The wonderful and timeless quote from Willie Maley, “It’s not the creed nor his nationality that counts. It’s the man himself,” could be used to show the open signing policy displayed by Celtic from its humble, but outward-thinking beginnings. Over the years, a number of players who may not have been Celtic fans have been influential in the club’s success on and off the park.
Alec McNair fits this narrative perfectly. Signed from Stenhousemuir in 1904, he was not brought up on Celtic traditions, he was in fact raised as a Rangers fan. However, this had no impact on a glittering Celtic career for the man nicknamed “The Icicle” because of his cool and measured approach on the field of play.
In the formative years of organised football, there was an expectation for players to deal with more stern challenges and rough play from opponents. McNair had an athletic physique that allowed him to deal with whatever was thrown at him. He wasn’t all about strength, though, McNair read the game instinctively well and those attributes, along with his footwork, meant he was seldom found second best.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind
Spending an incredible 21 years at the club as a player, Alec boasts the highest league winners’ medal tally of any Celtic player past or present. In all, he won 12 league titles between 1904 and 1925, incorporating the six consecutive titles by the all-conquering Scottish champions from 1905 to 1910 – which also included the winner-takes-all league championship play-off match against Rangers at Hampden, where Celtic won 2-1.
He was a colossus for Willie Maley in developing that groundbreaking Celtic style and winning mentality. During the 1910/11 season, Alec McNair would represent Celtic in every Scottish League and cup match, running out 40 times for the Hoops, collecting a third Scottish Cup winners’ medal as his reward.
Alec McNair formed part of the very first ‘Trinity’ that came out of Celtic Park. He, along with goalkeeper Charlie Shaw and fellow defender Joe Dodds, created one of the finest defensive backlines to have played the game, which included a shut-out lasting over 1200 minutes covering 10 league and three cup matches during season 1913/14. Such foundations allowed the club to maintain its stranglehold on the Scottish game. Conversely, this was a far cry from the early appearances for Alec, when his name was included amongst the attacking players at inside-right on some occasions.
Perhaps Willie Maley captured it best talking about Alec: “He would have distinguished himself in any position, even in goals, with that calm cool head and the sharp eyes.”
With the changing face of football ensuring players move at will for significant sums of money, it is difficult to imagine any similar commitment to one team over such a long period of time now.
Alec McNair, like so many other illustrious players to have served the club over the years, may not have been a Celtic supporter from the outset, but his commitment to the club and its success certainly ensured that he will forever remain a Celtic legend.
12 league winners’ medals
6 Scottish Cup winners’ medals
Martin DonaldsonWatch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind