When I look back over my Celtic career, I can split it into three different first-team squads: The Scottish Cup-winning team of 1975; the 1977 double-winners; and the 1979 league-winning side.
If you compare the 1975 team to the 1979 side, then you get an inkling of the level of turnover in personnel at Celtic Park over a relatively short space of time.
It seemed to be that Celtic sides were quickly broken down and rebuilt during my time at the club. Not too many players remained at Celtic beyond the age of 30, and there was a real revolving-door transfer policy back then.
This may have been because we were constantly looking back at the Lisbon side. No matter what Celtic achieved, we always compared it to the success of 1967, and nothing else was ever going to match that.
Eventually the time came in 1980 when I wasn’t picked for the first-team even though I was fit to play, and I quickly realised that it was time for me to move on too.
Over the last couple of years of writing my autobiography, I have analysed my entire career with a fine tooth-comb, and there is absolutely no doubt that I played alongside some immensely talented footballers at Celtic Park. So who were the all-time greatest Celts I played alongside?
When you consider the period that I played at Celtic Park (1973-1980), I’m sure you will appreciate how difficult a task it is to choose just 11 players. Honourable mentions must go out to some of the magnificent players I left out, such as Pat Bonner, Davie Hay, George Connelly, Harry Hood and Dixie Deans. There were quite a few more besides…
Andy Lynch’s All-Time Celtic XI (4-3-3)
1. Peter Latchford
I played a lot of games with big Peter, and that is why he just edges out Pat Bonner between the sticks. Packie was breaking into the Celtic first-team when I was coming to the end of my Celtic career, but I did play a few games with him and was not surprised when he went on to become a legend for club and country.
Peter Latchford really established himself as a dependable ‘keeper over the period of five seasons and I feel that he matured and improved every year. As a defender, I trusted having big Peter behind me. There were a few goalies I played with at Celtic Park who I couldn‘t say that about but Peter was brave and very reliable. Despite his size and presence, he had such a gentle personality off the field and he was well liked by the entire squad.
2. Danny McGrain
Danny McGrain made a really inspirational comeback during the 1978/79 season, and it is remarkable that he was able to re-establish himself for club and country after suffering such serious injuries and illness throughout his career.
Even though he had not regained 100% fitness during the season when ‘ten men won the league,’ he was still a massive presence and a huge influence on the team.
On his day, Danny was one of the best full-backs in European football, and he had the knack of making the game look easy. He could read a game so well, and timed his tackles to perfection. He was also comfortable on the ball, and he could deliver excellent distribution.
Danny was a fantastic team-player and professional, and his legendary status at Celtic Park is assured. It was a pleasure to play alongside such a classy defender.
3. Andy Lynch
I’d like to think that I made the transition from winger to full-back fairly comfortably. I always thought that it was easier playing in the number three position, as I had the ball in front of me as opposed to receiving it with my back to goal.
It was natural for me to push forward and link up with the attacking players, get crosses in, and sometimes try to get a shot in on goal.
Defensively, I felt very comfortable and was always safe in the knowledge that I knew what attacking players didn’t like (and that was tight man-marking). I was determined to overcome my direct opponent during our personal 90-minute battle – no matter what it took!
4. Bobby Murdoch
Bobby Murdoch was a magnificent player and a lovely guy. He was very down-to-earth and humble despite having achieved so much in the game. Bobby had terrific balance and vision and knew exactly where he was playing the ball as soon as he received it. His range of passing was incredible and he could put the ball on the toes of Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox from distance. Although he was to leave Celtic fairly soon after I joined, I was hugely impressed by him in our short spell together.
Bobby was a classy player, but he could also mix it during a midfield battle, and he was a tough tackler. Off the field, he was a really humble guy, who was very helpful to me with some great advice during my early career at Celtic Park.
5. Billy McNeill
Billy McNeill was our leader, and will forever be regarded as the club’s greatest and most iconic captain on account of his continental endeavours. Billy was a good bit older than me and I still rated him as one of the finest defenders in European football when I signed in 1973. I had worshiped him as a fan and I learned from him as a player.
Billy had always captained the more experienced Celts in our squad and he was in that position when the rest of us arrived at Celtic Park so he had that stature and seemed to carry it very naturally. He also had some of the more unenviable responsibilities as part of his leadership role but that came with the territory. I doubt that many outside of a football changing room would ever appreciate that side of his job. For example, other players in the team would want Billy to be a spokesperson for the squad in relation to asking big Jock for wage rises and bonuses and I certainly didn’t envy him with that one. He couldn’t win because there was no way that he would get what the players wanted and then some of them maybe slightly resented him for it.
I felt that Billy managed to balance his relationship with the boss and his team-mates perfectly and I will never forget how welcome he made me feel at the club. I immediately took a liking to Billy and had a huge level of respect for him, both professionally and on a personal level. It is fitting that there is now a statue of the man at the foot of The Celtic Way.
6. Pat Stanton
I’d play Pat at sweeper behind Billy. His reading of the game was the best I’ve ever seen, and I’d have loved to have played alongside him in his prime.
Pat was a very versatile player, who could slot in at midfield or at the back. He had great skill and played the simple pass time after time.
Pat Stanton made a huge difference to our side when he arrived from Hibs in 1976. He finished his playing career off in style by helping us to win the double in 1977.
7. Jimmy Johnstone
One of the greatest players in Celtic’s long and illustrious history, Jimmy Johnstone was a genius with a football. The only modern-day equivalent that I could possibly bracket alongside Jinky is Lionel Messi.
On his day, Jimmy would be classed as unplayable. He mesmerised the opposing defenders, and took severe treatment from them as they attempted to thwart his unstoppable skill.
Wee Jimmy could not make me feel more welcome when I came in. He was humble and so full of fun. His ability (even in training) was a thing to behold, and I felt privileged to share a pitch with him. When wee Jinky was on song, he was unstoppable and an absolute pleasure to watch.
8. Roy Aitken
Roy Aitken was a player who impressed me from the moment he broke through as a teenager. He could play in the sweeper role, but I preferred him in midfield, where he would dominate games and win tackles all day long. Roy had a great engine, as he worked from box-to-box, and he scored his fair share of goals.
By the time that we won the league in 1979, Roy was a fully established (and extremely important) cog in the machine. His performance against Rangers in the 4-2 game was pivotal to us winning the match, and his calm and confident approach to the game marked him out as a possible future Celtic captain. I cannot recall Roy ever getting nervous before any game. He knew exactly what was expected from him and the players around him, and he went out there and performed consistently from a very young age. I was not surprised that he went on to have a fabulous career in the game because he could be an inspirational figure even back then.
9. Kenny Dalglish
The Quality Street Kids were well-named, and the cream of the crop was Kenny Dalglish. I had known Kenny from our earlier days at amateur side Glasgow United, and he made me feel very welcome when I joined Celtic.
I always knew that Kenny would reach a higher level than the rest of the Glasgow United boys, and he was well on his way to becoming the most celebrated Scottish footballer of all time when I arrived at Celtic Park.
Kenny had an insatiable appetite for the game and was a dedicated trainer. He always seemed to be a step ahead of his opponent and was certainly in a different class to most. Kenny would be the main goal-scorer in my team. I’ve played in games with him where it felt as though we’d never have a shot on goal never mind score a goal. Then Kenny would take a pass around the 18-yard box with his back to the opposing goal, dip his shoulder, turn, and strike it into the back of the net out of nothing.
I still have a fantastic photo of Kenny shaking my hand the day I signed and, although our dress-sense and waist lines may have altered slightly since then, we haven’t changed all that much.
10. Tommy Burns
I remember Tommy Burns breaking into the Celtic first-team and living his personal dream of representing the club he loved. He was a strong runner, passionate, and scored important goals from midfield. He hated to lose and would have gone through the same range of emotions as the punters in the Jungle during 90 minutes of action.
I had observed Tommy, Roy Aitken and George McCluskey all developing as players at Celtic Park, and I was so happy that these guys were established members of the side by the time that I left. It was (and still is) so important to have a nucleus of home-grown players around a club like Celtic. These men were steeped in the traditions of the club, and act as role models for the next generation of youngsters coming through. I was confident that Tommy and Roy had matured into the type of figures that could lead Celtic on to further success throughout the 1980s.
I got on really well with Tommy off the field. He had a wicked sense of humour and a smile was never far from his face.
11. Bobby Lennox
Bobby Lennox was a Celtic great, who never seemed to age. He was superbly fit and would literally run for 90 minutes. He never hid during games, and always made himself available to take a pass. With a lethal turn of pace, Bobby could ghost past defenders like they weren’t there. He could play on the wing or through the middle and was such a prolific goal-scorer throughout his career.
Bobby added some much-needed experience to Billy McNeill’s squad during the 1978/79 season. Even at such an advanced stage of his career, he could contribute with a goal, and big Billy was very wise to bring him back in when he did. His presence instilled confidence in some of the younger players and we all knew that we could rely on Bobby on the pitch and behind the scenes, which was vitally important during our time of transition.