Last week Bobby Lennox celebrated his 76th birthday, David Potter looks back at his career and legacy
“Little Lennoxie” as he was affectionately named by an adoring fan was a star. There were few more likeable characters in Scottish football, and without Lennox, Celtic’s consistent success would not have been so sustained. There were of course too many good forwards in the Stein era. Lennox could not always be guaranteed a place, but he never sulked or went into the huff but bounced back, always ready to play for his beloved green and white and always in among the goals.
The fact that he is second only to Jimmy McGrory in goal scoring for the club (309 in 524 appearances) is ample tribute to the man. Little really more needs to be said on the statistical side on things, but much should be made of his speed, his ability to run on to a ball and his ability to “keep the heid” when presented with a chance.
He also helped the club in a far more subtle way in his close friendship with Jimmy Johnstone (“Jimmy wasnae daft, but he did occasionally do daft things”) which prevented things from getting silly now and again. He was a stabilising, comforting character, perpetually cheerful and always willing to be one of the boys. I recall the day at Aberdeen Station when “the likely lads” of Lennox and Johnstone stepped off the train, greeted the awaiting fans and then put their arms round each other and started singing the Beatles song “Roll Over, Beethoven”. Stein, organising the removal of the hamper from the guards’ van looked on. He didn’t exactly smile tolerantly, but his face had the philosophical look of “What can you do about that?”
Bobby’s Celtic career started in 1962. His debut was a game against Dundee (League Champions-to-be that year) which Celtic won, but Lennox had a poor game, and for a few years he drifted in and out of the reserves. And yet I recall him playing for the reserves at a deserted Tannadice Park one day in February 1964 and somehow or other, he just looked like a football player!
A football player he was and Jock Stein knew that. He was recalled more or less simultaneously with the joint arrivals of Bertie Auld and Big Jock himself, and Celtic never looked back. In fact, what I thought was his most significant goal for the club came in February 1965 against Queen’s Park at Hampden. Stein would not yet officially take up his duties until March, but clearly already had an influence on things. This game was a Cup tie, the Queens were in the Second Division, Celtic were playing atrociously and a huge upset even seemed possible against the spirited amateurs until a long ball found Bobby just outside the penalty box, and he ran in and scored. It was a routine goal (he would score many more like it) but never was there a more significant one. There might not have been a Cup run that year, and there might not have been Billy’s glorious winner.
His playing career lasted until 1980. He was one of the ten men who won the League in 1979 (well, he was a substitute) and if you count appearances on the bench he won more Scottish Cup medals that McNeill or McMenemy – and that is saying something. He never gave anyone any bother – never did he give grief to Stein or McNeill, always co-operative and a genuine team man, and apart from the collective madness in South America, his discipline record was impeccable.
There was one man however to whom he gave a lot of bother, and that was John Greig of Rangers. Time and time again he was simply too fast for the ponderous Greig who actually normally played well against other Celtic players. On one unfortunate occasion in 1976, a tackle by Greig broke Bobby’s leg, but to John’s credit, he did express regret and it was an accident. (Or was it?)
Injuries seldom got Lennox down. He was a great Celtic servant and his record for the club will seldom be surpassed.
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.