TOMMY GEMMELL revealed his club and country secrets to friend and author Alex Gordon in his best-selling autobiography, ‘All The Best,’ published by CQN in 2014.
In Part Nine of our EXCLUSIVE series, the Celtic legend opens up on some of his escapades while on Scotland duty.
The Hoops legend, who sadly passed away at the age of 73 on March 2 2017, tells of some interesting evenings in the company of international colleague Alan Gilzean.
Here is an edited extract from that chapter.
ALAN GILZEAN – known to everyone as Gillie – was no shrinking violet. I rated the Spurs striker as one of the best in the business.
He was tall and lithe, had a sublime touch, was awkward to dispossess, could gallop with the ball at his feet, fabulous at link-up play, was deadly in front of goal and was a terror in the air. What else do you need?
I really liked Gillie. I played against him a few times when I was first coming through at Celtic and he was at Dundee before his move to London. I do recall he gave Big Billy a tough time in aerial duels and anyone who can achieve that against Caesar has got to be special.
He was also in the Spurs team that played us three times during our month-long American tour that formed the bond among the players that propelled us to our unprecedented success in season 1966/67.
Gillie, in fact, was in the opposition when the London club played us three months after we had conquered Europe. The game was played at Hampden and ended in a rousing 3-3 draw and my big mate did claim one of his side’s goals with a low shot.
I spent a lot of time in his company when we were at Largs preparing for international games. More often than not, the players would assemble at the North British Hotel in Glasgow on a Sunday before our trip down to the Ayrshire coast. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say Gillie could sink a drop or two.
WEMBLEY WONDERLAND…Tommy Gemmell (second right) joins in the Scotland celebrations after Bobby Lennox (fourth left being congratulated by Denis Law) had netted the second goal in the 3-2 win over world champions England in April 1967.
Back then, we were pretty much left to our own devices before the serious stuff kicked in and we got prepared for the forthcoming game. Walter McCrae doubled up as trainer with the national side and his club outfit Kilmarnock. Walter was normally left with the thankless task of trying to round up the players and getting them to their bed at a decent time.
We used to stay at the Queen’s Hotel which was just back from the promenade of the holiday resort.
Gillie, myself and a couple of the other lads found a wee pub smack in the middle of the Largs front. We were made most welcome and, needless to say, we were never thrown out at closing time. There would always be the luxury of a wee lock-in for the Scotland international players from a very generous mine host.
Midnight would come and go and there was never any sign of Gillie being the first out the door. One or two would make their excuses and leave, but the Spurs man remained propped up at the bar as the bevvy kept flowing.
It would get to around 1am and I would say, ‘Are we ready to go now, Gillie?’
He would look at me. ‘Are you finished?’
I would answer, ‘Not quite.’
‘Well, shut up and get them in, then,’ I would be advised.
HAMPDEN EXTRAVAGANZA…Tommy Gemmell leads out team-mates Willie Wallace, Ronnie Simpson, Bobby Lennox, Stevie Chalmers and Jim Craig before the 3-3 draw with Spurs in August 1967.
Hollow legs? He had a hollow body! And, yet for all that boozing, I don’t think I ever saw Gillie the worse for wear. Seriously. I had heard the stories about Gillie and his fellow-Scot Dave Mackay frightening the hell out of their English team-mates at White Hart Lane when they suggested going for a drink.
I could see why. Eventually and invariably, Gillie and I were the last men standing when we decided to call it a day.
Now we knew Walter McCrae would be situated somewhere near the frontdoor in the hotel’s foyer, probably doing a crossword puzzle or something as he whiled away the hours waiting for the rest of the squad to return from their night-out.
What Walter didn’t know was that Gillie had worked out a way of getting into the Queen’s Hotel without going through the front or back door. He always organised one of the squad to leave a window open at the top of one of the landings.
Then he would climb up the drainpipe at the side of the building, clamber through the window and make his way to his room. I had to follow suit. Can you imagine the fun today’s newspaper photographers would have with those images? Two Scottish international players shinning their way up a drainpipe in the wee sma’ hours to get to our rooms?
SCOTLAND THE RAVE…Alan Gilzean ready for action for his country.
The following day, McCrae would see me and Gillie at breakfast, getting prepared for a good day’s training and he must have wondered how on earth we managed to get home the previous night.
Do you know, he never twigged? Mind you, I don’t expect anyone would believe two of the country’s best-known footballers would take such a curious route to their bedrooms.
‘Morning, Walter,’ we would say as the trainer took his seat at the table. It must be said we looked in better nick than him.
He probably only got about two hours’ sleep!
TOMORROW: Don’t miss Part Ten and concluding instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE international revelations from the legendary Celt.