BILLY McNEILL was the well-deserved recipient of the Scottish Football Writers’ inaugural Player of the Year award in 1965.
The nation’s scribes decided to poll their votes to honour the professional they believed had been the most impressive performer throughout the 1964/65 season.
McNeill was the runaway winner of the trophy. The Celtic captain had been introduced to the Hoops fans during the dire days when the team was lost in a silverware wilderness.
They hadn’t won a trophy since the remarkable 7-1 triumph over Rangers at Hampden in the League Cup Final on October 19, 1957 and, following that landslide success, it was wall-to-wall misery for the Parkhead followers.
Then came the dramatic transformation on a glorious day at the national stadium in April 1965 when the team’s onfielder leader and centre-half rose majestically to thunder in a header from a left-wing corner-kick by Charlie Gallagher for the winner in the dramatic 3-2 victory over Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup Final.
LORD OF THE WING…Jimmy Johnstone.
Celtic, under the astute management of the newly-returned Jock Stein, had learned to win again.
To this day, Bertie Auld, who scored a double that memorable afternoon on the south side of the city, maintains it was the club’s most important trophy success – even more so than the historic European Cup victory over Inter Milan two years ago.
So, no-one was unduly surprised with the Scottish football writers announced the Celtic captain as the winner of their personal accolade for that particular campaign.
McNeill’s old sparring partner John Greig, the Rangers captain, was the recipient the following year before Hoops’ veteran keeper Ronnie Simpson graciously accepted the trophy. Next up, Gordon Wallace, the prolific goalscorer for unfashionable Raith Rovers, got the nod in 1968 before Bobby Murdoch, not before time, was decorated by the reporters.
In more recent times, the champions have cleaned up with six successive winners in Kris Commons, Craig Gordon, Leigh Griffiths, Scott Sinclair, Scott Brown and James Forrest.
Henrik Larsson won it twice in 1999 and 2001, Emilio Izaguirre picked up the award in his first season, 2010/111, but, curiously, the names of Jimmy Johnstone and Kenny Dalglish are missing among the Honours’ List.
The last Scot to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award was tennis star Andy Murray, but he’s a rank outsider in the latest live betting odds for this year.
Rather strange omissions when you consider what both players achieved during their careers in this country.
In the turmoil of the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the voting for Players of the Year could be more uneven with no stand-out performer.
While football is in cold storage, there has been no-one to step up and score the goal that would have inevitably put Celtic on their way to their ninth successive title triumph.
Neil Lennon’s men, of course, were leading by 13 points with only eight games to play when the game came to an emergency halt in mid-March.
Five wins would have made certain of the 51st flag in the club’s history and, with a Scottish Cup semi-final date with Aberdeen set for Easter Sunday, the team would have been two outings away from clinching the phenomenal quadruple treble.
So, who would have won the Celtic Player of the Year?
Odsonne Edouard would have been among the frontrunners, of course, following his 28 goals and tantalising skills, but there would have been other contenders such as keeper Fraser Forster, following his heroics in the Betfred League Cup Final in December including a penalty-kick save from Alfredo Morelos, and skipper Scott Brown for his all-round leadership qualities.
Callum McGregor? Another outstanding and consistent campaign. Christopher Jullien, scorer of the League Cup winner who was settling in following his £7million summer arrival from Toulouse, would be in the mix as would be James Forrest following another dependable term.
Olivier Ntcham? Ryan Christie? Kristoffer Ajer? They all have merits as does Jeremie Frimpong, the Dutch teenage sensation who hit the ground running after his deadline-day arrival from Manchester City.
CQN apologies if we have omitted once of your particular favourites. Well, at least, it’s a guessing game where we can all join in when there is no action to discuss out on the pitch.