THE UNFORGETTABLE BERTIE AULD: PART FIVE: ‘SHATTERING BLOW AS CELTIC WANT TO SELL ME’

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LISBON LION Bertie Auld passed away last month at the age of 83 after a brave battle against dementia.

CQN has been celebrating the life and incredible times of the Celtic legend in an EXCLUSIVE series with extracts from his best-selling autobiography, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie’, co-authored by his friend and writer Alex Gordon.

The story continues with a young Bertie leaving his beloved Celtic in a surprise move across the border.

Please enjoy.

THIS immaculately-dressed individual in a beautifully-tailored camel-hair coat stood in front of me in the Tynecastle dressing room. He was about six foot two inches tall, sporting an expertly-trimmed moustache, and he fixed me firmly in his gaze.

He said, ‘I want you to join my club. I’ll be talking to Celtic about you. Expect a call tomorrow.’ Honestly, I didn’t recognise the dapper gentleman who had taken such a shine to me. More than just a little bit bewildered, I made my way home that evening. Who was this mysterious stranger?

The following day I turned up for training as usual. Obviously, the mood in the camp was one of deep despondency. Celtic had been massive favourites to beat Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup Final replay the night before. They had failed spectacularly against a club that wasn’t long out of the Second Division.

A 2-0 defeat wasn’t in the script that April evening in 1961. Naturally, I couldn’t have realised it at the time, but my one and only appearance in the national tournament that year would be my last first team outing for Celtic this time around. I was in my usual berth at outside-left when we beat Falkirk 3-1 in the first round on January 28.

SPOT ON…Bertie Auld fires a penalty-kick past stranded Motherwell keeper Alan Wylie.

Actually, I had played in the three previous league matches, a 3-1 victory over Aberdeen, a 4-0 triumph over Airdrie and a 2-1 defeat from St.Mirren.

I didn’t play in every match, but it would be fair to say I was something of a fixture in the first team squad. I had absolutely no thoughts about leaving the club; none whatsoever. Someone at Celtic had other ideas, though.

I was awaiting the call that the manager wanted to see me. In his normal forthright manner, Jimmy McGrory told me an English First Division club wanted to buy me. They had offered £15,000 and the directors were willing to accept the bid. To be honest, it was a shattering blow to discover Celtic were quite content to allow me to leave.

I felt sick in my stomach. I was then informed the club who wanted to sign me were Birmingham City. The suave gent from the night before had been none other than their manager Gil Merrick, the former England international goalkeeper.

I should have recognised him, but he looked completely different without his football clobber on. He certainly scrubbed up well.

ON PATROL…Bertie Auld in his usual midfield beat.

I found myself in a quandary. What should I do? I didn’t want to go, but something within me told me I didn’t want to hang around some place where I wasn’t wanted. What went wrong? Why was I being moved on?

My old Parkhead chum Paddy Crerand had a theory that might not be too far off the mark. He insisted, ‘Those in power at the club at that time wanted rid of Bertie. He was a typical Glaswegian and wasn’t afraid of answering back. That was to be his downfall at Celtic. Bob Kelly didn’t like his style.’

Yes, I admit I wasn’t slow to give my opinion. If I didn’t agree with someone I was hardly going to sit there and nod my approval. I’m not a particular fan of yes men. If you are in a dressing room and someone is spouting something you think is not quite right I don’t see much wrong in throwing in your tuppence worth.

Footballers aren’t robots, you know. You can’t programme them, wind up the key and send them out to play. We are human beings and, as such, I always thought I could contribute something extra to the thought process if or when it was possible. That wasn’t welcome at Celtic at the time.

HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Bertie Auld and John Hughes congratulate Billy McNeill on his 1965 Scottish Cup winner against Dunfermline at Hampden.

There was an almost puritanical streak at the club. The directors would frown when they saw an individual fly into a tackle. It didn’t matter that it was perfectly fair and all above board. Their idea was to play football in an almost Corinthian fashion. ‘Play up and play the game.’ All that sort of nonsense.

The directors would take their usual seats in the stand and witness their own players being kicked black and blue by their opponents. Yet you knew if you went in hard and someone from the other club was hurt then there was every chance you wouldn’t be playing the following week as a punishment.

It was so naive of our directors. They had a vision of how the game should be played, but you can’t do much if you don’t have the ball. Unless your opponents are in a very benevolent mood and give you the ball constantly, you’ve got to go and win it. Simple? You would have thought so, but others, who really didn’t know too much about the game, had different ideas and I didn’t always agree with them.

The easy option was to remain silent as a lot of others did. Ironically, Paddy was similarly minded and that’s probably why Celtic allowed him to go, too! Mind you, he went on to to do great things at a team called Manchester United.

Although things weren’t quite right at the club, I still loved Celtic. They were my team, but there were some puzzling aspects of being a Celtic player back then.

Who, for instance, picked the team? Obviously, it should have been the manager, but no-one was quite sure. Mr.McGrory would put up a team sheet on a Thursday night after the weekly board meeting and it would be a changed line-up by Friday afternoon. You didn’t require Sherlock Holmes-like qualities to detect the chairman, Bob Kelly – later to become Sir Robert – had the final say.

BEAMING BERTIE…the midfield star takes a breather during training.

Here’s an interesting wee story. The players used to gather in a room on matchday at Celtic Park about one-thirty in the afternoon if it was a three o’clock kick-off. We would play snooker and so on. I would make some sort of excuse about going to the loo or something and duck out. I would go to the home dressing room to see if my boots had been looked out and were in the No.11 position.

I would be happy when I saw them there. I would nick in half-an-hour later just to make sure they were still in place. Somehow they would have found their way to the No.7 position. At least, I was still playing. Then the team would be read out and there was no Bertie Auld in it. After all that, I wasn’t playing.

Thankfully, things changed rather dramatically when Big Jock arrived in March 1965. There was only going to be one person picking the team after that and we all knew exactly where we stood. It’s was Jock’s way or no way and the board got the message. There was to be no more meddling in team affairs. About time, too.

It’s my belief that most directors’ knowledge of football could be written on a fly’s backside and there would still be room for some more!

TOMORROW: DON’T MISS THE UNFORGETTABLE BERTIE AULD: PART SIX

 

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