Colin Watt with A Celtic State of Mind – The Greatest Celtic XI of the 1950s: Vote now for the half-back line

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 fifties, 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.
Some formations from the 1950s are rarely seen nowadays and, in keeping with the times, we are looking to establish a half-back line of three.
The 1950s witnessed some of the greatest ever Celts pulling on the famous jersey throughout the decade, and four of them are available for selection here.

Listen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast

Option 1 – Bobby Evans
Flame-haired Bobby Evans signed for the Bhoys from St Anthony Juniors in July 1944 and, over the next 16 years, would firmly establish himself as a Celtic great.

Evans made his debut in a 1-0 Regional League victory at Albion Rovers on 19 August and, for much of his early career, he was a stand-out performer in a poor Celtic side. He was part of the team that won the Coronation Cup in 1953 and the League and Scottish Cup double in 1954.

He skippered Celtic to their first League Cup in 1956 and returned to Hampden for the final of the same competition the next year where Celtic trounced Rangers 7-1.
His many qualities were also recognised at international level where he went on to win 48 caps and become captain of Scotland, a great achievement at a time when Celtic were poor and discrimination against Celts was not uncommon. He was the record cap holder as well at that time, which was incredible.

By the end of his days at Celtic, Evans had played 549 times for Celtic and scored 11 goals. A faithful servant to Celtic for 16 years, Bobby Evans’ loss was a sad departure, but he had his reasons and left with the following attack on the powers that be at Celtic and their meddling: “He (i.e. the Celtic captain) has no decisions to take about team changes or tactical changes. The answers to these problems come from the directors’ box (i.e. Chairman Bob Kelly) to the track – and are passed to the field by the trainer.”
Evans left Celtic with one League title, two Scottish Cups, two League Cups and, famously, the Coronation Cup.
Option 2 – Jock Stein
Mr Stein, as he later went on to become, will go down in Celtic history as the only man thus far to lead Celtic to two European Finals, famously winning that day in Lisbon back in 1967. However, as a player, Stein also had success on the park and captained the side.
Signed in 1950 from non-league Welsh club Llanelli Town, Stein became a full-time professional footballer for the first time in his career when he agreed a deal with Celtic that saw him earning the sum of £12 per week.

He was signed as a reserve but injuries incurred by first-team players resulted in him being elevated to the first team. In 1952, he was appointed vice-captain and, when captain Sean Fallon broke his arm, the full captaincy was passed to Stein. He would be club captain until his Celtic playing career ended due to injury in 1956.
In all, Stein captained Celtic to the Coronation Cup, their first league title since 1938 and their first league and cup double since 1914. It was certainly a purple patch in the form of Celtic during this era. As a measure of his importance, from the year after his departure from the club as a player, Celtic did not win another trophy until, ironically, Jock returned back as manager in 1965 and the rest, as they say, is history!
Option 3 – Bertie Peacock
The immensely popular figure of Bertie Peacock was a huge favourite of the Celtic fans of the 1950s. Coleraine-born Peacock signed for the Bhoys in May 1949 from Glentoran and made his debut in a 3-1 League Cup defeat at home to Aberdeen in August that year.

Prior to Celtic he had been a plumber by trade, and with the way the side was before his arrival there were a lot of leaks that needed treated.
Initially, Peacock played as an inside-left and formed an effective partnership with Charlie Tully, which Tully once described to Peacock as: “If you’re the Irish coffee, I’m the cream.”

However, he was switched to left-half for the 1953/54 season and it was in this position that Peacock revelled, putting his great passing ability to the test as well as his unrivalled engine with Tully referring to him as a “labourer” in reference to his work rate.
When he first came to Celtic, he had a wiry frame, and to help out, Chairman Bob Kelly ordered him to drink a bottle of Guinness every lunch time to add on some weight. It worked, but surely there could have been better alternatives…
Peacock’s dedication and assured manners made him the perfect choice for captain and it was no surprise when he eventually succeeded Jock Stein as skipper (actually Peacock was offered it on a ship going to the US for a tour).

With his experience, he helped to bring along the talented crop of youngsters at the club and all were said to have faith in him; the crop included such great Celtic luminaries such as Billy McNeil, Pat Crerand and John Clark.
Bertie played 453 times for Celtic and scored 50 goals before finally departing in 1961. He may have latterly been cut down by injuries, but Peacock left a true Celtic hero who will be remembered for many, many years to come.
Option 4 – Alec Boden

Signed from boys’ guild team Duntocher St Mary in 1943, 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 match.

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 started and which 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 fine 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. However, 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 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 against Clyde in December 1954 (2-2 draw) and then once versus Stirling Albion in March 1955 (3-2 win). His goal v Clyde was the Celtic’s first in the match and came from him being “oddly positioned”, when he 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

Leave a Reply