THE WINDS OF CHANGE is CQN’s new book and is definitely the best one yet! It is the follow-up to last year’s best selling Caesar and the Assassin which many of you will have read and enjoyed! THE WINDS OF CHANGE is available now for worldwide shipping exclusively from CQN.
After taking us through both of Billy McNeill’s stints as manager, with Davie Hay’s time as Celtic boss in between, Alex Gordon this time charts the years of Liam Brady, who, of course, took over from McNeill in 1991, through to Martin O’Neill leaving in 2005. In between, there are the seven years of Lou Macari, Tommy Burns, Wim Jansen, Jozef Venglos, John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish.
THE WINDS OF CHANGE is both absorbing and in-depth with some remarkable insights on the club before and after the arrival of Fergus McCann.
This is Alex Gordon’s ninth book on Celtic which makes him one of the most prolific writers on Celtic Football Club. We thought we’d ask him a few questions, and it turned into a two part marathon. This is part 1…
MEET THE AUTHOR…Part 1
In Caesar and the Assassin, you dealt with just two managers, Billy McNeill and Davie Hay. For THE WINDS OF CHANGE, how difficult was it charting the careers of the eight managers who were in charge of the club during such a volatile time of transition?
There was a lot more research, for a start. I was spoiled a bit with Billy and Davie because they are such good friends and I had a fair idea of just about everything that had gone on during their years as managers of Celtic. I got on very well with Liam Brady and, fortunately, he trusted me. So, as far as the book was concerned, that got us to some good inside information that hadn’t been seen before which I believe is vitally important. Liam and I had a mutual friend – an Irish journalist in London – long before he arrived at the club. He knew I was a Celtic fan. Incidentally, that’s something I have never attempted to conceal. Why would I try to tell people I was a St Mirren, Partick Thistle or Morton supporter? I was never afraid to admit my feelings for the club I had supported as a kid along with my father and two uncles in the old Jungle every home game for years. For Liam and me, it helped that I just happened to be the Sports Editor at the Sunday Mail which was by far the biggest-selling newspaper in the country at the time. To be honest, I don’t think my Celtic leanings ever interfered with my job. I had to be strictly professional and, most assuredly, I wouldn’t have lasted five seconds, far less twenty-seven years, in newspapers if that hadn’t been the case.
We’ll get back to newspapers later, Alex. How did you get on with the other managers?
I had known Lou Macari during his time as a player with Celtic and I always found him to be an agreeable chap. I was sad for him that it didn’t work out at Celtic and it was a shame that the parting should have been dragged through courts. But, as the title of this book tells you, it was very much a transitional period for the club and change can sometimes be hurtful. Tommy Burns was simply one of the nicest, most honest individuals I have ever met. He was a genuine source of inspiration to all with his awesome courage in latter years before his sad passing. He was a real Celtic man. Wim Jansen tended to keep himself to himself and, as far as I was aware, he had no friends in the Press. Davie Hay managed to fill in a lot of blanks at the time. I think the readers will be more than a little interested in some of the names who could have joined Celtic during the four years of Tommy and Wim.
Do you want to give us a clue?
I am honour-bound not to give away secrets within the book, but I can reveal there was a raw teenager who was scouted by Davie during Tommy’s spell whose name will certainly surprise you. He had played only one season in England, but Davie and Tommy saw something in him and they wanted him for Celtic. His club refused to sell and that was the end of the matter. However, a few years later, he moved in a massive multi-million pound deal and went on to become a household name and a regular international. He would have been some player at Celtic. Sorry, I can’t say more than that. The answer is in the book!
How about the other managers at the time?
Well, Jozef Venglos was very much like Wim and, basically, kept away from the limelight. I don’t think any newspaperman got an exclusive interview with him. Luckily, though, we had another mutual friend – this time a Glasgow businessman – and I was tipped the wink every now and again. Celtic actually very kindly invited me to the directors’ box for his very first game, a Champions’ League qualifier against St Patrick’s Athletic which ended in a goalless draw. It wasn’t an inspiring start, but I think Venglos managed to put together a very watchable Celtic team and, of course, Lubomir Moravcik was one helluva legacy.
How about John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish?
From Jock Stein onwards, John Barnes was the first Celtic manager I never got to meet. When I was younger and just in the door at newspapers, I was introduced to Jock Stein. That was amazing. There I was talking to Big Jock, an all-time hero. I’m not often in awe of anyone, but Big Jock was something else. I’ve actually got a book of my newspaper memoirs, entitled ‘Jinx Dogs Burns Now Flu’ (don’t ask!) and I devote a chapter to Jock and reveal the things he did for Celtic away from the actual football. If he hadn’t been such a wonderful manager, he would have been a huge success in Press Relations. When Jock arrived at the club he made sure Celtic had more column inches than any other club – including Rangers – in every newspaper. As my good mate Bertie Auld always insists, ‘When Big Jock was in town, the foxes took to the hills!’ Ironically, I did Kenny Dalglish’s first magazine interview shortly after Celtic had beaten Rangers three times at the start of season 1971/72 and Kenny, of course, scored in each game. We kept in touch over the years and he, too, did a lot of things which were never trumpeted in the media. He couldn’t have been more helpful when I was on the benefit committee for Mike Galloway whose career had unfortunately ended prematurely following a car accident. Peter Lawwell, who wasn’t with Celtic at the time, was also on that committee and I can say here and now I was impressed by him. He took care of the financial side of things and made certain Mike got a fabulous cheque at the end of the day. Mike actually got double what he had anticipated. No-one on that committee took a penny. Kenny played in the fundraiser at Celtic Park on March 3 1996, brought his family up from Southport, installed them in a five-star hotel in Glasgow for the weekend and he, too, never asked for expenses.
What was your take on Martin O’Neill?
As I have written in the book, I was fortunate enough to be one of a few selected journalists by Celtic to go along to a quiet hotel on the outskirts of Glasgow to meet the new manager. I’ve put my thoughts in print in THE WINDS OF CHANGE after that first meeting. In his five years in charge, I never had any reason to change my mind about my initial observation. You could say he made quite a first impression!
Okay, let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first start supporting Celtic?
My father, John, was a big Celtic fan and it probably kicked off from there. His favourite player was John Hughes, the original ‘Yogi’. My dad and my two uncles, George and Hughie, used to sing ‘Feed The Bear’ incessantly during home games. Unfortunately, my dad had long since passed when I co-authored Big John’s autobiography, ‘Yogi Bare’, last year. We met a couple of times a week in the Burnside Hotel when I got his thoughts down in print. We took turns in buying the fish suppers, so I can honestly say that I got to ‘Feed The Bear’. My dad would have been proud!
Do you remember your first Celtic game?
I’m not too sure of the early dates. Actually, I saw a lot of Third Lanark, now defunct, alas, because I lived in Castlemilk and the No.37 bus that joined the south side of the city with Springburn passed by our home and my parents allowed me to go to the old Cathkin Park on my own. Even I couldn’t get lost on a fifteen-minute bus journey. I remember being at Celtic’s Scottish Cup Final replay against Rangers at Hampden on May 15 1963. I was eleven years old and I remember being devastated when we lost 3-0. I recall we were awful!
Ah, Crisis Club Celtic in 1963! What about Celtic Park?
One date that immediately leaps out is November 9 1963. We beat Partick Thistle 5-3 and the entertainment value was through the roof. Celtic were brilliant that afternoon. Big Yogi scored one, Stevie Chalmers hit a hat-trick and Wee Jinky Johnstone added another. Two weeks later, my dad took me back to ‘our place’ at the Jungle for a game against Kilmarnock and we won 5-0. Yogi got a hat-trick that day with his very good chum Johnny Divers, a totally under-rated player, also scoring while Wee Jinky knocked in another. After those two games, I was absolutely hooked. The only time I saw Third Lanark after that was when they played Celtic!
You wrote a book entitled ‘Celtic: The Awakening’ charting this period in the sixties…
Yes, I wanted to get it on record the startling transformation of a team that would routinely get turned over by the likes of Queen of the South, Falkirk, Partick Thistle – without being disrespectful to those clubs – and could then go on and become undoubtedly the best team in Europe in 1967. I liked my sub-deck heading for the book which was published in 2013. It read: ‘From East End Misfits To European Masters’. I think that summed it up. Best in Europe? In fact, make that the world. I saw the World Championship first leg game against Racing Club of Buenos Aires at Hampden when we won 1-0 and, sad to say, the South Americans were an absolute disgrace. Poor Wee Jinky spent more time in the air than he did on the ground. The world footballing governors should have acted quickly, awarded Celtic the trophy and saved them the trouble of being booted all over Argentina and then Uruguay.
Who is your all-time favourite Celtic player?
How about an assortment of all-time favourites? I would find it impossible to select just one. Coincidentally, I began work as a fifteen year old at the old Daily Record on Hope Street as a dogsbody on Monday, May 22 1967 – the same week Celtic won the European Cup in Lisbon. That was one huge week in my life and the Lions, individually and collectively, meant so much to me. I couldn’t in my wildest dreams ever believe I would later write ‘The Lisbon Lions: The 40th Anniversary’ and interview each and every existing Lion. There were eight of them – Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Billy McNeill, John Clark, Willie Wallace, Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox and Bertie Auld. They say you should never meet your heroes in case you are disappointed, but that is definitely not the case with these guys.
You worked on Tommy Gemmell’s, ‘All The Best,’ and also Bertie Auld’s memoirs, ‘A Bhoy Called Bertie’, back in 2008. Anything in particular stick out in your memory about these books?
Sometimes putting everything in print can be a chore; it’s a job, simple as that. There are other times when you really look forward to the interviews and the whole process is just one big, enjoyable day out. That was the case with Tommy and Bertie. The amount of anecdotes these guys had amassed over the years was incredible. It was a pleasure to do those books. Same goes for Big Yogi and Davie Hay, of course. I co-authored Davie’s ‘The Quiet Assassin’ in 2009 and that was another situation when I wasn’t too happy to be coming to that last full stop. We were having too much fun!
Obviously, you got to meet these guys through your work in newspapers. Was there ever a conflict of interest?
No, not all. Of course, there were occasions when I had to put stories in the newspaper I would have preferred not to, but that was the business I was in, that was my profession and the reader was always the most important person to me. I believed if they chose to buy my newspaper then they deserved the best I could do for them. I always wanted to provide the reader with at least one exclusive tale when I was at the Sunday Mail. But, naturally, there would be stories about a manager on the brink of getting the sack or a player getting the boot and I had no option but to carry the stories. However, I made sure I got a message to the individual in question when we were running these stories. I thought I owed them that, at least.
How did the individuals react on these occasions?
Like complete professionals, I’m happy to say. I can’t mention any names, but I was very friendly with a Celtic director during my days at the Sunday Mail. We had an unwritten agreement that we would go fifty/fifty with information. I was helpful to him and he was helpful to me. I never named any of my sources, but, for instance, if I was talking to Billy McNeill about developing situations within the club, he knew I would be bang on the money. He probably had a good idea who was feeding me the inside knowledge, but never asked me to identify my so-called ‘Deep Throat’. We had to keep things hush-hush and make sure there was distance between my informant and me. For instance, he could give me a steer, I would put it in the paper on Sunday and, lo and behold, the same individual would come out in the Monday papers exclaiming: “I don’t know where that story came from!” In time, the tale would usually unfold and we would be proved to be right. It was all part of the game.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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