Media vendetta and unfair refs drove Roy Aitken out of Celtic

A Celtic State of Mind today announced that the latest in our series of live events is with centenary double-winning captain, ROY AITKEN!

Big Roy spent 17 years at Celtic, winning leagues and cups under Jock Stein, Billy McNeill, and Davie Hay. He was part of so many memorable successes, including Stein’s last double win in 1977, when ten men won the league in 1979, the Scottish Cup ‘Hampden Riot’ final of 1980, the 100th Scottish Cup final in 1985, Love Street in 1986, and the centenary double of 1988.

I remember a feeling of devastation when Aitken left, and probably didn’t realise the reasons for his departure at the time.


Looking back, it is interesting that the Celtic skipper cited a “media vendetta” as being one of the main reasons for him leaving for Newcastle.

Aitken explained his reasons for leaving to the Daily Record at the time (10 January 1990): “As I drive down the A74 to Newcastle, my feelings will be of relief. The waiting is over… I will be free of the media guys who wanted me out and the referees who picked on me. It was too much for my wife, Jayne, and children, John and Ashley. It was getting to them.

“My happiest season was 1987/88 – our centenary. We won the league by 10 points and beat Dundee United in the cup final. It should be remembered that in the eighties, Celtic won the title and the cup each four times. Only Aberdeen bettered this because they won the Cup Winners’ Cup.

“I’ve always been annoyed I wasn’t in a team like the Lisbon Lions in 1967, to bring another European trophy to Parkhead. I hope that everyone will agree that I gave my utmost. That’s the kind of guy I am and I’ll do the same for Newcastle. But I’ll always wonder how the lads are at Parkhead. Even though I’ve departed I’ll be hoping Paul McStay blossoms and shows the skills he undoubtedly has. He is a wonderful player and a great guy.

“I’ve always been a Celtic man and, until fairly recently, I couldn’t see me changing from the green and white. But what can any man do when his family is affected? I had to go… I’m leaving Celtic for personal reasons which are no fault of anyone at the club. I want to move for the benefit of my wife and children. It’s flattering that Celtic have done so much to try to keep me but my mind was made up.”

Billy McNeill did everything in his power to keep Aitken at Celtic, but even the offer of a four-year deal and £100,000 bonus couldn’t change his mind: “Where do I get a player like Big Roy on the transfer market? For £500,000 I can think of nobody I can buy to take his place… Roy was single-minded about leaving and I’ve had to accept that. It is sad that situations created outside the game can force a player away from a club.”




Speaking to the Newcastle Journal (11 January 1990), Magpies’ manager, Jim Smith, compared Aitken to his former Birmingham City player, Archie Gemmill: “I brought Archie in as captain and he did the job, and I’m sure Roy will do the same. There aren’t many proven leaders on the market, but that’s why I’ve paid so much for him, because in Roy we have one of the best in Britain. I’ll make him captain to lead us back to the First Division.”

Aitken teamed up again with Mark McGhee at St James’s Park and was instantly made captain of Jim Smith’s side. After his Newcastle debut, a 5-4 win over Leicester, Daily Record journalist Rodger Baillie was prompted to exclaim: “Roy Aitken will become as big a Newcastle landmark as the Tyne Bridge.”

The arrival of Ossie Ardiles on Tyneside signalled the end of Aitken’s Newcastle career after just 18 months. Although there were reports of a sensational return to Celtic, in August 1991 Roy Aitken teamed up again with former boss Davie Hay, this time at St Mirren as player-coach.

It isn’t often that Roy Aitken appears at public events, and we are delighted to be hosting this evening on 28 July 2023 at Barras Art & Design. Tickets can be purchased HERE.



Leave a Reply