Johnny Doyle & That Ridiculous Red

Last week The Celtic Star reported that Johnny Doyle’s voice had been heard by his daughter for the first time in 39 years. Today, we follow on from that heart-warming story with a tale included in Celtic Star writer, Liam Kelly’s, Celtic book – Take Me To Your Paradise: A history of Celtic-related incidents & events.

Johnny Doyle was no stranger to red cards. The combative midfielder could be described as the embodiment of Celtic and naturally his commitment to the cause landed him in hot water with referees up and down the country. He was famously ordered off for his role in an incident with Alex MacDonald during the 4-2 game against Rangers when the Ten Men Won The League chant was born. However, Doyle is equally famed for receiving one of the most ridiculous red cards in the history of Scottish football.

On 20th August 1977, Celtic made a 31-mile journey to Somerset Park, where Ayr United lay in wait. Despite the absences of Stanton, Conn and Lynch, Celtic would have expected nothing less than a victory to kick start their league campaign. For Johnny Doyle, the game had an extra edge as the hosts had formerly employed his services for six years, prior to his £90,000 move to Parkhead in March 1976.

Confident as Doyle and his Celtic teammates may have been, they soon found themselves 2-1 behind and staring defeat in the face. It was Doyle, who Manager, Jock Stein turned to in the hope that the winger could spring from the bench to salvage a point for the Hoops. Never lacking enthusiasm in a Celtic shirt, it didn’t take long for the read-headed wide man to get in to the thick of the action.

Six minutes from time, the ball was lofted into the Ayr United penalty area. A starmash ensued, with three Celtic players battling to get a defining strike ahead of the Ayrshire defence. Johannes Edvaldsson thought he had scored when he shot from five yards, but his effort was blocked by a mass of men in red shirts. The ball broke out to McCulloch on the edge of the area, who miscued his desperate clearance under the close attention of Joe Craig, cannoning it awkwardly towards Johnny Doyle on the left wing. As Doyle sought to bring the ball under control, he accidentally handled. The referee, Bob Cuthill, blew his whistle for handball, just as the Celt was about to drive a cross back into the danger area. It was too late to abort the action… BANG! The ball struck the referee’s face, sending him staggering as if he’d been hit by a spherical missile. The match official went down in stages.

A combination of laughter and concern rung around the stadium as the referee was checked over. He returned to his feet, regained his bearings and duly pulled out his notebook. Doyle was called over, a wry smile etched across his face, as if to suggest he couldn’t believe that he was about to be booked for a clear accident. Suddenly, the smile turned to red faced rage as it became clear that the referee was sending him off for unsporting conduct. Doyle threw his arms in the direction of the match official, sprinted towards the tunnel and evaded the clutches of Jock Stein, who was trying to return him to the pitch. The decision was an absolute embarrassment to Scottish football, adding insult to injury in the sense that Celtic ultimately lost the game in disappointing fashion. The only silver lining was that common sense prevailed on the Monday morning and the SFA quickly overturned the red card decision.

Johnny Doyle returned to the starting line-up for the 1-0 loss against Motherwell a week later – another disappointing result, in what was a miserable month for the club. Indeed, Celtic went through the entirety of August 1977 without winning a single match and would have to wait until 24th September to achieve their first domestic win of the campaign.

It wasn’t always doom and gloom for Johnny Doyle at his boyhood club though. Perhaps his most iconic moment was scoring a brilliant header during a 2-0 win against Real Madrid in the 1980 European Cup Quarter Final. He would also win two Scottish cups and four league championships (one clinched after his death) at the club, earning the acclaim of his beloved Celtic faithful along the way. Yet as oft times the case, success was marred by tragedy in October 1981, when Doyle was electrocuted as he attempted to rewire the lighting in his attic. The loss of one of the club’s most loved sons struck at the heart of everybody connected with Celtic. The Hoops went on to secure the league title that season, amid of echoes of ‘Won the league for Doyle, we’ve went and won the league for Doyle.’

Termed the epitome of a true Celt, by Billy McNeill, Johnny Doyle is immortalised in song and as part of a mural in Bar 67 on the Gallowgate.

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About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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