Davie Provan with A Celtic State of Mind – When ten men won the league

The following is an excerpt from Paul John Dykes’ interview with Davie Provan:

Billy McNeill did really well to take over from Jock Stein at Celtic Park. You needed someone with real stature, and Billy was the one manager in Scotland who had that in abundance. Billy had the presence to do the job.

When I signed for Celtic, I was glad I wasn’t next in line after Jinky, put it that way. Johnny Doyle had the dubious distinction of wearing the number seven shorts after Wee Jimmy. Doyley used to say to me, “I was the guy who was supposed to follow Jinky.” I suppose it was a bit like trying to take over from Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Seven is the most iconic number at Celtic when you think about it. When you think of the players who have worn it: Jinky, Dalglish, Di Canio, Larsson. I was aware that if you wear number seven at Celtic then you’ve got to produce. There’s a lot of pressure on you. It’s a shame that the club lost the tradition of wearing the numbers on the shorts. Even in the European games back in my day they made them put the numbers on the back of the shirts. We didn’t want numbers on the back of the jerseys; we wanted them on our shorts.

I still remember my first touch of the ball on my Celtic debut at Firhill. Somebody switched the ball out to the right-hand side and I brought my body up, brought the ball down, shifted it really quick, and whipped in a cross that was coming away from the keeper. Billy told me after the game that Neilly Mochan had paid me a great compliment in the dugout. Neilly would never tell you to your face, but he would get excited and would burst out laughing. He had turned around to Billy and said, “It’s been years since I’ve seen someone doing that.”

Being in that Celtic dressing-room was the best part of my professional life, especially that first season. I’ve played in better Celtic teams but I’ve never been in a better dressing-room than the first season – the season we won the league with the 4-2 game. I’ve never been in a workplace like it.

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The team had a good mix. Danny McGrain was the top man. He was injured when I signed (he had his ankle injury at that time which kept him out for over a year) but he was still at the club and he was revered by everyone. It was great that he managed to resume his career and be so successful. We had a core of really experienced players: Andy Lynch was a good, experienced, hardworking professional; Peter Latchford; Big Shuggie Edvaldsson, Tom McAdam; and ‘Lemon‘, Bobby Lennox, who came back at 36 and was still at the front in training.

Billy McNeill kept the players he wanted and he hunted the ones he didn’t want. Billy had a problem when he took over because he had played with most of the boys, so he had to draw a line really and I think he made the conscious decision that he was going to have a clear out. The ones he kept were the ones he trusted. Ronnie Glavin and Joe Craig were good players, but I think Billy just felt that we needed fresh legs. There was a great mixture of the experienced players I’ve mentioned and they provided the wisdom. Then he had the likes of myself, George McCluskey, Tommy Burns, Roy Aitken, Mike Conroy and Murdo MacLeod, who all gave the team great legs.

Preparing for big games at Seamill was great. That was the one place where you could go to get away from it all and get your head around the game. One thing I would say is that it was quite a long bus journey to the stadium, maybe quite a bit longer than it should have been, but it was great to get down to Seamill because nobody was bothering you and asking you for tickets. The married boys got away from the screaming kids and we could all get a bit of concentration. Billy would sometimes take us down even for a few days if there was a big game coming up. Neilly Mochan would phone Bunnie Wilkie, the Largs bookie, and Bunnie would come down to the hotel and take the boys’ bets. The way teams prepare now is totally different but it was good fun and it was pretty productive in terms of the trophies that we won and the silverware that we won. Seamill was pretty kind to Celtic. I mean the place was a bit dilapidated to be fair. I think Big Jock loved Seamill, and that’s why Celtic started going down there. Billy maintained that tradition. The boys loved the place, but it was a bit like Fawlty Towers. You wouldn’t have dared ask for your own room, all the players have their own rooms nowadays incase anyone snores. I remember being in with Mike Conroy before the League Cup semi-final, and I never got one wink of sleep because of Michael snoring. You wouldn’t dare go down to reception and ask for your own room because Neilly would have been on your case.

The tradition was that Neilly would take us on a pre-match walk from Seamill down to Portland Cross, a couple of miles, and back. That was part of the tradition and Big Jock had Neilly doing that for years. The boys would always go a walk on the morning of the game just to blow the cobwebs away, and we’d get our heads around the game before getting on the bus to the stadium.

I’ve got a picture at home of all the boys in the dressing-room after the 4-2 game. In the corner, you can see Neilly Mochan, and he is just beaming with pride. He was never emotional but I think even the 4-2 game got to Neilly. He was a bit emotional that night, we all were. He was made up that night, chuffed to bits, and he had a great love and affection for Celtic Football Club.

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