During the six years of World War II organised football in Scotland was ‘unofficial’. Most clubs utilised the services of guest players, usually footballers in Scotland on military service. One such man was Matt Busby, a Scottish internationalist and a Liverpool player; born in Lanarkshire, he volunteered his services to Celtic . . . but his offer was rejected.
But what might have happened had he turned out for Celtic during those wartime seasons? This novel, with its blend of reality and fiction, its evocation of those times, its clubs, players and personalities explores that possibility.
If only . . .
A Celtic State of Mind are delighted to be able to offer you an insight into Tom Campbell’s latest book, by providing you with three chapters of A Very Different Paradise over the next three days. Should you wish to purchase this extremely limited edition book, which is Tom’s 14th on the club, then it is exclusively available from THE SHAMROCK.
The meeting between the chairman and the manager was short, almost insultingly so.
On Wednesday 13th December 1939 at 10:00 a.m. exactly on the hour, Tom White, a director of Celtic Football & Athletic Club Ltd. since 1914 and chairman of the club since 1932, opened the door of the boardroom and ushered in the manager Willie Maley.
At 10:06 a.m. the former manager Willie Maley closed the door behind him, struggling to resist the temptation to slam it.
He was a shattered man but, after more than fifty years in the limelight of Scottish football, he was able to muster enough dignity to walk the few steps to his cubbyhole of an office without attracting any adverse attention.
The office looked tidy and organised; the files, such as they were, arranged neatly in folders and in strict alphabetical order. His early training as an accountant, and years in charge of the Bank Restaurant, had helped his always-orderly mind in organising things.
But emotionally he was reeling. A lifetime as a Celtic player, committee-man, match-secretary and latterly for decades as manager-secretary: all swept aside at the whim of a chairman, a man not even remotely interested in football as a sport.
For years he, Willie Maley, had been the man at Celtic Park, the public face of Celtic Football Club, the person to whom the newspapers turned for opinions and comments. He had represented the club on committees at the SFA and the Scottish League… But now?
Willie Maley sat in that tiny office, the door shut. Nobody dared disturb him, nor to intrude. In recent years his characteristic impatience had grown much worse and many within Celtic Park – and elsewhere – had felt his wrath especially lately.
He continued to brood, and to seethe.
Too late he regretted his only words of protest against the chairman’s decision: “I’ve been with this club from the very start – for fifty-two years …” Too late he realised the words sounded more like an epitaph rather than a reasoned argument. Forced to retire! He could feel the sting of hot tears just beneath the surface. Another sign of age, too many tears nowadays …
Motionless, he continued to sit at his desk and brood.
No, he would not agree to a statement, issued by the club, to the effect that he ‘had retired for health reasons’. That was just what the directors wanted and they could wait till Hell froze over before he would give them that satisfaction.
Yes, he would remain in charge at least for the next game against Third Lanark at Celtic Park on December 16th. To think that Celtic and Third Lanark, the two teams that had met in Celtic’s very first Scottish Cup final back in 1889, were now struggling together at the bottom of this new-fangled Regional League!
Yes, he’ll not say a word to anybody, and he’ll be in charge but he would not bother his arse too much trying to contact players and fretting about arranging transportation for them at the last minute. Besides, it looked as if almost all the Empire Exhibition team might be available this week; at least, nobody had contacted him about being unavailable so far.
No, he would not say a word, he would refuse to utter a single word to anybody about this whole sorry development. When the time comes, they can draw their own conclusions and it would not be too much to ask that, after so many years of service to this club, many would prefer to take his side – especially if he retained a dignified silence. And he could call in several debts owed him by reporters and editors.
In fact, after his ‘retirement’ if he simply did not attend any further matches at Celtic Park – and refused to discuss it – that would only discredit the directors even more. ‘Boycott’ was a word that had originated in Ireland, after all …Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:
A few yards away Tom White remained alone in the board–room, quietly exultant that things had gone so smoothly. Nobody else on this board of directors could have carried it off quite so well, No beating about the bush, no shilly-shallying.
Pleased with himself, and verging on smugness, he allowed himself the luxury of reviewing the meeting.
“Mr Maley, the directors at last night’s meeting, decided – unanimously, I should add – that it is time for you to retire. Look at the position of the team in the league table – third from the bottom and with most of the players who won the Empirex back in 1938 still available! Something has gone seriously wrong, you have to agree …”
It had been all too easy to counter Maley’s feeble attempts to defend the situation. Always too emotional, Maley, and increasingly so in the past few years. Easy, yes, but only if you had the nerve to face him down. Lots of men had crumbled in the presence of Willie Maley but not Tom White – still the old lion, aging but with the legal mind as sharp as ever. What was his reputation? “Tom White can sound like the Big Bad Wolf talking to Red Riding Hood.“ Not too bad a description, that.
Now, action is required: a new manager for a start and one vastly different from Maley – less of an influence on club policy, less of a voice, a Celtic man, of course, and somebody heart-set on the job. What we need is a caretaker for the duration, somebody acceptable to the supporters and shareholders, a man who will not break with the directors on issues, especially wages.
Last night Jimmy McStay was mentioned, and he can be lifted from Alloa Athletic any time – no problems with that. Jimmy McGrory as well, but he’s still with Kilmarnock and the rumour is that Rugby Park is going to be requisitioned for the duration of the war. Willie Lyon? An excellent choice, apart from the fact that he’s an Englishman and most of our supporters would not be happy with his religion; besides, he’s in the army and unavailable right now… McStay and McGrory have been sounded out, and they understand the situation; one word in public from either of them and they can forget about their chances.
The other directors will have to be spoken to and that will be done some time today. It’s much better to make things look like overall Board decisions rather than an individual one.
Mind made up, he rose from the refectory table – salvaged years before from a church in the east end, and the only attractive piece of furniture in the room. He reached for his camel-hair coat, put it on with customary satisfaction, adjusted the collar to his liking, and headed for the door.
His business interests, a law firm and a small publishing house, could not wait any longer.
A Very Different Paradise by Tom Campbell is exclusively available from The Shamrock HERE.Watch SAUL DAVIES with A Celtic State of Mind here: