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.’
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