“NAW, I’m no’ interested. I’m no’leaving Celtic.” The words belonged to Bobby Murdoch when he was given the news Boca Juniors, at that time a South American superpower in football, were willing to pay lavish amounts of money to transfer his extraordinary skills to Argentina.
It was 1967 and Murdoch, along with his peerless midfield ally Bertie Auld, had someraulted onto every top club’s radar with his outstanding contribution in the historic European Cup triumph over the much-vaunted Inter Milan in Lisbon.
A world suddenly stood to attention as it took notice of a natural leader of men that glorious day in the Portuguese capital on May 25. The scouts at Boca were interested to see how Murdoch, an unassuming lad from Rutherglen, would cope with the rigours of the suspect South American temperament when Jock Stein’s men were paired with Racing Club in the World Club championship Final.
Celtic may have lost after three bruising, bitter battles against a team of thugs masquerading as sportsmen and the less said about that the better, but Boca had seen enough of Murdoch to know he could cope with football in their country and at their level.
The only snag was that they had overlooked the player’s outright devotion of Celtic Football Club. “Naw, I’m no’ interested,” he said. And he meant it, too.
It would be a fruitless search if you looked for someone who played with or against Bobby Murdoch to unearth anybody who did not rate this guy, on and off the field.
He never felt the need to kiss the jersey or milk the celebrations. Just look at his devastating first-time strike against Leeds United in the European Cup semi-final at Hampden in 1970. Murdoch simply blitzed a low drive past the scrambling David Harvey, Celtic were 2-1 ahead on an epic and emotional evening at the national stadium, 3-1 up on aggregate and they were heading for another Final at Europe’s top table.
Bobby’s chest just about burst through his shirt with pride. He punched the air, was mobbed by his ecstatic team-mates and then retreated back to his midfield berth to see the job through to the end. That was so typical of the man and the player. Celtic came first.
Jimmy Johnstone, rightly in so many eyes, picked up the award as Celtic’s Greatest-Ever Player, voted by the people who matter most, the supporters.
But even Wee Jinky, in a remarkably poignant and moving speech at the awards ceremony in a packed Glasgow hotel, said: “Thank you, I’m overwhelmed. But there is another bloke who should be standing here just now getting this accolade. You know who I’m talking about. Bobby Murdoch.”
The applause must have lasted about five minutes. Wee Jinky, with a few off-the-cuff words, brought the house down.
Bobby Murdoch passed away exactly fourteen years ago today on May 15, 2001 at the all-too-early age of fifty-six.
When will we see his likes again? Alas, possibly never. Bobby Murdoch was a geniune one-off, a unique diamond whose great claim to fame was: “I used to play for the Celtic.”