Caesar & the Assassin, SFTBs review


Today, Setting Free The Bears reviews Caesar & the Assassin, the story of Billy McNeill and Davie Hay’s periods as Celtic manager, in their own words, published by Celtic Quick News.

We’ve published a few books so far, telling some stories of our great players, or great events, but this book deals with the most important subject we’ve touched so far – how Celtic was run, from a manager’s perspective.

The personal thoughts of Billy and Davie, shedding light on the inside story of Celtic, is fascinating, especially for those familiar with the excitement and glories of the period.

Here’s what SFTBs had to say:

“Setting Free the Bears reviews CQN’s new book, Caesar & The Assassin – Managing Celtic after Jock Stein. Billy McNeill & Davie Hay with Alex Gordon…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of our lost golden youth, it was the age of boardroom mismanagement, it was the epoch of honest mistakes, it was the epoch of incredulity at the honest mistakes, it contained seasons of light, it produced seasons of darkness, it was the spring of our hope of getting back to European prominence, it was the winter of our despair as the light of hope was extinguished by counter attacking foreign teams, we had everything before us, we had nothing much to look forward to, we were all going direct to Paradise, we were all going to Ibrox – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that this noisy authoritative book insists on it being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seventy eight and if Charles Dickens had written this latest CQN book he could never have conjured up a plot of such last minute twists, Machiavellian back-stabbing, outrageous coincidences, and triumphs grasped from the gaping jaws of despair, as are present in this history of Celtic during our long lost youth.

There are a few CQN readers who are ancient enough to recall the pre-Lions era and the Lions themselves with admirable clarity, even in their dotage but for most of the CQN demographic, this book covers the period wherein the chains and shackles of Celtic-ness were firmly placed upon us. We remember them now with the rose tinted nostalgia of longing for our younger selves and we sometimes remember them as better than they were. These were our halcyon days and they are presented to us with more accuracy and honesty than we are often capable of when recalling them.

Alex Gordon has raided the memory banks and past publications of two of our finest servants, Billy McNeill and David Hay, to provide a more reliable pen picture of our glory days. Mark Twain said that “When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.” This book gives us a chance to compare the contemporary account with what happened in real time in the order it really occurred.

These 32 chapters of history in the McNeill-Hay- McNeill management era, August 78 to May 91, when Liam Brady took over will set you straight. It was not a time of constant glorious victory by which we can denigrate the modern players and team in comparison. Billy’s first spell up to May 83 saw a win percentage of 64.2% (3 titles, 1SC and 1LC), Davie Hay from 83 to 87 managed 51.8% (1 League and 1 SC) and Billy’s last spell was 54.8% (1 league and 2 SCs). The 3 managers (including Frank Connor) that followed, however, won nothing and it would be 1995 with a Scottish Cup win under Tommy Burns before we celebrated again and 1998 before the League was ours.

The format of the book is to give 2 chapters to each season covering roughly August to December and January to May respectively with an additional chapter to recount our Cup runs that year. Occasionally a chapter is devoted to an important European event, the 1980 quarter final against Real, the Amsterdam win against Cruyff’s Ajax or the horrors of the Rapid Vienna battles. Some domestic events such as 10 men won the League, the Miracle of Love Street and the Centenary Cup Final are given full and separate coverage too.

It is a partisan account, representing forcibly the disappointments and occasional bitter memories of how these two legends felt they were not supported in their desires to maintain Celtic at the levels to which Jock Stein had propelled us in the mid-60s. Desmond White and Jack McGinn are not always fondly recalled in this account but it is a story told with love and affection which triumphs over any traces of anger or regret that remain today. These are Celtic men who can have arguments with temporary Celtic custodians but who could not remain estranged from the Celtic family because of this.

There are tales which are familiar and tales which will surprise. There are telling details provided which add to the prosaic presentation of individual game facts and who scored the goals. There are a lot of familiar themes relevant to the present day. The task that Davie and Billy faced, on our behalf, of competing with the inflated expenditure of the Souness period at Ibrox is relevant to our most recent 15 years.

The balance to be struck between a harmonious board-manager relationship and a warring outlook about teams that always need strengthening, is well depicted. The two managers can look back with more sympathy for the Directors than they felt at the time but both remain adamant that they could have done so much more if purse strings had been loosened.

The handover from Hay to McNeill’s second spell is particularly poignant. Where Davie had been starved of cash to deal with the imminent departures of Johnston, McClair, McInally and McLeod, Billy was given cash, albeit much below the Souness spend levels, as a one-off never-to-be-repeated deal so that we could enjoy a Centenary Year of triumph before we were back to old clothes and porridge. It is made crystal clear that this was an era which was pre-Bosman, pre-EPL wage inflation, and pre-Champions League high finance where Celtic were better placed to maintain a grip on European competitiveness than we managed to do.

If I have one criticism of the book, it is that we learn little of the detail behind the Board’s argument for parsimony at the time. There is a quote on p.353 which says:-

“Yes, Desmond (White) had his critics, but I know he would have been better equipped to assist me when Graeme Souness arrived at Ibrox and was given what appeared to be a blank cheque book,’ said Hay. ‘Desmond was careful with money, as we were all aware, but, importantly, he understood what Celtic were all about.’ No elaboration was required from Hay”

Well, maybe you had to be there to understand why elaboration was unnecessary but I would welcome some elaboration and context. What were Celtic finances like at that time? Did the managers know if we were on sound footing or in financial difficulty? We were to experience a near bankruptcy event in the following decade so it would be nice to hear the argument in favour of prudent finance.

The Board voice does not feature and Billy and Davie have good reason to be disinclined to voice it for them. That caveat aside, we do learn a lot about the part that personality clashes can play in a management team and the dirty tricks employed to make a manager seem unwanted.

This book serves the requirements of two types of reader. For the stats and detail buff who is keen to test your memory and collect facts, you can read every word in order and recall each game whether it was an important or a dull one. If you want to read a good sports story and the scandal behind the facts, you can race through the match and goals descriptions to get to the nuggets where the main events are retold and the background fleshed out. Author, Alex Gordon has done a fine job in ensuring that both types of reader will find satisfaction within these pages.

There are surprises to be found in learning which players might have ended up at Celtic Park. There are telling insights into signing coups and signing disasters. Some good Celtic men were not treated well by this club and some good Celtic men did not treat the club well.

There are Celtic legends like Burns, Provan, McStay, McGrain and McAvennie whose careers are recounted well and there are lesser known names like McGugan, McCarrison, and Halpin who appear. Two of my contemporary school-mates are mentioned, Frank Welsh and Frank Gray.

There are surprising facts which will form good quiz questions.  Apart from learning how Billy’s nickname changed from Cesar to Caesar over time, my favourite would be- “Why was Bruce Cleland an important contributor to our Scottish Cup success in the Centenary Year?” I’ll let you find that out for yourself as I have tried to avoid spoilers in this review.

The book takes us up to Billy leaving the manager’s chair for the second time on 22nd May 1991. There is a wee taste of the daunting events facing the Parkhead faithful at the end of this era. The downsizing from Nicholas and McAvennie to Walker and Coyne, then to Cascarino and Hayes foretells the coming horrors of the 90s.

The CQN publishing team behind the book are hinting that this will be the period covered in their next big book. The memories invoked there may not be a pleasant as those covered by this splendid book. I may have to look out my Leonard Cohen box set to cheer me up.

Buy this book! Relive your lost past and feel young again! It was good when it happened and it remains good in having the memories re-awakened. I want to express my appreciation of the efforts of these two legends in nurturing my club and I hope their tales sell and sell and sell some more. For them, it is richly deserved.”

My thanks to Setting Free The Bears. As you can imagine, it’s been an absolute joy working on this book. Hearing the managers’ perspective on events we knew only as fans offers a precious insight into our joys and despairs. We are so fortunate to have these great heroes living in our community; opportunities to have these times set down on record will be rare going forward.

The book’s available here on CQN Books. It’s now in stock and shipping. If you pre-ordered, you’ll be getting a FREE DVD to thank you for your patience. All aspects of these projects cannot be controlled, unfortunately.

Click Here for Comments >

About Author

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7
  9. ...
  10. 14

  1. Cowiebhoy and Clashcitybhoy from last thread.



    Nice to speak to you, thanks for your replies.



    Re Kayal, yes he is unpredictable at times and I understand your reason for him not for you. I think in the right balance of team he can bring something to us at the moment. Felt he made a difference yesterday, but you are correct inconsistent and jumps in at times.



    Think when you referred to Henderson you might have meant my reference to Bitton. Although not the quickest of players, I believe he reads the game very well. Neil Lennon was not quick, but was a brilliant reader of the game. He broke up a lot of the opposition play, but had a good midfield unit beside him also.



    Clash, re Charlie, I would only play him at Centre half. He has composure and height. But not for me in midfield if we are wanting to play pressing game and breaking at pace.



    HH Dan

  2. garygillespieshamstring on

    Can clearly remember Bruce’s minute of fame. Won’t spoil it for anyone else though.

  3. auldheid



    13:51 on 23 November, 2014



    PF Ayr



    On a bad day I was better.





    Forget the politics with a small p. Did the guy look useful?






    13:54 on 23 November, 2014






    In the business Celtic are in supporters are shareholders and alienating supporters cannot be good for the share price.



    So there is a balancing dynamic not applicable in other industries.



    In other industries shareholders are in it for the money only.

  4. Dallas Dallas where the heck is Dallas on

    St Stiv’s, I saw the Dundee crew as we walked by the Brother Walfrid statue and were rightly ignored.



    When we beat Aberdeen about a year ago there were twenty or thirty northern neds trying to start a fight on London Road at The Emirates. Hee haw polis in sight probably all gathered round section 111.



    Nice to see the Green Brigade singing the proper words to We’re on the one road not the dodgy words sung years ago by some of our fans.



    Saltires, your dad must be well settled in the Gorbals. That must be about ten years or more he has lived there.I hope he is well.



    My dad has mentioned the name Toner occasionally and you’ve confirmed that was part of my paternal side..



    My Uncle Frank’s wife was a very distant relative of my dad’s mum and she was not happy when Frank married her. She didn’t approve and didn’t treat my aunt well. My


    granny also didn’t like my mum as he took her youngest away from her.



    Enjoy yer time in the Smoke. Are you meeting Sharpie or the boy McPhee when you are in London?





















    « Prev


















  5. From previous article.


    Seems I was late once more.



    “My friends in Celtic,



    Not read back but the most that can be said about yesterday’s game is another 3 pts.



    IMO there has to be an element of entertainment. Performances like that will not encourage missing fans to return.


    I arrived late but two behind me arrived 30 minutes late soaked and full of refreshment. they immediately proceeded to give KC a hard time.



    “Commons your slow, Commons your late. They didn’t see any irony.



    After the game I popped round to see if I could find CRC and prestonpans bhoy who had posted an invite for a wee swally.


    I gave up after asking two groups if they were from CQN. I though I had better retreat to the Kerrydale in case the policeman and woman there thought I was some kind of stalker.



    Now if they were wearing red carnations. My fault guys for arriving late for the game, another time.”




  6. Captain Beefheart on

    Leonard Cohen isn’t depressing. The man has wonderful tar black humour, an encounter with Phil Spector is a must read tale…

  7. Our team could sure do with a bit more bite and good tacklers in my opinion very quite also you can never have enough leaders on the park or quality players to win a good tackle.

  8. Nye Bevans' rebel soldier on

    Never heard of Bruce Cleland,so I’ll need to buy the book,


    I don’t recall the centenary season as much as I thought,


    reading sftb review it occurred to me,what happened in the


    League cup, who knocked us out?

  9. Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan supports Oscar Knox, MacKenzie Furniss and anyone else who fights Neuroblastoma on




    That is an excellent review — an absolute roller coaster of a period with some really good — and some not so good — people at the club.



    Captain Beefheart.



    Leonard’s encounter with Janice Joplin in the lift of the Chelsea Hotel is another must hear tale. Very funny, very poignant, and in some respects very sad.



    I have been to number of concerts to hear Leonard and Kris Kristofferson and neither has ever gone through a concert without a few moments talking about Joplin.



    Neither man seems to give her anything but praise and remember her with great affection and admiration for her singing.

  10. Captain Beefheart on

    Kafka’s work is also depicted as being depressing when in actual fact it is often hilarious.



    Lawyers repeatedly getting their backsides kicked was one particularly amusing scene. Pity Donald Sideburns wasn’t a recipient.

  11. dan @ 13:12 and above



    V much agree with your points.


    Don’t be a stranger – post!



    Old grumpy cowiebhoy hates kayal. Old grump that he is!



    My problem with kayal is that he chases the ball once it’s been passed and often ends up leaving ‘his man’ free.



    School Bhoy stuff.



    HH jamesgang

  12. Liverpool going backwards,spending £50 mil on 3 Southampton players plus the Balotelli panic buy,won’t win you anything.

  13. Craigellachie10 on

    Noticed paper talk that Sheff Wed are interested in Ryan Christie. He has impressed me and think he could go a long way in the game. Worth a punt IMO.

  14. jamesgang



    Thanks for you comments buddy. Just occasional poster these days, but lurk most days and thoroughly enjoy the diversity of subjects from posters, that’s what makes the blog for me as well as the superb job done by Paul, BRTH, Winning Captains, and the main daily posters.



    The sheer goodness of charity work folks do through this forum is simply stunning and makes me proud to be associated with the blog and be a Celtic supporter.



    Many people on here use their personal time and resources to make our wee corner of the planet and beyond a better place.



    Your comments re Kayal are of course spot on as are Cowiebhoys. Just think with the present limited personnel at our disposal, with the right balance in the team he could do a job. Always good to get someone else’s opinion and to debate an issue.



    HH Dan

  15. The Battered Bunnet on




    Which serves to show that a plc corporate framework is not optimally appropriate for Celtic.



    The plc was a vehicle to allow Fergus to raise the capital necessary to initiate his project, and then, once complete, to get out with his dough.



    It worked perfectly.



    Fact is, we haven’t changed the structure despite Celtic’s circumstances changing.



    I like the plc framework from the perspective of Governance, the benefits of which you’re at the centre of understanding. Compare your experience these past 12 months, with those of the 5 years (100 years) prior to Fergus’ takeover.



    The plc framework allows us to hold the Directors to account, to some degree.



    It does though have a number of drawbacks. While we are very lucky (we are…) that our largest shareholder is a largely benign influence, it will not always be so.



    Dermot I’m sure piled into Celtic in part, not for a short term return, but because he could see, beyond Fergus’ 5 year plan, the transformational opportunity that EPL membership offered. It was very much worth the punt.



    Were Celtic to get into the EPL, the value of the company’s shares would soar, by a factor of 10 in the first instance imo, as investors saw the vast increase in income in the offing.



    Television alone would add (conservatively) £75M of cost free income. The exposure would transform sponsorship and merchandising opportunities, adding (again conservatively) £30M pa



    The demand for top level football would impact on corporate deals, gate prices and corollary match day revenue.



    And that’s just the start of it. We have yet to consider more wide ranging opps. Investors would pile in to get a slice of the accelerating value of the club, and that’s the problem. Investors.



    Celtic do not need investors, certainly not at the moment. We need supporter-owners. An entirely different animal altogether.



    The more valuable the club becomes, the further out of reach it becomes to the supporter. Pretty soon we’re welcoming our very own Glazer, Kroenke, Ashley or worse, become no more than a PR vehicle to legitimise some peculiarly and recently rich overseas person.



    Sooner or later we will need to manage the transition that will be the succession to Dermot Desmond. We can continue with the current corporate framework, adapt it suit a new set of circumstances, or look towards defining a new framework that better reflects the central purposes of the club.



    Given that we do not distribute profits – there has never been a dividend on Ord shares – it seems overdue to recognise that a new structure is in order, one that does not prioritise investor returns, and which perhaps might inhibit the club being used for such a purpose at all.



    But I expect the few people who own the largest shareholdings would put a quick end to such ideas. That’s largely why they’ve invested in the club in the first instance after all.

  16. JamesGang, an insighful and accurate post:-)



    CowieBhoy, thanks for the lift home last night.



    3pts in the bag is always good, performance wasn’t near the best.


    It was good to see James Forrest make a telling contribution and I thought Izzy had a very good game, not flawless but he intercepted a few through balls and was always available going forward. Guidetti I is a quality player, I hope he stays for more than a year, he could become a Talisman for us.



    Down in London for a few days, on the fast train now, hoping to get to Wimbledon CSC on Tuesday for a pint or two, if any of the local lads are about let me know and I’ll make sure I do.

  17. Zico, I wish your Mother in Law, your niece and Family the very best.


    Hope things work out well for you and yours mate.

  18. Zico-Maltese Bhoy @ 14:40



    Just arrived back in Malta 2 hours ago.Mother in law not too good and niece goes through operation on brain on Wednesday.Thanks for prayers.HH.



    Glad you got back ok.Thoughts with you through this difficult time. Best to Mrs Zico. Look after Malta for me until I get back over. HH

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7
  9. ...
  10. 14