So just who were the Class of ‘55? Matt McVittie’s Celtic Story

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The player on the extreme left of the front row is Matt McVittie, who signed provisional forms for Celtic whilst with Wishaw Juniors in the aftermath of the Coronation Cup triumph in the summer of 1953, having been recommended to the club as a 13-year-old standout at that age level a few years earlier. Matt spent a short spell on loan with Albion Rovers from September 1953 before arriving at Parkhead in December, not long after his 16th birthday.

McVittie would bide his time before making his senior debut in a Glasgow Cup first-round tie played at Celtic Park on Tuesday, 23 August 1955, replacing the injured Charlie Tully against Scottish Cup-holders Clyde, who had beaten the Hoops at Hampden a few months earlier. The following team took to the field seeking some measure of early revenge on the Bully Wee.

John Bonnar; Mike Haughney & Sean Fallon; Bobby Evans, Jock Stein & Bertie Peacock;

Bobby Collins, Matt McVittie, Jimmy Walsh, Willie Fernie & Neil Mochan.

Future Celtic Hampden hero Billy McPhail was making his comeback from long-term injury for Clyde, but it was Jimmy Walsh who suffered a problem in the opening minute which forced him to play the rest of the game on the left wing. That would allow Neil Mochan to move into the centre and he duly accepted the challenge with a hat-trick, the first a rocket from outside the box in six minutes following good work by new Bhoy McVittie and Bobby Collins. McVittie was also involved in Celtic’s fourth goal, brought down for a penalty kick in the final minute which Mike Haughney converted. The Glasgow Herald commented on his performance and his misfortune in not having a debut goal to celebrate.

“McVittie, small and compact like Collins, had made a splendid first appearance for the Celtic first eleven and had been unlucky when a first-time hook shot had beaten Hewkins and been disallowed as a goal because a colleague was in the vicinity of the goal-line – but not in my opinion interfering with play.”

He could consider himself unlucky to be replaced by Eric Smith for the 4-1 League Cup victory at Ibrox four days later, but an injury to Willie Fernie saw the youngster play in the return fixture at Celtic Park in midweek in front of 61,000 spectators, still one month short of his 18th birthday. Sadly, it would be a night when most things went wrong for Celtic, injuries to Jock Stein and Sean Fallon perhaps factors in the collapse which allowed Rangers to win 4-0 and seize the advantage going into the final section matches that weekend.

Matt’s next first-team outing was the Glasgow Cup semi-final against holders Partick Thistle, played at Celtic Park on Friday, 9 September 1955. Frank Whyte and Jimmy ‘Peam’ Docherty – another two of the Celts featured in these articles – and teenage keeper Dick Beattie were also in the line-up as injuries to established stars stretched Jimmy McGrory’s resources to the limit. Goals either side of the break by Charlie Tully and Neil Mochan set up a final clash with Rangers for later that month.

McVittie celebrated his 18th birthday on 30 September 1955 and marked the occasion with his first goal for Celtic 24 hours later. He took advantage of a clever dummy by debutant Jim Sharkey – another wearing the iconic shamrock kit in the photo – to give Celtic an early lead over top of the table Raith Rovers at Parkhead. Sharkey then scored his first goal for the club with three minutes remaining to seal an excellent 2-0 win, enabling the Hoops to overtake the Fifers and slip into second place behind new leaders Queen of the South.

Matt would make it two goals in two games when he returned to the side a fortnight later for the home clash with Motherwell. The sides were tied at 1-1 midway through the second half when Well keeper Weir touched a Charlie Tully header on to the crossbar, McVittie following up to give Celtic the lead. That looked like being the winner until Aitken equalised for Motherwell in the final minute.

After a few weeks out, McVittie returned to the team for the visit of East Fife on Saturday, 5 November 1955, replacing John Higgins. Despite the genius of Willie Fernie, it would be a frustrating day in front of goal with neither side able to break the deadlock, Celts missing a glorious opportunity to close the gap on leaders Queen of the South.

Matt McVittie

Matt’s seventh and final appearance that season came in perhaps the most vital match of the campaign, Rangers heading to Parkhead on Monday, 2 January 1956 still smarting from their 5-3 defeat in the Glasgow Cup final at the same venue on Boxing Day. In a game dominated by Celtic, the only goal would go to the visitors just before the half-hour, South African striker Don Kichenbrand inflicting a damaging blow to the title dreams of the Celtic faithful.

The army of all things would then disrupt McVittie’s football career, his two-year National Service stint commencing the following month. By a curious co-incidence, his return to the side would be in the corresponding derby fixture of January 1958, presumably whilst on leave. By mid-December 1957, Celtic were the only unbeaten League side north or south of the border and had won the League Cup by beating their fierce rivals Rangers 7-1 in what remains to this day the record winning margin for a major cup final on these shores. Three successive home defeats halted that progress, the last of those coming three days earlier to runaway League leaders Hearts, themselves en route to creating their own scoring landmarks in a title-winning campaign.

One of the reasons for Celtic’s recent problems had been the absence of several key players, and they would once again be without Willie Fernie, Billy McPhail, Charlie Tully and Bobby Collins for the visit of Rangers. In came John Colrain for his debut with Matt McVittie partnering him on the right flank. McVittie would be involved in one of the defining moments in the match, midway through the second half with Rangers leading by an early Alex Scott goal, as reported by Cyril Horne in The Glasgow Herald the following day.

“A most remarkable save by [Billy] Ritchie midway in the second half at Celtic Park was the principal factor in Rangers’ success. McVittie’s shot was placed carefully and cleverly far to the right of Rangers’ goalkeeper, but with nimbleness and courage exceptional on this day of freezing iron-hard ground he dived headlong and collared the ball on the ground when all the Celtic legions were crying “Goal.” Had Celtic scored then, after intensive pressure, it would have been no more than they deserved.”


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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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