Happy 80th Birthday to Celtic legend Charlie Gallagher

Charlie & The Bhoys: Gallagher at 80

Part 1 – Early days

The calendar year 1940 would prove significant in the evolving history of the Celtic Football Club. The new decade opened with a 1-1 draw at Ibrox, a late Malcolm MacDonald equaliser rescuing a point after Willie Waddell’s opener for the hosts but insufficient to move Celts off the bottom of the 16-club wartime West Regional League. Manager Willie Maley announced his intention to retire, and he would do so on 1 February, just short of his 72nd birthday. Sadly, it was a less than amicable parting. Having given his life to the club he had committed to as a teenager back in 1887, he would not set foot in Celtic Park again for 13 long years. His replacement would be the current Alloa Athletic manager, Jimmy McStay, his former captain.

It was also a year in which no fewer than five of the men who would conquer Europe wearing the Hoops more than two decades later would be born. First up was Billy McNeill, in Bellshill on Saturday, 2 March 1940, as new manager McStay’s Celtic were throwing away a 4-2 first-leg lead by going down by 3-0 to Raith Rovers at Stark Park and thus exiting the new Scottish Emergency Cup at the first hurdle. Young Robert Auld celebrated his second birthday in Panmure Street, Maryhill a few weeks later.

On 23 June 1940, Willie Wallace was born in Kirkintilloch, whilst Joe McBride would also have turned two earlier that month. Govan Bhoy Joe actually shares his birthday with Celtic’s Empire Exhibition Cup Final win a mile or so along the road at Ibrox, Saturday, 10 June 1938!

The new season saw another Lisbon Lion enter the world. Friday, 16 August 1940 is the birth date of John Fallon, the new-born no doubt gurgling his dissatisfaction at Celtic’s 2-0 defeat at Cappielow 24 hours later, in the second Southern League Division match of the campaign.

The last week of the year would see Thomas Stephen Chalmers celebrate his fifth birthday on Boxing Day in James Nisbet Street in Glasgow’s Garngad before Willie O’Neill took his bow on Monday, 30 December 1940. It seems strange to think that by then, ‘Faither’ Ronnie Simpson was closer to his debut as a senior footballer than his birth, the future goalkeeper having turned 10-years-old on Friday, 11 October 1940. A fortnight earlier, Jimmy McStay had secured his first trophy as Celtic manager, following a 1-0 win over Rangers at Ibrox in the Glasgow Cup Final. And just a few weeks later, Sunday, 3 November 1940, a baby boy named Charles was born in the Gorbals, a second child for Donegal couple, Dan and Annie Gallagher.

Charlie would blossom into a talented schoolboy footballer at the local Holyrood Secondary, where the teachers included future Scotsport presenter, Bob Crampsey, and John Murphy, the matchday announcer at Celtic Park. The young Charlie would enjoy a role as a ballboy at the home of his boyhood favourites, in that period between the Coronation Cup triumph and Hampden in the Sun. He would later live the dream, playing alongside some of those heroes.

In one of those strange quirks of fate so adored by football writers, the teenage Charlie found himself under the watchful eye of the goalscorers from that Ibrox match back on New Year’s Day 1940, Willie Waddell and Malcolm MacDonald. The former playing adversaries were by now the management team at Rugby Park, Charlie turning out for Kilmarnock Amateurs. Despite enjoying the excellent training regime in Ayrshire and the fact that Killie rather than Celtic were the more dominant team in Scotland at that time, Gallagher would follow his heart to sign for the Bhoys.

On Saturday, 12 April 1958, as Hearts clinched the Scottish title at Love Street, with a record number of goals scored and a three-figure goal difference, and a Bobby Collins strike gave Celtic victory at Firhill, Parkhead reserve coach Jock Stein travelled to Stair Park, Stranraer to watch the Scottish Youth International side take on their Irish counterparts. The home side included future national team manager Craig Brown at wing-half, Rangers full-back Davie Provan and two forwards who would end up with Jock at Celtic Park within five months, Charlie Gallagher and Ian Lochhead. Charlie signed provisional forms at Parkhead on Saturday, 20 September 1958, having joined junior outfit Yoker Athletic the previous month. He would play at junior level for the remainder of that season, whilst signing a full professional contract with Jimmy McGrory’s Celtic in March 1959.

Charlie’s early days as a Celtic player would see him witness one of the most bizarre occasions in Hoops folklore, the final day of the 1958/59 League season. Celtic entertained defending champions Hearts, whilst Rangers hosted Aberdeen, the Ibrox club two points clear of the Gorgie men and with an identical goal average. Defeat for Rangers and a win for Hearts would see the flag remain in Edinburgh, and Aberdeen did their bit with a 2-1 victory in Govan, which removed the possibility of the cup-finalists being relegated.

At Celtic Park, a Hearts side featuring Gordon Marshall senior in goals led 1-0 at the interval, and were 45 minutes from retaining the title, before second-half goals from Bertie Auld and Eric Smith won the match for Celtic, thus directly handing the Scottish League Championship to bitter rivals, Rangers!

The Celtic side which commenced season 1959/60 was one very much in transition. Charlie Tully, Sammy Wilson and Dick Beattie had been the most recent of the 7-1 team to depart, leaving Bobby Evans, Bertie Peacock and Neil Mochan as the last members of that record-breaking eleven to command a first-team slot, less than two years later.

Amongst the Kelly Kids who were being gradually introduced as their replacements, there was a familiar face for Charlie in the shape of Pat Crerand. Pat’s father had been killed in the Clydebank blitz of March 1941, his mother later marrying into the Gallagher family to make the two future Celts cousins by marriage. He had made his Parkhead debut in the absence of Bertie Peacock in a 3-1 win over Queen of the South in October 1958, just after Charlie had signed for Celtic.

Fellow youngsters Frank Haffey, Billy McNeill and Dunky MacKay were also building reputations in the Celtic defence, playing with and learning from the remaining legends. There was a horrendous start to the campaign, with four straight defeats. Raith Rovers, Partick Thistle and Airdrieonians all coming out on top in the opening League Cup-ties, before Rangers won by the odd goal in three to knock Celts out of the Glasgow Cup on their own turf.

Celts would finally get points on the board at the fifth time of asking, a 2-0 midweek victory over a Kilmarnock side featuring Joe McBride kicking off the 1959/60 League season on a high note at Parkhead. On the flip side, several of the players had sustained injuries in the process, forcing Jimmy McGrory into four changes for the home League Cup return with Raith Rovers on Saturday, 22 August 1959. Back came Bertie Auld – the volatile winger in disgrace following his sending-off in Amsterdam whilst playing for Scotland – Matt McVittie and Jim Kennedy, whilst there was a debut at inside-left for Charlie Gallagher.

The Hoops line-up which would attempt to end the Kirkcaldy club’s perfect start to the League Cup was as follows:

Frank Haffey;
Billy McNeill & Jim Kennedy;
Dunky MacKay, Bobby Evans & Bertie Peacock;
Matt McVittie, Dan O’Hara, Jim Conway, Charlie Gallagher & Bertie Auld.

The only goal of the game came 10 minutes before the interval, Rovers’ left-back MacFarlane beating his own keeper under pressure from Dan O’Hara – making just his second appearance in the Hoops – to get Celtic off the mark in the group. Despite rave reviews in the media for his performance, Mike Jackson returned for the midweek visit to Firhill and Charlie would not see first-team football again until the following April. Such was life at Celtic under Bob Kelly.

Much had happened in those intervening eight months, debuts for John Fallon and John Clark, the installation of state-of-the-art floodlights – with many suggesting the sale of Bobby Collins and Willie Fernie had paid for those – then crucially the departure of Jock Stein to take up the manager’s post at struggling Dunfermline Athletic in March 1960. Stein’s first game in charge of the Pars a few days later was, of course, against Celtic at East End Park, the new manager inspiring his charges to a 3-2 win, their opening goal coming within 15 seconds of kick-off. It would not be the last time Jock Stein would inflict defeat on Celtic as Dunfermline manager.

April brought a Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Rangers, the first match finishing 1-1 and the replay tied at the same score at the interval, before a second-half collapse saw the Hoops sink to a 4-1 defeat. The silver lining in the cloud for Charlie Gallagher was an opportunity to taste first-team action, replacing Mike Jackson for the visit of Partick Thistle on Tuesday, 12 April 1960. He probably wished he hadn’t, as the so-called Maryhill Magyars for once lived up to that star billing by taking a 4-0 lead in front of just 5,000 disillusioned Hoops fans, visiting striker George Smith joining the select band of players who have netted a hat-trick against Celtic at Parkhead, after future Hoops assistant manager Davie McParland had opened the scoring. Stevie Chalmers added a sliver of respectability to the scoreline by netting a double in the closing stages, allowing the records to reflect a 4-2 victory for Thistle. Grim times.

Charlie retained his place on the left wing for the weekend trip to Dens Park, Dundee, which saw the deterioration in performance and results continue. A Dark Blues side building up to what would be a Championship-winning season two years later comfortably disposed of Celtic by two goals to nil, strikes from Alan Gilzean and Hugh Robertson finishing the contest before the interval. The Hoops season of woe was best reflected by the sight of fit-again international goalkeeper Frank Haffey being stretchered off, following a collision with his own teammate, Dunky MacKay.

Bobby Evans pulled on the unfortunate Haffey’s jersey for the remainder of the match as the 10-man Celts lost again, on the day that Hearts secured the 1959/60 League Championship flag, their second in three seasons, with a point against St Mirren. It should be noted that only Celtic’s unlikely last-day victory in April 1959 had prevented the Tynecastle men from winning three successive League titles, a feat only Celtic and Rangers had achieved.

Cousins Charlie Gallagher and Pat Crerand played together in the Hoops for the first time two days later, as the Bhoys made the short journey to Airdrie for an Easter Monday afternoon clash at Broomfield. For once, the Celts showed some real fighting spirit, rising from the jaws of defeat to snatch a win thanks to a first senior hat-trick from Stevie Chalmers. Despite taking the lead through an early Welsh own goal, Celtic trailed 2-1 going into the final quarter of the match. Neil Mochan then drew the visitors level from Crerand’s pass, before Chalmers hit three goals in 10 minutes to seal an impressive, if unexpected, 5-2 victory.

The final Saturday of the League season took place on the last day of April 1960, St Mirren the visitors to a sparsely populated Celtic Park, only 10,00 diehards bothering to pay their way in. Billy McNeill back in for Pat Crerand at right-half was the only change made by Parkhead boss, Jimmy McGrory, as Charlie Gallagher’s belated run on the left wing continued.

Having scored three times late on to salvage the points in their previous outing, Celtic’s real issue of inconsistency was once again highlighted as they contrived to lose a three-goal lead with just 12 minutes remaining. An early Neil Mochan finish was complemented by two more goals for the impressive Chalmers before the break, taking his total to 15 in 19 games. Gemmell pulled one back for Saints on 78 minutes, and within a further five they were level, strikes from Baker and Miller bringing the curtain down on a truly disappointing Celtic campaign.

To be continued later today only on The Celtic Star…

Hail Hail,

Matt Corr

Thanks, as always, to the folk behind the Celtic Wiki, a wonderful source of information, and to David Potter, author of Charlie’s biography, Charlie Gallagher? What a Player!

Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue

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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