THE word ‘legend’ is arguably one that is overused in sports. But it’s hard to think of another word to describe Danny McGrain when it comes to his time at Celtic. A fan favourite, he spent a whopping 20 years at the club, playing 663 times for the senior team and winning 14 major trophies.
Widely regarded as Scotland’s best-ever right-back, he played 62 times for his country and was deservedly named into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
The Quality Street Gang
These days, Celtic aren’t exactly formidable and the betting markets certainly reflect that, with the odds on football matches in the Champions League runnings indicating low hopes. But a long time ago, the club was blessed with the presence of Danny McGrain and things were substantially different…
Born in 1950 in Glasgow, Danny McGrain joined Celtic in 1967. There followed a time of great promise at the club, with the reserve side made up of up-and-coming talents including McGrain, Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay and Lou Macari, who were collectively dubbed the ‘Quality Street Gang’ due to their ability.
One of the Quality Street Gang’s most famous performances was in a match against Partick Thistle – they needed to win by an ambitious seven goals to win the Reserve League Cup. In total, Celtic thrashed Partick Thistle and won 12-0.
McGrain was a key figure in that team and was invited to join the senior squad for the 1970 European Cup Final that saw Celtic lose 2-1 to Feyenoord. He made his Celtic debut at the start of r the following season. His game time was limited over his first two seasons on the team, but he impressed with every chance he was given.
His Career Could Have Been Over Before it Began
In March 1972, McGrain suffered a fractured skull following a mid-air clash in a game against Falkirk and ultimately, this almost spelt the end of his time in the game. Thankfully, he made a full recovery and was ready for selection again at the start of the next season.
It was a timely recovery. In the summer of 1972, Celtic’s first-choice right-back left to join South African side Hellenic FC, which gave McGrain a chance to start the new season in that position.
McGrain shone as Celtic won the league and even went on to retain their title the following year.
One of the Best Right-backs in the World
Although his route to a regular first-team slot was a long one, by the mid-70s, Danny McGrain was already being spoken about as one of the world’s best right-backs. In a time when defenders tended not to display all that much attacking intent, he was equally adept with the ball at his feet. He had the remarkable ability to impact the game in the final third the way that wingbacks conventionally do.
McGrain played in Celtic’s double-winning side of 1977. However, the following season, he missed a lot of matches due to injury. When he returned to the team, he had lost some of his trademark pace, but he was an intelligent footballer and was able to compensate for this through his reading of the game and anticipation.
He remained a key part of the team, and club captain, throughout most of the 1980s, eventually leaving to join Hamilton Academicals in 1987. After just one season at Douglas Park, he retired from the playing side of the beautiful game.
McGrain had a stint as a manager after taking charge of Second Division outfit Arbroath in November 1992. He resigned in January 1994 and returned to Celtic in a backroom capacity in August 1997.