“Charlie Gallagher? What a Player!” – “Rumours going round Glasgow that Celtic were finished”

Charlie Gallagher may well have detected a further threat to his place in the Celtic team when Paddy Turner was signed in the summer of 1963. He need not have worried on that score for Turner was a total misfit. He possibly had more cause for being upset in the general approach to the season – total chaos with training once again a shambles and no-one seeming prepared to take a grip of things.

Paddy Turner was unusual in that Celtic had bought him. Celtic seldom did such things in 1963, and when they did, the player was usually a misfit like Bobby Craig of last season. Craig did at least have a few good games. That could not have been said about Paddy Turner, yet he had looked good for Morton and indeed in summer 1963 he actually played in the Ireland team which beat Scotland in Dublin. Sadly, he was very much involved in Celtic’s calamitous start to the season, and never really recovered.

Having finished the season with a dreadful 3-0 defeat from Rangers in the Scottish Cup final, what Celtic and their fans did not need was a League Cup draw which put Celtic in the same section as Rangers, along with Queen of the South and Kilmarnock. Celtic approached the new season like a man approaching the dentist’s, full of apprehension and knowing full well that, whatever anyone said, things would soon become painful. Indeed, they did, so much so that comparisons were made to the Russian Revolution.

The overthrow of the Romanovs happened because of repeated defeats in war; repeated defeats to Rangers almost overthrew the Kelly regime. It might have been better if they had succeeded. 1963 was a great summer with loads of fine weather. The West Indies cricket team made a real impact on British society, and the Beatles were permanently heard on the new phenomenon of the age – the transistor radio, now small enough to fit into someone’s pocket. And of course more or less everyone possessed a television (now available to hire for a very cheap rate) and could enjoy what was going on.

Sadly, Pope John XIII, a kindly man and much loved, not only by Roman Catholics, passed away in early June. Charlie was sad about that but had been happy for his cousin Pat Crerand who had won an English Cup winners medal as Manchester United beat Leicester City, but feelings for Crerand in the support were mixed.

There were those who were delighted that he had had a chance to prove how good he really was away from the stifling atmosphere of Bob Kelly’s Celtic. Others could not bring themselves to forgive him. The pain was still too great – and it was ongoing. He seemed to have upset a few people in the Scotland set up as well, for he lost his place there when he would surely have made an impact on them.

Away from football, a certain amount of light relief was brought about by the travails of the Conservative Government. It emerged that John Profumo, the Minister for War, (an odd title considering that the Second World War had finished 18 years previously) had been associating with a young lady of dubious repute who had also been friendly with a Soviet attache. There was a serious security risk here, but such is human nature that the sexual side of all this took precedence in public attention. Jokes abounded, and eventually not only did Mr Profumo have to resign, but so too did Prime Minister Harold McMillan in the autumn.

Back at Parkhead Gallagher, on returning for training in late July, realised that he would have to fight if he were to have any kind of a chance of regaining his place. That he was not first choice (or anything like it) became apparent when he found himself playing for the Whites rather than the Greens in the Trial Match on 3 August. The Greens were recognised as the first team or the Probables rather than the Possibles, and the Greens won 3-0. Paddy Turner was impressive however!

Charlie was thus mercifully absent from the opening game of the season on 10 August. It was a dreadful experience. The rain was relentless as Celtic went down 0-3 to Rangers. For a spell things looked good, but John Hughes kept trying to bore a hole through Ron McKinnon in the Rangers defence rather than use some guile, then Billy McNeill was short with a pass back and young Jim Forrest nipped in to put Rangers ahead.

In the second half, Celtic once again obeyed the rule that they must collapse to Rangers, and the roof fell in. Two miserable draws followed at Kilmarnock (a sterile 0-0 affair) and in a home game against Queen of the South, where Celtic scored their first goal of the season.

The Queen of the South game was remarkable for the slow-hand-clapping, shrill whistles and prolonged booing. After the game, supporters going home saw the remarkable and virtually unprecedented sight of mounted police galloping up London Road to disperse an angry mob which had gathered outside the Main Entrance. More frightening was the appearance of some supporters with bricks and sticks in their hands. Gallagher did well to miss, all this for he was playing for the Reserves at Dumfries.

It was nightmarish stuff, and the wonder remains that Kelly did not resign. What saved him, at least temporarily was a 4-0 win against Queen of the South in the League at Celtic Park which settled the restive 14,000 crowd.
But it was clear that so much was wrong, and that the players were all suffering a collective inferiority complex. There was even a problem with the much vaunted floodlights which had a major fault and compelled the club to kick off their home games at an earlier time! It did not help dispel the general belief in Glasgow that Celtic were “finished”.

In these horrendous circumstances, Gallagher was brought back into the team and put on the right wing in place of the talented Frank Brogan who had done little wrong but was simply being played in the wrong place on the wrong wing. Perhaps too he was in the wrong club!

Charlie was far from convinced that the right wing was his position either, but he was grateful to get a game even in the most difficult of circumstances in which Celtic found themselves with several public figures like Glasgow Baillies stating publicly that major changes had to come at Parkhead, and various supporters clubs saying that they were thinking of staging boycotts. Many supporters were already staging their own unofficial boycotts by simply not turning up. Others agreed with the Rangers fans and joined in the general ridicule of the club.

Celtic travelled to Ibrox on Saturday 24 August, already, to all intents and purposes, out of the Scottish League Cup and expecting another hammering. In such dispiriting circumstances, it was hard to see anything else happening. Gallagher had not a bad game against left back Davie Provan (not the most difficult of opponents, it would have to be admitted, and a man that Charlie had played again many times before at Schoolboy and Amateur level) but the team were defeated, yet again, 3-0, and the half empty Celtic end threw bottles in protest, leading to many arrests.

The weather was fine and in total contrast to the bleak, grim unrelenting horror that was unfolding in front of us. The team had held their own (even though they had chosen, eccentrically, to play against the wind) until nearly half-time but then lost a goal at the wrong time just when half-time beckoned. They then conceded a penalty early in the second half and folded piteously.

It all meant, as the Press were not slow to point out that in the space of little more than three months, Celtic had now lost 3-0 to Rangers at each of the three Glasgow grounds. Of the forward line that day at Ibrox, Gallagher,
Turner, Divers, Chalmers and Jeffrey, Charlie was by some distance the best but that did not spare him from the abuse and scorn hurled at the team from the unhappy supporters who, by the end, had dwindled to a few hundreds. 34 had been removed by the police, more had gone home to avoid being hit by bottles and still more left in disgust to enjoy, if that were the right word in such circumstances, the summer sunshine.

The players had no such option. They had to stay and endure the taunts of the gloating ignorant at one end with their chant of “Easy! Easy!”, and the abuse of their own supporters at the other end. It hurt men like Gallagher all the more because he was a Celtic supporter and was hurting inside in any case. The Rangers players, to their credit, eased off a little for they certainly could have hit Celtic for a lot more than they did, but the full time whistle came to feelings of blessed relief. Life could not be so terrible! Maybe it could. Celtic had to come back to Ibrox for a League fixture in a fortnight’s time!

The Celtic Supporters Handbook for 1964 in reviewing this awful time talks about “rumours going round Glasgow that Celtic were finished, and that thousands were flocking to the banner of a more militant organisation”.

By this they mean one of the many sporadic and uncoordinated groups trying to oust Kelly from power. In this they would be a lot less successful that the “Celts For Change” of thirty years later, for in 1963, Kelly
remained the dictator.

David Potter

To be continued shortly…

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

Comments are closed.