“JOCK STEIN was the reason I spent my entire playing career with Celtic. Without him, there would have been every likelihood I would have been off. Everyone knows I am Celtic through and through, always have been and always will be, and it would have been a wrench to leave the club, but I would be lying if I said that wasn’t a possibility before Big Jock arrived in 1965.
“It wasn’t about money, although the wages in England were far superior to anything on offer in Scotland. It was all about winning. I had a burning desire to win medals, to be successful and, to be honest, that didn’t look like happening at Celtic for an awful long time.
“I was told Spurs were interested. Manchester United, too, but it was mainly the London side who seemed the more persistent. I took that as a compliment. Of course, they had my Scottish international team-mates Dave Mackay and Alan Gilzean in their team back then. I knew they were enjoying life in England. My old pal Denis Law would fill my head with tales about Manchester United and how much he loved it at Old Trafford. And another of my great mates, Pat Crerand, had joined up with Law at United in 1963.
“I recall the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers that same year. We forced a 1-1 draw in the first game at Hampden and our fans were delirious. They celebrated like we had won the actual trophy. I could well understand why. Our old rivals had beaten us twice in the league that season, 1-0 and 4-0, and, in general, they were just too good for us. I played in both those defeats and they were never easy to swallow.
“Rangers beat us 3-0 in the Cup Final replay on May 15 with Jim Baxter turning in an outstanding, peerless display. He may have been an Ibrox idol, but he was still one of my best mates. He was rubbing our noses in it a bit that night and I sidled up to him at one point and said: “Stanley, it’s bad enough out here. Cut out the party tricks.” We named him Stanley, of course, after the Scottish comedian Stanley Baxter.
“Celtic seemed to be going nowhere. If that hurt our support, can you imagine what it did to me as a young player desperate to get out there and win things? Yes, it would have been easy to move on and Celtic, as they had proved in the case with Paddy Crerand, would happily accept a big transfer fee for one of their players. They accepted £56,000 for Paddy and that was a heck of a lot of cash in those days.
“Somehow, though, I managed to hang in there. I hoped things would change. Then along came Jock Stein and, my goodness, did things change. With a vengeance. I never gave England a second thought after that.”
The legend of Jock Stein…read HERE.
STEIN’S ‘FAIRLY FEROCIOUS TEMPERAMENT,’ CAIRNEY…read HERE.
*How Jock Beat Off Barcelona…read HERE
* Billy McNeill was speaking to Alex Gordon in 2007 for his best-selling book ‘Lisbons Lions: The 40th Anniversary’ – Alex’s new book ‘That Season in Paradise – Ten Months of Celtic Heaven’ is out now on CQN Books and is available from Celtic Stores and online from www.cqnbookstore.com