Following on from ACSOM’s highly debatable but massively successful Celtic Cult Hero XI, we are now on a quest to establish your team of the decade from the fifties right up to the present day.
Starting with the 1950s, this journey will capture some of Celtic’s greatest ever players whilst also highlighting some of the unsung heroes who have graced the famous green and white hoops. Today we take a look at the heart of the park – and in particular, the left-hand-side of the midfield.
The 1950s saw some of the greatest ever Celts pull on the famous jersey throughout the decade. Players like Bertie Auld, Neilly Mochan, Willie Fernie, Bobby Collins and Charlie Tully were all legends in their own right. Today’s vote pitches Neilly Mochan up against a young Bertie Auld (during his first spell at the club). They will also be challenged by Eric Smith…
Player 1 – Neil Mochan
Neil Mochan was a powerful performer, who established his eternal place in Celtic folklore just weeks after joining the Bhoys.
The Larbert-born player signed for the Hoops in May 1953 from Middlesbrough and remarkably he went on to win two trophies before he ever made his home debut. Mochan’s first Celtic appearance came in a Glasgow Charity Cup final victory over Queen’s Park at Hampden – he scored twice – and he was to play his next three games at that same ground as Celtic claimed the Coronation Cup. His jersey was on display at the People’s Palace Centenary Exhibition in 1988.
With pace and power in abundance, Mochan also possessed a famously fearsome shot which he used to excellent effect. These attributes made the robust Mochan exactly the type of forward Celtic had been crying out for. A constant goal threat and an inspiration to team-mates and fans alike Mochan could play on the left-wing or through the middle but, despite an excellent scoring record, he was not always an automatic first-team starter – much to the bewilderment and anger of the Parkhead faithful. He became somewhat of a utility player, filling in at inside-left and even left-back when required, the reason he has been included in this poll twice!
Player 2 – Bertie Auld (first spell)
Signed in April 1955 from Maryhill Harp, the boyhood Partick Thistle fan would be loaned out to Dumbarton before making his first-team debut for the Hoops in a 1-0 Charity Cup defeat at Rangers on 1 May 1957. The youngster was tenacious and talented, combining great vision and touch with speed and aggression. It was, however, that latter quality which would lead to Bertie’s premature exit from the club in May 1961.
Despite the player’s undoubted ability and potential, Auld had a temper which he was too seldom able to contain. When faced with a hint of provocation or confrontation, Bertie would bite back and he regularly found himself battling opponents and the football authorities. Celtic chairman Bob Kelly frowned upon Auld’s antics and, despite Bertie’s talent, he decided enough was enough and the player was sold to Birmingham. Thankfully for Celtic fans this was only to be an interlude in the tale of Bertie the Bhoy.
Not all were said to be sorry to see him go when Birmingham City took him. Down there, he became notorious for clocking the great Johnny Haynes, football’s first £100-a-week footballer, and then, as he walked to the tunnel, stiffening another Fulham player who ran up to remonstrate with him. A lengthy ban followed. Yet he was developing as a footballer, and in time Celtic were to reap the rewards.
Player 3 – John ‘Eric’ Smith
John Smith – although commonly known by his middle name Eric – signed for Celtic from junior side Benburb in April 1953. A highly-rated junior player he made his debut in October the following year in a home league clash with Queen of the South which ended 1-1.
Eric was an all-action style of player who could slot into virtually any position across the park and, in his time at Parkhead, he played at half-back, inside-forward and on the wings. He relished the physical aspect of the game and loved to get stuck in. His combination of courage and skill allowed him to take games by the scruff of the neck and he was a hugely popular figure with the Celtic support.
However, it wasn’t an easy or successful time. The club was poorly managed in general, with poor team management and constant board meddling. The first XI was repeatedly underachieving through much of the 1950s. He arrived just as Celtic had hit a purple patch but his debut was after the glorious double-winning season, and Celtic had begun to slide again. He also had to serve out Army duty service from 1955-57 which lost him development time.
He made a name for himself in the league cup match in August 1955 versus Rangers, scoring twice in a 4-1 rout. The second goal was said to be a screamer, a wonder goal, bulging the rigging, high past the Rangers keeper. However, Celtic did lose the next match, at home to Rangers in the same cup 4-0. A fine servant to the club. The 1950s wasn’t a great time at Celtic, but Eric got to be there at some of the better times. The club was poorly managed (at team and board level) but he remained long with Celtic and gave his all.