‘Sliding in like McGrain’ – A Celtic song lost to the depths of time

Scotty Sinclair was so wonderful, Stuart Armstrong’s hair was so fine, and apparently Mikael Lustig used to turn us all on.

Well that was according to the Celtic songbook a couple of seasons ago, as composed and performed by The Green Brigade with a backing choir of some 60,000. Sadly, these ditties have now been lost to the depths of time.

These well-crafted and brilliantly choreographed terrace anthems became the soundtrack to Brendan Rodgers’ period of domestic domination, but I do often wonder how Celtic’s ultras would pay homage to some of the club’s legendary figures of years gone by…

In 1996, Glasgow-based rockers, Big Wednesday, did just that when they immortalised Danny McGrain in song. They even released the track – Sliding in like McGrain – as a single, which resulted in Danny vowing to appear on Top of the Pops for the third time if the band made the Top 40 (he had previously appeared on Scotland‘s World Cup singles ‘Easy, Easy‘ and ‘We Have a Dream’).

I caught up with Big Wednesday’s former front-man, Jamie Anderson, to reminisce about his musical tribute to one of Celtic’s greatest-ever talents:

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What inspired you to write a song about Danny McGrain?

“The song itself was inspired by the childhood memories of my co-writer, Donald McDonald. He came into the studio one evening with these lyrics which were like a patchwork quilt of memories from childhood. We all sat around chipping in lines like, ‘melting tar on the road’. The line we all hooked into though was, ‘sliding in like McGrain‘. For all of us it was so iconic, a striking image which bonded our experiences together, something that was really engrained in the DNA of our West of Scotland upbringings.

“The fact that all of us in the band identified with practising slide-tackles on grass, and pretending we were Danny at some point in our childhoods really inspired the hook of the song, which, in itself, is more about growing up than an outright homage to Danny. I think Danny appreciated that most, the fact it wasn’t just another football song but on a more human level – or iconic level – he was ingrained in the memory of these four kids.”

Was it Danny’s performances for club or country that made him the subject of your song?

“It was both really. There was no real Celtic / Rangers thing going on in the band, we each had our favourites. I think there are certain players who unite and on some levels transcend those types of cultural barriers. Danny, to me anyway, is clearly one. I do still laugh though when I think about the tackle we used on the cover of the single, which looked like Danny unceremoniously upending Sandy Clarke, but I remember a cracker on Dennis Tueart of England too.”

Do you subscribe to the notion that, in his prime, Danny McGrain was the finest full-back in world football?

“I absolutely do, and this was at a time when many Scottish players were truly world-class – Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness were too. In that full-back position though, I think that Danny was without equal, particularly where it came to consistency and commitment for club and country.”

How did Danny react to the song, and how did he help you to publicise it?

“I think he was very surprised. He always struck me as a pretty unassuming, humble guy. As we got to know him we discovered he had a great sense of humour too. He had to have really as he helped us promote it in TV interviews and press calls, standing alongside the band strumming guitars. It was all a lot of fun, both for us and him.”

What did Danny think of the song that you wrote in his honour?

“We never really discussed what he thought of it. His daughters did join the Big Wednesday Fan Club though, and were on our mailing list.”

Did the Danny McGrain single elevate your rock ‘n’ roll career?

“The fact I work in IT now might answer that question for you… But seriously, over that period of time there is no doubt that it increased our profile (and possibly Danny’s too because he was well out of any media spotlight and I’m not sure at that time how involved in football he actually was).

The ‘Number 2: McGrain’ t-shirt was the best-selling Big Wednesday merchandise and we sold around five thousand copies of our single, but alas we did not break the charts. One of my friends, who is still in the music business today, told me that if we’d shifted those units these days it would have been a Top 20 hit, but there you go – timing is everything in life.”

Paul John Dykes

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