Jackie McNamara opens up on his Celtic story

Celtic legend and member of the 2003 Uefa Cup Final team, Jackie McNamara, has opened up on his football career in an interview with World Football Index.

McNamara, 48, had an illustrious career with the Hoops amassing 256 appearances during that time period since signing from Dunfermline during the 1995/96 season. Now the former right-back has revealed all in a new interview regarding his life and career in the game.

The Celtic icon delves into a variety of topics in his career; from his excitement at signing for Celtic, to helping stopping the 10 and the ‘phenomenal’ Henrik Larsson just a few of the things Jackie opens up about in this tell all interview as part of his autobiography launch recently. Here are The Celtic highlights from an interview covering Jackie’s entire career as a player and manager.

 21.05.2003  imago/Miguelez Sports Foto Jackie McNamara (Celtic)

You joined Celtic in 1995. How did the move come about and were you nervous or excited?

“I was linked with moves to a few clubs. My move came around before the Bosman ruling so any interested club had to pay a fee for me. The first I had heard of Celtic’s interest in me was when I found out that the club had rejected a bid of around £500,000 from Celtic.

“The club wanted closer to £1m which I was understandably gutted about because I felt like that was crazy money for me at that stage of my career considering my age and the fact that I was playing in the Championship. However, a few hours later, a deal was done for around £650,000 with a further £50,000 should I go on to represent Scotland at senior international level.

“I was told that I was to go to Celtic Park for my medical the next day, which I did. I was excited and nervous and before I knew it, I made my debut for Celtic that evening against Falkirk at the old Brockville stadium. That is how quickly it all happened for me.

“The senior players at the club were a good bunch and they looked after me well. Paul McStay and Peter Grant looked after me in particular. For example, Peter Grant put little toy Power Rangers at my space in the dressing room after the Falkirk game to wind me up for looking so young.

“John ‘Yogi’ Hughes was great with me too. I travelled in with him and Gordon Marshall from Edinburgh each day and I got on very well with them. All of those players really helped me settle and feel like I belonged at Celtic.”

As well as those players, did you lean on your father [Jackie McNamara Snr] for support during the time of your move from Dunfermline to Celtic given that he was a professional footballer in his own right?

“I was actually speaking to my son about this recently. My dad was quite quiet, to be honest. He was a positive but quiet influence. He would never go over the top or try and tell me how to play the game. There was one instance that he got heated and that was at Dunfermline. One of the assistant coaches had a real pop at me and my dad wanted to go and, let’s just say, have a go back at him.

Jackie Mcnamara Glasgow Celtic FC 27 February 1998 Photo Mary Evans Allstar

“I worried that could jeopardise my Dunfermline career but fortunately the coach understood and explained his view to me at training the next morning.”

You played in the Celtic team under Wim Jansen that stopped rivals Rangers from winning ten titles in a row. What are your overriding memories of that season given how important it was to the club’s history?

“It was a fantastic season for the club and for myself personally. We had a rough start under Wim and I lost my place in the team at right-back. I had to force my way into the team over time and play further up the pitch to get into the team. The game against Liverpool in the UEFA Cup was a big turning point for me. I played in the game from the start and scored a great goal which cemented my place in Wim’s plans.

“From there, I went on to win Players’ Player of the Year despite playing in a new position. That season was vital for the club as we had no choice but to stop Rangers from winning ten in a row. They were a very strong team with the likes of Laudrup, McCoist and Gascoigne at the time but we got the job done in the end by winning the league on the last day of the season.

“We thought we had won the league the week before when Simon Donnelly scored against Dunfermline in the penultimate game of the season. Unfortunately for Simon, they equalised and it was all down to our last home game against St Johnstone. Simon actually came off for Harald Brattbakk in that game and I set Harald up to score the all-important goal to stop ten in a row in front of a full house at Celtic Park.”

What was it like when Martin O’Neill came into Celtic? He won a treble in his first season. How did that achievement compare to stopping the ten?

“It was a very good feeling but a different feeling to stopping the ten. Martin was totally different to Wim Jansen, Tommy Burns, John Barnes and Dr Josef Venglos who I had worked with previously. He brought in terrific players like Chris Sutton, Alan Thompson and John Hartson who made an immediate impact on the team. He also instilled a real winner’s mentality into the group which was vital after the previous twelve months that we had.

“He was professional in how he dealt with everything at the club. He was an intelligent man who commanded respect from everyone as did his staff that included John Robertson and Steve Walford. John would join in during training and have a laugh with the squad. Martin and John weren’t always hands-on coaches but that’s where the other coaches excelled.

“That era was not like it is now where players want to be told where to stand on the pitch and what to do in certain scenarios. Martin and his staff set us up in a way that worked for us and trusted our ability to get the very best from each other. The three of them worked very well together and all of them were great guys.”

You played alongside Henrik Larsson and many other top players at Celtic. In regards to Henrik, what was he like to train and play alongside?

“Henrik was phenomenal and such a clever and classy footballer. He got better with each year. His movement and the goals that he scored were ridiculously good. We had the pleasure of training with him and he was a terrific player as well as being a terrific human being too.”

Henrik has written the foreword to your book. You have played a lot of golf with him over the last five years. I have to ask, is his golf as good as his football?

SEPTEMBER 1997, LIVERPOOL Alan Stubbs (left), Henrik Larsson and Jackie McNamara enjoy a round of golf ahead of Celtic’s match with Liverpool.

“Henrik actually jokes about that himself. He is a very good golfer. When he first came to the club, he was rubbish, to be honest. He had a very high handicap but within a year he was in single figures. Henrik got better and better with each passing year whereas, unfortunately, mine stayed at the same level.”

You played many games in European football for Celtic, reaching the UEFA cup final in 2003. How tough is it to think back on that final given how close it was?

“To be honest, it was different for me because my mum was very ill. Ordinarily, it would have been a very low point that would have really frustrated me. I came on for Paul Lambert in the game but my thoughts were first and foremost with my mum who sadly passed away soon after the final. It was not as sore for me as other lads due to the circumstances in my life at the time but of course, it hurt to lose in the way that we did.

“Although, it is important to say that representing Celtic in Europe was such a proud feeling for me. Playing in front of a full house at Celtic Park is what football is all about. Those are the nights that you miss in retirement. I missed the atmosphere that the Celtic fans generate when I left the club. It is a very special club and I have nothing but fantastic memories of Celtic. The club means so much to me.”

Last but not least, you have just released your book ‘His Name is McNamara’. What can fans expect from the book as a whole?

“I’ve been asked to write a book numerous times but now felt like the right time to do one. People have a perception of you as a player and as a person but it is important to put across your version of events. I wanted people to understand my career, my battle with illness and my experiences in life from my perspective.

“I worked with Gerry McDade on the book and he was excellent at ensuring that I got over my story in my own words.”

Jackie’s book I out now and available from all The Celtic stores and of course the online store. Here’s a photograph from the Livingston store taken at the weekend showing Jackie’s book sitting alongside Harry Hood – Twice as Good.

About Author

I'm a Garngad Bhoy through and through. My first ever Celtic game was a friendly against Italian side Parma at Celtic Park, in 2002. Currently a student of English Literature and Education at the University of Strathclyde for my sins. Favourite game would be a toss up between beating Manchester United with that Naka freekick, or the game against the Oldco when Hesselink scored in the dying seconds. I'm still convinced Cal Mac is wasted playing that far back.

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