A last march with O’Neill

Like so many Celtic supporters, I owe my love of Celtic to my father. My dad was involved with the club all his days, an office-bearer in the Springburn CSC – the first supporters bus I ever travelled on, my older brother and I as kids – then a founder member of the Cairn CSC in 1968, a club both Robert and I would hold committee positions in ourselves many years later.

Through the branch delegate meetings, he became involved in the wider Celtic Supporters Association, and once again he was an office-bearer in the Executive Committee there. Our trips to the Annual Rallies in the Kelvin Hall are amongst my treasured memories, mingling with the superstars beforehand. King Kenny in his velvet suit. Jock Stein holding court. The Celtic singsong at the end. Dad put in the long hours and we enjoyed the occasional perks, such as a seat in the stand whilst he and Jim Divers commented on the hospital broadcast service and timed the Golden Goal in the early 1970s. Happy times.

His final huge commitment to Celtic and its supporters was as one of the main protagonists in the group which managed to establish a social club in Springburn, something no-one believed would ever happen in such an area. But happen it did, and dad was involved as Treasurer from the very beginning until his retiral more than two decades later.

An absolute devotion to duty which brought him no end of grief from my mum, but still he carried on. It was his job. The Northern Area Celtic Supporters Social clubs in Angus Street then Flemington Street were part of his legacy. We had somewhere to go after glorious victories and demoralising defeats and talk all things Celtic. A safe haven and we used it well! I first heard the Willie Maley song there in the late 1970s. And it was James McGrory and James McStay in the chorus, rather than Paul, who was still a schoolboy at that time.

Since Dad’s passing, that rite of passage saw me and my kids pick up and carry that Celtic torch, as have my nieces and nephews through their own parents, and latterly one of my grandsons attended his first match. A huge moment for all of us and no doubt my dad would have been smiling down proudly that day, albeit perhaps commenting on the suitability of his bar scarf. Dad was old school. A Celtic scarf was a certain style. Diagonal stripes and a crest on cloth.

A fundamental reason for me writing about Celtic was to ensure that those stories from my upbringing would be carried on to future generations. I had and still have a million unanswered questions and I’m trying to ensure that those who follow me will have fewer. That West of Scotland Male syndrome means we never talk enough at the time. Good times are taken for granted as life rolls on relentlessly. But they shouldn’t be and one day there will be a need to know.

From time to time, a photo of my dad appears on social media, always the strangest sensation as you don’t expect it. Last night was one such case, a photo involving Stevie Chalmers and Jim Kennedy with the Scottish Cup, and there’s Dad standing at the back, beside “Stevie and Big Kinnidy,” my Uncle Robert’s big pal from Johnstone.

There’s another Uncle in the photo also, Eddie Brown will be known to everyone who lived in Springburn back in the day. A real character who also happens to be the uncle of my brother-in-law. Small world is Springburn.

And Peter Murray, the President of both the Springburn CSC and the Association for many years, the Rally also being his big night as he opened proceedings each year. Peter didn’t drive so would appear in our home, as if by magic, five minutes before my dad left for meetings!

As my latest book opens, Celtic supporters are reeling from events on and off the pitch, the latter relating to the serious illness afflicting the wife of our manager, Martin O’Neill.

As those of you have lost loved ones or watched them struggle with major health issues will know, that period after they are gone seems to be filled with nothing but death and illness. It’s like you have to relive it all over again as you see it play out elsewhere. That does fade eventually but back in the spring of 2005, our family were still raw after the double loss of our parents less than two years earlier. That is the context as I took my kids to Hampden for the 2005 Scottish Cup final.

The following is an extract from the Prologue to Majic, Stan and the King of Japan which is published on Celtic Star Books on Friday, 20 October and you can pre-order your signed copy now. I will be happy to write any personal dedication that you would like added to your copy.

Hail Hail,

Matt Corr

follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue

Prologue – The last march with O’Neill

The fallout from Black Sunday, when the League title was surrendered at Fir Park, Motherwell, to two last-gasp Scott McDonald goals, was still being painfully endured and analysed by those with Celtic in their hearts, when the worst-kept secret in Scottish football was confirmed in the mainstream media. It was Wednesday, 25 May 2005. Lisbon Day, as if the knife required twisting. After five years at the helm, Martin O’Neill would be leaving Celtic after Saturday’s Scottish Cup Final against Dundee United.

The news was neither unexpected nor welcome. Martin’s wife, Geraldine, had been battling a serious illness, lymphoma, for some time and he had decided to take some time away from football to focus on supporting her and the rest of his family through this most worrying of periods.

For once, the normally expansive O’Neill kept his statement brief and succinct.

“I am leaving Celtic purely for personal reasons and I am extremely sorry to be departing in such circumstances. We have had discussions for some weeks, as we awaited certain biopsy results. We have had suspicions in recent weeks, and that has taken it to a different level but she [Geraldine] wouldn’t like me to go into too much detail. We had some good news at the back end of last year, but she is not so clever at the moment. I don’t have a monopoly of bad news, but it is the correct thing to do. She has stood with me for quite some time, so this is the right thing. I would like to thank sincerely Dermot Desmond and the Celtic board for giving me the opportunity to manage this fantastic club five years ago. It has been an honour and a privilege to have served the club and its supporters during that time and [to have]been a part of Celtic’s history.”

Celtic chairman Brian Quinn spoke of his “great disappointment, reluctance and regret, whilst fully respecting the reasons behind the decision,” whilst Peter Lawwell commented on the “consummate professionalism” of O’Neill and his backroom team, the Parkhead chief executive then adding;

“Martin has taken Celtic on a remarkably thrilling and successful adventure over the past five years and, as well as achieving tremendous domestic success, has helped put Celtic back where it belongs – on the European stage.”

It was difficult to disagree with those sentiments, as somewhat bucking the normal trend, a manager left his post at Celtic Park without acrimony. Whilst the previous week had ripped the heart and soul out of the Celtic family, for the most part it had been a very special journey with the man from Derry.

Martin O’Neil of Celtic applauds the Celtic support after winning his last game in charge, the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Dundee United, at Hampden on May 28, 2005 . (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Three days later, the Martin O’Neill era drew to a close with an uninspiring 1-0 victory over Dundee United at Hampden, courtesy of an early Alan Thompson free-kick. The goal was in keeping with the rest of the game, untidy and instantly forgettable, the ball eventually going into the net off defender Gary Kenneth, after Bobo Balde had either dummied or missed Thompson’s original cross, depending on your view of the big Guinean.

Late on in the match, there was another less-than-memorable Cup Final moment, as we had to share the indignity of Chris Sutton as he slipped before shanking his spot-kick high over Tony Bullock’s crossbar. Twelve years down the line, a cruel twist of fate would see a big Australian midfielder replicate Sutton’s feat at the same end of Hampden, triggering the end of another managerial regime at Parkhead.

Future Partick Thistle manager Alan Archibald then blasted a long-range shot off the Celtic crossbar to be denied his own ‘Roy of the Rovers’ moment, the last action of the 2005 Scottish Cup final. Seconds later, referee John Rowbotham signalled the end of the match and Martin’s tenure at Parkhead.

The Celtic Team celebrate victory after the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Dundee United at Hampdenon May 28, 2005.. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Archibald would later succeed winning Celtic captain Jackie McNamara in the Firhill dugout, having worked under him there as a player-coach until January 2013, when Jackie resigned to take up the manager’s job at, rather ironically, Tannadice. Gordon Chisholm’s beaten United side that day was skippered by current Kilmarnock boss Derek McInnes and included two future Celts, Mark Wilson and Barry Robson.

Twelve months earlier, McNamara had deputised for injured Hoops skipper Paul Lambert, leading the dark-green-clad Celts out at Hampden for the 2004 Scottish Cup Final for the great Henrik Larsson’s last competitive match for the club. Jackie then shared the winners’ podium with the two-goal Swede, as Martin O’Neill’s second League and Cup Double was secured.

Today, poignantly, by now appointed Celtic captain as Lambert turned his sights on a coaching career post-Parkhead, Jackie stood aside to allow O’Neill, John Robertson and Steve Walford the opportunity to display the famous old trophy to the massed ranks of the Celtic support. All four men would enjoy a last hurrah at Celtic Park just 24-hours later, as the Republic of Ireland provided the opposition in McNamara’s testimonial game, the only goal of that match scored in stoppage-time by another future Celt, Robbie Keane.

I guess only Jackie himself will know if his own farewell was expected. I remember being surprised when it was announced that he had joined Glenn Hoddle’s Wolverhampton Wanderers the following week.

In 50 years of attending Scottish Cup Finals, I cannot recall an atmosphere such as this one after a win. When Celtic lift a trophy, without exception, I find myself shedding a tear as I think about my dad and how much I wish he was sitting beside me to share this moment.

To make it even more special. To see him look into the eyes of my kids and think, “I started this.” Whilst that dagger pierced, as it always did, this was a different kind of sadness. For those of us of a certain vintage, that ‘Celtic sixth-sense’ was already kicking in.

As we watched Martin and his backroom staff take a final, emotional walk around the Hampden track, the Irishman’s hand in the air in acknowledgement of the outpouring of love and support, there was that horrible, ominous feeling that something very special was ending.

The era of Larsson, Sutton and Hartson taking on Europe’s finest defenders, of 6-2 against ‘the benchmark’ on the day the world changed, of the genius Lubo scoring incredible goals with both feet, and of marching with O’Neill into the Champions League then all the way to Seville, my dad, the veteran of Lisbon, hanging on for a third and last European final. There was a chapter inevitably closing on all of this, Celtic and life as always tied together in an unbreakable bond. There was a feeling of fear and dread in my heart at what next season would bring, in comparison to such magical heights.

It would take time before I was ready to contemplate the future with real positivity.

With enthusiasm.

To understand and remember that Celtic FC has previous, in terms of recovering from major setbacks to go in search of new glories.

We idolise the great legends of the past, enjoy the stars of the present then await the emergence of the next generation, those who will thrill us and leave their own mark for the supporters of the future. The Celtic rite of passage, on the pitch, just as it is with the support.

There would be a pause for reflection, as we regrouped and re-organised post-O’Neill.

Then it would be a time for new heroes as, once again, we willed those wearing the green-and-white Hoops of our beloved Celtic to make new memories and take on that history, to remain the dominant force in Scotland in the third millennium.

Matt Corr


Here’s Matt Corr speaking to Martin O’Neill on the recent Celtic Star Podcast. Matt’s new book is titled Majic, Stan and the King of Japan and is published by Celtic Star Books on Friday 20 October.  Martin might even have his say in there too!

You can pre-order now and as mentioned above Matt will be happy to sign your book and also add a personal dedication to you, ideal if the book is being purchased as a gift. As with all Celtic Star Books, it’s a beautifully designed and produced hardback book.

Pre-order now by clicking on the link below the Martin O’Neill video.

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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