Tommy Gemmell on Henrik Larsson. Between them they have scored four goals for Celtic in European Finals. Tommy was clearly a fan of watching Henrik in the Hoops…
Henrik Larsson was so exceptional I wouldn’t hesitate even for a nano-second in giving him a place in the legendary Lisbon Lions line-up. If we could have fielded twelve men!
The Swede was everything I love in football. When I gave up playing and managing I would, more often than not, be found at a Celtic game watching my old team and lending my support. I have witnessed so many excellent players over the years in those famous green and white hoops and I would rate Henrik Larsson the best of the lot. I can’t pay him a higher compliment.
Henrik was a quiet sort of guy. On the evening he was voted into the Greatest-Ever Celtic team by the supporters in the millennium poll, he mixed with the rest of us, but never sought out the limelight. He thought it was our night and seemed quite content to take a back seat. However, he certainly deserved to be among the elite. I told him I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play. All he said was, ‘Thank you, Tommy. I have watched videos of you and your friends. I enjoyed the way you played, too.’ A mutual admiration society was born in that moment.
I thought Larsson was sublime. I would have loved to have played alongside that guy. His consistency was unbelievable. I’m not just talking about his phenomenal goalscoring rate although that is fairly breathtaking, too. In seven years at Celtic, he rattled in 242 goals. Breathtaking! However, I’m talking about his overall play and his work-rate. He wasn’t just an out-and-out striker although his fantastic goal tally may suggest that. Look back to that awful evening in France when he broke a leg in the European tie against Lyon. Henrik was actually in the right-back position when he was chasing deep into his own half to put in a tackle on an opponent. I played with and managed a lot of lazy buggers who would never have been in that position in the first place.
Henrik was a very private person, but my old Lisbon Lion mate John Clark, is his capacity as a backroom man at Celtic, tells me he was a bit different in the dressing room before a game. Then Henrik was as noisy as the next man. I have to say I liked his style. I was at a Player of the Year awards night in Glasgow back in 2002, the evening after Rangers had beaten Celtic 3-2 with a last-minute goal from Peter Loovenkrands to win the Scottish Cup. The Ibrox side also won the championship that year. Anyway, Henrik had been voted Best Player and, as a man of few words, he accepted the award and thanked everyone who had voted for him. Then I was amazed by what he did next. He fixed Dick Advocaat, then the Rangers manager, in his gaze and said, ‘Enjoy your moment. We will be coming after you next season.’ He didn’t say a lot, but when he did open up he didn’t miss his target.
I was intrigued, too, when a friend of mine, who was a neighbour of Larsson in Thorntonhall on the south side of Glasgow, told me a story about the player. Celtic and Rangers were neck-and-neck in the title race in 2003 and the Ibrox side were due to play a game on the Sunday which was being televised live. My pal said there was about half-an-hour played in a dramatic encounter when he happened to gaze out of his frontroom window. ‘I could hardly believe my eyes,’ he told me. ‘There was Henrik taking his dog for a walk! Every Celtic fan in the world must have been tuned into that match because it was so important for us, but Henrik, instead, decided to take his pooch for a stroll.’ Now that’s what I call laidback.
Words: Tommy Gemmell.
From Tommy Gemmell’s book ‘All the Best’. We have a limited number of signed copies available at www.cqnbookstore.com
‘All the Best’ is now available at only £10.99 inc P&P for UK and will make a great Fathers Day gift.