If I were to say to you, “Mr Celtic,” who would you think of?
We’ve had Mr Stein, Billy McNeill, Jinky and Henrik Larsson but the one name that everyone knows as “Mr Celtic” is, of course, Tommy Burns.
I was tasked off yesterday by ACSOM (A Celtic State Of Mind) to cover the film, Return To Paradise featuring our very own Tommy Burns. It’s a fascinating hour-long watch. Alongside Jinky, it’s one of my regrets in life not actually meeting the great man in person, however, writing about Celtic over the years I’ve encountered ex-players who do nothing but talk about ‘TB’ or ‘Tam’ as most of them called him.Listen to GIANNI CAPALDI with A Celtic State of Mind here:
I remember going for a drink one night in Saltcoats with my dad about three years ago. It was a quiet Tuesday or Wednesday night and we started our evening in the Victoria Bar beside the Railway Station. The Vic Bar is owned by former Scottish Cup-winning Kilmarnock Captain, Raymond Montgomerie, and his wee brother Jim. Upon entering the pub, Ray was working behind the bar and, as I hadn’t seen him for a wee while, the usual patter started.
“Wit’s this yer writing about Celtic these days? Yer auld faither was telling me,” says Raymond. “Aye, that’s right Ray,” I said back. “You should interview me one day,” he says. “Interview you? But you’re nothing to do with Celtic,” I said. “Aye but you could interview me about Tommy Burns,” says Raymond.
So, we get into this long conversation about Tommy Burns and it turned out that Raymond did know an awful lot about TB during their time together at Kilmarnock so I set up the interview. Ray invited me to Rugby Park and we proceeded inside the Stadium and headed towards the boardroom for the interview. On the way to pitchside and heading towards the boardroom, Andy Millen, who was Raymond’s centre-half playing partner back in the ’90s is walking along the side of the pitch. Raymond shouts over to him, “Here Andy, wit dae ye make eh this eh? This is my mate Scotty and he’s here from a Celtic magazine to interview me about Tommy Burns.” “Tommy Burns?” asks Andy. The next ten to fifteen minutes were enthralling for me. Andy Millen did nothing but fire off stories about Tommy Burns.
“See that stand there, son?” Andy points to the top of one of the stands at Rugby Park. “See if Tommy Burns told me to climb to the top of that and jump off and I’d land on my feet, I’d have done it.” He goes on and on about unbelievable wee stories and how even at Celtic Park for one of the games, Tommy actually slapped him round the back of the head after he cost Killie a goal.
He then went on to tell me about the other side of Tommy. His very fiery temper. One thing Andy and Raymond did say, though, was that when he had a go at you, it was never brought up again and completely forgotten about. It was just amazing for me to see these two men in absolute awe of Tommy. Raymond especially when recounting stories of their time shared together at Kilmarnock. They used to get changed in a Portacabin at Killie and in walks this legend from Celtic to play for what was a part-time club back then. He couldn’t believe it. Tommy made Raymond the Captain also when he later became Manager. He also told me of the issue TB faced when Celtic came calling to be Manager. Tommy, believe it or not, didn’t actually want to go. He pondered and pondered the offer and hated breaking deals. He felt that it was too soon and that he had unfinished business at Kilmarnock. He then realised that the opportunity might not come around again so took the offer.
There was a bit of controversy at the time with the fee that Celtic had to pay Kilmarnock and Tommy wanted to make sure that Killie got top dollar for him. The stories just came and came and came. It was without a doubt the most fascinating interview I’ve ever done. To hear how ahead of his time he was as well.
Brendan Rodgers was the Manager at Celtic at the time, well into his second season. “See the Fitba’ Brendan Rodgers has got Celtic playing, Scott?” says Raymond. “TB was doing that 20 years ago,” and if you see the way his Killie side played and later on his incredible Celtic side then you have to agree. Who was one of Tommy Burns’ young coaches when he was Manager of Reading? Yes, a young Brendan Rodgers.
Having watched his programme Return To Paradise yesterday, I wondered whether there has ever been a bigger influence at Celtic, and potentially within Scottish football, than Tommy Burns?
If you’re like me and podcast daft, you’ll hear about his influence everywhere. It’s not just from Celtic players either. There’s not many men that are respected across the Old Firm divide but Tommy was most definitely one of those people.
Upon watching this programme, you hear from guys like Pat Bonner, Paul McStay and Charlie Nicholas who are in absolute awe of this guy. He commands respect and everybody wants to listen to what the man had to say.
It’s genuinely unbelievable how many lives this guy touched and I’ve personally championed the idea of Lennoxtown being named after him for a few years now. It’s not just at Celtic that he’s influenced people, though, it’s everywhere the guy has been.
Three things always shone through for me about Tommy Burns. His three loves – his Family, his Faith and his football club, Celtic. If ever a man knew what it was like to pull on the hoops, it was Tommy Burns. The fan that got lucky. Once he signed his ‘S’ form, he knew he was going to make it at Celtic. Now by making it didn’t mean one or two games for the first team, he wanted to really make it and he did.
He was an excellent player for us and an excellent manager too. I think even after all these years, he’s the one manager that the support still can’t believe got sacked. His Celtic team played unbelievable all-out attacking football and they really were a joy to watch.
The film explores all aspects of TB’s life. About going to the Chapel in the Calton, his family time and how he went about his daily life at Celtic. Drilling into the players about exactly what it means to pull on his beloved hoops jersey.
I don’t want to spoil the hour-long feature for everyone too much but just suggest that if you have a spare hour today during this lockdown then it’s certainly worth a watch, for sure.
He’s genuinely the one guy that I love hearing stories about. He really was an incredible human being and to this day is very sadly missed, not just by the Celtic family but by the football family in general.
What a guy!
What do you think about Lennoxtown being named after Tommy Burns? Has there been a bigger influence at Celtic or indeed Scottish football? Hit me up with your replies and enjoy the film.
Article for ACSOM by Scott Alcroft
Scott is the author of the books The Bunnet, Hugo and The Factory Girls. All three books are available on Amazon.Watch A Celtic State of Mind at the Stevie Chalmers Auction here: