Charlie Gallagher – Once you’ve played Glasgow Juniors, you are afraid of nothing

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Charlie left school in 1956 and began an apprenticeship as an electrician in a firm in London Road, but he was determined that he would like a career in professional football. Which young boy does not entertain
fantasies of that sort? The difference was that Charlie was good. Some felt that he lacked the “devil” for the tough world of professional football, but no-one could deny his skill, in particular his passing ability and his
tremendous shot. In the meantime, while he naturally hoped that he could make the grade as a professional and play for the team that he and the rest of the Irish community adored, he would continue to play football
as often as he could, for he possessed the one thing that is more essential than anything else – namely the desire to play the game.

There was a team called the Rancel. Bright people could work out that this was a combination of Rangers and Celtic, and they played at juvenile level. He had a few games for them. But he also played for Kilmarnock Amateurs. He was very impressed by the set-up at Rugby Park and he thus came into contact with Willie Waddell. Waddell had of course been a highly successful winger for Rangers in the late 1940s and 1950s, but after his retirement from the playing side of football, became the Manager of Kilmarnock in 1957. Gallagher and Waddell soon developed a mutual admiration for each other, even though both were aware that there was only really the one senior football team that Charlie wanted to play for – and it was the direct antithesis of those whose jersey “the Deedle” (as Waddell was nicknamed) had graced for so long.

What Charlie particularly liked at Rugby Park was the training. For youngsters, this was every Tuesday night. It was very well organised by Waddell himself, his assistant Malky MacDonald (a Celtic legend from the 1938 Empire Exhibition trophy days) and Walter McCrae who would in time become Scotland’s trainer. Everything was arranged so that everyone got a reasonable chance at everything with loads of practice at a variety of things like dribbling, shooting, tackling, passing, taking free-kicks, corner kicks ets. and it was an enjoyable experience which contrasted starkly with the training set-up that Charlie would encounter at Celtic Park in the future. Loads of eager youngsters would turn up and do little other than run round the park.

Kilmarnock would, of course, be a consistently good side in the late 1950s and early 1960s, winning the Scottish League in 1965 and having several near misses, losing two Scottish Cup finals (1957 and 1960) and two
Scottish League Cup finals (1960/61 and 1962/63). They did this on a modest budget and with a fairly small fan base – their play certainly deserved more attention – and one of the reasons for their success would certainly be the fact that their players like Frank Beattie, Davie Sneddon and Jackie McInally were always very fit and very well trained.

Willie Waddell remained a great admirer of Charlie Gallagher (something that was apparent ten years later when Waddell was writing for The Scottish Daily Express and continually purred his admiration in match reports for Gallagher’s silky play) and on more than one occasion before Gallagher joined Celtic, Waddell offered him professional terms at Rugby Park. Had Gallagher not retained such a great sentimental attraction to
Celtic, he might well have joined Kilmarnock there and then. Indeed, he sometimes still wonders what might have been had he done so, but his regrets are minimal, for Celtic had a spell over him, he felt! But in any
case, he was still young.

Times were changing in the 1950s. Prosperity was in the air in a way that it hadn’t ever been before. It was an era of virtually full employment, and the reforms of the Welfare State and the National Health Service were now gradually beginning to make an impact in the shape of healthier, fitter youngsters. More and more attention was turned to the horrors of the Glasgow slums and the Government, both national and local, were shamed into doing something about them. But it was a slow process.

The Government was Conservative, but a far more benign and enlightened form of Conservative in comparison to what they had been in the 1930s or what they would become again in the 1980s. They accepted Labour’s Welfare State, which was the most important thing. Admittedly they made a fool of themselves over Suez in 1956, but Harold McMillan took over after that. He believed in progress and rightly could he claim that “we
have never had it so good”. It was a benign aristocracy, but many people felt that change wasn’t coming quickly enough.

A new large box began to arrive in people’s living rooms. This was something called a television. BBC Television had opened in Scotland in 1952 and had slowly expanded as people wanted to see the Coronation of Queen
Elizabeth II in 1953, for example. By 1957, the BBC had competition in the form of commercial TV, and advertisements emphasised the point that this was now a consumer society and that people now had enough
money to buy nice things.

TV had its effect on football. Already some football had been shown live. The 1954 World Cup, for example, had been beamed from Switzerland. Scottish people wished it hadn’t, because one of the games was a 7-0 defeat of Scotland from a virtually unheard of country called Uruguay.

Worse still for Celtic fans had been the 1955 Scottish Cup final when Clyde equalised with a corner kick late in the game when the game seemed won. It was the first ever Scottish game to be televised live, and was a Celtic horror show.

Highlights of English games were shown in a programme called Sports Special on Saturday night or sometimes Sunday afternoons, and there was a regular Sportsview programme on a Wednesday night. Horizons were
being opened, but the down side was that television was showing that there was another world somewhere other than the narrow one of football.

Attendances at football matches had not yet begun to drop as they would a few years later, but people were slowly beginning to realise that there were options to a Saturday spent watching football. Arguments raged about whether more football should be shown live, but the SFA with men like Bob Kelly and George Graham in charge
were totally opposed to it. These men, sworn enemies in some respects, nevertheless were in agreement that television would stop people going to see football matches. So only very occasionally was a match allowed, and
normally that was an International game.

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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

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