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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BERTIE: THE LEGEND RECALLS THE THE DAY THAT CHANGED HIS LIFE

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LISBON LION Bertie Auld celebrates his 81st birthday today and CQN sends this genuine Celtic legend our best wishes.

To commemorate Bertie’s landmark, CQN will feature one of the Hoops’ greatest servants in a week of exclusives from his excellent autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie,’ which was co-authored by Alex Gordon and reprinted in 2017.

This is a chapter that is close to Bertie’s heart. It is entitled ‘PARADISE FOUND’. Please enjoy the memories of a proud Celt.

CLYDE offered me £60 to sign professional forms for them in 1955. Partick Thistle offered me £50. Celtic offered £20. Yes, TWENTY pounds. So, of course, I joined Celtic. How on earth did that happen? Let me explain.

My dad Joe and I had already met with officials from Thistle and Clyde and they had made their bids. They both wanted the young lad who was making a bit of a name for himself at Maryhill Harp and both were offering £2 and ten shillings (£2.50p in today’s money) per week in wages. Celtic, too, wanted to talk to me. I remember the day I was told to turn up at Celtic Park for a meeting.

It was a Sunday and there weren’t too many trams running in the city on the Sabbath. A smashing guy called John McNellis, who doubled as the Maryhill Harp secretary and local coalman, came to the rescue. Unusually, for that part of the world, he actually owned a car. He told my dad, ‘Don’t worry, Joe, I’ll come and pick you and Bertie up at the close and take you over. Happy to help.’

It seemed most of the neighbours turned up that morning to wave us off on our travels. The Panmure Street grapevine had been in action and it seemed everyone knew that young Bertie Auld was going to have talks with the great Glasgow Celtic. I felt like a prince as I was ushered into the backseat behind Mr.McNellis while my dad sat in the front beside him.

It was an old Austin and was Mr.McNellis’s pride and joy. Sitting behind him, I couldn’t help but notice that, no matter he must have scrubbed himself to get clean, there were was still coal dust all over his neck. No matter, he was a splendid fellow who was about to do me one of the greatest favours of my young life.

I had never even been to Celtic Park before as we drove up Kerrydale Street, but the stadium certainly looked daunting and the club had an obvious worldwide appeal. I wasn’t a particular fan of any team as I was growing up. I may have gone to a Protestant School and people could have automatically thought Rangers were my team. Where I was brought up in Maryhill, that didn’t necessarily follow. Funnily enough, although most of my school mates were followers of local side Partick Thistle, there were a few who favoured Celtic. So, I was there to talk to Celtic and see what they were prepared to put on the table.

“HAPPY HOMECOMING…I sign for Celtic manager Jimmy McGrory – for a second time – early in 1965, the start of something fairly sensational.”

That lovely gentleman Jimmy McGrory, the Celtic manager, greeted my dad and I. Now I believe legend is a word that is often overused these days. Mr.McGrory had earned his status as an icon when you take a quick peek at his goalscoring record for the club – 410 goals in 408 leagues games! In all, he scored 550 goals in a playing career that spanned fifteen years and would end his retirement in 1937.

He was famous for his bullet-like headers, but he once scored eight goals in one game against Dunfermline in 1928 – all with his feet. There must have been a good reason why this guy only played seven times for his country. Anyway, was it any wonder that I could detect my father was in awe of this imposing man with the broad shoulders?

Mr.McGrory shook my hand and looked me straight in the eye. He took us through to the Celtic boardroom and I was impressed immediately. It was fitted out with all this antique furniture and I had never seen such olde worlde grandeur. We were shown to our seats at this beautifully-crafted oak table that ran from one end of the room to the other. There were about ten or twelve seats set out.

I wondered how many people would be turning up to talk to me. Thankfully, it was only Mr.McGrory, and, still puffing on his pipe, he drew up a seat beside my dad and I. Rather surprisingly, the Celtic manager then asked me if I fancied a glass of whisky. My dad almost went ballistic. He said, ‘What do you think you are doing? My son’s only sixteen.’ He calmed down immediately to say, ‘I’ll take one, though!’

Mr.McGrory was happy to oblige and poured a generous measure for my dad before taking his seat again. He looked at me and said, ‘We’ve been receiving good reports about you. How would you like to join Celtic?’ Before I could answer, my dad countered with his own question, ‘What are you offering?’

Mr.McGrory, whom I would later find was a true gent, took another puff on a pipe that seemed to be perpetually lit and answered, ‘We’ll go to £20 for a signing-on fee and £2-per-week wages. We’ll also give him two shillings for his expenses.’ Celtic must have worked out exactly how much it would cost for me to travel by tram from Queen’s Cross to Kerrydale Street and back. They were spot-on with their calculations.

As I sat there slightly stunned – and more than just a little bit disappointed – with Celtic’s offer, I heard this voice beside me say, ‘We accept! You’ve got a deal.’ I didn’t utter a word. Clyde had put £60 on the table. Thistle had come up with £50. And here was Celtic making a bid of £20 and my dad was accepting on my behalf.

Celtic’s offer was a third of what Clyde were prepared to pay and here we were accepting it without the merest hint of negotiations. I was also going to be ten shillings a week poorer in my pay poke. Incredible. Looking back on everything I have enjoyed at the club over so many years, the treasure memories that will never leave me, I can only say, ‘Thanks, dad. You got it right, as usual.’ It only seemed natural back then to leave everything to my dad. He was the head of the household, after all, and I always looked up to him. He never did me wrong at any time.

Mr.McGrory – I never brought myself to just call him Jimmy – got me to sign forms which he put in a safe. I was too young to actually put my signature on those papers, but it would be okay in a fortnight or so’s time when I turned seventeen. Those forms would have remained locked away in that safe until the time was right to register yours truly as a Celtic player.

“HAPPY FAMILIES…a night-out with my mum Peggy, wife Liz and dad Joe.”

My dad and I were asked if we had ever seen Celtic Park. We both had to admit we had never had the opportunity. Mr.McGrory decided to act as our tour guide. I always remember this Celtic legend opening the doors for my dad and I as we passed through. He took us out on to one of the terracings and I almost fainted.

The sheer size of the place was awesome; simply breathtaking. I had been inside Firhill which could probably have held 30,000 or so, but this was an entirely different ballgame. This was the big-time even if the signing-on offer didn’t quite match that from Clyde or Partick Thistle. Ach, it was only money.

After being shown all round the place, we returned to the boardroom where the Celtic manager asked me, ‘Have you ever seen a new £20 note, Bertie?’ I answered, ‘I’ve never even seen an OLD £20 note, Mr.McGrory!’ The note, brand, spanking new, was passed over and I clutched it firmly in my right hand. I folded it over neatly not to crunch it. A £20 note back then was so huge it could have papered my mother’s kitchen.

It may not have been what was on offer elsewhere, but it was still an awful lot of money. Remember, my dad would work all week for £7 and that was to help raise a family of eight. You could buy a bungalow in the posh area of Beardsen in Glasgow for around £500 at the time.

We made our way out of Celtic Park, with the money still tightly grasped in my right mit, and got into my dad’s pal’s car. For the second time that day my father surprised me. He always called me son. He said, ‘Right, son, did you see that place they called The Jungle? That’s where you will find the fans crammed in when you are playing. You can make these guys love you. You perform for them and they’ll repay you. This support has got a great knowledge. They’ll encourage you and they’ll never forget you.’

I was a bit taken aback. I had never heard my dad talk like this. It wasn’t bad for a wee labourer to make such a stunning prediction over half-a-century ago. He then said another thing I have never forgotten. I thought Mr.McGrory’s large whisky was taking affect when he said, ‘It’s kick and be kicked now, son,’ he said and repeated, ‘Kick and be kicked.’ I soon got the message.

I was now going into a footballing environment where no quarter would be asked or given. Playing for fun was a thing of the past. I knew I could still enjoy myself, but I was now a committed team man. I realised that I would be kicked. Look, it’s a contact sport, as far as I am concerned. There will be physical collisions and there will be hard tackles. It’s a man’s game. But if anyone set out to deliberately kick me, then he was going to get some of the same back, I can assure you.

Take the kick, remember it and, when the opportunity arose, let the guy know you hadn’t forgotten. If I was done, you could be sure I was going to do him back at some point. Kick and be kicked. It was something that I remembered throughout my career. If you allowed someone to kick you and you didn’t respond then you had just given him licence to kick you all day. He knew you wouldn’t come back in kind. Anyone who booted me soon realised I would return with a like-for-like answer.

As I sat in the back of Mr.McNellis’s Austin I couldn’t stop myself from looking at this £20 note, still firmly clasped in my right hand. I was so proud and I couldn’t wait to get home to present it to my mum. We duly arrived at 95, Panmure Street, said our thanks to our accommodating chauffeur for the day and my family had assembled to congratulate me on signing for the famous Celtic.

“OLD FIRM ACTION…here I challenge Rangers keeper George Niven for the ball while Ibrox right-back Bobby Shearer looks on.” 

At last, I allowed the £20 note to escape from my grasp. ‘That’s for you, mum,’ I said and duly passed it over. She looked at it and I’m sure a wee tear came to her eyes. ‘Thanks, son,’ she said. ‘I’ll make sure you have a treat tonight.’

Then she started to ask me about Celtic. ‘Are you happy with the move? Is it right for you? Will you enjoy yourself at the club?’ Suddenly I realised she was addressing me as an adult for the first time. Previously, I had been Wee Bertie, her son. Now I was Bertie Auld, Celtic player. It was a wonderful day in my life.

I wondered what the promised treat might be. We had our tea and did all the usual things our family did on a Sunday although this was hardly a normal day for me. I waited and waited. Then it was time to go to bed. I was getting prepared and I had to ask, ‘What about my treat, mum?’ She said, ‘I haven’t forgotten, son. You get to choose which side of the bed you sleep on tonight. That’s your treat.’

Well, one of my brothers had a wee bit of a problem holding his water sometimes – it was known as an ‘accident’ – and I immediately said, ‘I’ll take the shallow end!’

My early days at Celtic were simply marvellous. I thrived on mixing with players such as Charles Patrick Tully, Willie Fernie, Bertie Peacock, Bobby Collins, Sean Fallon, John McPhail, Bobby Evans and a guy called Jock Stein. I’m sure we will hear a little bit more about this individual later! They were all household names; guys you read about in the newspapers every day. Charlie Tully, bought for £8,000 from Belfast Celtic in 1948, was an amazing character. There was nothing he couldn’t do with a football. I would have paid into training just to witness this guy’s skills at close range. He was a born entertainer.

I have to say he wasn’t the best trainer at the club and I also have to admit I don’t recall him ever doing laps round the pitch. That wasn’t for Charlie. Instead, when the manager and the coaches weren’t around, he would merely sprint the six yards or so between the dug-outs. I wondered what this was all about at first. Then the penny eventually dropped. If any of the training staff were coming down the Celtic Park tunnel all they would see was Charlie racing past at full pelt. When they emerged trackside cheeky Charlie was puffing and panting and looking as though he had just completed about twenty laps. That was him for the day.

I’m not sure the Celtic training staff knew what Charlie was up to, but he was such a character that I think they would have let him off with anything just so long as he turned it on in matchday. And he did that often enough, take it from me. You know, I don’t think he was ever properly fit. You can only wonder what he might have achieved if he had been 100 per cent.

I recall one time, Celtic were taking us down to Seamill for some pre-season training. Someone ordered the bus driver to stop and we were told we would have to run the rest of the way. I think were only about halfway to our destination when someone came up with this brainwave. Eric Smith and I paired off as we ran the miles to our hotel. After about thirty minutes or so there was no sign of Charlie. Then we heard the spluttering of a moped. It passed us and there was the bold lad himself, perched on the back seat and waving back to his team-mates. Priceless!

I was part-time at that stage, mixing football with joinery, and our training was normally at six o’clock at night when most of the first-teamers had long since departed the place. My mum wouldn’t have been happy if she had ever found out, but every now and again her errant son used to duck my daytime job to train with the first team squad. It was well worthwhile in the long run.

The fans adored Charlie. He has a special place in Celtic folklore after displaying a typical piece of impudence and no little skill in a Scottish Cup-tie against Falkirk at Brockville in 1953. Charlie swung in a corner-kick that completely bamboozled the unfortunate keeper and swept directly into the net. The referee wasn’t impressed, though, and, for reasons only known to himself, decided to rule out the ‘goal’ and order a retake.

Charlie simply shrugged his shoulders, placed the ball in the arc and took another kick. Once more the keeper was left helpless as the ball soared over his head into the net; once again directly from the corner. This time the match official allowed the goal to stand. You get the impression if he had ordered another retake Charlie would have sent that into the net, too!

How could you fail not to be inspired by this outstanding, irresistible personality? Younger supporters won’t remember too much about him and, sadly, there isn’t a lot footage around to show you just how skilful he was. You’ll have to take my word for it and I am not exaggerating when I say there was a mix of the best of Jinky Johnstone and George Best in Charlie Tully. Yes, that’s how good he was.

By the way, the Falkirk keeper obviously didn’t do his homework on Charlie. I should point out that he scored two goals in Northern Ireland’s 2-2 draw with England in Belfast the previous year and, yes, one was direct from a corner-kick.

” ALL SMILES…me and my dad Joe.”

Naturally enough, a young and impressionable Bertie Auld adored these guys and I hoped I could emulate them at some stage. I could always dream. I signed a full contract on 2 April, 1955 and made my debut against Rangers on 1 May, two years later. In between, I had a season-long period at Dumbarton and I can reveal now that I am unique in Celtic history – I am the only player to sign for the club THREE times.

When I went to Dumbarton it was supposed to be on loan. There was some sort of problem with the contract and the Boghead side actually had to make a nominal fee to sign me. It would only have been a token and Celtic promised to return it in a year’s time.

When I heard Celtic wanted me to go to Dumbarton I, naturally, consulted my dad. Once again he didn’t hesitate, ‘Take it, son. You’ll get first team football there. It’s part of your education.’ I returned to Parkhead and the transfer was done and Dumbarton got their money back at the end of the season.

Around that time I was called up for my national service. I was put through a rigorous examination and, as a sports enthusiast and as you might expect ,I passed with flying colours. I was rated Grade One. My mum wasn’t having any of that – her boy wasn’t going to be taken away by the army. She knew a doctor who had a practice in Possil and, rather amazingly, I was suddenly found to have flat feet and that put me down to Grade Three. It was known as a deferrment – whatever that actually means. So, there was no place in the frontline for me and it was business as usual at home.

Something always seemed to be happening to me and I recall a funny incident shortly after I had put a string of games together in the first team. We were due to play Hearts at Tynecastle and the coach was due to leave Glasgow at eleven in the morning for the journey through to Edinburgh. I was getting prepared as usual, trying to look neat and tidy, and my mum Margaret was fussing around as she always did on matchday. ‘Have you brushed your teeth? Is your tie straight? Have you polished your shoes?’ All that sort of thing.

My mum made me my breakfast which I made short work of in my normal fashion. ‘Have you had enough to eat? Do you want another sandwich?’ On this particular morning she seemed more determined than ever to fatten up her first son for the rigours that lay ahead – so much so that I was late for the coach that left for Edinburgh without me.

‘Oh, hell,’ I thought, ‘what am I going to do now?’ I could just imagine even the normally placid Jimmy McGrory hitting the roof when he discovered I was missing. There was nothing else for it – I would have to get a taxi and try to catch up with the rest of the lads at Tynecastle. I waved down a black cab on the street and asked him to take me to Hearts’ ground. He eyed me up and said, ‘That’ll be three quid, son. Have you got the cash?’

I had exactly £3 on me and I showed him the money. Satisfied, he nudged the vehicle into gear and set off for our capital city where, later in life, I would have such an eventful period as a player, coach and manager of Hibs.

It seemed to take an eternity to get from Glasgow to Edinburgh that day although, of course, the traffic is nothing like as congested as it is today. I recall it was just five days before Christmas, so there was the usual rush on at the shops. We eventually reached our destination, luckily enough, just as the team coach was pulling in.

I got out of the taxi in a rush before mingling with the rest of my colleagues as they got off and headed for the main entrance at Tynecastle. Boy, was I relieved. I’m not too sure how the Celtic bosses would have viewed it at the time, a young player missing the official team bus. I don’t suppose they would have accepted the excuse that my mum delayed me because she wanted me to eat another bacon buttie!

“DREAM COME TRUE…my son Robert in a Celtic top and daughter Susan larking around with their dad at home.”

I was excited at the prospect of playing a very good Hearts team who had strong characters in the likes of Dave Mackay and John Cumming. These blokes were two of the hardest men in football, but were always fair. They would go in for a 50/50 ball like their lives depended on it. You knew you were tackled when these two guys hit you. But, as I said, they never went over the top or suchlike. They were just a pair of very committed professionals and I have always admired that in people.

I would like to think I was every bit as dedicated to the Celtic cause. Anyway, there I was at Tynecastle, when the team sheet was read out. You could imagine my surprise when the name Auld wasn’t on it. I had been dropped. I had just spent a week’s wages haring from Glasgow through to Edinburgh and my reward was a seat in the stand.

I had played the previous fifteen games, netted eight goals, and was in the line-up that hammered Stirling Albion 7-3 the previous week. I thought I would get the nod again, but a fellow called Matt McVitie was named at outside-left that afternoon. We managed a 1-1 draw and I returned the following week for a 3-1 triumph over my one-time suitors Clyde.

I still wonder if Jimmy McGrory had noted my absence on the bus going through to Edinburgh and dropped me as some sort of punishment. My wages had gone up ten shillings since my signing and I’m sure my weekly earnings of £3 made sure the family of a certain Glasgow cabbie had a wonderful Christmas at my expense.

My mum, on hearing of my lack of travelling facilities, thought it would be a good idea to buy me a car, a Vauxhall Veluxe. There was only one snag – I didn’t possess a driving licence at the time. The vehicle was duly delivered to Panmure Street and my brother-in-law who could drive told me he would teach me. Another little problem- there was no petrol in the car.

I think my mum had spent everything in buying the Vauxhall, so we had to get money from somewhere. That normally meant the pawn, those quaint establishments that no-one ever admitted to using, but everyone seemed to know where they were. Well, no-one was ever going to say they were hard-up, were they?

Margaret, my big sister, had bought me a new suit when I started to go on my travels with Celtic. I think Marion also chipped in to buy this new checked outfit. I’m not too sure what it would have cost, but Margaret and Marion, who both worked as bus conductresses, must have saved up a few quid to spend on their wee brother. I was wearing it one day when I got a tap on the shoulder from a Celtic official.

‘Those trouser bottoms are too tight,’ I was informed. Drainpipes were all the fashion back then, these trousers that tapered all the way to your ankle. I didn’t think they were that tight, but Celtic didn’t agree and I knew that was the end of the argument. My prized suit went back into the wardrobe.

When we exploring ideas of picking up dosh to put petrol in the car, I had a sudden thought. The suit would never be worn again, so why don’t I take it down to the pawn and see if we could get two quid for it? I got the OK from my sisters and my brother-in-law and I set off for the pawnbrokers, to give them their proper title. We wrapped up the suit in a big brown parcel, tied it up with string and went to the nearest pawn shop.

I had only gone about six yards when one of our neighbours, looking out of her upstairs window, spotted us. ‘Bertie, are you going down to the pawn?’ I tried desperately to get her to lower her voice. I was a Celtic player, after all, and I was supposed to be rolling in cash. Anyway, she said she had her husband’s nightshirt that might be worth two shillings (10 pence these days!) and could I take it down for her.

She, too, wrapped up the garment in a brown parcel and threw it down to me. In Maryhill, the pawn shop was up a tenement close, so you always went through the entrance next to it and climbed over the wall behind it before entering the pawn via the backdoor.

There were little cubicles in the place as about three or four employees worked behind a long desk. They were probably put there to protect your privacy although, of course, everyone knew everyone else’s business in Maryhill. The bloke behind the desk asked, ‘Name?’ I whispered, ‘Auld.’ ‘Sorry?’ I kept my voice low again, ‘Auld.’ Suddenly this big guy from the next berth looked round the partition and said in an ear-splitting roar, ‘Bertie Auld, of Celtic! What are you doing here?’ I mumbled something and the guy at the desk took the two parcels.

He opened mine, looked it up and down, inspecting both the jacket and the trousers. ‘How much?’ he asked. ‘Two quid?’ I ventured. He said nothing. He opened my neighbour’s parcel. He shook the nightshirt and I noticed it had been slightly soiled. Again, he was quiet and merely asked, ‘How much?’ I swiftly disowned the garment. ‘My neighbour’s looking for two bob,’ I replied. ‘Okay, he said, slamming down some cash with a receipt.

‘Two quid, suit, jacket and trousers,’ he said and, then unnecessarily in a louder tone added, ‘Two shillings, shirt and shite!’ My brother-in-law and I picked up the money and got out of there as swiftly as possible. Maybe the bloke was a Rangers fan!

“IN THE NET…one of my favourite goals and photographs. I’ve just scored our first equaliser – I also got the second – in our breakthrough 3-2 Scottish Cup Final over Dunfermline in 1965. Stevie Chalmers is about to congratulate me.”

It wasn’t all a barrel of laughs, though. I well remember the shock of being omitted from the Celtic team sheet on a quite remarkable afternoon at Hampden on 19 October, 1957. We were due to take on our oldest foes Rangers in the League Cup Final and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Old Firm encounters. The atmosphere, the rivalry, the fierce competitiveness, the lot – I loved it.

Once more, without sounding conceited, I thought I would be in the side. After all, I had played in the previous League Cup matches against East Fife (6-1), Hibs (2-0), Third Lanark (6-1) and Clyde (4-2). I had also chipped in with two goals along the way. The gaffer, Mr.McGrory decided to recall Neilly Mochan who hadn’t played in the competition since we lost 3-1 to Hibs in the qualifying section in August. The League Cup format at the time was divided into groups and we qualified on points after eight games. Then it became a knock-out tournament at the quarter-final stage.

There we were at Hampden, I was looking forward to the entire occasion until I was taken aside and told I wasn’t playing. The more experienced Mochan was taking my place. Actually, I really liked the guy who was known as Smiler for the way his face lit up when he scored a goal. He later became a trainer at the club, of course. A lovely bloke, but I could have seen him far enough that day.

Jimmy McGrory put out this team: Beattie, Donnelly, Fallon, Ferrnie, Evans, Peacock, Tully, Collins, McPhail, Wilson and Mochan. There were no substitutes in those days, so I was in the stand once again. Yes, I wanted to be out there in the hoops, but I wasn’t grumbling at the end as Celtic won 7-1 in truly overwhelming fashion. And it could have been worse for Rangers – we hit the woodwork three times as well. Mr.McGrory’s decision to leave me out was vindicated when Smiler flashed in two excellent goals.

As I left the national stadium that afternoon I wouldn’t have believed that the success over Rangers would be Celtic’s last piece of silverware until we returned to the Mount Florida district of Glasgow in 1965 when we met Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup Final in an extremely fateful afternoon for yours truly when I definitely played my part. More of that unforgettable, rollicking occasion later.

However, something very strange occured on the evening of 26 April, 1961. Celtic lost 2-0 to a Dunfermline side managed by Jock Stein in the Scottish Cup Final replay at Hampden. I played for the reserves against Hearts at Tynecastle the same evening, scored five goals and agreed to leave Celtic the following day.

* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the next EXCLUSIVE instalment on CQN. I’ll reveal how it felt to leave Paradise.

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