It’s Faither’s Day – Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson was born on this day in 1930

Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson, known to his Celtic teammates as Faither, was born on this day in 1930. Below David Potter, Jim Craig and Mike Maher combine to tell us the story of Celtic’s Greatest Ever Goalkeeper…

The Commissioning Editor of Edinburgh Sports Publishing Ltd. leaned across the table at the earnest young wannabee author and said “Yes, I’ve got to hand it to you, Douglas, you have style. Your manuscript is well written, well thought out and very imaginative – in fact maybe too much so.

But even though we say “No” this time, that is not to say that someone else might not take it. It’s good stuff.

This goalkeeper of yours, Ronnie Simpson – his father played for Rangers (nice touch that, as Ronnie had so much to do with Celtic) in the 1930s and Ronnie was brought up in Glasgow during the war and played his debut for Queen’s Park a month after VE Day because the regular goalkeeper could not get away from his service with the Navy.

Yes, good stuff that, nice and topical for 1945! And then he turns professional and joins Third Lanark. Our readers would like that, because they have a lot of sympathy for the poor old Hi-Hi-His.

Ronnie Simpson at Newcastle Utd

And then he goes to make his name for Newcastle! Great stuff, and it would sell a lot of copies for us “amang a the bonnie lads o the Tyne”. Geordies are great football fans, and you have nice touches with him winning the English Cup twice, meeting Winston Churchill in 1952, and the Queen in 1955 – nice picture by the way of her, she was a bonny woman then – and playing alongside Jackie Milburn and Bobby Mitchell and that great side. Yes I’ve got a soft spot for the Magpies myself!

I like your descriptions of him as “the wee Scots keeper” with the reflexes and the positional sense. You also bring out the atmosphere when they play Sunderland. It’s good stuff. I like your descriptions of the penalties he saved! Aye, aye, Newcastle could do with with more Scotsmen now, I always think, rather than some of the mercenary foreign rubbish they bring in!

And then, thinking his career over after an illness and an injury with Newcastle your Ronnie Simpson returns to Scotland to play for Hibs. Yes, more great stuff, Douglas – I’m a Hibbee season ticket holder, and thoroughly enjoyed that, particularly when he almost defied Celtic in those Cup ties of 1961, had a few European experiences, and even saved Hibs from relegation in 1963!

Yes, great variety there! Pity when that chap Jock Stein came along and didn’t like him, eventually offloading him to Celtic who are looking for some goalkeeping cover for injuries etc. He is now 34.

Now that was good, Ronnie finishing off his career with Celtic and even persuading his father to come along and support him! I like the bit about old Jimmy Simpson, the Rangers man, sitting with his old rival Jimmy McGrory in the stand at Parkhead – almost a bit of, well you could even call it romance, I suppose!

And it shuts up a few bigots! Old Jimmy Simpson even saying “we” when talking about Celtic! But then you really go over the top! The odd trophy would have been good enough, but no, you have to have them winning the European Cup – the European Cup against Inter Milan! – and more or less every Scottish tournament in sight!

And your goalkeeper even shows off a bit in the European final with a silly back heel! And all this while playing for a Manager that couldn’t stand him when they were both at Hibs! You would have to say that this is a bit far fetched, Douglas! He was 36 at the time, as well!

But even worse, before this European Cup final, you give him, at the age of 36, a cap for Scotland! Against England! The World Cup champions! And Scotland win! At Wembley! Oh, how I wish these things could be true! Readers would like this, but there has to be some connection with reality! You even say that the Scotland Manager was the man whose place he took on his debut 22 years ago with Queen’s Park! Come on, Douglas!

The end of the book is OK. He retires after a shoulder injury and takes up golf. He owns a Sports Shop in Edinburgh, and then becomes a Councillor in Edinburgh. That is OK, but I think you would have to make him a Liberal or Independent, rather than a Conservative. Men who have played for Newcastle United and Celtic are not, by nature, Conservatives! And his last job is as a goalkeeper coach with Dunfermline – well, I suppose that is all right.

He dies in 2004 and such is the crowd at his funeral at the Church in Corstorphine that they have to seal off the main Edinburgh to Glasgow Road for a spell! Oh, and I forgot to say, you even had him playing in the Olympic Games for Great Britain in 1948!

Yes, Douglas, you have a great style, but I’m afraid we have to say “No” to this one! It is just too incredible and far fetched. Maybe take it away and tone it down a wee bit – maybe omit the bits about the Scottish Cap and the European Cup!

Maybe we could have another look in a few months time? Or maybe try some other publishers who have more of an interest in “romantic sport fiction”? But certainly, you have talent and imagination – I couldn’t deny you that! Now, Louise will show you down the stairs…Hope to see you again, some day, Douglas”.

David Potter

On 7 May 1970, Ronnie Simpson retired. 

Ronnie Simpson’s Celtic debut, in the Camp Nou

Having reached the semi-final stage of the Cup-Winners’ Cup in season 1963/64, Celtic went into the Fairs Cities Cup of the following season with fans’ hopes really high. Leixoes of Portugal were the opponents in round one and they were dispensed with 3-1 over the two legs.

For the first match in the second round, Celtic travelled to Spain, to Catalonia to be precise, where they met Barcelona in the Camp Nou on this day in 1964.

Celtic decided to go for a holding operation, with Ian Young on the right back position and Tommy Gemmell on the left; John Cushley was alongside Billy McNeill at centre-back; while both John Clark and Jim Kennedy were also in defensive positions.

In goal, the experienced Ronnie Simpson, after a long career with Queen’s Park, Third Lanark, Newcastle Utd and Hibs, was making his club debut.

But on the night, in spite of all the precautions to keep the goal intact, Barca were too good, particularly on their home turf and won 3-1, John Hughes the scorer of Celtic’s only goal.

Jim Craig

I first saw Ronnie Simpson in February 1961 – playing for Hibs at Celtic Park. Even then I thought he was a bit old looking. Mind you I was only 10 myself. At that time I knew nothing of his background. All I knew was that he was Hibs regular goalkeeper and generally considered to be reliable and consistent. Consistency was something not necessarily associated with the Celtic goalie of that era- Frank Haffey. Big Frank could pull off some great saves but he did have his eccentric moments!

Nevertheless he was the number one keeper at Parkhead in the early 60’s. He did lose his place during the 1963/64 season with John Fallon taking over. My older cousins and uncles were always worried when John was in goals but I did not think he was that bad so when we signed Ronnie Simpson in September 1964 I did not think he was being brought in as an obvious first team candidate.

Ronnie made his debut in the Camp Nou in a Fairs Cities Cup first leg tie and I witnessed his first home appearance a few days later. I cannot recall him doing much as we beat Falkirk 3-0. (I do remember that Hugh Maxwell opened the scoring for Celtic after 10 seconds. Despite that Maxwell never went on to achieve anything at Parkhead and even now is my number one automatic first choice when worst ever Celtic team candidates are discussed).

The following Wednesday Ronnie played in the second leg of the Fairs Cup tie. My memories of him in that game are of him racing to get the ball to take goal kicks quickly as Celtic toiled to pull back the 3-1 first leg deficit. Ronnie was a regular for a few months around this time including his Glasgow Derby debut in the Ne’erday clash at Ibrox. That was also my first Glasgow Derby game but we were both disappointed.

A Jim Forrest goal and the usual Celtic missed penalty ensured the home team the points once again. By the end of that month John Fallon was back in goal and kept the position right through into the early games of the following season at the start of the Jock Stein era.

I cannot recall being particularly concerned about John Fallon’s performances but after a defeat at Ibrox in September Big Jock switched to Ronnie and from then on he was the main man. A flying save in the League Cup Final against Rangers a few weeks later was a memorable moment in our win that day.

However I never viewed Ronnie as a flamboyant keeper. He did not make many spectacular saves. He did not need to. His positioning always seemed to be spot on and he was agile. I have no idea if he was one of those goalies who really study their craft but I also liked his seeming simple approach. As long as the ball did not go in the net he had done his job. It did not matter what part of the anatomy he used to keep it out.

He did not appear to be too tall although that may have been deceptive as he had guys like Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell and Billy McNeill around him. Nevertheless I never had concerns about his dealing with cross balls (unlike many other Celtic custodians in later years!). His main asset was probably his concentration. At that time Celtic spent most games in the opposition half.

However that just meant the goalie had to be ready when he was called into action. When play was at the other end Ronnie would pace and prowl his penalty area like a lion in his cage keeping himself focussed. We could not hear anything from the terracing but Billy McNeill said that Ronnie would continually shout throughout the game.

Everyone remembers his back heel in Lisbon. At the time I was not concerned but later I thought on what might have happened if he had slipped up. However I did not put that effort down to flamboyance. He was being practical – it was the best option available to him. Sometimes a goalkeeper has to think on his feet as well as his hands!

In February 1969 Ronnie suffered a dislocated shoulder in a Scottish Cup tie at Shawfield. As the police had insisted on an early kick off for that midweek game I had to ‘fiddle” some time off work. Even then I missed the first 10 minutes and by the time I arrived Tommy Gemmell was wearing the keeper’s jersey.

At first I actually thought Ronnie had not made the game and that Jock Stein who did not seem to always trust John Fallon had chosen Big Tam ahead of him! However John did then go on to retain his place while Ronnie was out. It was October before Ronnie got back into the team and in a game at Broomfield he was made captain to celebrate his 39th birthday.

A few days later and his career was over. I saw him make a great save from Dixie Ingram to deny the Ayr United striker the equaliser in the League Cup semi final replay. However it came at the price of another dislocated shoulder. This time there was no way back and he retired at the end of the season although he did appear one more time when he took the field briefly against Clyde in the last game of the 1970/71 season. This was the last appearance of the Lisbon Lions although Ronnie was restricted to the pre-match warm up with Evan Williams playing in the actual game.

I suppose Ronnie was in a sense in the right place at the right time. A comparatively older head among the younger lions. I gather he did have a great sense of humour but I imagine he would have been a calming influence on the park and in the dressing room.

If it had not been for injury he could have been playing first team football into his 40’s. Looking back over the years can give a view that is clouded by nostalgia but even allowing for that Ronnie would still be the number one choice as my all time Celtic goalkeeper.

Mike Maher

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

Leave A Reply