Bernie Slaven with A Celtic State of Mind – Not Playing For Celtic

The following is an extract from Paul John Dykes’ interview with Bernie Slaven:

GROWING UP A CELTIC FAN

My abiding memory of going to Celtic Park as a kid was my father taking me to the Rangers end; he never took me to the Celtic end. My recollection is that he used to give me a bag of sweets, take me down the front and sit me on the wall, and my feet would be on the red ash. Once the game started, every twenty or thirty yards there would be a copper walking around who’d tell all the kids to get their feet back over the wall. So for the whole game as a kid, I didn’t have the attention span to concentrate on what was going on. I was only there because my dad was there, but I was obviously hooked on watching Celtic from a very tender age.

I remember that, going into every season, the big car would go around the perimeter of the field before hoisting up the league flag whilst playing ‘Congratulations’ by Cliff Richard. At that age, I just thought that happened every season. And in the main it did because Celtic were winning the league nearly every year.

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THE QUALITY STREET GANG

I watched all of the Quality Street Kids. I remember when George Connelly left under a cloud and the circumstances all felt a bit weird. The other guy from that team who disappeared, and I knew him, was Tony McBride. I remember my father saying that he was going to be as good as Jimmy Johnstone as a kid and then he went away off the rails. His wee brother, Drew, ended up at Manchester United, and he was raving about how wee Gordon Strachan was brilliant with him at Old Trafford.

Kenny Dalglish was my boyhood hero, and it was a real thrill to meet him and play in charity games with Kenny over the years.

CELTIC BOYS’ CLUB

I knew the McBrides as they lived in my home-town of Castlemilk, which was a frightening place at that time. As a boy, I went to St Margaret Mary’s and there was a guy called Shanty Ferry, who went on to play for Celtic Boys’ Club. Shanty used to wear the blazer and there was another guy who played for the Boys’ Club called McQuaid, who was a winger. They never went on to make the grade but at that age – 14 or whatever – I used to see them wearing the blazers and it would make me think, “How good is that?” I looked at them in admiration.

When I was 12 or 13, I went for trials with the Celtic Boys’ Club. I was a left-back at the time, believe it or not, and I couldn’t tackle my dinner. After the trial, I was actually given a form to sign, so I took it home, signed it, and was meant to hand it back in the following week.

I went for my first night of training up at Barrowfield and my father was delighted. There was a big guy called Jim Torbett there and I remember him in a suit, walking about with a swagger. On that first night of training, I injured my cartilage. I didn’t know what was wrong at the time, but no one came to help me as I sat injured on the ground. I had to limp all the way back into the changing rooms and nobody from the Boys’ Club helped me. My parents didn’t drive at the time, so I had to hobble to the bus stop with my knee locked in place. I then had to get two buses back home to Castlemilk.

When I got home, I told my father that I wasn’t going back to Celtic Boys’ Club after the way they had treated me. Even though I had signed the form, I hadn’t handed it back in, and I never went back.

Having looked at Shanty Ferry in admiration because he had signed for the Boys’ Club, I actually had the chance myself, but it never happened and I ended up playing for Eastercraigs against Celtic Boys’ Club. As a young kid of 12 or 13, who had suffered an injury whilst training with the Boys’ Club, I would have expected them to help me, get me into the changing room and make sure I got home safely, but nobody did a thing to assist me. I found that distressing at that age, but that experience didn’t throw me off the Celtic scent; I am still a Celtic fan.

EARLY YEARS AT CAPPIELOW

I signed for Eastercraigs, who were an amateur team, and my strike partner was Graeme Sharp. Our manager, Bill Livingstone, was the first guy I ever seen writing things down. He used to write his notes on the back of a fag packet, then he would read them all out at half-time. I remember him saying one day that there were two players in the team who were going to make it – Graeme Sharp and me. Sharpie went to Dumbarton and I was meant to go to East Stirling.

The reason I didn’t sign for East Stirling was because Bill told me not to. He advised me that I wasn’t tough enough to go professional and that I should go into the junior ranks to toughen up. I took his advice because I was really in awe of him when I was kid. I went to Rutherglen Glencairn and we drew Morton in the Scottish Cup. After the game, Benny Rooney and Mike Jackson, who were in charge of Morton at the time, signed me.

I used to get a run to Cappielow from Puggy – Andy Ritchie – and we got very pally during that time. I found him inspirational; a truly great guy. He was nicknamed the idle idol and I found him to be a fascinating character.

I went to Morton and, looking back, I was a fringe player. But I don’t think I was given a fair chance. I remember going in and knocking on Rooney’s door and saying, “Why am I not in the team? I’m as good as any of your guys”. I was confident and fairly arrogant at that age.

My debut was against Celtic at Cappielow and I was left midfield, up against Dom Sullivan. It was one-each and I actually scored a goal against Packie Bonner, but it was disallowed for an infringement somewhere. My dad was delighted that I had played against Celtic and done well. I think one paper said I was the best player on the day for Morton, so it was a big day for my father as much as myself.

I remember we were playing Celtic at Cappielow on another occasion a year or two later and I wasn’t even named on the bench. I can’t even defend myself here because what I did was very foolish, I have to say. I left the dressing-room, walked around the perimeter of the pitch, and jumped in with the Celtic fans. That is a cardinal sin and that is how bonkers I was at the time. It’s outrageous when I look back. My mates call me eccentric, but that was really lunacy. Usually, if I wasn’t in the thirteen, I’d jump on the train back to Glasgow to go and see Celtic.

Watch Kevin McKenna with A Celtic State of Mind

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