Team of the Decade – Who was Celtic’s greatest goalkeeper of the 1950s?
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 the 1950s, 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. We kick off this feature with our shortlist of Celtic goalkeepers of the 1950s. These will go to the public vote before we start to consider the back four.
Often said to be the most difficult position to play, goalkeepers can be observers with the proverbial deckchair out for 90 minutes and then, in the matter of seconds, can be called into action to win the game for their team with a vital save with seconds to go. This is obviously the ideal scenario in which the goalkeeper is the hero for the team but, on the other hand, goalkeepers can be remembered for one mistake that lets the team down – Loris Karius anyone?
In the 1950s, goalkeepers were a mainstay within the team. In total, only nine players pulled on the goalie jersey during the entire decade, with two players making one solitary appearance. There were two main goalkeepers throughout the period – John Bonnar and Richard ‘Dick’ Beattie, who both made over 150 appearances for the club, with back up coming in the form of Andrew Bell and George Hunter. The ‘50s also seen the emergence of goalkeepers who would go on to play massive roles within the following decade, with Frank Haffey and Lisbon Lion, John Fallon both making their debuts in 1958.
For today’s vote, we are going to use Bonnar, Beattie, Bell and Hunter, all of whom were players who made a big impact throughout the decade.
Option 1 – John Bonnar
John Bonnar will go down in Celtic folklore for his part in ensuring one of the great unique triumphs in Celtic history. The year was 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was coronated on to the throne and, to celebrate this coronation, a trophy was to be won by a football side from across the British Isles. Bonnar turned in a string of magnificent performances against Arsenal, Manchester United and Hibernian to play a huge part in helping an unfancied Celtic to lift the Coronation Cup.
Following the triumph, Bonnar was heralded as, “Celtic’s best since John Thomson,” which was fantastic recognition. The next season (1953/54), he played his part in a league and Scottish Cup double, with an exceptional record of conceding just seven league goals at home and 22 goals away. Notably, he made four world-class saves against Partick Thistle on 20 March 1954 to help Celtic to the points on the road to a league title win.
Bonnar departed from Celtic in 1958 to join Dumbarton, leaving the club with one league title, two Scottish Cups and, famously, the Coronation Cup.
Option 2 – Richard Beattie
Richard “Dick” Beattie was the man to replace John Bonnar in the nets for Celtic from around 1956 onwards. A courageous and agile keeper, Beattie’s lack of confidence in dealing with high balls meant his performances could be somewhat erratic. In truth, he lacked the consistency to become a truly top-class keeper.
The highlights of his Celtic career undoubtedly came in the League Cup. The trophy victory in 1956 saw Beattie little troubled in either the first match (0-0) or the replay (3-0), but the following final on 19 October 1957 made him a bit of star. He was part of the side that demolished Rangers 7-1 in the League Cup final, and he famously became the icon of the game (despite having little to do all afternoon) with a classic photograph of him holding up seven fingers to the crowd to reflect the scoreline and wind-up the Rangers fans.
From 1958 onwards, Beattie’s career at Celtic and beyond was riddled with accusations of taking bribes for others to make money from bookmakers. In the “Big British Betting Scandal of 1964,” Beattie was accused alongside nine other players. The keeper received a nine-month prison sentence and was subsequently banned from football for life.
Option 3 – Andrew Bell
Goalkeeper Andrew Bell signed for Celtic in 1951 from Arthurlie Juniors. He made his debut in a 2-1 defeat to Dundee at Dens Park on 20 October 1951 in “An uninspired Celtic team,” and stayed at Parkhead for four seasons during which time he mostly deputised for John Bonnar. Bell was, at this point, a 20-year-old apprentice engineering draughtsman and opening bat for Bar & Stroud. On board the bus, taken by John McPhail, he was presented to the team with “Boys, meet your new goalie!”
He was to be in and out of the side due to indifferent results, and dropped back the pecking order. His record showed a generally poor shut-out rate but the club wasn’t very well managed or coached during much of his tenure. Andy damaged his shoulder in a match against Drumcondra on 5 October 1953, and, despite later regaining the number one jersey, he found the demands of Celtic, competition from other players, and military service too much, so remained the goalkeeping deputy.
His last game was the Glasgow Charity Cup match of 1955 when Celtic lost 1-0 to Rangers. Bell left the club with both a league winners’ medal and a Scottish Cup winners’ medal from the 1953/54 season.
Option 4 – George Hunter
Goalkeeper George Hunter was signed by the Bhoys in December 1949 from Neilston Juniors and, after a year in the reserves, the Troon-born keeper finally made his first-team Celtic debut in a 4-2 Scottish Cup victory over East Fife on 31 January 1951.
He would win the Scottish Cup with the Hoops later that season and, in August, was part of the side that claimed the St Mungo Cup. In the Scottish Cup final he made a miracle save midway through the second half from a Wilson Humphries half-volley.
Notably, he played a strong part with a stand-out role in a Scottish Cup match at Hearts on 24 February 1951. In the week prior to the match, rumours were circulating that Celtic were to sign Roy Henderson (Queen of the South) as the new goalkeeper, but Hunter was the goalie on the day and did a splendid job. So Celtic owe him in part for the eventual trophy win.
George Hunter went down with tuberculosis, and Celtic sent him to Switzerland for treatment. He returned to the fold in 1952 (lighter but an inch taller) but he would never regain the form and composure which saw him first break into the team. He was said to drop balls time after time. On the Ne’er day against Rangers in 1953, he erred badly to let opposition player Billy Simpson score in what he was to describe himself as, “the daftest goal I’ve ever let through.”
Hunter asked to be dropped after a defeat to Clyde which allowed the emergence of John Bonnar, and Hunter never regained the number one jersey back. He left the club in 1954 with one league winners’ medal, one Scottish Cup and, famously, one St Mungo Cup.