Many heroes but few legends
Big Hutchy was troubled as the mini bus sped up the M6 towards Scotland. Those not asleep talked in low tones about the events of the night before. Losing a match was one thing but the violence which occurred after it was little short of disgraceful. There was a muffled cheer as they sped past the sign on the M74 which read ‘Welcome to Scotland.’ Hutchy shouted to the driver, ‘Stop at the next service station, will ye pal?’ The driver nodded, ‘No problem mate as long as it’s not for drink. The cops are still checking buses.’ Hutchy nodded, ‘Naw it’s no fur bevy mate.’ A few miles further on they pulled in to one of those nondescript service stations which dot the UK motorway system and specialise in ripping off drivers with extortionate prices. Hutchy disappeared from the mini bus for a few minutes as his fellow fans waited impatiently. ‘Where’s he off tae?’ asked one fan. ‘Nae idea but he better move his arse, I want tae get up the road.’ said another. Eventually big Hutchy reappeared holding a huge bunch of flowers and clambered back onto the mini bus. ‘You got a burd waiting fur ye?’ grinned a sleepy eyed fellow fan. ‘Naw,’ another butted in, ‘he never asked his burd for her permission tae go tae the match and that’s his apology.’ Hutchy shook his head and replied in a loud voice which stirred the sleeping fans, ’Listen up, this is something ah want yeez aw tae hear…’
Two hours later the mini bus slowed and stopped on the London Road at the corner of Kerrydale Street. There were already hundreds of people milling about in front of Celtic Park in the bright evening sunshine. Hutchy had discussed who was coming with him as they neared Glasgow and the three volunteers stepped from the mini bus, blinking in the sunshine. Heads turned in the direction of the four friends who made their way up Kerrydale Street towards the stadium. Hutchy held the flowers in front of him and made his way to the huge display of football strips, flowers and scarves which had grown around the front of the stadium. They stopped near the statue of Brother Walfrid and Hutchy laid the flowers with care on the ground beside a large picture of the man these tributes had been laid out for. Hutchy stood and closed his eyes for a few seconds as his friends looked on, feeling a little awkward. One of them took off his scarf and tied it to the barrier in front of him. He glanced around and saw that there were literally thousands of tributes around the front of the stadium which formed a huge green and white arc. ‘Jeez, I’ve never seen anything like this,’ he mumbled.
Hutchy opened his eyes and bowed briefly in respect before saying, ‘Right lads, let’s head back tae the bus.’ as he led his three friends back down Kerrydale Street there was a smattering of applause. Hutchy glanced around wondering if some Celtic players or celebrity had shown up but quickly realised that the applause was for him and his friends. An older man reached across and shook his hand, ‘Good on ye lads,’ Hutchy nodded, ‘Tommy was one of the best.’ Another fan, a bearded young man bedecked in the Hoops, patted his back, ‘Respect, mate.’ he said. They reached the bus where twenty other fans sat in silence. ‘Right driver, hit the road,’ said Hutchy. They pulled off into the light traffic and headed west towards Bridgeton. One finally spoke, ‘I wasn’t sure about this Hutchy but ye were right mate. Some things are bigger than fitbaw.’
You will have deduced by now those supporters who laid their tributes to Tommy Burns in the spring of 2008 were Rangers fans returning from the crushing disappointment of losing the UEFA cup final in riot torn Manchester. They walked through hundreds of grieving Celtic supporters in their Rangers shirts to show their respect for one of the good guys. It is a mark of how Tommy Burns was perceived and respected throughout the Scottish game that they stopped off on their way home to pay their tributes.
In the polarised and often bitter world of Scottish football we are all guilty at times of stereotyping our adversaries and such acts of humanity remind us that no support has a monopoly of decency. The passing of a transparently good man like Tommy Burns was of course marked with the respect and grief one would expect from the Celtic family. Such though was Tommy’s character and personality, fans of just about every club in the land also paid tribute to a good man taken from his family far too soon. Tales of many acts of kindness, great and small, are still told, particularly in the east end of Glasgow and I have recounted some on this blog on occasion. No one who met Tommy could be mistaken for a moment that he was anything other than a thoroughly decent human being. Often he needed no words as he led by example. Consider what some of those who knew him best said about him…
“I loved Tommy Burns. You meet some people and you like them, but Tommy was someone that I loved. I got to realise that during the early 1980s, although I wouldn’t have told him that. But he was just one of those people that you just can’t help but love’’. (Danny McGrain)
Tommy and I came into the team at the same time and played for all those years together. That team during the 1970s and ‘80s had great bonds. We were fans on the pitch as much as anything else and as far as Celtic Football Club was concerned, Tommy wore his heart on his sleeve. He played for the jersey and you could not find a more committed player. (Roy Aitken)
"I was a Celtic supporter growing up. My first appointment was by Tommy Burns. As a human being he was incredible & I learnt a lot from him."
“HE lived the dream of supporting Celtic, playing for them, coaching them and ultimately managing them and I suspect that if I asked any Celtic fan of a certain vintage what brand of football they have enjoyed most in the past 30 years, the majority would answer the type played under Tam. Tam going into management was a natural progression but he was never the type who craved a flamboyant lifestyle, out on the town eating in flash restaurants and being noticed. That was never his way. Tam would rather be at home with his wife and his family.’’ (Gerry Collins)
Men like Tommy Burns don’t come along too often and he epitomised all that was best about Celtic Football Club. Yes, he had a temper when he thought his team were being wronged and saw the red card on a few occasions as a player but he played with a fire and commitment to Celtic and the fans loved him for that. His Celtic team in the mid-1990s played some of the best attacking football since the Stein era and he would not compromise what he saw as the ‘Celtic way’ of playing even when more street wise operators like Walter Smith mugged his team for the points. But Tommy was more than a player and a Manager at Celtic. He was symbol of what the club aspired to be: passionate and committed but also sporting, open and charitable. It was important to him that the club continued to be a force for good in an increasingly selfish world.
His legacy at Celtic Park is secure but I’m sure he is most pleased that his memory lives on in the hearts and minds of thousands of ordinary Celtic fans. Any discussion about the most important figures in Celtic history will always see Walfrid, Maley, Stein or McCann mentioned. Any discussion on the most revered figures at the club will always start with Tommy because he truly was a fan on the field who fought for Celtic till he had no more to give. We have had many heroes down the years but few legends. Tommy is one of the select few to join that latter group.
I’ll leave the last words with the man himself who said on the occasion of his last game for Celtic in 1989….
‘'I wanted to go out with a smile on my face and not a tear in my eye, so I got all of my crying out of the way during the warm-up. I ran about the pitch for 20 minutes with tears running down my cheeks because I knew I would never wear a Celtic jersey again.'’
That’s what it meant to men like Tommy Burns and that’s why we loved him.
Rest in peace Tam, you were one in a million.