Choccy’s Diary: Transfer travails and Old Firm memories

As pub doors in Scotland close once again, it struck me the other day that not only will many of us be deprived of a pint, we’ll also miss out on the great conversations which take place every day in our fine hostelries.

One of the benefits of the mullet being slightly greyer and the beard a little fuller than in my playing days is that people don’t necessarily associate me with the Choccy of the mid-1980s.

So when frequenting a few bars in the Gallowgate area of Glasgow recently, I was able to sit and admire the magnificent memorabilia adorning the walls, some featuring yours truly, while the locals supped away blissfully unaware of who I used to be.

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That was until the fella behind the bar obviously felt I reminded him of someone and decided to yell across the room as he attempted to convince himself – and the regulars – that I was indeed a former Hoops player from years gone by.

“Hey, Brian, what’s your name?” Came the shout.

That was only bettered by a conversation I overheard in another Scottish ale house a few days later as one individual proudly boasted to some fellas sitting at the next table that his pals once played with the legendary singer/songwriter Paul Simon.

But as he tried to describe their musical style, one key detail appeared to have evaded him as the years have passed.

“Aye, they were a barbershop quartet,” he went on to explain. “There were about seven of them.”

A similar age to myself, I was pleased to see that the Scottish education system in the 1960s and ‘70s hadn’t let us down in later life.

Transfer Travails

I have to say I needed a drink after Manchester United’s recent transfer activity, or lack of it, as it appears blatantly obvious nobody is capable of putting any kind of recruitment strategy in place at Old Trafford, which is a far cry from how it used to be.

When I was at United, Alex Ferguson would always highlight exactly who and what he needed and then the club would do all they could to get the deal done as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A manager will always know what they need – in my opinion, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a centre back, a decent left back and a striker – but he doesn’t necessarily recruit the player. That’s the job of somebody like David Gill.

The boss can only identify what they want and then put the wheels in motion, but for some reason United just aren’t getting the players that everyone seems to know that they need.

I seem to remember United would concentrate on one deal at a time, identify their target and then set about making that happen, rather than desperately trying to do last-minute business, which very rarely works out.

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That’s why I have my reservations about Edinson Cavani. A fine striker of his generation, but you have to wonder why he was allowed to essentially drift into the footballing wilderness and what it says about his personality that he was prepared to let this happen.

He may well prove everyone wrong, of course, but I always remember Alex Ferguson saying of a player before attempting to sign him: “What about his character? What’s he like?” And I’m not sure he would have gone anywhere near United’s most recent acquisition.

Of course, it was very different when I was playing and there was nowhere near the amount of speculation and analysis when it came to signings. Probably down to the fact that transfer windows didn’t exist back then.

When new players joined Manchester United, we only knew when we saw them at the training ground or sitting in the changing room. We were very rarely privy to any discussions about possible signings unless the gaffer thought you might be able to give him an insight into a player’s character.

We only heard about deals when they were done, like when Eric Cantona famously joined from Leeds in one of the biggest transfer coups of all time. I think I read about it in the evening paper or on that thing they used to call Ceefax.

Old Firm Favourites

This month sees the first Old Firm derby of the season, a fixture I always relished playing in having grown up watching Jock Stein’s Celtic side conquer Europe from the comfort of the Buckfast Triangle on the outskirts of Glasgow.

I vividly recall our entire school being taken into the hall and shown the crackly black-and-white footage on the projector of that famous European Cup final win over Inter Milan in Lisbon with the likes of Billy McNeill, Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox and my absolute hero Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone.

Even at the age of five, I remember thinking ‘that’s what I want to do’ and sure enough, a few years later, I was running out at Parkhead myself and following in the footsteps of my hooped heroes.

The Celtic versus Rangers rivalry has to be the most intense I’ve ever played in as it’s so much part of fans’ lives and it dominates their whole thoughts almost every day, especially leading up to the day of the game.

As for the match itself, for me it surpasses the tension of Liverpool and Manchester United encounters, which I always felt were much more fiercely contested than the Manchester derby and once the game was underway, it seemed to go in a flash.

My first ever Old Firm game was back in September 1983 having managed to secure a place on the bench in my debut season at Celtic Park, and despite being relatively new to the whole experience of such a huge encounter I didn’t let the occasion get to me.

Coming on as a second-half substitute, I even managed to “create” a goal for Roy Aitken by standing in an offside position, in a game which we eventually came from behind to win 2-1.

One of my most memorable moments in this most monumental of fixtures has to be the New Year game at Ibrox back in 1985.

In the 55th minute of what was a pretty poor game, I decided to take a shot, though you can hardly call it a shot, as it was such a pathetic effort with no power behind it whatsoever.

So imagine my surprise when, as I turned away, a roar from the Celtic faithful behind Peter McCloy’s goal alerted me to the fact that somehow the ball had crossed the line –  it barely even reached the back of the net but I didn’t care, a goal is a goal.

In terms of this latest encounter it’s all about momentum for me. A win for Celtic will give them a healthy cushion as they chase an historic 10 league titles in a row, while a victory for Rangers would be a huge boost as they try to prevent their arch rivals from achieving that feat.

Saying that, when Rangers won at Celtic in last year’s New Year game, it looked to have given them the impetus to go on and mount a serious title challenge, only for them to collapse after the winter break – so it’s still far too early to say regardless of what happens.

What I do know is that if Neil Lennon’s men do go on to eclipse the achievement of my boyhood heroes of the 1960s and ‘70s, they will be assured of a place in the history books, as well as a space on the wall of every drinking establishment on the Gallowgate.

So perhaps in 20 years’ time someone will shout across the bar to a slightly more grey Irishman: “Hey, Neil, what’s your name?”

Until next time.



Choccy’s Diary: Transfer travails and Old Firm memories
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