While I played in the reserves, John Clark completely understood my situation and was very sympathetic towards me. He was a calm, sometimes quiet, unassuming guy, and he had helped me immensely by allowing me to move around the pitch to discover a new lease of life for myself. Playing upfront had been a massive success, but then the Lisbon Lion threw me a curve-ball by asking me to play at left-back one night against Dundee United reserves. Left-back? I had never played there in my life. However, John had shown some considerable faith in me and I was more than happy to repay him the favour.
I never learned if this move was part of Jock Stein’s master plan, or if it was solely down to John Clark, but I was happy to help John out and I instantly felt comfortable at left-back. I noticed a huge difference having the entire game in front of me, as opposed to collecting the ball high up the pitch and turning into defenders. I also knew the psychology of a winger, as I had played in that position my whole life. I knew what made them feel uncomfortable and I took full advantage of these insecurities. I was the archetypal poacher turned gamekeeper.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
In the following reserve game, big Jock came into the dressing room at half-time and on this occasion I didn’t end the conversation by telling him to stick his club up his back-side! He was focused as he gave me instructions on a one-to-one basis for the second half. I think it was the first time we had exchanged more than a few words since our infamous argument in the wash room, but perhaps both of our views had changed since back then. Jock’s side had lost their seemingly vice-like grip on the league championship for the first time under his watch, and he had the matter of a Scottish Cup final against Airdrie to win. I, in turn, was doing everything in my power to claw myself back into his favour, even if it meant playing in the most unlikely of positions. There was a mutual understanding between us.
Few people of a Celtic persuasion will take much pleasure from the final three league matches of the 1974-75 season. We had already thrown the championship away, and given up our coveted crown for the first time in a decade after imploding at the offset of the year. Those trio of matches however, were among the most important of my career.
I walked down London Road with purpose on Friday 11th April 1975. The well-trodden path from Barrowfield to Celtic Park had often been a grim one for me over the previous two years. I had moved further and further from appearing on that team-sheet; pinned up, as it always was, on the first-team changing-room wall.
“Andy, you’re in,” came the shout from the throes of bodies ahead of me. To this day I’m not sure who broke the news to me that I would be on the first-team coach to Fife the following day but I felt a real sense of vindication. Every player wanted to appear in the last three league matches of the season: against Dunfermline at East End Park on 12th April 1975; Dundee at Celtic Park on 19th April 1975; and up at Perth against Saint Johnstone on 26th April 1975. These three games could get you a golden ticket to appear at Hampden Park on 3rd May 1975 for the showpiece event of the Scottish football calendar.
The team was announced once we arrived at Dunfermline and I was confirmed as being in at left-back. “Your defensive duties come first Andy,” asserted big Jock in the Pars’ dressing-room. “When we have possession, then you can get up the line and join in with the attack. Billy will keep you right.” That was the extent of my instructions. That is all that big Jock had to offer me as I readied myself for my debut in a new position.
Over the years I have been asked so many times about my change of position. People seem to think that the transition took some time but, in reality, I had only played my first game at left-back in the reserves at the beginning of that month. I felt comfortable during our 3-1 win against a Dunfermline side who would fall foul of league reconstruction in the summer despite doing enough to keep themselves in the top flight under normal circumstances. I felt within myself that I played quite well against the Pars and an appearance in the Scottish Cup final was a distinct possibility with just three weeks to go. From the obscurity of reserve team football, I could play three consecutive first-team games at left-back, and be just one step away from a Scottish Cup winners’ medal.
After everything I had been through since my dream move to Celtic Park, I was taking nothing for granted as we approached our third (and my first) Hampden cup final of the season. I still felt that there was the possibility that the boss would go with someone who had more experience in the left-back position. Deep down though, I felt that I had done enough to hold on to the position.
Seamill Hydro was big Jock’s favoured destination prior to a big match. This normally meant that a trip to the Ayrshire coast was part of our preparations for Old Firm encounters, cup finals and home European legs. He would take us away for a number of reasons I suppose. One of the main ones would be so that he could keep an eye on his squad leading up to the important games. But it also meant that we were well rested because we were away from the glare of the media, the numerous requests for complimentary tickets that would normally precede the bigger games, and away from the wife and kids! We also got the chance to enjoy the sea air, which normally came virtue of a legendary Neilly Mochan walk. Smiler’s treks were something of a tradition and it was good to get settled and focussed for the challenge ahead. The boys would always have a good laugh together and the morale within the camp always benefited from our stays at Seamill.
On the morning of the Airdrie cup final, we left Seamill to head up to Glasgow on the coach and the Celtic songs began…
“Sure it’s a grand old team to play for, and it’s a grand old team to seeeee…”
My heart would begin to pump and the hairs would be standing up on the back of my neck, and I could see the other players were affected too; the whole team, to a man, joined in with our pre-match battle cry.
It certainly was a grand old team to play for and it meant everything to me. I had almost lost my opportunity to represent this magnificent football club. I even went as far as telling big Jock to stick it up his arse. But I didn’t mean that and Jock Stein and I both recognised it was said out of frustration, anger and upset. Celtic meant the world to me; in fact, they still do, and I would get emotional as the squad chanted every word to every Celtic song we could muster on our way up to Celtic Park. These were scenes that you would expect from a supporters’ bus (minus the cigarettes and alcohol). Thinking back, the players’ coach was a supporters’ bus back in my day. It was a phenomenal time to wear the green-and-white hoops of Celtic, as we made our way to the national stadium to face Airdrie in the Scottish Cup final…Watch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind