BILLY McNEILL rated Tom McAdam as one of his greatest achievements in management. It seems, however, the Scotland international bosses didn’t rate Tom McAdam at all.
The player arrived at Celtic as a striker in 1978 when Jock Stein paid Dundee United £60,000 of Kenny Dalglish’s then-record £440,000 transfer cash from Liverpool. It was obvious the player hadn’t been seen as a direct replacement for the Hoops icon, but a decent addition to the first team squad.
The Parkhead side, after winning the league and Cup double the previous season with King Kenny in sparkling form, toppled from grace. Danny McGrain, who took over from Dalglish as team captain, played only seven games of the league season before an injury against Hibs ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
Veteran Pat Stanton, brought in from Hibs to stabilise a young defence the previous year, was injured in the opening game, a goalless draw against Dundee United, and never played again. McAdam had struggled to make an impact in a team that was falling apart. At the end of a barren, troubled season, Big Jock stepped aside to make way for his protege, Billy McNeill.
The manager, with problems at centre-half, took a gamble on removing McAdam from the firing line and putting him in defence with only four crucial league games of the term to go.
McAdam played in a 2-1 win over Partick Thistle, kept his place in central defence for a 2-0 success over St Mirren and was entrusted with the No.5 shorts again in a vital 1-0 victory over Hearts.
Now it was down to the wire and the last league game of an exhausting, thrilling season of twists and turns. Was there one last surprise as Rangers came calling with Celtic a solitary win away from a fabulous title success?
Would McNeill keep faith with McAdam? He had options. Johannes Edvaldsson had partnered Murdo MacLeod a few times in the middle of the rearguard and Roddie MacDonald and Mike Conroy were also available.
McAdam got the vote. And the rest, as they say, is history. Celtic, with McAdam and Edvaldsson as twin centre-backs and MacLeod pushed forward into midfield, triumphed 4-2 in one of the most astonishing games ever witnessed in the east end of Glasgow. The fact that the team managed the feat without the services of Johnny Doyle for much of the rollercoaster affair made the achievement all the more praiseworthy.
Billy McNeill knew he had found a new centre-half, a rock upon which he could build his defence for the seasons ahead.
McAdam played over 350 games for the club, won three League championships, a Scottish Cup and a League Cup before he was allowed to move on a free transfer in 1986. He had brief spells at Stockport and Hamilton before shifting to Motherwell later that year.
He was a Billy McNeill success story. But recognition never even beckoned on the international horizon.