Number 1 – JOHN McNAMEE
Several Celtic players have been unlucky enough to have played at a time when, in spite of great skill and commitment, they failed to establish themselves as 1st team regulars. Often, they had competition, in their position, from formidable teammates; in other cases, they were just unlucky. Many of these players played during the 1960s. Hugh Gallagher looks back to this period and profiles some of the players who fall into the Nearly Men category and concludes by talking about how valuable they’d be to today’s Celtic, starting with John McNamee with more to follow over the next week or so…
John McNamee joined Celtic in 1960, as a teenager, having been spotted by reserve team coach, Jock Stein. A hard tackling, ferocious central defender, he made a winning debut in February 1961 in a 2-0 victory over Hibs. This was not a good time to be a young Celt. Celtic had won nothing since that famous day in October 1957, when Celtic defeated Rangers 7-1 in the League Cup Final.
It was a dark period; a strong Rangers team, with players like Shearer, Caldow, Baxter, Millar, McMillan and Brand, were totally dominant. My first Celtic-Rangers match was the replayed Scottish Cup Final in May 1963, when McNamee’s Celtic career probably reached its lowest point. Celtic were outplayed, losing 3-0, and it could have been much more. Also playing that night, in a team that were poorly coached, poorly motivated and lacking direction, were young players who had emerged as the same time as McNamee- Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, John Hughes etc.
In the following season, John Clark emerged and became Billy McNeill’s defensive partner. McNamee left Celtic in April 1964, having played 38 games and scoring 3 goals. He was signed, again, by Jock Stein, for an excellent Hibs team in which he formed a strong central defensive partnership with Pat Stanton.
Less than a year later, Stein was moving in the opposite direction. Clearly, The Great Man saw something in McNamee; who knows what kind of career McNamee would have had with Celtic if he’d been able to stay for another year and played under Jock Stein? Several of the players who had struggled with McNamee were transformed by Stein. Murdoch, for example, was an inside right (No 8, for younger readers), going nowhere, who was transformed into a world class right half (No 4). The same was true of Lennox, Hughes, Chalmers, Clark and several others.
There was an interesting postscript to McNamee’s career post Celtic. He joined Newcastle in the mid 1960s and played against Rangers in April 1969, in the Semi Final of the Inter Fairs Cities Cup (now Europa League). At Ibrox, in the pre match warm up, he wore a Celtic top, much to the chagrin of the home fans. He later said he was winding them up but added that, at that time, “football had a sense of humour”, so there were no accusations of incitement.
Next time we will feature CHARLIE GALLAGHER…