Tom Campbell with A Celtic State of Mind – Aitken, Tully, and the lost art of the shy


At Celtic’s 2018 AGM one (somewhat older and disgruntled) fan raised an interesting point: “No player since Roy Aitken has been able to take a shy!” he complained, much to the amusement of all of those in the room.

He could have been right!

Occasionally, just occasionally, a simple throw-in can be of vital importance… and sometimes the award of a routine throw-in can turn out to be controversial in hindsight.

Blessed (or cursed) with an excellent visual memory, I can recall three such throw-ins…

1 August 1951
A lovely balmy evening at Hampden Park for the final of the St Mungo Cup between Celtic and Aberdeen, and more than 80,000 turned up for the entertainment… and that was what they got.

After 35 minutes, Aberdeen – although hardly in the game as an attacking force – led by two goals… Celtic’s keeper had suffered a head injury trying to save the first and was off the field for almost twelve minutes. For the third time in the competition Celtic found themselves two goals down, and predictably they rallied; Bobby Evans, temporarily in goal for the injured Hunter, sprinted out of the net “like a scalded cat” upon the keeper’s return and was an inspiration in midfield… but it was Charlie Tully who turned things round for Celtic.

The Irishman, when on the left wing, had found little joy up against the robust, hard-tackling Don Emery, Aberdeen’s right-back… and accordingly he started to wander in search of the ball.

Momentarily, he found himself on Celtic’s right wing, where he gained a throw-in. Rather than wait for Evans to come upfield to take the throw-in, Tully grabbed the ball and looked for another attacker; no other Celtic player was within range but Tully, as alert as ever, noticed Davie Shaw (Aberdeen’s left-back) organizing his defence… but with his back to him. Tully promptly threw the ball against the retreating defender, and the ball went behind for ‘a corner’. The referee (a man generally recognized as the strictest in Scotland) thought for a moment and awarded the corner-kick despite the protest of a highly indignant Davie Shaw.

Tully himself took the corner kick, the Aberdeen defenders still at sixes-and-sevens failed to clear and Sean Fallon prodded the ball past Martin. That was in 40 minutes, and everybody knew the tide had turned in Celtic’s favour; in the second half Celtic dominated play and scored twice to win by 3-2.

A significant throw-in indeed.

20 May 1989
With about four minutes to play before halftime in the Scottish Cup final between Celtic and Rangers (and with the score still deadlocked at 0-0), inside the Celtic half Roy Aitken and John Brown of Rangers tussled for possession on Celtic’s right touchline. It was a typically fierce encounter between the pair, and the ball went out of play for a throw-in (and later re-runs on TV indicated clearly that it had touched Aitken’s foot last). However, Celtic’s captain raced to pick up the ball with such conviction that an undecided Mr Valentine was fooled.

A wrong decision over a throw-in in midfield is rarely crucial but the rapidly unfolding scenario led to Celtic’s goal by Joe Miller… a goal aided by a series of errors by Rangers’ defenders. Some of Graeme Souness’ men had moved forward out of position, anticipating the award of the throw-in; arguably Rangers never recovered from that. At any rate, Peter Grant, not the fastest man on the pitch, was unchallenged as he galloped down the wing. His long probing cross was intended for Miller but Richard Gough partially cleared with a header… the ball went in the general direction of his partner in central defence, Terry Butcher, fully occupied in jousting with another Celtic forward… either player could have been penalized by the referee but he allowed play to continue… Butcher attempted to head the ball across the penalty area to the right full-back Gary Stephens, an awkward ball that bounced knee-high… in his turn, Stephens, unaware of Celtic’s Joe Miller lurking nearby, tried to find his goalkeeper with a pass-back from the edge of the penalty box… he was woefully short and Miller pounced, advancing on Woods and firing a low shot past him.

A comedy of errors, indeed! Gough, Butcher and Stephens: all had a chance to clear the ball decisively, and all botched it… the earlier failure of some Rangers to play to the whistle had also contributed to their downfall.

Perhaps Roy Aitken could take a particular satisfaction in the goal as his ‘winning’ of the throw-in had started it off. ‘A particular satisfaction’? Well, Roy Aitken had ‘previous’ with Mr Valentine: four years earlier in the 1984 Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen the Celtic player had been ordered off perhaps harshly. This time Roy Aitken could hardly complain too much about a refereeing error.

February 11, 2001
It was expected to be even more fiery than usual, this Celtic vs Rangers league match at Celtic Park on 11 February at Celtic Park. Recently, the experienced referee Willie Young had had trouble in the League Cup semi-final, won 3-1 by Celtic over Rangers at Hampden Park; eventually, he had to order off three players (Reyna and Mols of Rangers, and Moravcik of Celtic) but justifiably he could very well have dismissed three or four others. This match was to be under the control of Hugh Dallas, making a return to the ground where he had previously been assaulted.

Celtic took command from the start: Vega’s scoring header after a corner kick was disallowed, and Larsson’s spectacular overhead kick scraped the bar… and Ricksen (Rangers) was booked for a reckless challenge on his frequent adversary, Alan Thompson.

The breakthrough came in 18 minutes. Rangers won a throw-in about fifteen yards inside their own half, to be taken by Ricksen; not surprisingly, he attempted to steal a few yards but he overdid it badly; the referee was watching carefully and, when the Ranger finally threw the ball, he had ‘stolen’ about ten yards; Mr Dallas had lost patience, blew his whistle sharply, and awarded the throw-in to Celtic.

A Celtic player took it, and launched it down the wing where Larsson and Sutton inter-passed and made some ground; Sutton slipped the ball to Larsson just inside the penalty area but his shot was partly diverted into the path of Alan Thompson, as always up with his forwards, and the Englishman steadied himself before placing the ball neatly inside Klos’ left-hand post.

That was it: this Celtic side was not going to give up the advantage of a one-goal lead over their closest rivals… Ricksen was ordered off for yet another impetuous foul on Thompson… and Celtic, 1-0 winners on the day, had established a commanding lead at the head of the table.

And it had started with the unexpected award of a throw-in…

Almost as a footnote, it might be observed that the referees involved in these decisions (Jack Mowat, Bob Valentine and Hugh Dallas) have frequently been accused of an anti-Celtic bent but at least on these occasions it should be remembered Celtic did get the benefit of the doubt from them.

Tom Campbell

Listen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast

Leave a Reply