Harsh realities for a young Jimmy Gribben – Horrific infant mortality, curse of our ancestors

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“One man and only one man takes the credit for bringing Jock Stein to Celtic Park – Jimmy Gribben. It was not Bob Kelly and it was not me,” Jimmy McGrory…

Jimmy and Jock with the Scottish Cup in Glasgow’s Central Hotel in April 1965

On his return to Celtic Park from Lisbon, Jock Stein took the European Cup straight to his old friend Jimmy Gribben in a wonderful, symbolic gesture of the unique bond between the two men. But if things had panned out differently, Jimmy would have been in the Estadio Nacional to witness the historic event for himself. His granddaughter Margaret Gribbon recalls that he and his wife were invited to travel there as guests of the club, but that her ‘Granny Gribbon’ was not keen to make the trip.

READ THIS…“No-one knew more about football than Jimmy Gribben. He was my friend and advisor,” Jock Stein

Below is a piece attributed to Jock in The Sunday Mirror three years later, on 19 July 1970, as Celtic attempted to recover from the despair of Milan – “Lisbon in reverse” – and as Stein’s former teammate Willie Fernie joined his backroom team on a permanent basis.

“There will be one more behind-the-scenes change with us, for one of our back-room staff, Jimmy Gribben, is officially retiring. At over 70, I think he deserves it! I stress the word ‘officially,’ for I hope to see him about the place as often as possible. He is the man to whom I owe a special debt, for without his recommendation nearly twenty years ago there might have been no Stein and Celtic tie-up.

Jock Stein signs for Celtic as Jimmy McGrory watches on

It was Jimmy who remembered my play with Albion Rovers when Celtic were shopping around for a reserve centre-half in 1951, and I first joined them from the Welsh club, Llanelly.”

If the Jack Harkness article cited earlier implied that Bob Kelly had originally come up with Jimmy Gribben’s name, then Jimmy McGrory himself would support Jock’s recollections that Gribben was the man behind Stein’s arrival at Celtic. In his 1978 autobiography A Lifetime in Paradise, the legendary Hoops striker makes it clear how that move came about, with no mention of the Albion Rovers cup-tie display by Stein, as referred to in the Harkness piece.

“The most important signing Celtic ever made was late in 1951, although at the time it could not have seemed all that significant to our supporters. In fact, I’m sure many must have been mystified by the move. Our regular centre-half Alex Boden was suffering from loss of form and our recognised pivot, Jimmy Mallan, was injured. Added to these problems we had a good but young and inexperienced team which needed some guidance on the field of play.

Jimmy and Jock with Bob Kelly observing training at Celtic Park in the late 1950s

“Bob Kelly and I had been discussing for some time the merits of a player coach but could not come up with a name to fulfil the role. Jimmy Gribben, our chief scout, was called into the conversation a short while later and he came up with the name of Jock Stein, a virtual unknown who was to dominate the Celtic scene for many years.

“I had really only heard of him a couple of times, once when his name appeared in the newspapers in connection with a dispute [that]he was having with his club Albion Rovers. It was a dispute which led to him walking out on them and signing on for the obscure Welsh non-league club Llanelly and it was at that fairly mediocre level that Celtic found him playing.

“Let me say here and now that one man and only one man takes the credit for bringing Jock Stein to Celtic Park – Jimmy Gribben. It was not Bob Kelly and it was not me. A lot of people wanted to take the credit for the move just as a lot of people wanted to take the credit for signing John Thomson and other fine players the club has had.

“Jimmy Gribben had been a very good player himself in his day with St Anthony’s and Bo’ness and he was a very thorough scout with his finger on the pulse of the country’s football talent. But almost in the same breath as telling us about Jock Stein he mentioned some misgivings about Jock not being too Celtic-minded. I remember Jimmy saying: “I’ve played against him and I don’t know if he will come here. He certainly knows the game and he’ll make a fine coach. You won’t lose anything by signing him.

Jock Stein, Bob Kelly and Billy McNeill

“Anyway, we were not interested in the man’s background, his past, or anything else other than him doing a job for Celtic. I telephoned the Welsh club and arranged for Jock to come and see me. He came immediately to Celtic Park and I had no trouble in signing him. There was no fee as he had not been under contract to Llanelly and I offered him about £16 a week which delighted him.

“My first impression on talking to Jock was that he had a sound knowledge of the game and even if he didn’t turn out to be the best player coach in the world, I knew by his manner that he would be good for our young players in the club.

“In next to no time, he was in the first team and although he was a very left-sided player I could see the potential in his leadership on the field. He was very safe, and as they say, knew his onions and that is exactly what we needed. It was amazing also how he could entice opponents into his favourite left-foot tackle.

“Jimmy Gribben had already given me all kinds of assurances having watched Jock in his first few reserve outings: “He’ll do all right,” he said. One thing which appeared to be baffling our chief scout was how Celtic-minded Jock had become in such a short space of time. Obviously, the player knew that Celtic had given him a great chance in life, and he was all out to pay us back – although at that early stage we were not to know just how much of a messiah he was to become at Celtic.”

The new Celtic backroom team. Neil Mochan, Bob Rooney, Jock Stein and Sean Fallon in 1965

And another club legend, Sean Fallon, concurs in Ken Gallacher’s biography of Jock Stein.

“It’s a funny thing, but I couldn’t remember Jock from Albion Rovers, and so the first thing I knew about him was when he arrived at the Park after he had signed for the club. Jimmy Gribben, the club scout, was the man responsible for bringing Jock back. Old Jimmy remembered him and suggested he should be brought back from Wales.”


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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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