Although Neilly Mochan had returned to Celtic as assistant trainer to Sean Fallon in February 1964 and had thereafter taken over the substantive trainer’s post in July 1965, he had also inherited other roles around Celtic Park.
As well as helping Jimmy Steele with massaging players, Neilly was also responsible for maintaining and managing the kit and looking after the
ground-staff players. The young boys with aspirations to pull on the hoops not only trained with the club but also cleaned the boots, mopped the changing rooms and swept the terraces.
Two skips full of empty tins and bottles were guaranteed after a weekend match in the days when taking a carry-out into the game was standard fare. It was Neilly’s ground-staff boys who had to clear up the empties from the vast concrete expanses on a Monday morning.
George Connelly’s Coming of Age
One of the first youngsters Neilly looked after was the prodigiously talented Fifer, George Connelly. The 18-year-old was taken to Argentina and Uruguay in 1967 for the Intercontinental Cup matches against Racing Club and looked on from the stands.
“That place in Buenos Aires was a real wild house,” recalled George. “It was a huge tiered arena and guns were shooting confetti off and it was absolutely fanatical. I remember seeing Ronnie Simpson going down and we were all wondering what had happened. There had been so much carry on in Argentina, I think, that Celtic just wanted to come home, but we played the third game and lost it. There was no way that the referee and linesmen were going to give us anything in that match.”
As the Celtic party left Uruguay the following day, Connelly stayed behind with Jimmy Johnstone to take part in a benefit game at the same venue for the Uruguayan Football Players’ Corporation. While that match was taking place, the football press reacted to the shameful battle of Montevideo:
“The image of the World Club Football Championship was cast in a deep shadow today,” reported The Glasgow Herald. “After almost universal condemnation of a brawling play-off here yesterday in which Racing, of Argentina, beat Celtic 1-0 with a goal by Cardenas in 56 minutes.
“Such headlines in South American newspapers as ‘Racing won the war’ and ‘A public swindle’ summed up the general feeling about the brutally-fought match in which six players were sent off and police were twice called into action. Celtic’s chairman, Mr R Kelly, described the game afterwards as ‘an ugly, brutal match containing no football.’ Mr Kelly, who had laid great stress here and in Buenos Aires on the club’s discipline on the field, said it was ‘disgraceful that our team descended to that level to defend themselves.’
“Mr Stein said, ‘I would not bring a team to South America again for all the money in the world.’ Now the future of the World Club Championship is in doubt.”
“We thought Hampden Park was our training ground because we played there so often,” said Bertie. “Every time we were there Neilly would tell us about the Coronation Cup final goal he scored against Hibs.”
Bobby Lennox scored in the 4-0 annihilation of Rangers in the Scottish Cup final on 26th April 1969 and remembered George Connelly’s performance that day, as the youngster progressed from Neilly’s ground-staff boy to a fully-fledged first-team star.
“He just took it so easily and so casually,” explained Bobby. “He had great ability and was wonderful with the ball at his feet and always looked so laid back. For our third goal he just took the ball from the Rangers defender, rounded the keeper and knocked it in like he was playing a practice game up the park. Big George was so cool.”
The Emergence of The Quality Street Gang
Confirmation of recognition from the British press normally exists in the awarding of a nickname. Players and teams alike have been labelled with terms of endearment since football’s infancy. The list is as long as it is illustrious, and the ‘Busby Babes’, ‘Kelly Kids’ and ‘Lisbon Lions’ appellations remind fans of the alumni who starred for some of the most talented or celebrated teams in their respective clubs‘ histories.
This trend showed no signs of wavering in the late sixties when Celtic’s new kids on the block were imaginatively tagged with a name that wouldn‘t have looked out of place on Top Of The Pops – ‘The Quality Street Gang’. But where did the name come from?
Erstwhile member of the gang, Danny McGrain, points to the popular tinned sweet selection from Mackintosh’s as its inspiration. McGrain said: “I wouldn’t think that far ahead of naming us that because I was never so confident or brazen about it to think we were The Quality Street Kids. It was a good name and we went on some great runs of winning games and progressing.”
Kenny Dalglish maintained that this young side didn’t let the complimentary name go to their heads. “I remember getting called a lot worse than that,” he said. “I don’t know how it came about. It was certainly none of the boys who gave themselves that name. Somebody with a wee bit of a fertile imagination must have done it but it never meant anything to the boys. Nobody got carried away with it.”
George Connelly’s recollection is similar to McGrain’s as this group of youngsters became the third exciting generation of talent to emerge from Celtic’s youth system since the late fifties. Connelly said: “There was something about the Quality Street adverts at the time on the telly and they just called us that. A press man said, ‘There’s The Quality Street Gang’ and it stuck.”
Respected Celtic historian Tom Campbell agrees with this affirmation and poetically suggests: “Chocolates are often given as gifts. These players were like a gift from the Gods.”
Like the chocolates, Celtic’s Quality Street Gang certainly had their selection of desirable individuals. There are so many extraordinary talents from that fabled side that, more than fifty years on, it isn’t difficult to reel them off like a who’s who of Celtic greats.
Who named them The Quality Street Gang?
George Connelly was a trailblazer for the latest batch of Celtic talent being produced on that seemingly endless Barrowfield conveyor belt. He would form part of a crop of prodigiously talented players who were touted to carry the Lisbon Lions’ torch into a new generation, but mystery has always surrounded their collective nickname.
It turns out that this appropriate moniker was largely down to an ex-Celtic team-mate of Neilly Mochan’s, who had been exiled in Manchester since the early 1960s.
Yorkshire Films were commissioned by Mackintosh’s during the 1960s to produce a series of television adverts for their popular Quality Street chocolates. The first commercial – aired in 1967 no less – was called, ‘Introduction to The Quality Street Gang’, and this dramatised the supposed personality of each individual sweet into an onscreen persona.
The unifying feature of these personalities was that they were a gang, with many of the characters dressing like the cast of Bugsy Malone – they dressed like a shower of would-be gangsters. The adverts’ tagline was, ‘They’re a bunch of characters in The Quality Street Gang… They always do things with such style’. And so was born an appropriate nickname for any stylish gang of the 1960s and 1970s.
One such dapper gang drank in the Clifton Grange Hotel in Manchester. Philomena Lynott – mother of Thin Lizzy’s Phil – was the licensee of this infamous haunt, which was popular with local footballers and gangsters of the time. One evening, some of the gang entered the bar area wearing distinctive suits and were immediately met with the jibe:
“Who do you think you are, The Quality Street Gang?”
The Manchester criminal gang suddenly had a new name. Manchester’s Quality Street Gang remained regulars at the Clifton Grange for several years, and Phil Lynott later paid homage to them in Thin Lizzy songs including, ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’.
As well as enjoying a drink at Clifton Grange, members of The Quality Street Gang were also regularly involved in bounce football matches on Sundays in the early 1970s. George Best was known to show up from time to time, and one of the teams were managed by none other than Paddy Crerand, by then on the coaching staff at Manchester United.
Familiar with the term, ‘The Quality Street Gang’, from having some of the gang members in his Sunday bounce team, when Crerand made one of his regular scouting visits to Celtic Park and spotted a new crop of youngsters, smartly-dressed and looking as thick as thieves, he was heard to comment, “Who do they think they are, The Quality Street Gang?”
Paddy couldn’t have called it any better.
PAUL JOHN DYKES