Colin Watt – The Greatest Celtic XI of the 1950s: Vote now for the defenders

Following on from the highly debatable but massively successful Celtic Cult Hero XI, we now go on a journey through the years to find out your team of the decades. Starting with 1950, 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 backline – the stalwarts protecting the goal and scoring some important ones themselves.

Formations from the 1950s are rarely seen now-a-days and to keep this consistent across the series, we will be selecting 4 defenders for this era this was not a traditional position but we are now looking for the Right Back Defender

The 1950s saw some of the greatest ever Celts pull on the famous jersey throughout the decade. Players like Bobby Evans, Alec Boden, Bertie Peacock, Mike Haughney and the late great Jock Stein. It was traditional back in the 50s for Celtic to play with either 2 or 3 traditional defenders.

For Today’s vote we are going to highlight Haughney, Meechan, MacKay and Boden, all of whom were players who made a big impact throughout the decade.

Option 1 – Mike Haughney

There’s no better way of starting your Celtic career than smashing home a late winner against Rangers and that’s exactly what Mike Haughney did in his first game in the hoops.

Signed from Newtongrange Star on 20 January 1949, Mike Haughney made his debut (and managed to score a goal) at Parkhead on 13 August 1949 as the Bhoys defeated Rangers 3-2 in a League Cup encounter. Mike Haughney had started that game at outside-left but for most of his Celtic career he would play at right-back. His first outing in that position as right-back came in the famous Glasgow Charity Cup ‘Danny Kaye final’ when Celtic defeated Rangers 3-2 at Hampden on 6 May 1950 in front of the renowned American entertainer Danny Kaye.

Working with Jock Stein in defence, he was to become a key part of the 1953/54 league and Scottish Cup double-winning side, most notably as the penalty kick taker five times. He scored two penalties against Hearts in February 1954 but Celtic still lost 3-2. He also scored penalties versus Stirling Albion (4-3 win) and against Hamilton (2-1 win) in close run victories. A dependable, solid and wholehearted Celt, Mike Haughney played 233 times in the main competitions for the Hoops and scored 44 goals, mostly from the penalty spot where his trademark blast down the middle became much emulated by others.

At the end of the 1956/57 season Mike Haughney chose to retire from full-time football, despite the pleas to reconsider from Celtic officials, and he emigrated to the USA.

Option 2 – Frank Meechan

Croy-man Francis Meechan signed for Celtic in July 1952 as a free agent after previous spells in junior football and with Hibernian. The full-back made his debut in a 3-0 League Cup defeat at Hibernian on 30 August 1952. He lost his place to Alex Rollo for the Coronation Cup success which helped to reboot Celtic.

Playing alongside Jock Stein, the first team helped steer the club back to glory. In the New Year’s derby match in 1954, he was reported to have a mastery of Rangers’ Waddell, which helped push Celtic to a 1-0 victory.

A tendency to make the occasional costly error – such as the gaffe which let Clyde score a last minute equaliser in the 1955 Scottish Cup final – meant Frank was never a regular starter in his latter years at the club. After initially being a starting partner for Mike Haughney through 1954/55, he fell into the reserves and became a replacement for Sean Fallon whenever the Irishman was injured.

He made a resurgence to the first team in the latter half of season 1957/58 as a right-back to the left-back of Neil Mochan. He had played some earlier matches in the season in the League Cup group games, but did not play in the classic 7-1 victory in the final versus Rangers.

Meechan left Celtic in 1958 with one league title, one Scottish Cup and one League Cup winners’ medal. He was later to be a scout for Celtic from 1968 until July 1975 working through Cumbernauld United where he developed many young players for the Juniors and was instrumental in the development of Kenny Dalglish.

Option 3 – Duncan MacKay

On his signing, he was proclaimed as the find of the season, and for the next season was “the best defensive prospect in the country”.

The stylish right-back made his debut in a 4-1 League Cup win at Clyde in August 1958 and would spend the next six years as one of the top performers in disappointing and underachieving Celtic sides. MacKay had fantastic pace and stamina and he was a wonderful attacking full-back who was one of the first players in that position to use the over-lap as a regular feature of his game.

With fine control and a pin-point accurate pass, Dunky would always attempt to play the ball out of defence rather than just rely on the long clearance up the park. He was not overly physical in his defending either, preferring to win the ball through quick thinking and anticipation rather than just brute strength. So, in some ways, he was ahead of his time.

The saddest aspect is that he was a great player at one of the worst times for Celtic. After the League Cup win in 1957 Celtic did not win another major trophy again until 1965. His first-team career sadly spanned practically the whole of this period. Jock Stein became our manager only a few months after Duncan’s departure. If Jock had arrived sooner, then possibly Duncan could have won a medal worthy of his talents.

Option 4 – Alec Boden

Signed from boys’ guild team Duntocher St Mary in 1943, full-back Alec Boden was a Parkhead stalwart during the trophy-free post-war years. With war raging, Alec would have to wait several years before making his debut for the Hoops in an official competitive competition. After a loan spell with Cowdenbeath, the Hardgate-born defender made his Celtic debut at right-back on 23 August 1947 in a 3-1 defeat of Third Lanark at Parkhead. But despite that particular result, there was little to celebrate for Celtic during this time as the team struggled to lift themselves from a slump which began just before the war broke out and continued on through the unofficial wartime competitions and beyond.

Success finally came in the Scottish Cup final of 1951 when the Bhoys defeated Motherwell 1-0 in the Hampden final. Boden, a solid rather than dependable player and performer, enjoyed a fine run of form in the cup that year and he again put in a steady show in the final.

A foot injury, and tough competition from the likes of Mike Haughney, meant that for the latter half of his career at Celtic Park, Alec was often not a first-team regular as frequently as he would have liked but he never let the Hoops down when called into action.

His injuries may have been unfortunate personally, but ironically fortuitous for Celtic, as along with an injury to Jimmy Mallan in season 1951/52, it then allowed Jock Stein a chance in the first XI and the rest, as we say, is history.

Sadly, Boden played little part in the Celtic team that won the double in 1953/54, making just the two league games and didn’t play in any of the cup games. However, after all the years of hurt before, at least he got to play a small part in that golden season. He deserved that honour. He finally managed to score his first goals for Celtic after 11 years at the club, both in season 1954/55: once versus Clyde in December 1954 (2-2 draw) and then once against Stirling Albion in March 1955 (3-2 win). His goal against Clyde was Celtic’s first in the match and came from him being “oddly positioned”, and Boden then scored with a terrific shot after good work from Walsh and Tully. His goal against Stirling Albion was an equaliser on the 80th minute which allowed Celtic a final fight-back with Stein scoring the winner.

Colin Watt

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