; it was Jock Stein. “What’s that”, he said. “A tee-shirt”, I replied. “Aye, but what are you going to do with it?”, he asked. “Wear it under my strip”. His answer was unequivocal : “Not in this damn team you won’t” and the tee-shirt was handed to the trainer.
This was my first experience of Jock Stein’s authority and his occasional intransigence which, at the beginning of his Parkhead career, was used to supplement his authority. Nobody else among the reserves wore a tee-shirt, so I couldn’t either, even if it might have helped me play more comfortably or more effectively. The manager was the Boss, the players obeyed or else. That was the system of the time and Jock Stein had come up through the system. This trifling incident was merely a flick of managerial power, to show not only me – but the others as well – who was in charge. It succeeded in doing so.
As the season drew to a close, there was great excitement around the club as the first-team headed towards the Scottish Cup Final. For the reserve squad, however, and the younger players, there were other considerations. The papers were full of stories that Jock Stein was going to cut the number of players at the club and we all pondered our future. In those days, if a club wished to retain players, they had to be informed by 30th April.
By 29th April, there had been no communication from the club and I was getting worried. My Dad said that he thought they put the list in the morning papers and mentioned that there a guy outside a pub just along the way from us in Paisley Road West who would be selling the early editions of these papers last thing at night. So he and I set out along the road and walked up and down outside the pub for what seemed an eternity before the guy appeared.
I was across the road in a flash, bought the paper, turned to the sports section and saw the headline ‘Celtic Free 20 Players’. I quickly checked the list – my name was not there! I then checked the list of retained players and there it was, although not in an easily found place. The names were not in alphabetical order and mine was second last, with Gerry Sweeney behind me.
Still, I had made it and felt fortunate; but in a situation like this there are always winners and losers and these guys failed to make it and unfortunately, had to try and find a club elsewhere;
J Baillie, D Brown, T Curley, C Gillan, J McCallum, M McCluskey,
J McDougall, T Spencer, J Hoey, K Aird, D McCue, J Orr, O Connelly,
P McGowan, A Chappell, W Lees, F Cassidy, P Duncan, A Martin and R Miller.
Being retained made me feel ten feet tall, to be honest. It had been a good finish to the season for Celtic. The first team had won the Scottish Cup and the reserves had picked up both the Reserve League title and the Combined Reserve League Championship. The latter had been cancelled for the following season of 1965-66 but there was still much to look forward to and I wanted very much to be part of it.