The first time I met Bertie Auld, I was walking upstairs at Celtic Park as he was walking down while talking to someone else. As we passed each other, he paused his conversation, turned to me and said, “How’ you doing son?” He would not walk past a Celtic fan without acknowledging them.
He was the sporting hero, the centre of attraction, but he had a gift – he knew how to light up the lives of others. And how. Put him in front of Celtic fans and Bertie came alive. That old story of the fans singing as they walked up Kerrydale St, the noise flowing through the open windows of the dressing room, lifting the team before they took the field. That was how Bertie remembered it and he told each subsequent generation what it meant to him.
In his prime in the Celtic midfield, he was brilliant, gallus and hard in equal measure. The Lisbon Lions were a team of many parts, but the creativity had three fulcrums: Bobby Murdoch, Jimmy Johnstone and Bertie Auld. In Lisbon, they set the heartbeat for a performance that swept Inter away and had the whole of Europe celebrating.
You know the story, 11 men from within 30 miles of Celtic Park stood in the tunnel, some with their false teeth in a bag, alongside the football heroes of the era, a team who had won the European Cup twice in the previous three years. Bertie said they looked like “movie stars”, unaware of his own profile. He sensed hesitation among his team mates so started a chorus; “Hail, hail, the Celts are here……”
Did it make a difference to the outcome? Probably not, but Celtic and Inter both played like the Scots were at home. Whenever I hear this story, I think back to that time I walked past him on the stairs, Bertie’s awareness of people and what to do to put them at ease was his most exceptional quality. He did this with his team mates, he did it to me and there is a good chance he did it to you.
I met the man many more times and shared a platform with him on occasion. Bertie was always an event, always, but there is one other meeting that gets to the heart so the man. I was at Celtic Park on a non-matchday and was speaking to the security man on my way out when Bertie joined us. John the security man asked, “Are you going home now, Bertie?” Bertie said, “I’ll head over to the Superstore first, see if there’s any fans in.” He would not leave Celtic Park when there was some joy to spread around.
You and I did nothing to deserve a man like this in our lives, he was a gift from above. Yesterday’s news is a profound loss to everyone he touched. For me, he was Mr Celtic; the very best of us. We will never see his like again.