Celtic in Europe: A long talk with Tommy Gemmell (part 2)

We started to look back at a great supporters Q&A I did with Tommy Gemmell in early 2013 earlier this morning, here is part 2…

What were your feelings about the non-PC chant about you coined by the fans of yon Glasgow team no longer in existence?

Aye, I used to get it in the neck from the Rangers support – presumably it’s the Ibrox club to which you refer! – but it didn’t bother me one little bit. If they were giving me stick, then they were leaving someone else alone. And, by the way, I do have a birth certificate to prove I wasn’t born out of wedlock.

Tommy, The Big Shot was my first Celtic book – ‘that’s me in the middle’ comment about the Front cover picture, had my brother confused…braw ….do you still shoot? And what is the name o yer dug?

Yes, I used to go shooting, mainly for pheasant, duck or geese. But, no, I don’t indulge these days which is good news for the wildlife in Perthshire! I still enjoy a spot of fishing, though. My dog’s name was ‘Jock’! Honestly, it was good to be able to order ‘Jock’ around for a change.

Tommy, did you meet Danny Kaye when he stayed at the Central Hotel? And can you rank in order these three footballing greats: Jinky, Dalglish and Best?

Sadly, I never did get to meet Danny Kaye. Do you know people in the States used to say to him all the time, ‘You look a helluva lot like Tommy Gemmell’?

I don’t know about his ability as a footballer, but I reckon I was a better singer than him. And better looking.

As far as Jinky, Bestie and Kenny, that’s a very difficult question. For a start, they were three entirely different types of players. Jinky was a real box of tricks with fabulous dribbling skills and unbelievable close control whereas Bestie was a lot more direct when he was taking on an opponent. Kenny was obviously more of a goal threat than the other two and he was very accomplished at holding up the ball and bringing other players into the game. For me, they were all world class. However, if you twist my arm, I would put them in this order: 1: Jinky; 2: Bestie; 3: Kenny.

How did you feel when you won the Scottish League Cup for Dundee against the Hoops back in 1973? I imagine it was a combination of professionalism, sadness and delight? But would like your thoughts? All the best Big Man, you were my wee maw’s favourite player.

Embarrassed was my main emotion after the League Cup win. I was captain of Dundee and I had to go up those stairs to be presented with the silverware. Actually, I felt a bit like an imposter because of my ties with Celtic. However, I had a job to do with Dundee and I remember Gordon Wallace’s goal that wet, windy and muddy afternoon at Hampden. I always thought Gordon was hugely under-rated and deserved his 15 minutes of fame. By the way, your wee maw’s got great taste!

What were your favourite moments against Rangers as both a player and a supporter?

Any win against our old rivals was always welcome. Remember, I came into the Celtic team in the early sixties when we were getting regularly turned over by the Ibrox side. So, it was great to be around when things changed so dramatically.

One game that sticks out is the League Cup Final win over them in October 1965. We had won the Scottish Cup by beating Dunfermline 3-2 the previous April. For the first time as far as I could remember, the bookies actually made us favourites to win the trophy that day. Thankfully, they didn’t get it wrong and Big Yogi, John Hughes, had his shooting boots on as he smacked two penalty-kicks behind Billy Ritchie and we went on to win 2-1. I couldn’t have done better myself! As a supporter, my boyhood team was my local side Motherwell. Believe it or not, I never saw them play Rangers.

Paolo Maldini was a great left back, but only number 2 in the all-time list after yourself…and he never scored as many goals as you did! Are you proud to be recognised as the best-ever left-back?

Thank you very much for the compliment. Actually, I knew Big Jock rated me as the best in the world, but he never told me. He was talking to his good friend Tony Queen, a well-known bookie, when he made the observation. Tony pledged me to secrecy when he told me later. Maldini was a fantastic defender. Of course, he settled into a more central role with AC Milan in later years, but he was wonderful at left-back. He didn’t attack too much, saving himself for set-plays.

Tommy, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting you in Dubai around 10 years ago along with Billy McNeill. Anyway, my questions relate to the rise of the modern ‘super teams’ like Barca and Real Madrid with seemingly unlimited finances who can sign the best players from all over the world and who can compete at the highest level year after year by buying the best players from every country. My first question is, ‘In 1967 and 1970 teams were still largely dominated by home-based players. How would the Lisbon Lions have fared in the current Champions League against these modern teams with unlimited cash to spend and the ability to assemble the world’s best players in one team?’ My second question is, ‘If not all of them, which of the Lions would today’s Barcas and Madrids try to sign?’ And my third question is, ‘Do you think you ever scored a better goal than your brother Archie did against Holland?’ (Okay, I’m chancing my arm with that one! But I know you like a laugh!)

I’ll need to go and lie in a darkened room after I’ve answered all these. Okay, to answer your first question I would say you could spend as much money as you like, but it doesn’t guarantee success. It helps, of course, but splashing wads of dosh won’t, in itself, mean trophies piling up in the boardroom.

The Lisbon Lions cost exactly £42,000 to assemble – £30,000 to Hearts for Willie Wallace and £12,000 to Birmingham City for Bertie Auld. Ronnie Simpson was bought from Hibs, but the fee was so small apparently that no-one took a record of it. What a bargain!

We had wonderful team spirit, though, and an unbeatable camaraderie throughout the team. Money couldn’t have bought those qualities. So, I firmly believe any team with that attitude and outlook would be successful anywhere in any era.

Secondly, the Barcas and the Madrids might have wanted to buy all of the Lions, but we came as a package. It would be difficult to envisage Bobby Murdoch playing without his little sidekick Bertie on his left, for instance. Or Big Billy without John Clark.

Thirdly, Archie’s goal against Holland in the 1978 World Cup Finals was a thing of beauty, no doubt about that. It wasn’t the type of goal I could have scored, but, then, I don’t remember Archie crashing in 30-yarders in his career. By the way, you do realise the spelling of his surname is Gemmill and not Gemmell, don’t you? We’re not related and, unfortunately, played only once together in an international. It was against Belgium in Liege in 1971 and we lost 3-0, so maybe the combination didn’t work!


About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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