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.
It was a chance meeting at the Central Station a couple of months later but it made Matt Busby, Celtic’s recently appointed manager, think long and hard.
He had just got off the train from Liverpool when he spotted George Paterson outside the Left Luggage counter, and headed towards him without hesitation. They knew each other well from Busby’s time with Celtic and wartime representative games, and greeted each other warmly. Paterson, after a quick glance at his watch, was happy to agree to joining the manager for ‘a wee cup of tea’.
At the table Busby had a good look at George Paterson and was disturbed at the changes in the player. He remembered him as a Celtic stalwart throughout the war, whenever he was available, knew him as a bright, cheerful personality, a man with a big smile. What else? An excellent type, a former Boys’ Brigade leader, reputed never to swear. In fact, exactly the sort of player that Busby would have wanted at Celtic Park, but he had been transferred recently to Brentford.
“Happy about going down to London, George?”
“Can’t say I am. But things up here have got out of hand. A three-month suspension for very little.”
He was referring to the aftermath of last season’s Victory Cup semi-final replay, and Busby was interested in a player’s view of that infamous match between Celtic and Rangers.
“What happened? The referee, I’ve heard.”
George Paterson took a thoughtful sip of his tea, clearly uneasy about dwelling too much on the past … but he was a troubled man. Like many footballers he rarely thought back too long on games played and lost, but this was different.
“Tell me about it, George. If I’m going to be up here, I’d better know the worst.’
“Right, Matt. It was the replay against Rangers at Hampden. A Wednesday night, windy and rain at times. In the first game we had done well and it finished 0-0. They probably had more of the game, but we had our chances too. We were a bit more confident this time but things went wrong early on.”
Another sip of the tea; Busby nodded encouragingly; Paterson continued, the strain showing on his pale face.
“Rangers won the toss and played with the wind at their backs. They were all over us but we were coping reasonably. Typical Rangers, they were getting stuck in as usual. Jimmy Sirrell got more than one knock and was moved out to the wing. Early on, too.”
He paused, hesitated and continued: “Young Jimmy Sirrell, he’s a decent player but he’s very thoughtful. Dependable. He knows the game, good head on his shoulders; you can rely on him, Matt.”
“Thanks, George. I’ll keep that in mind.” The words were sincere; a recommendation from such an accomplished player as George Paterson was not to be ignored.
“Rangers scored in about twenty minutes but the referee was the problem. Have you heard of M.C. Dale? A pompous little …” Paterson clearly could not think of an appropriate word, and again Busby remembered the player’s reputation for never swearing.
“He was giving them everything, all the fifty-fifty tackles. You can tell, Matt, when the referee doesn’t like you. You’re not going to believe this, but it’s true. He gave them a foul, probably the right decision but one of us was arguing the toss; we were getting frustrated. Any rate, the referee moved the ball for the kick, he bent down to place it, and he lost his balance. I was closest and helped him up, and …”
Busby could see the intensity in his eyes, hear the anger in his voice: “… this is the truth, Matt. He was staggering, and I asked him if he was all right. And he told me that he was cautioning me. And for helping him up! But, you know, Matt and this is the truth. I could smell something on his breath. I don’t drink myself, but it was probably whisky.”
Busby shook his head, not quite in disbelief because rumours had been widespread after that match. He listened carefully as George Paterson continued: “I mentioned this to a couple of other players, even to Rangers’ players and one of them said, “That’s all you need, George. A bluenose refereeing a Rangers-Celtic match – and he’s half-pished!” Some of the other players told me as well they could smell the fumes on his breath.”
“What did you do?”
“It was panic-stations at half-time. We spoke to the manager, and he got Bob Kelly to come and see us. He came down, listened to us and wanted to go and see the referee, to see for himself … but he wasn’t allowed near the referee’s room. He told us he was going to see the Secretary of the SFA, George Graham. We were told later that Graham told him he would look into it, and it would be sorted.”
“And was it?”
“Not bloody likely – pardon my French. The second half was a nightmare; every decision went against us: free-kicks, off-sides, shies, the lot. Jimmy Sirrell could hardly run. And then he gave Rangers a penalty kick – for absolutely nothing! Willie Thornton tumbled in the box; I thought he was diving to head the ball because nobody was near him but the ref gave the penalty. We could hardly believe it. I wanted to speak to Dale about it; so, I picked up the ball and went over to him. But he didn’t want to know; I was only a few inches away and I could smell him. I have to admit I said something to him that I should not have said – and he ordered me off.”Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:
Busby grimaced, but Paterson was in full spate now. “The other Celtic players were furious, and they were complaining like mad. About the stupid penalty, about me being sent off, just about everything. No use, of course. Jimmy Mallan, he’s a man with a temper at the best of times … well, Jimmy was standing at the penalty spot and scraping his studs over it, trying to rub it out. The referee asked him to move away, and Jimmy said, ‘There’s no penalty spot, ref,’ and he was ordered off. Pandemonium everywhere, of course! I was standing in the tunnel watching all this and just then two or three Celtic supporters came over the wall and made for the referee, the policemen chasing them. One of them had a bottle and threw it at Dale but he ducked, and the bottle missed.”
“A nightmare, George, a real nightmare.”
Maddened spectators on the pitch was a player’s worst nightmare.
“George Young took the kick and scored; the game was over. Rangers winning 2-0, Celtic with nine men on the pitch, and another one crocked on the wing. Believe it or not, it got worse. Jackie Gallagher got fouled, a nasty one, and he had to limp out on the other wing. We finished that game with only seven fit players! Give Rangers some credit; they played out the game, holding on to the ball and not trying to score. If they had gone all out and scored again, there would have been a riot.”
“What a night!” And Busby shook his head.
“I’ll tell you another thing. I was told this. After the match, the referee could not make out his report on the game. He tried a couple of times but just couldn’t remember what had happened – or maybe he was too drunk to hold a pen. They sent for George Graham to help him out – and he was in there for about an hour making the report.”
“Graham? The man Bob Kelly spoke to at half-time?”
“Yes. The same man. They say that he and Kelly had a real barney afterwards at the time and later too, especially after the suspensions were announced. I’ll tell you this for nothing, Matt; Bob Kelly and George Graham will never see eye to eye again. Just mind my words.”
“You and Jimmy Mallan got three months, and Matt Lynch got a month, is that right?”
George Paterson stared right ahead for a long moment, and there was the suspicion of a tear in his eye; Busby tactfully stirred his tea, giving him more time to compose himself.
“Matt, I’ve never felt so bad about anything in my career as this. Ordered off, and suspended; you know I’ve been a regular in Celtic’s team since 1935 and I’ve never once had a caution, and now this! Three months’ suspension! Jimmy Mallan as well – and you know in both cases nobody was fouled, or hurt. It’s diabolical! I don’t know why Matt Lynch got suspended; he wasn’t cautioned during the game, or afterwards. I suppose it was because he’s got red hair and plays for Celtic.”
Silence fell for a moment, broken by Busby. “I’ll be frank with you, George. You were the kind of player I wanted at Celtic Park and I was disappointed you were transferred to Brentford. What’s the story there?”
“I felt more than a little bad about the whole thing: the disgrace, the humiliation and the suspension. In fact, I was ready to chuck it, to pack it in. Desmond White came to see me, spoke to me about it; he used to play against me when he was with Queen’s Park and he thought I still had another three years left; so, he suggested I might move south. Celtic got Gerry McAloon in exchange for me. He’s a bit slow, but he knows the game. He played for Celtic during the war.”
George Paterson had a train to catch, and so the conversation ended shortly afterwards. Busby wished him luck and, of course, meant it. Just before he rushed off, Paterson added, “Matt, just watch yourself up here.”
It was not the first such warning he had received. Some of them he had largely discounted, noting that they came from partisan Celtic followers still disgruntled about past ‘injustices’. He shook his head at the memory of a Canon Sheridan who had buttonholed him to complain about a game that Dundee apparently had ‘thrown’ at Ibrox to let Rangers win the league back in the ’20s.
You would think a priest would know better. Good job he’s not the Pope and infallible. But George Paterson’s different, level-headed, never a hint of trouble on the park, always cheerful and positive … at least until right now. Maybe I’ll phone Griffin Park and let Brentford know what a good man they’re getting.
A Very Different Paradise by Tom Campbell is exclusively available from The Shamrock HERE.Watch SAUL DAVIES with A Celtic State of Mind here: