CHIC CHARNLEY was one of football’s most charismatic and colourful characters.
The gifted midfielder was also a massive Celtic fan and managed to play just ONE game for his favourites.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, author Alex Gordon, who co-wrote the Partick Thistle legend’s life story, ‘Seeing Red’, published in 2009, looks back at the dream that died.
Here is Part One of a four-part series as the irrepressible Chic recalls the momentous occasion in his rollercoaster career.
THERE is only one person to blame for Chic Charnley never realising his boyhood dream of signing for Celtic. Me.
It was my lifelong ambition to play in those world famous green-and-white hoops. I managed to do so once and only once. However, it was entirely my own fault that my solitary appearance wasn’t followed by many more.
I can’t point the finger at anyone else. It was all down to me. The opportunity was there and I managed to blow it big-style.
Lou Macari was the Celtic manager in 1994 when I was invited to play for Celtic in a Testimonial Match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. I received the telephone call from Partick Thistle boss John Lambie and I thought he was pulling my leg.
I knew him well enough over the years to realise he was prone to the odd prank or two. There had been no advance warning and, as it was the end of the season, I had gone out with my mates for a few beers. Well, more than a few, as I recall.
But the new season was a long way off and I knew a lot of my fellow-professionals really let their hair down at the completion of a long, arduous campaign. I was no different.
So, I wasn’t in the best of nick when John Lambie made that call. Once he had persuaded me he was not winding me up, I thought, ‘Oh God! I can’t play in this condition.’ The game was the next evening and I was told I had to turn up to get the coach to Manchester with the rest of the Celtic players.
There was no way I was getting on that coach. I was certain they would detect I would be reeking of booze from the night before. They would have slung me off at Parkhead Cross!
I concocted some sort of story that went along the lines of me making my own way to Old Trafford and catching up with the rest of the team before the game. Celtic accepted my explanation and I breathed a sigh of relief. My mates and I had already arranged to go down to the game, anyway, to support Celtic.
Now I had the chance of actually playing at Old Trafford. It was unbelievable. I took everything that was possible to get rid of the smell of stale beer. You name it, I drank it, sucked it, sprayed it. I fretted all the way to Manchester in the car with my pals.
The only football equipment I had with me were my boots, wrapped in a plastic bag. We made a couple of stops on the way to the game and we passed several Celtic supporters’ buses heading for Manchester. My mates were pointing at me and saying, ‘See that guy there? He’s playing for Celtic tonight.’
The fans nodded their heads and replied, ‘Aye, so he is!’
We got to Manchester and I had to change in the car to get out of my travelling clothes and get into my best suit. Then I met up with Lou Macari and the Celtic players. I was so proud to be in their company. I wasn’t visualising the big picture, though. I couldn’t look beyond simply playing in this one game.
I didn’t fully appreciate that I was being handed the opportunity of a lifetime to realise my dream. It was a Testimonial and I thought it was a one-off occasion. However, I did realise that Lou Macari rated me. But I thought it was a gesture by Celtic because I had never hidden my passion for the club.
It was well-known where my affections lay – just ask any Rangers fan! No matter who I was playing for, they always gave me stick. To be fair, I wound them up at every opportunity, too. All good fun!
I boarded the coach with the rest of my new team-mates and I am not afraid to admit that my eyes filled up as we made our way through the thousands of Celtic supporters on our way to Old Trafford. Me? Crying like a baby? Given my so-called reputation that may be difficult to imagine, maybe, but it’s the truth nevertheless.
Eventually the players were escorted to the away dressing room and the moment I had waited for all my life was only minutes away – I was about to pull that coveted hooped shirt over my head.
My chest was pumping up and my heart was beating like never before. I was going to play for Celtic and I was going to enjoy every minute of it. And I did.
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss Part Two of the EXCLUSIVE Chic Charnley Story – only in your champion CQN.