Declan McConville with A Celtic State of Mind – Exclusive Willie Wallace Q&A

It was an absolute honour and pleasure to catch up with Lisbon Lion, Willie Wallace. During his time at the club, Willie scored a fantastic 135 goals in 234 appearances at Celtic and won 5 League Championships, 3 Scottish Cups, 2 League Cups and the European Cup. Like his fellow Lions, he has remained a humble man who is very fondly remembered by Celtic supporters.

Listen to KEVIN MILES with A Celtic State of Mind here:

Why do you think Hearts let you sign for Celtic for less money than what had been previously offered by English clubs? What are your memories about the move?

I was having a dispute for almost four years with Hearts over my salary, it would seem ridiculous in today’s football world as I was asking for a rise of five pounds per week. During this dispute the Manager, Tommy Walker, was relieved of his position by the Board of Directors. Mr Walker’s position as manager of the club was then taken over by the Coach, John Harvey. John was a good friend of Jock Stein and they had worked together with the Scottish team. I think this was the reason for me to be transferred to Celtic rather than an English club.

Many Celtic supporters wrongly assume that you were brought to the club as a replacement for Joe McBride after his knee injury. However, Joe partnered you when you scored your first goals for the club. What type of character was he, and how good a striker was Stevie Chalmers who you eventually struck up a successful partnership with?

I was not bought as a replacement for any player as I could play in a number of positions upfront and in midfield, therefore I was an asset as a member of the squad and not a replacement. Joe McBride was a gentleman and was one of Scotland’s great centre-forwards.  Joe had a great personality and was well thought of by all of the squad, likewise was Steve Chalmers. Steve was a person one could trust and was a very good friend and colleague. Both were excellent strikers as their goalscoring records show.

What are your memories about sharing a room with Bertie Auld in Lisbon?

Who else would the boss have put in with Bertie? Bertie and I had a good friendship, a similar sense of humour and got on very well. Bertie would always say exactly what he thought and is a true Celtic man through and through. Sharing a room with Bertie was exciting, as one never knew what was going to happen as practical jokes were never far away. Maybe the boss thought that the two of us in the one place would make his job easier. Being together in Lisbon was no different from any other occasion as we shared a room on most away trips.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Feyenoord’s European Cup triumph. On the way to the final, you scored crucial goals against Benfica and Fiorentina. In your opinion what do you think went wrong on the evening and should George Connelly have started the match?

On the day, we played in a way worked out by the boss and with discussion with all the players. Not one person is to blame for the defeat that night. We played well for the first twenty minutes but after that they were a class above us. George Connelly was a young player making his way into the squad with three or four other boys his age. He had played some games in the build up to this final, particularly scoring the goal against Leeds United at Elland Road. The team at Celtic Football Club at that time was selected by only one person, The Boss: Mr Jock Stein. He obviously thought George should be on the bench that night and he selected a team he thought good enough to win the trophy. George came on as a substitute and did well. Unfortunately on the night Celtic were not good enough.

Who was the most skilful all-round player you played with in your footballing career?

I played with many talented players over my 22-year career and, as you can imagine, football changed a lot in that time. I played with Jim Baxter when he and I were 18 at Raith Rovers and in the Scottish national team later on. The only position Jim was suspect in was goalkeeper! Once he got the ball, he could keep it and his distribution was fantastic. Jimmy Johnstone was outstanding and probably one of the most talented players of his time. I rate Willie Hamilton who played with me at Hearts as another exceptionally talented player.

You famously played in the 3-2 game against England at Wembley. Why do you think that the majority of the Lisbon Lions got so few caps for Scotland?

They played in the wrong colour!

After Fergus McCann arrived at Celtic Park, do you feel the Lions were more respected/regarded for their achievements than they were under the old board?

Yes, things became much better for the Lisbon Lions when Mr McCann became involved. Before he arrived, there was a director of the club, who I do not wish to name, who made the comment that, “The club won the European Cup, not the players.”

Have you enjoyed watching Neil Lennon’s Celtic side this season? How good a forward is Odsonne Edouard?

Yes, I have enjoyed watching the side who were playing well up until the postponement of fixtures. I think Edouard is a very talented striker. The only thing I would comment on is that he does not head the ball very often. With his height and presence in the middle of the field, I would like to see him rise above the others and head the ball.

With your experience in Scottish and English football, what do you feel the future holds for teams north and south of the border after this pandemic?

I think after this present situation, every team in Britain will find things very very difficult financially. Teams like Liverpool and Celtic are already feeling the effects. What chance do the clubs with no money have to come back from this? An old friend of mine made a statement to me the other day: “Would I want amateur football again?” And he was not being funny. I think the game might have to go back to its beginnings and start all over again, as well as other professional sports.

How is life down under in Australia and do you have a message for the Celtic supporters?

I feel that the move to Australia permanently in 1980 was the best move I made for my family. I am now retired and enjoy great weather, good golf and walks on the local beaches. Unfortunately, like the rest of the world, we are having to lockdown and take care until this pandemic retreats. Our daughters are in Australia doing well and we have four grandchildren; three girls and one boy. We are all keeping well during this time.

To all Celtic Supporters, keep safe and well. Look after your families and hopefully soon the club will get back to some form of operation. Myself and my family have had great support from all of the Australian Celtic Supporters Clubs. We were to attend a Huddle in Victoria in June of this year which unfortunately has had to be postponed but is scheduled for next June.

Best wishes to everyone. Hail! Hail! Willie Wallace.
Declan McConville

Watch Sophie Millar’s stunning rendition of ‘Come Back Paddy Reilly’:

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