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Happy Birthday PAT CRERAND – The Weekend Long Read

20 February 2021


It is generally agreed that the early 1960s were good times. The Welfare State was now kicking in, as it were; slums were being demolished, unemployment was minimal and prosperity was visibly a factor of life. On the football field, things were good and there was now the luxury of being able to watch the highlights of a game on television; occasionally (very occasionally) a live match was offered. Attendances were still high, and the interest, the obsession even, with football in Scotland had not abated.

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But it was not the same for Celtic. Still in the grip of the Kelly dictatorship, with Jimmy McGrory as the nominal manager, Celtic were going nowhere. But there was a youth policy. As long as Jock Stein was there as a coach for the youngsters, there was a chance, but Stein left to become manager of Dunfermline Athletic in the spring of 1960 and things stagnated.

But Stein had left behind some good youngsters. One of them was Pat Crerand. He was a Gorbals boy, born at the start of 1939, and had cut his teeth with Duntocher Hibs before being called up to join the club that he had always supported. His love of the club would become a matter of some doubt and dispute in years to come, but the Gorbals was a Celtic-mad area where there had been widespread dancing in the streets on that never-to-be-forgotten night in 1953 when Celtic beat Hibs to win the Coronation Cup.

It was immediately apparent that Pat Crerand was blessed with wonderful talent. He was a right-half with a superb ability to pass a ball, knowing exactly the right kind of weight to put on his delivery so that it reached its destination. He thrived under the coaching and direction of Jock Stein, and made his debut for the first team in October 1958 in a game against Queen of the South, which Celtic won comfortably. His first-game nerves were barely visible and the general consensus in the press was that he was worth another chance.

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Seasons 1958/59 and 1959/60 were chaotic at Celtic Park, as various youngsters were tried. The team was never really in contention for any honours, losing in consecutive years in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup by heavy margins to St Mirren in 1959 and Rangers in a terrible replay after a respectable first game in 1960. Celtic’s right-half was a journeyman by the name of Eric Smith. Those who watched Crerand in the reserves thought that he was better, but it was not until the start of the 1960/61 season that Pat made the right-half position his own.

At 5 feet 8 inches he was not particularly tall, but he was sturdy and well built; he was no greyhound but quick enough to the ball at need; he was a good team man, but not without the ability to snarl at team-mates who, he felt, were not pulling their weight. He had a good understanding with his friend, Billy McNeill, who had quickly developed into the best centre-half in the country. Pat was about to do likewise with the right-half position.

But the key word with this young Celtic team was inexperience. Young John Hughes had broken into the team as well, and he was gloriously productive on some occasions, but as yet he lacked the required consistency. It was at this point that the folly of not promoting Jock Stein to be manager and allowing him to leave to join Dunfermline began to be apparent. It would hit Celtic hard at the end of the season.

The team was picked by chairman Bob Kelly, a tough man with a laudable desire to see Celtic at the top and for them to play good and sporting football. Many a time the players would hear homilies about how the game should be played, but very little instruction in how to actually set about doing this. Training sessions were badly organised and dull, consisting of endless running round the track, and such tactical instructions as were given were left in the hands of Jimmy McGrory and Sean Fallon.

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McGrory was a Celtic legend, but he was never really cut out for management. In particular, he had little understanding of the modern footballer’s mindset, and although he knew more than anyone what Celtic meant to the fans, he had little ability to impart his knowledge or to understand the modern game, in which the players were all better fed, fitter, faster and more athletic than ever before. Or at least they ought to have been. Certainly there was no lack of enthusiasm about the players, but there was often a lack of tactical nous or ability to pace themselves.

Sean Fallon had been a good reliable full-back for Celtic. Once again, he was a man who knew what Celtic meant to everyone, but he was a man who lacked any great flair, either as a player or as a coach/manager. He was very much a Bob Kelly protÈgÈ, and would conscientiously carry out his duties, but what was required was someone with presence and with charisma. He would in time become an excellent assistant manager to Jock Stein, but at this point Sean’s influence was steady rather than inspirational.

Captain Bertie Peacock had been a fine player, but at this stage of his career, the likeable 32-year-old Irishman was beginning to struggle with his own form. The other veteran of the team, Neil Mochan (not always persona grata with the establishment), could not always be guaranteed a place and went to Dundee United halfway through the season. By October of that year, Willie Fernie had been brought back from Middlesbrough with the idea of calming down the “eager beaver youngsters” as they were frequently called by the press. But with all these youngsters about to ripen at the same time, the outlook seemed bright for Celtic, and the supporters, ever-optimistic and loyal, picked up on this enthusiasm. Very soon the sheer talent of Pat Crerand would become apparent, and the supporters would have a new hero.

The team’s lack of experience was immediately apparent in the League Cup campaign of 1960/61. Most unusually it was an all-Glasgow section of Rangers, Partick Thistle and Third Lanark. Crerand started at right-half in the first game of the season as Celtic beat Third Lanark, drew with Partick Thistle and then achieved their best result for some time when they beat Rangers at Ibrox (this was their second defeat of Rangers this season, as they had already knocked them out of the Glasgow Cup).The fans began to appreciate this young side and questions were now asked about whether we were on the brink of a great Celtic team. Certainly everyone was impressed by young Crerand, whose powerful play, command of the midfield and visionary passing were a revelation. When they beat Third Lanark again, confidence and euphoria rose astronomically, such was the tangible desire for success.

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Came the dawn . . . Celtic went down to Partick Thistle on the Wednesday and then Rangers at Parkhead on Saturday after having scored an early goal. This particular game was the start of the Rangers complex, and Pat would never again be on a winning side against Rangers in a national competition. The first League game of the season, for example, saw a dismal 5-1 thrashing, and New Year’s Day threw up similar distress. The Glasgow Cup final against Partick Thistle was also a disappointment.

It was soon obvious that there was to be no Celtic challenge for the League that season, because the form was so inconsistent. The problem was that although Crerand was learning the game fast, others, particularly the youngsters in the forward line, were not making similar progress. In particular, they found it difficult to “read” him and be in the proper place for a pass. This is where a good manager might have worked on the problem and solved it by assiduous training and advice, but guidance came there none.

Still, after the turn of the year it began to look as if there might be a chance of winning the Scottish Cup. It was often considered to be Celtic’s favourite competition, with 17 wins against Rangers’ 14. It had last been won in 1954, seven years previously, and (allowing for wartime) this equalled their longest gap between Scottish Cup wins in the 20th century. Supporters began to feel that this might just be the year, with Pat Crerand on board, to lift the trophy again.

The feeling of optimism grew when Rangers went out at an early stage to Motherwell, and Celtic had good wins against Falkirk, Montrose and Raith Rovers. But then Hibs came to Parkhead on 11 March in the quarter-final. Some 56,000 were there in good voice, singing the praises of Pat Crerand, but for a long time it looked as if Hibs, with goalkeeper Ronnie Simpson in inspirational form, would win the day. They also had Joe Baker playing for them, and after scoring early in the second half, they began to look comfortable.

But this Celtic team, who might have given up, now had Crerand urging them on, cajoling, gesturing and making space. They kept on pressing and gradually they wore down the Hibs defence. The Edinburgh men had looked as if they had weathered the storm until Steve Chalmers equalised within the last five minutes. Such were the scenes of ecstasy behind the goal that in the BBC highlights programme that night, the cameras did something most unusual for 1961 – they turned and captured those scenes, which “beggared description”.

Crerand was also well to the fore as Celtic beat Hibs the following Wednesday night at a dangerously overcrowded Easter Road. It was a thrilling Cup tie with Celtic’s goal coming in injury time from the young John Clark, who was playing in one of his first games for the club. The feeling now grew that this was to be Celtic’s year; all that stood between them and their 18th Scottish Cup were Airdrie in the semi-final and the winners of the St Mirren and Dunfermline Athletic encounter in the final. On 1 April Airdrie were comprehensively put to the sword in a devastating first half-display organised by Celtic’s “veteran and novice”, Willie Fernie and Pat Crerand.

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By this time people were beginning to talk about the possibility of a Scotland cap for the prodigiously talented 22-year-old, even against England at Wembley. He did not make that (just as well as it turned out, as 1961 was the year of the 9-3 hammering!) although he had been awarded a cap for the Scottish League against the English League on 22 March at Ibrox. That day the Scots beat their counterparts 3-2, and Crerand once again impressed.

The Scottish Cup final was fast approaching. Dunfermline Athletic had absolutely no pedigree in this (or any other) competition, and it was confidently expected (far too confidently) that Celtic merely had to turn up to win. The Pars, however, had one great asset. He was called Jock Stein.

What a catalogue of woe must now be recalled by the Celtic chronicler as he details these two dreadful Cup finals of 1961! Virgil’s Aeneid tells the story of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who reaches the shores of Carthage and meets Queen Dido. She asks him to tell her about how the Trojans came to North Africa after the Greeks had captured their city by means of the wooden horse. Aeneas pauses and says:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem

translated as: “Oh queen, you order me to renew unspeakable grief”. Unspeakable grief is hardly an exaggeration as we deal with 1961.

The first game, watched by 113,000, was a goalless draw in which according to the Glasgow Herald: “Left winger Byrne was the recipient time and again of magnificent passes from Crerand, but rarely turned the defence”. It was a frustrating experience for the fans and even more so for Crerand, one feels. Dunfermline, the country cousins, had done well and earned the respect of the Glasgow public, but the replay on Wednesday night would be different.

It was a dull spring evening and there was a 6.15pm kick-off in the days before Hampden had floodlights. It was 26 April 1961, about the same time as the extent of the USA disaster in Cuba was becoming known. Events had unfolded dramatically on the world stage the previous week as the USA had launched an appallingly botched and half-hearted invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. There would be repercussions about this high-handed and incompetent behaviour, but for the moment the world laughed at the useless Americans  – but no more than Celtic’s enemies laughed at Celtic that night!

Oh what agonies and torture were endured by those who loved the Celtic. Pat Crerand was once again superb, by some distance the man of the match, but the Celtic forward line were “much too individualistic” according to the Glasgow Herald – a tactful way of saying they were useless. Celtic fans in the 87,000 crowd and many more listening to the radio commentary on the BBC Scottish Home Service groaned when Dunfermline went ahead halfway through the second half, and the Scottish Cup now seemed as if it were slipping away.

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Crerand now became even more dominant as Celtic pushed towards that Mount Florida goal in that melancholy second half. Sleeves rolled up, his pants rolled at the waist, he took charge, spraying passes to both wings and down the centre – then enduring the frustration of chances going a-begging. The Pars goalkeeper Eddie Connachan, himself a great Celtic fan, ironically enough, had an inspired and lucky night, but feckless finishing was the main cause of the Celtic downfall. In the final minute with Celtic now over-committed, a goalkeeping error allowed Dunfermline a second goal and the cause was lost.

One felt, from the top of that King’s Road terracing, that Crerand was going to punch his goalkeeper Frank Haffey. It was a sign of his exasperation and chagrin, shared sadly by some of the Celtic support who began to throw empty beer bottles to express their anger. Dunfermline collecting the Cup that should have been Celtic’s, Jock Stein watching in his white raincoat, Pat Crerand and some others collapsing in grief at the full-time whistle – these are sights that remain with one all one’s life. Almost 50 years later, the wounds have not yet healed.

The press, while clearly enjoying Celtic’s debacle and lauding Dunfermline’s one and only night of glory in a hitherto barren history, nevertheless praised Crerand, who was so far above everyone else. It was about this time, too, that the first hints began to appear that Pat might one day go to England, a sure sign that Celtic had a class player, sadly in the midst of so many others who had not yet done so well.

More tangibly, Pat was rewarded with his first cap for Scotland. He had done well to avoid the 9-3 Wembley cataclysm of April 1961, but such had been his form in the two high-profile Scottish Cup finals that he could not be ignored by the selectors for the World Cup qualifying fixtures. There was a double header against the Irish Republic in which Crerand played brilliantly and Scotland won both games with a degree of comfort, but then came the encounter with Czechoslovakia in Bratislava on 14 May.

Down 2-0 to a couple of early goals, Scotland were becoming frustrated. They had talent but things were not going well on a difficult pitch with the referee and the crowd against them. Nearing half-time Andrej Kvasnak and Pat had what the papers euphemistically called a “clash”. Pat was fouled, but retaliated and the two of them were ordered off. Pat could not believe this was happening to him, for in these days before the use of red cards, the referee pointed the wrong way, having lost his sense of direction.

Incredibly, Pat’s summer of 1961 began with a sending-off, and it ended with a sending-off. Equally incredibly, the second dismissal was in a five-a-side pre-season tournament at Falkirk. He was suspended for this, and even after his suspension was finished, chairman Bob Kelly imposed a further club suspension as he felt that Celtic’s good name had been tarnished by Crerand’s conduct. Supporters, at this point, began to feel that Kelly did not like Crerand.

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It was a costly suspension, as by the time that Crerand returned, Celtic were already out of the Scottish League Cup, thanks to an inability to beat St Johnstone on two occasions on which Crerand’s presence was sadly missed. But his return in September coincided with his best form for Celtic, and the team started to impress.

At the same time, Rangers had unearthed a great left-half in Jim Baxter. Crerand and Baxter were therefore seen by the media as a great counter-balance for each other – they both, for example, “wrote” a ghosted column in the Evening Citizen and they were looked upon as symbols of the new age, as footballers began to be personality figures in the same sense as pop stars were. It was part of the new affluent society, and as more and more people began to aspire to a better lifestyle, who better to symbolise it than the two young lions of Scottish football, who fortunately happened to be one on each side of the Glasgow divide?

These were heady days for Crerand. Playing well for Celtic, even winning some reluctant admiration from the stern Bob Kelly, and then being on the winning side in three consecutive Scotland games, Crerand was not slow to play along with this adulation, and even seemed capable of coping with it. The Scotland wins were against Czechoslovakia at Hampden (revenge for Bratislava and enough to earn Scotland a play-off for a World Cup place), Northern Ireland and Wales.

The Northern Irish game was played in Belfast and was won 6-1 by a rampant Scottish team. Rangers players scored all the goals, and although the Evening Citizen raised not a few hackles by having “Ireland 1 Rangers 6” as its headline, it also indicated that Pat Crerand was the star man. The Sunday Post the following day remarked that it must have been galling for the Irish supporters to realise that the architect of their destruction was a “callant with the illustrious name of Pat”.

One of Scotland’s pivotal games in the early 1960s came on 29 November 1961, when they lost their play-off to Czechoslovakia in the neutral venue of Brussels. Scotland were ahead but conceded a late goal. They then went down in extra time after an extraordinary incident at the end of 90 minutes, when Crerand and Baxter were seen to be grabbing the water bottle for the first use of it. This defeat meant that Scotland and Crerand would be absent from the 1962 World Cup, an occasion which they would certainly have graced.

Midwinter 1961/62 saw the best of Crerand in a Celtic jersey. Three good wins in December lifted Celtic to the crest of the wave, but unfortunately bad weather descended and knocked out a few fixtures, including Rangers visit to Parkhead on New Year’s Day. Celtic never really recovered from that, but finished a respectable third in the League behind Dundee and Rangers, from both of whom they took points in the run-in.

But it was the Scottish Cup once again that would determine Celtic. Crerand was heavily involved in two epic ties, a 4-3 win at Tynecastle in which he scored the winning penalty, then a game against Third Lanark at a full Parkhead when Celtic recovered from being 1-3 down to go 4-3 up before losing a late equaliser. The replay had to be held at Hampden rather than Cathkin for safety reasons and Celtic swept the Thirds aside to win 4-0.

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Pat was quite clearly the “blue-eyed bhoy” in all this. He played blatantly to the gallery in his pre-match loosening up exercises, and made a point of talking to supporters, giving autographs and letting everyone know that he was one of them. Some supporters made up a parody of the Rangers “No Surrender” anthem in which “with heart and hand and Ralphie Brand (Rangers inside-left), we’ll guard old Derry’s Walls” became on Celtic buses “with heart and hand and Pat Crerand, we’ll cut off King William’s balls”.

But if there was one game that changed all this, it was the Scottish Cup semi-final against St Mirren. Once again “unspeakable grief” is renewed when one recalls this occasion. Celtic were very firm favourites for this game. They had beaten St Mirren 7-1 at Parkhead in November, and then 5-0 at Love Street on the Monday night before the semi.

This result, however, was an ambush. St Mirren, who now had Willie Fernie in their ranks, had deliberately held back on the Monday, lulling the young Celts into a false sense of security, and allowing the feelings of euphoria, over-confidence and carelessness to take over Celtic’s approach to the big game. All the while, St Mirren themselves concentrated on spotting a few Celtic weaknesses.

One such weakness was the self-destruct tendency of the Celtic youngsters to argue among themselves. Incredibly this happened before kick-off at Ibrox on that fateful day of 31 March 1962. It may have been because some disagreed with captain Dunky McKay’s decision of what way to play after he won the toss, or it may have had some other genesis, but the Celtic fans were treated to the bizarre sight of their players shouting at one another before the game started.

Celtic never really did get started, and by half-time, to the astonishment of all of Scotland, St Mirren, playing with the wind, were 3-0 up against a lethargic Celtic side. The Celtic fans were aghast at all this, but cheered themselves up by saying that there had to be some recovery and that “Paddy” would rally the troops in the second half now that the wind was on their side. There was some kind of improvement, but no goals as the second period wore on, and fans became even more despondent and nasty. Bottles were thrown, the pitch was invaded and the referee had to withdraw the players to the safety of the pavilion. By the time the players were back and Alec Byrne scored a late and irrelevant goal for Celtic, the club’s directors had conceded the game.

This whole episode was one of the saddest in Celtic’s long history, and may well have been the beginning of Crerand’s reckoning that his beloved Celtic was not necessarily the best option for his career. In truth, the team, talented and enthusiastic, lacked any kind of guidance or control, something that could only have been imparted by someone like Jock Stein. Pat had a low opinion of some of his team-mates, a factor that would soon be leaked to the press, and he must often have wondered if Celtic were ever going to win anything again.

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Two contrasting weekends in April must have rammed home this point. On 21 April, while Celtic were losing pathetically to Raith Rovers at Parkhead before an angry crowd which was only marginally over 10,000, ten times that number were less than a mile away at Hampden to see Rangers win the Scottish Cup by beating St Mirren 2-0. This was yet another low point for Celtic and Crerand, yet only a week earlier the famous Scottish half-back line of Crerand, McNeill and Baxter had orchestrated a famous 2-0 win for Scotland over England. Pat had been outstanding in all that, and must have wondered why his career was being retarded at Parkhead in such a shambles of an organisation when he himself was openly being described as world-class in so many newspapers.

Yet he had such a strong emotional pull for Glasgow Celtic. Ironically, so too did one of his admirers, Matt Busby, the manager of Manchester United, now patiently rebuilding a great side to replace the one which had perished in the Munich air crash of 1958. The newspapers screeched about the interest from Old Trafford and many other English teams, but Pat, for all his hot-headedness, remained committed to Celtic. He must, however, have begun to think.

The heartbreaks would continue in the 1962/63 season. The League Cup section was a difficult one with Hearts and the two Dundee teams. Celtic beat all three comfortably at home, lost narrowly and unluckily at Dens Park and Tynecastle, then broke their supporters’ hearts at Tannadice Park on the last day of the section. Any sort of win would have ensured qualification, but it was the re-run of so many occasions in the early 1960s in which Celtic dominated and played brilliantly but simply could not score. Pat Crerand was immense, but chance after chance was missed by an inept forward line, and the game petered out into a 0-0 draw. Life might have been different if just one of those chances had gone in, or if the referee had seen that the ball was a good foot over the line on one occasion in the first half, but it was another major disappointment to Pat.

The following week in the Old Firm derby at Celtic Park, the gods were once again not on Pat’s side as he missed a penalty after a piece of gamesmanship from Jim Baxter, and Celtic had the mortifying experience of dominating the game, but losing 0-1 to a deflection. On the following Monday, Real Madrid came to Parkhead for a friendly, and although Celtic lost, Crerand found himself waking up the following morning to all sorts of headlines about how he was the best right-half in the world.

It was thus a crazy, rollercoaster sort of life for Pat in late 1962. Round about the time of the Cuban missile crisis in October, the team hit a purple patch, putting Airdrie and St Mirren to the sword, but then unaccountably lost to Queen of the South at Parkhead, and the season disintegrated into a series of lacklustre draws and further defeats.

Crerand was now in despair. In autumn 1962 he had produced another two fine international performances against Wales and Northern Ireland, and there was no shortage of neutral observers who were in no doubt that he deserved to be called world-class. However, the unpalatable truth was that he was being held back at an under-performing club. He loved Celtic, but had little respect for the chairman and was openly critical about some of the forwards. There did not seem to be any great desire to win trophies if that meant spending money for a classy striker.

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The fans, though still loyal, were severely tested. A win over Rangers, admittedly in a Glasgow Cup match on a foggy Wednesday afternoon, lifted them, but then the team collapsed against Partick Thistle on the Saturday. Pat, being a supporter himself, understood what they felt. He, however, was a young professional footballer whose ambitions were being thwarted. He had an escape route to get away from the repressive, stifling and depressing atmosphere that was Celtic Park in 1962.

New Year’s Day 1963 was the end of the road for Pat and Celtic. The scene was Ibrox on a cold, frosty day. Celtic were 0-1 down at half-time, a position from which recovery was still possible. The Celtic dressing room, however, was downcast, and when Sean Fallon, the assistant manager, took Crerand to task for a few mistakes, all the frustration and anger than had been boiling within Pat for many months erupted. Stories emerged about Celtic jerseys being thrown, about impossible biological suggestions being made, and how it took all the diplomacy of Billy McNeill and a few calmer members of the team to persuade Pat to go out for the second half.

Throughout Celtic history, dressing room disharmony has always led to disaster. One thinks of the events at Arthurlie in 1897, at Airdrie in the League Cup in 1998, and at Parkhead against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2000. On this occasion in 1963 the team went out for the second half and collapsed to lose 0-4 in circumstances which had the press and the supporters on the freezing terracings puzzled about the lack of effort. Pat would never play for Celtic again.

He was dropped for the trip to Aberdeen the following Saturday – ironically Celtic won 5-1 in brilliant fashion – and then the big freeze of 1963 descended. What happened in early February 1963 depends on what spin one reads. We are asked to believe that Pat came home from Mass one Sunday to discover that everything had been agreed with Manchester United. What is more likely is that the persuasive Matt Busby held out the attractions of more money, a chance of playing for a successful team and even (as a Celtic-lover himself) holding out the possibility of some “Celtic in exile” situation in England, quoting the precedent of Jimmy Delaney, who had joined Manchester United from Celtic in remarkably similar circumstances in 1946.

Celtic fans everywhere were devastated. With a ferocity which astounded his mother, this author tore down the pictures of Pat which adorned his bedroom. Older fans shook their heads and thought that Celtic were finished. A few more perspicacious ones remarked that things would have been different if Jock Stein had not been allowed to go to Dunfermline in 1960.

The loss of a cult hero is always a bad blow. Celtic fans do not cope well with anyone not wanting to play for the club, no matter what the circumstances were. Pat would actually win an English Cup medal that year with Manchester United, but that was little consolation for the broken green-and-white army.

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All that frustration was expressed tellingly at the bottom of the terracing steps at the Celtic End of Hampden on 15 May 1963. The occasion was the Scottish Cup final replay, and Celtic supporters were vanishing as fast as snow off a dyke after Rangers had scored their third goal against a dysfunctional Celtic team. In an almost unprecedented sight, 60,000 had turned their backs on Celtic. “Unspeakable grief” did not even begin to describe things. A sullen mob was heading home, too numb to say anything until this man at the bottom of the terracing steps, a middle-aged, respectable, sober man, suddenly dissolved in tears and shouted: “Pat Crerand! Pat Crerand! I hope you’re f***in’ proud o’ yourself!”

Born in 1948, David Potter first saw Celtic at Dens Park, Dundee in March 29. It was a 3-5 defeat, which equipped him admirably for the horrors of the early 1960’s. He had “followed” Celtic for a few years before that and recalls having been called upon to impersonate Jock Stein and receive the family silver teapot which had to do for the Scottish Cup as it was presented on April 24 1954, after he and his father had spent a nerve wracking afternoon listening to the radio!  Since then, he has “followed” every Celtic game with bated breath, and has written extensively about the club in magazines and books. His favorite team was that of 1969 (which he rates marginally better than 1967) and his favorite player was Henrik Larsson.

His ambition for Celtic is for them to keep on winning silver in Scotland and to be something in Europe once again. His other interests are cricket and drama. He is 70, a retired teacher of Classical Languages, married with three children and five grandchildren. He now travels on the Joseph Rafferty bus from Kirkcaldy. He also loves Forfar Athletic.


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