CRAIG GORDON realised he had reached the crossroads of his career when he turned 37 on Hogmanay.
The popular goalkeeper went into 2020 after playing only six first-team games in the first half of the season following Fraser Forster’s return to the club on a season-long loan in August.
Gordon had lost his first-team place at the start of the previous year when ex-boss Brendan Rodgers decided to give Scott Bain some game time. The signing from Dundee kept his place for the remainder of the campaign and played in 25 consecutive matches, including the 2-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Hearts on May 25 that sealed the historic treble treble.
The former Scotland international waited patiently for his opportunity to crop up and it looked as though it had arrived when Bain injured a hand in the 4-3 Champions League exit against the Romanians of Cluj last August.
Gordon got the nod to return in the 2-1 Betfred League Cup win over Dunfermline and he kept a clean sheet in the Europa League play-off victory over AIK Stockholm at Parkhead, with Neil Lennon’s men winning 2-0. He made a third successive appearance in the 4-1 second leg triumph in Sweden.
However, he was back on the substitutes’ bench for the Premiership encounter against Hearts following the season-long loan comeback of Forster from Southampton.
AT THE CROSSROADS…Craig Gordon knew 2020 would be crucial.
Gordon played in the 2-0 loss to Cluj as the club brought down the curtain on their successful Europa League Group E campaign in Romania on December 12 and afterwards hinted at a move from Scotland’s title kings.
The last line of defence admitted: “I have not had any contact from Celtic, any offers, any talks whatsoever. I just want to play football and we’ll see how it progresses.”
Just before the January deadline, Gordon made the plea to let him go as he entered the last six six months of his contract. Neil Lennon knocked back the request because he believed the team required experienced back-up to Forster.
The towering shotstopper eventually left the club yesterday when he sealed a two-year deal with former club Hearts.
He went with the best wishes of manager Lennon, chief executive Peter Lawwell and the Celtic support, as CQN reported.
It was an emotional farewell for the man who won six league titles, five League Cups and three Scottish Cups and who made 242 appearances for the nine-in-a-row champions.
Gordon looked on the scrapheap when he went two years without a club, but his return to the top was one of the game’s fairytales.
HAPPY BHOYS…Craig Gordon joins in the celebrations after Celtic’s 2-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Aberdeen in 2017.
Here are some of the life and times of a remarkable professional.
Gordon was born on December 31, 1982, in Edinburgh.
His dad, David, was also a goalkeeper and played for several East of Scotland clubs before Craig kicked off his career at local team, Currie Boys’ Football Club.
He graduated to the Hearts youth development programme before joining up at Tynecastle at the age of 17 in the summer of 2000.
Gordon was loaned out to Cowdenbeath a year later and made his debut against Stirling Albion at Forthbank. He made 13 appearances before being recalled by the Edinburgh outfit.
The 6ft-plus shotstopper made his debut for the Jambos in a 1-1 draw with Livingston on October 6, 2002.
His only other outing that season was a Scottish Cup third round tie on January 25, 2003 when Falkirk hammered Hearts 4-0.
The following season, 2003/04, Gordon made 29 appearances in the league as he took over from Tepi Molianen as the team’s number one. At the same time, he represented Scotland Under-21s five times.
FLYING HIGH…Craig Gordon in action against Maribor in one of his first games for Celtic in 2014.
He made an impressive European debut in a 1-0 win over Bordeaux in a UEFA Cup second round tie in France on November 6, 2003.
His performance that year saw him short-listed for the Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year. The award went to Stephen Pearson, of Celtic.
He made his full Scotland debut – after two ‘B’ outings – in his country’s 4-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago at Easter Road on May 30, 2004.
Gordon played another four times at the highest international level that year and has now claimed 54 caps.
He won a Scottish Cup medal with the Tynecastle outfit when he saved a penalty-kick from Derek Townsley in the spot-kick shoot-out after a 1-1 Cup Final draw with Gretna in 2006.
Gordon picked up the Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year trophy at the end of that season – the first Hearts player to win the award since Sandy Jardine in 1986.
For much of the following campaign, he was linked with a move away from Edinburgh, especially after he and team-mates Steven Pressley and Paul Hartley – daubed the “Riccarton Three” – issued a statement against the club’s owner Vladimir Romanov.
It stated there was “significant unrest” at Tynecastle. Ironically, all three went on to play for Celtic.
Arsenal were linked with the keeper as Arsene Wenger searched for a replacement for Jens Lehmann.
The Gunners’ boss was impressed by Gordon in Scotland’s 1-0 win over France in Paris in a Euro Championship 2008 qualifier. Wenger said: “He has presence, good handling and looks a very good goalkeeper.”
After a total of 176 games for Hearts, the goalie was bought by Roy Keane for Sunderland in August 2007 for £9million. In November that year, Gordon was inducted into the Hearts Hall of Fame at the age of 24, still the youngest player to be afforded the honour.
He agreed a five-year contract and was the highest transfer for a British goalkeeper until Manchester United paid £17million for David de Gea in 2011.
Gordon made his debut for the Black Cats in the first game of the 2007/08 Premier League season and kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Spurs.
Keane dropped the keeper following a 7-1 loss to Everton in December, but he regained the position three games later.
Midway through the 2008/09 campaign, Gordon was sidelined for several months with a knee injury.
On November 7, 2009, he had his arm broken in a collision with Jermain Defoe, then playing for Spurs, and was ruled out for three months.
During the summer of 2010, he had surgery to remove a metal plate, but fractured the arm again during a training session.
On December 18, 2010 Gordon made an astonishing reflex stop to deny Zat Knight in a 1-0 win over Bolton. It was voted the best save in the 20-year history of the Premier League.
Injury struck again when suffered a tendon knee injury. He underwent surgery for the problem and also an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
CUP THAT CHEERS…Craig Gordon and skipper Scott Brown after Betfred League Cup Final win over Aberdeen in 2016.
He returned to the Sunderland first team against Bolton on April 28, 2012, but was one of nine players released by boss Martin O’Neill a month later.
Gordon’s career looked in jeopardy and he spent two years in football’s wilderness. Gordon helped Dumbarton with coaching duties and then trained at Ibrox during the 2013/14 season.
He stated on March 2014 he was now fully fit and wanted to resume his footballing career.
In July that year, Gordon became Ronny Deila’s first signing for Celtic when it became known Fraser Forster was heading for Southampton in a £10million deal.
He played half a game against Dinamo Dresden in a pre-season friendly and said afterwards: “It was good to get back playing. It’s been a long time, so to get out there and keep a clean sheet in 45 minutes, I’ve got to be happy with that.”
Gordon won his first silverware with the Hoops when they beat Dundee United 2-0 in the League Cup Final in his debut season. He also picked up a Premiership medal while being brought back into the international fold by Gordon Strachan.
He had 28 shut-outs in 52 outings in his first season and was voted the SFWA’s Player of the Year.
The following season he picked up a second successive league medal, but he looked to be on the way out at Parkhead when new boss Brendan Rodgers brought in his ex-Swansea No.1 Dorus De Vries from Nottingham Forest in August this year.
Gordon missed four consecutive games before coming back for the 2-0 Betfred League Cup win over Alloa.
He was out again for the next game against Kilmarnock, but De Vries was injured and came off at half-time. Gordon then became first pick until the arrival of 2019.
Last season was a rollercoaster for the popular goalie. He came out of contract at the start of this month and rejected an offer on reduced terms.
He finalised his move from the Hoops yesterday, but not before winning a whole new army of fans in the east end of Glasgow.
CQN would like to join in the applause for a thorough professional who did us proud for six glorious years.