Sunday, 18 February 2018

The man who loved the green

The man who loved the green 

Love Street was packed to the rafters for the cup replay between Celtic and St Mirren on a crisp February night in 1980. Thousands of supporters were locked out when the stadium reached capacity a good 30 minutes before the game began and there was a raucous and noisy atmosphere.  St Mirren could boast a fine side with players like Jimmy Bone, Doug Somner, Peter Weir and Frank McDougal. Celtic knew they'd be in for a stern test and so it proved. The game flowed from end to end in the early stages and Bone scored for St Mirren after 11 minutes. Celtic, roared on by the bulk of the 27,000 crowd pressed for an equaliser but looked stretched themselves on occasion when St Mirren counter attacked. Doyle equalised in 30 minutes but shortly afterwards Tom McAdam was sent off after a clash with a St Mirren player. It looked a very harsh decision and Celtic would play out the remainder on the game with 10 men. When St Mirren went ahead in the second half, things looked bleak but Celtic rallied and pushed their opponents back. Chances came and went in an increasingly shrill atmosphere before Bobby Lennox score for the Hoops to make it 2-2. The game entered extra time and the effervescent Johnny Doyle score the decisive goal to put Celtic through to the next round. It had been a stirring performance from Celtic and the players had risen to the challenge. None more so than Johnny Doyle who had what many consider to be his finest game in the Hoops. 

Johnny Doyle signed for Celtic in the spring of 1976. His time at Ayr United had been marked by fine wing play but occasional flashes of temper which had him in trouble with officials. He had inspired Ayr United to a fine 3-0 win over Rangers during his time there but many felt his fiery temperament would make a move to a bigger club unlikely. He once said... 

'Some say as a player you should turn the other cheek but it's always been an eye for an eye with me.' 

He was Celtic mad and got his dream move to Celtic Park at a time Jock Stein was recovering from a serious car accident and Sean Fallon was leading the side. There is no doubt Stein would have been consulted on the transfer though as his influence was all pervasive at Celtic. His first full season saw a rejuvenated Celtic win a league and cup Double and Doyle played his part. The supporters could see a player who clearly loved the club giving his all in the green and white and they took Johnny Doyle to their hearts. He wasn't the biggest physically relying on his speed to out-pace defenders but he was absolutely fearless and would never shirk from a tackle. Defenders got away with more in those days and he took his fair share of rough treatment but generally kept his temper in check. He was more likely to react to poor refereeing decisions and his mouth got him into trouble with officials on more than one occasion.  

Season 1977-78 proved to be a disasterous one for Celtic. Dalglish had gone south, McGrain had been injured and was out for months and the calming influence of Pat Stanton was also lost to injury. Celtic suffered 15 league defeats in 36 games and finished fifth in the table. They failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in years and it seemed that everything which could go wrong did. Doyle , who was in and out of the side with injuries himself, was involved in a bizarre incident during a game at Somerset Park which summed up a crazy season. 

As Celtic pressurised the Ayr United defence he received the ball out wide and fired a cross towards the penalty box. The ball thudded into the face of Referee Bob Cuthill who collapsed like a felled tree. When he recovered his composure he astonishingly concluded it was deliberate and sent a furious Doyle off. 

The following season saw the weather postpone a huge amount of football and Celtic didn't play a league match between December and early March. They were miles behind but with games in hand and when the weather improved, they began a crowded fixture list with few expecting them to do much. Win followed win as Celtic climbed the table relentlessly until on a bright May evening in 1979 it all came down to the final match of the season. Celtic knew if the beat Rangers they would be champions, anything less and the Ibrox club would win the league. What followed was one of the most dramatic games in Celtic's long history.  

Rangers took an early lead when Alex McDonald scored against the run of play. Things took a turn for the worse when they were reduced to ten men. Johnny had needlessly got involved with Alex McDonald as the latter lay on the ground. Whatever was said by the Rangers player, Johnny gave him a dunt in the ribs with his boot; nothing too severe but enough to have the linesman on the Jungle side waving his flag. After consulting the linesman, the Referee sent a horrified Doyle off. This Celtic mad player had seemingly let his side down in the most vital game of the season. He cut a distraught figure as he trudged off the field leaving his team mates to try to come back from a goal down and a man down. What must he have been thinking as he sat alone in the dressing room listening to the unfolding drama playing out on the pitch being relayed to him in roars and songs from the crowd? What would the supporters think of him if his foolishness cost them a chance to become champions? We can only imagine his despair. 

Of course, Celtic rose magnificently to the challenges they faced on that epic night at Paradise. They beat Rangers 4-2 in an encounter many who saw it still regard as the finest derby match they have seen. Doyle may have been saying, 'I let you down,' to his team mates that night but they didn't let him down and he can seen in pictures celebrating their victory on the field after the game. His face a mixture of delight and relief. It was an epic finish to the season and he had played his part in an unexpected and unlikely championship win. 

1980 saw Johnny competing with Davie Provan for the right-wing berth although he was occasionally used in a more central attacking role. Highlights for him that season were definitely his performance against Real Madrid at Celtic Park in the quarter finals of the European cup. With 67,000 Celtic fans creating an electric atmosphere, Johnny arrived between two Madrid defenders to bullet a header into the net. The team went on to record a fine 2-0 win against the Spaniards and no one was more delighted than John Doyle. He also played in the riot torn cup final against Rangers that year which turned with George McCluskey's extra-time goal. There was no love lost between Johnny and Rangers and he delighted in beating them as all fans of Celtic do. He was a constant thorn in their side during those games and took a lot of rough treatment but he always bounced back for more. 

The arrival of Frank McGarvey and the emergence of Charlie Nicholas meant Johnny was limited in his appearances in season 1980-81. He turned down moves to Motherwell and Hearts preferring instead to stay at his beloved Celtic and fight for his place. He loved being a Celtic player and as a Celtic fan was understandably reluctant to close that chapter of his career. As it transpired, fate conspired in the cruelest possible way to bring the curtain down on the career and life of John Doyle. 

While carrying out electrical work at his home was electrocuted and died in October 1981. He was just 30 years old. The Celtic support was stunned at the news and realised that we'd lost one of our own. Johnny, like all of us, had his flaws and wasn't perfect but he loved Celtic and in some games it appeared he cared too much as he tore into officials or opposition players. The supporters took him to their hearts because he was one of them, a fan living the dream of playing for Celtic. 

When Celtic clinched the league title against St Mirren at a noisy Celtic Park in May 1982 the fans roared out, 'We won the league for Doyle.' The Celtic support don't forget their heroes and they especially remember those who care as passionately about the club as they do. Johnny lived and breathed Celtic much like his great friend Tommy Burns and the fans loved them for it. 

Rest in peace Johnny. The man who loved the green. HH 

Johnny Doyle (1951-81) 
Celtic player and Celtic fan 

Sunday, 11 February 2018



Watching the England and Scotland under 15 players lined up at Wembley you could have been forgiven for thinking the English players were much older. Most of them were taller and more muscular than their Scottish counterparts but football isn’t always about physicality. On a sweltering day in June 1980 the young Scots ably led by their talented young captain from Holycross High School in Hamilton, played with the head and passed the ball around their bigger opponents. It was a contrast in styles between English directness and brawn and Scottish craft and wing play. It proved to be an epic encounter which saw the young Scots emerge victorious by a margin of 5-4. Their young skipper, who played exceptionally well and scored 2 goals on that day at Wembley was of course, Paul McStay.

It’s interesting to look at that young Scotland side as it demonstrates how tough it is for even talented young players to make the grade as a professional McStay, John Robertson, Ronnie Coyle and Ally Dick had fine careers but for others it was much harder to play at the highest level…

Scotland Under 15 side 1980: – A Bruce (Craigmount High, Edinburgh), E MacDonald (Belshill Academy), A O’Connor (St Ambrose High, Coatbridge), C Plenderleith (Currie High, Edinburgh), R Coyle (St Gerard’s Secondary School, Glasgow), P Nicholas (Holyrood Secondary, Glasgow), J Robertson (Portobello High), P McStay (Holycross High, Hamilton) (captain), J Sludden (St Mungo’s High, Falkirk), S Rae (Musselburgh Grammar), A Dick (St Modan’s High, Stirling)
Subs: C Currie (Wishaw High) D McKay (Lourdes Secondary)

In the months ahead Celtic would move to ensure this bright young talent was signed by the club he had always supported. Just 18 months after leading the Scotland under 15 side to victory at Wembley, he made his debut for Celtic against Queen of the South and the supporters were rightly impressed by the maturity and play of the 17-year-old. Billy McNeil said at the time that despite his youth he had all the attributes to go directly into the first team. He would score at Pittodrie against Fergie’s excellent Aberdeen side that season and open his account against Rangers in the Glasgow derby. No one who saw this young player taking his first steps in the professional game could be in any doubt that he was the real deal. He had an elegance and vision about his play few possessed. He could make the incisive pass or timely tackle and was fearless on the field of play. The bonus to top all of this was of course that he was Celtic daft.

Those early seasons in the Hoops were a great time for him and playing in that excellent Celtic side of the early 1980s suited him. The Celtic midfield of that era blended the elegance of Burns, the power of McLeod and Aitken and the guile of McStay, who pulled the strings in the centre of the field. It was one of the most balanced and talented midfields in Celtic’s recent history. With Provan, Nicholas, McCluskey and McGarvey adding threat up front you always felt that Celtic side had a chance against anyone. Scottish football was fiercely competitive in that era with Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United all battling for honours with Celtic. There were talented players at a few clubs in the SPL in those days, but few could match McStay.

Celtic had some real talent on their books but as was the way then the parsimonious board of directors failed to reward them in a manner which would keep them at Celtic Park. Charlie Nicholas was sold to Arsenal and saw his salary increase hugely; Burns also had a chance to move south but his love of Celtic kept him at Celtic on a salary far less than he could have earned in England. As the conveyer belt of talented young players dried up later in McStay’s career Celtic were to suffer for their inability to keep good players at the club.

He played superbly against Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen in the 1984 Scottish Cup Final driving his team on after the harsh sending off of Roy Aitken and the scoring of a suspiciously off-side looking opening goal by the Dons’ Eric Black. Mcstay, at just 19, cajoled his team mater to greater efforts and the ten men eventually equalised in the last few minutes. It was no surprise that McStay crashed home the equalising goal but despite his efforts an extra time goal by Mark McGhee gave Aberdeen the cup. He would return to Hampden a year later and help defeat Dundee United in the 100th Scottish cup final.

It would be fair to say that McStay’s high point in the Hoops came in that wonderful centenary season of 1987-88. He led Celtic magnificently in game after game and provided some wonderful assists as well as weighing in with crucial goals. In one match Celtic trailed an experienced and tough Hearts side at Celtic Park then as the game neared its conclusion, McStay met a clearance at the edge of the box and fired in an unstoppable shot. Celtic were the masters of scoring late goals that season; a sign that a never say die spirit animating the whole side. In January 1988 Celtic met big spending Rangers in a game which many saw as a real test of their mettle. In a tough encounter played in incessant rain and marked by fierce challenges and aggressive play, it was McStay who provided the class that day. Just before half-time he received the ball inside the centre circle, he sidestepped a challenge, pirouetted away from Ranger English import Ray Wilkins and sent a slide rule pass to the onrushing full back Chris Morris. Morris crossed for McAvennie to crash the ball home. It was a goal created by the vision and guile of McStay, a player at the top of his game. One newspaper said at the time…

‘Paul McStay’s centimetre perfect pass to Chris Morris had to be seen to be believed. I’m sure the noise of the Rangers defence being torn apart was heard at Ibrox.’

Celtic roared through a memorable season and completed the double after more late heroics against Hearts in the semi-final and Dundee United in the Final. As the Celtic support basked in the glory of their centenary season triumphs, few would have thought that it would be another decade before they won the title again.

A Cup win in 1989 stopped Rangers winning the Treble but it was clear as the 1990s arrived that Celtic were struggling to keep pace with the big spending Ibrox side. McNeil left after being denied a decent wage by the board. It transpired that he was the fifth best paid manager in the SPL. Good players also drifted away and at times it looked as if McStay might try his luck elsewhere as Celtic looked rudderless in the early 1990’s.

Things reached a nadir in the 1994 League Cup Final where success starved Celtic supporters turned up to watch their side play a Raith Rovers side they really should have beaten. The match ended 2-2 due to a combination of poor finishing and erratic goalkeeping from Celtic. In the penalty shoot-out it fell to McStay to take a kick to keep Celtic hopes alive. The fates conspired cruelly as the best player on the field missed the kick and he cut a disconsolate figure as he trooped off Ibrox against a backdrop of celebrating Raith players and fans.

By the end of that 1994-95 season Celtic had gone six long years without a trophy and battled their way through to the final of the Scottish Cup. The McCann revolution was beginning by then and players of a more appropriate calibre were beginning to arrive at Celtic Park. It was one of these players, Pierre Van Hooijdonk who headed the only goal of the game to give Celtic a scrappy but well-deserved cup victory. Celtic fans watched the joy and relief on McStay’s face as he celebrated on the field.

Paul McStay played 683 matches for his beloved Celtic with only Alex McNair and Billy McNeil ahead are of him in the all-time appearance record list. He won 3 titles, 4 Scottish cups and a league cup.  Above all of this he demonstrated time and time again that he was a gifted midfielder who played his heart out for Celtic and who stuck with the club when it would have been easier and understandable to walk away. He won 76 caps for his country and represented Scotland at every possible level.

His last game for Celtic came on 5th April 1997 at Starks Park against Raith Rovers. Celtic drew 1-1 as their bid to stop Rangers winning their ninth consecutive championship faltered in the final furlong. Players were arriving who would stop the ‘Ten’ the following season and no Celtic supporter would be more pleased than Paul McStay.

Too often players are lauded as club ‘Legends’ but in the case of Paul Michael Lyons McStay that title was richly deserved.

Thank you, Maestro, it was an honour and a pleasure to watch you play.