Champagne Charlie Nicholas – Celtic’s fallen Icon of Football

If you can bear to leave Brendan Rodgers to one side for a moment, you can possibly spare half an hour or so to look at Charlie Nicholas in the Icons of Football series for half an hour or so on the BBC iplayer.

There are of course similarities between Rodgers and Nicholas in that they both broke the hearts of those who loved them by leaving at the wrong time, and then coming back… when they really would have been better off staying in the first place! (It is very easy, is it not, to take a scunner to people who tell you how much they love Celtic, but nevertheless leave us!)

Celtic’s Charlie Nicholas celebrates scoring against Rangers in the League Cup Final on 4 December 1982. If you thought Hampden was wet the other night, that was nothing compared to that day and the Celtic end had no roof! 

Charlie Nicholas comes out of this documentary reasonably well. His parents in a brief cameo also come across as decent honest folks. At the end, Charlie is honest enough to say that he was disappointed with his footballing career. He was such a fine player, but really did not do himself justice.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 01: New Arsenal players Charlie Nicholas (r) and goalkeeper John Lukic pictured with manager Terry Neill on the Highbury pitch after their summer moves from Glasgow Celtic and Leeds in July, 1983 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Murrell/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

His Arsenal career was a little underwhelming with only that League Cup final against Liverpool to really be proud of. The programme is candid enough to tell us that he didn’t get on with George Graham.

One suspects that he didn’t really hit it off with some of the others either, not least because of his lifestyle which was sometimes more like that of a pop star than a football player.

Charlie Nicholas celebrates that League Cup final goal.

Even when he came back to Aberdeen, he arrived with a Fedora hat and a funny coat. One wonders what the douce folk of the North-East made of it all. Not much, but he did score that vital penalty in the 1990 Scottish Cup final. It gave him a Scottish Cup medal, something he never won with Celtic.

His first year at Celtic was 1980/81 when he was freely compared with Pele and even Patsy Gallacher by some of the oldies. He had bad luck to break his leg the following season, but by 1982/83 he was back to his best especially in two games against Rangers at the turn of the year – the League Cup final in December, and New Year’s Day at Ibrox when he emulated Joe Cassidy in 1921.

Things were looking good – but his head was turned, the foolish Celtic Board did not read the signals, and we lost Charlie – and Charlie lost us!

1987: Charlie Nicholas of Arsenal is tackled by Roy Aitken of Celtic during a pre-season Friendly match at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland. Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

And the programme skates over the issue of the Scottish Cup semi-final of 1983. Why was he not playing? He would have made all the difference. I think we all know the reason why he didn’t play, but it would have been nice to hear it stated officially and publicly. It is now, after all, 40 years ago, but summer 1983 still hurts.

His return in the 1990s was no great success, but then again, he was not the only problem at Parkhead in those days! Not the worst programme I have ever seen, and Charlie, in spite of everything, comes across well, not least in the bits about his punditry on TV. Worth a watch these summer months.

David Potter


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About Author

I am Celtic author and historian and write for The Celtic Star. I live in Kirkcaldy and have followed Celtic all my life, having seen them first at Dundee in March 1958. I am a retired teacher and my other interests are cricket, drama and the poetry of Robert Burns.


  1. Charlie was still developing and should have been a star, but he chose to join Arsenal and became mediocre.
    He should have joined Liverpool but Charlie wanted the night life of London.
    His mistake as even though he eventually returned to celtic, he was nowhere near as good as when he left.
    Riches to rags.

  2. Rabbie Burns on

    £90 a week offered tae oor star Bhoy? The biscuit tin mentality of the Board sometimes never changes .. especially when they want tae use a supporter’s love for the club against them.
    John McGinn shouldae been oor Bhoy tae! Charlie was sensational in his first spell & was my first Celtic hero as a young bhoy. He couldae been better & shouldae stayed longer as King Kenny was 27 & established full international when he left .. no reason tae rush intae these decisions. If you’re good enough, the offers will still come again. Charlie should still be proud of his career.