JOHNNY DIVERS: GREAT UNCAPPED CELTS (Part Nine)

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JOHNNY DIVERS was good enough to score 110 goals in 232 competitive appearances over a ten-season span at Celtic. That’s why it is even more extraordinary that this clever, skilful forward, who NEVER played as an out-and-out striker, didn’t get the opportunity to perform at the highest level for his country.
Divers operated as an old-fashioned inside-forward in the position that is now known as ‘the hole’ – the area just behind the main attack leader. He was never a flamboyant character and rarely caught the eye. But he was so effective, as his goals tally proves without a shadow of doubt.
Listen to what his good friend John Hughes – the original ‘Yogi’ at the Hoops – has to say about his former team-mate who, sadly, passed away in September last year at the age of 74.
“In today’s transfer market, JD would have been worth millions,” says the man who rattled in 189 goals in his amazingly prolific career at Parkhead. “Which manager wouldn’t want a player with that ability in his team? He practically guaranteed goals from the midfield and these guys are invaluable.
“Basically, JD did the work of two players. He would help in midfield, joining the defence with the attack, and, if that was not difficult enough, he would chip in with a goal or two. His strike rate was nothing short of phenomenal. There are strikers these days earning massive wage packets who would happily settle for a career total of a lot fewer than that of my old mate.
“Another thing about JD that no-one realised at the time was that he had a medical condition which prevented him from running freely. It was a blood disorder that affected the veins in his legs, but he kept it hush-hush because he didn’t want to jeopardise his chances of playing in the Celtic first team.
“In fact, a vascular surgeon told him he had the legs of a seventy year old. JD was twenty at the time.
“I heard stories about JD running out of puff after only half-an-hour, but if only the man on the terracing had known the truth. Every game was a struggle for my old pal, but he suffered in silence.
“And, as I was only sixteen years old when I first came into the team, JD, who was three years my senior, took me under his wing. Celtic, as a team, were struggling a bit at the time – we hadn’t won a trophy since beating Rangers 7-1 in the 1957/58 League Cup Final – but he still took time out from concentrating on his own game and attempting to overcome his own problems to spend hours helping a big, raw laddie. I’ll never forget that kindness.
“Of course, he should have played for Scotland. We weren’t exactly overflowing with talented footballers in the early sixties. He was called up for one squad in 1962, but never got into the team. Players with lesser talents often got the nod ahead of him. No names, no pack drill.
“Football, in fact, wasn’t kind to JD. Apart from a couple of Glasgow Cup wins, he never won a solitary medal in his decade at Celtic. He left the season after Big Jock Stein arrived and missed out on the good times.
“However, I can tell you I never once heard him complain. Not once. He was just that type of guy, a bloke who was just so happy to pull on those green-and-white hoops and perform for Celtic.
“And score a helluva lot of goals, too.”
Johnny Divers left Celtic in 1966 to join Partick Thistle, but his heart was never in it. He left football three years later for a career in teaching. Sadly, he passed away in 2014 at the age of 74.
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