Matt Corr on Willie Wallace, a Lisbon Lion and so much more, Part 1

Happy 80th birthday, Willie Wallace, Lisbon Lion and so much more…

The name William Wallace is one revered by Scots of many generations, a freedom-fighter immortalised in word in deed, with the occasional touch of Hollywood thrown in.

But three decades before Mel Gibson gave one lucky Scottish face-painter an unusual paid gig, Celtic supporters had their own hero of the same name to follow. A man who would carve out his own place in the country’s folklore, albeit on a football field rather than a battlefield.

William Semple Brown Wallace was born on Sunday, 23 June 1940, growing up in the Hillhead area of Kirkintilloch on the banks of the Forth & Clyde Canal. He would be the fifth of the men who took the field that unforgettable evening in Lisbon to enter the world, a decade after the first, Ronnie Simpson in October 1930, and just three months after the most recent, Billy McNeill in early March. Both Stevie Chalmers and Bertie Auld had been born in the interim.

As a youngster, Willie would do more playing than spectating where football was concerned, with the occasional visit to Adamslie Park to watch the local junior team Rob Roy, or the slightly longer trip to Falkirk to follow the Bairns at Brockville, filling in those afternoons or evenings when his own services on the right-wing for Kelvinside Thistle were not in demand.

In 1957, Willie was invited to a trial with Benburb Juniors in Govan, the opposition none other than his hometown club Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. The centre-forward lining up against him that night would share a rather special occasion with him on a sunny night in Lisbon 10 years later, it being none other than Stevie Chalmers. The pair would hook up together much sooner, however, Willie accepting an offer on the bus journey home to play for Rob Roy the following week, he and Stevie then helping themselves to five of their team’s 10 goals on the night.

Eventually, though, it would be Kilsyth rather than Kirkintilloch which would beckon for the teenage Wallace, the much sought after winger signing for the local junior outfit, Kilsyth Rangers, who had won the prestigious Scottish Junior Cup in 1955.

It would be a brief stay for Wallace in Kilsyth, lasting just six months. In January 1958, Willie was offered an opportunity to join Scottish Second Division outfit, Stenhousemuir. The Kilsyth Rangers committee official who accompanied Wallace to those signing talks, John Macaulay, would feature very prominently in his later life, as Willie would start dating his daughter, Olive, during his early days at Ochilview. More on that story to follow.

Whilst Wallace’s Warriors would struggle in the basement of the Scottish second-tier for much of 1957/58, two clubs who would later play a huge part in his career were enjoying some very special moments. Consistently inconsistent Celtic, under Jimmy McGrory, had just retained the League Cup with an astonishing 7-1 win over Rangers at Hampden in the Sun the previous October, whilst Heart of Midlothian with their Terrible Trio of Conn, Bauld and Wardwaugh would finish ahead of both clubs to romp to the First Division title, having scored an incredible 132 goals in 34 games. Willie’s second season at Ochilview was much more successful, the part-time Larbert club finishing just outside the promotion places in third spot. In April 1959, a last-day defeat at Celtic Park saw Hearts concede the League flag…to Rangers!

In October 1959, Willie arrived home to find the manager of First Division Raith Rovers waiting in his living-room. An hour later, he was a full-time professional player with the Kirkcaldy club. His teammates at Starks Park included that same Alfie Conn, Denis Mochan, brother of Celtic’s Neil, and a young, cocky wing-half from Fife called Jim Baxter. On Saturday, 9 January 1960, all four lined up at Parkhead, where a Hoops side including Neil Mochan and future Lions Billy McNeill and Bertie Auld won 1-0, the goal scored by the Celtic Mochan sibling. Two months later, Celts reserve team coach Jock Stein became the new manager of struggling county rivals Dunfermline Athletic, as the Lisbon jigsaw pieces continued to assemble in the background. Hearts would reclaim their Scottish title, finishing four points clear of Kilmarnock. I wrote about these games in my recent feature for The Celtic Star, ‘Cesar and Celtic – Early Years.’

On Saturday, 5 November 1960, Willie came face to face with his old friend Stevie Chalmers again, as Celtic visited Starks Park on League business. There were plenty of fireworks on the field as the sides shared four goals, with Chalmers netting a late equaliser for the visitors. By this time, Jim Baxter had departed Kirkcaldy to join Rangers.

Three months later, the teams clashed again at the same venue, this time in the third round of the 1960/61 Scottish Cup. Willie had now moved from the wing to centre-forward, and he equalised in the 13th minute, his first goal against Celtic, after Stevie Chalmers – who else – had put the Hoops ahead within seven minutes. Another future Lisbon Lion, John Hughes, would put the seal on a 4-1 victory for the Bhoys with the final goal in injury time. Celtic would eventually lose the Scottish Cup final that April to Jock Stein’s Dunfermline Athletic, and in the same month, Willie was on the move up again, this time to join Scottish champions Hearts, his role in the double-transfer with defender Willie Polland memorably described by Raith manager Bert Herdman as “the spare pair of trousers for the suit!” Motivational or what? In the last League game of that season, on Tuesday, 2 May 1961, Willie became the first spare pair of trousers to score at Parkhead, his goal the opener in a 3-1 win for Hearts over Celtic in front of a paltry 7,000 crowd, his direct opponent being a young sweeper named John Clark.

Willie during his time at Hearts

Willie would open the scoring again in the next clash with Celtic, this time at Tynecastle on Saturday, 21 October 1961, Hearts winning 2-1 in a game in which Billy McNeill spent much of the 90 minutes injured on the right wing and John Hughes pulled a goal back for Celtic in the second-half, after the hosts had led 2-0 at the interval.

Seven days later, Willie played in the biggest match of his career to date, lining up in the Scottish League Cup final in front of nearly 90,000 spectators at Hampden. Hearts’ opponents were Rangers, now including his old Raith Rovers teammate Jim Baxter. The sides would draw 1-1 on the day, after extra-time, with Wallace injured by the time the replay came around in December, the Ibrox club winning that one 3-1.

The big occasions came thick and fast around that time. On Monday, 6 November 1961, Willie came up against Helenio Herrera and Inter Milan for the first time, the Edinburgh side losing 1-0 at Tynecastle before shipping four goals without replay in the San Siro two weeks later, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, forerunner to the UEFA Cup. There would be payback for those results for Wallace a few years down the line, in the biggest tournament of them all.

February 1962 saw a high-scoring double-header between Hearts and Celtic in the space of a few days. The Scottish Cup-tie at Tynecastle on Saturday 17th saw the Bhoys edge a seven-goal thriller at Tynecastle, with Pat Crerand grabbing the winner with a late retaken penalty, after Gordon Marshall senior had saved his first effort, the fifth goal to be scored in the final 20 minutes. Crerand and Wallace had faced one another as juniors many years earlier, when Paddy had starred for Duntocher Hibs and Willie at Kilsyth. Four nights later, the sides would share the spoils in a 2-2 League draw at Celtic Park, although Willie would sit this one out.

But the biggest match of Willie’s 1961/62 season would take place off the park, on Monday, 2 April 1962, when he married his long-time girlfriend Olive Macaulay at Anderson Parish Church in Kilsyth, with a reception in the local masonic halls. By the Thursday, after a three-night honeymoon in Aberfoyle, the new husband was back in training at Tynecastle!

Wallace was back in the team when the clubs next met on the opening day of the next season, Saturday, 11 August 1962, a new era for Celtic commencing as Billy McNeill skippered the Hoops for the first time whilst a teenage Bobby Murdoch made his debut, allegedly after John Divers had turned up at the ground without his football boots! Bobby headed Celts in front in the 7th minute, Charlie Gallagher and John Hughes also on target as the Hoops claimed a 3-1 win in the initial League Cup sectional match. The two Dundee clubs made up a tough group, the men from Dens Park being the newly-crowned Scottish champions.

Willie would take his revenge on Celtic two weeks later at Tynecastle, scoring twice either side of the break, the second from the penalty spot, to give Hearts a 3-0 lead, enough to secure the two points, despite second-half strikes from Bobby Murdoch and John Hughes.

The Gorgie men would finish one point ahead of Celtic to win the section and would then eliminate Morton and St Johnstone to return to Hampden for a second successive League Cup final. On Saturday, 27 October 1962, the 22-year-old Willie Wallace was back in his old right-wing slot for the match against Willie Waddell’s Kilmarnock at Hampden, in front of 51,000 spectators, the majority wearing the maroon of Hearts. They would not be disappointed. The only goal of the final was scored just before the half-hour by Tynecastle centre-forward Norrie Davidson. There was a huge scare right on the full-time whistle when Frank Beattie appeared to have levelled things for Killie, the goal surprisingly ruled out for an infringement. Seconds later it was all over, and Willie had his first medal in senior football.

It would not be his last. To be continued…

Matt Corr


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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