Tommy Burns: Gone but never forgotten


For days after he died, fans from all over came to pay their respects and lay their tributes outside Celtic Park. Colours from clubs from all over the world had been laid outside his beloved Celtic Park such was the respect and high esteem that Tommy was held in by all supporters.

On the night before Tommy passed away, Celtic’s great rivals Rangers had played and lost a UEFA Cup Final – some of the Rangers fans had given the club a bad name with their behaviour – but thousands of decent Rangers fans took the time out from the European heartbreak when on the road back from Manchester to pay their respects to Tommy Burns, a gesture that had not gone un-noticed by the Celtic supporters as they applauded their rivals as they paid their respects to a great man. Such acts of decency give us hope for the future that the nastiness that surrounds the Old Firm would stop once and for all, but it has taken the deaths of such much respected figures in the football world, Davie Cooper, Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone and Tommy Burns to show the world the compassion of both sets of the Old Firm supporters.

The sight of the Rangers management team standing side by side with their former Celtic rivals carrying Tommy’s coffin brought tears, applause and tributes from the Celtic faithful, the sheer act of humanity shown by Walter Smith and Ally McCoist towards Tommy will never be forgotten by anyone at Celtic Park, football and even the greatest of rivalries were put to one side as all sections of the football world paid their tributes to a loving, compassionate man and a legend at Celtic Park.

The training complex at Lennoxtown should pay testament to the memory of Tommy Burns as he was the man who had wanted the club to do something to help with the youth development scene, indeed the club are thinking of renaming it in Tommy’s honour as a tribute to the great man. Tommy was a much respected figure in the game; he was loved by the followers of Glasgow Celtic, for his devotion and passion for the club and of course his talent. A boy from the Calton area of Glasgow born only a short distance from the place fondly known as “Paradise”, Tommy was a boy who would live the dream. Tommy joined Celtic from Maryhill Juniors and he would go on to have a glittering career as a player with his boyhood heroes. Six Premier League medals, three Scottish Cup medals, one League Cup winner’s medal and he was involved in the Celtic side which won the Centenary Double in 1988 under Billy McNeill.

Life after Celtic took Tommy to Kilmarnock, where he was signed as a player by Jim Fleeting with Tommy helping the club to the First Division in his first season at the club. In 1992, Tommy would become player-manager and he helped the club win promotion to the Premier League. In 1994 the emotional pull of Celtic was too much to resist and both Tommy and his friend Billy Stark become the new management team at Celtic Park. Under Tommy, Celtic would play some of the most attractive football seen at Celtic Park, the kind of flowing attacking football that Celtic have been renowned for over the years but unfortunately for Tommy, Rangers under Walter Smith were a tough nut to crack, as previous Celtic managers had found out to their cost and unfortunately a Coca Cola Cup Final defeat to First Division Raith Rovers on penalties and only a Scottish Cup Final win over Airdrie (1-0) was Tommy’s only success as Celtic manager as Rangers closed in on Celtic’s nine-in-a-row record.

In 1996 Celtic lost only one match but still lost the title to Rangers and the pressure on Tommy was added too when Rangers won all four matches and he was sacked in the 1997 season, many felt that Tommy should have been given more time but he was gone. Spells at Newcastle and Reading proved unsuccessful but Tommy returned home in 2000 to help Kenny Dalglish and as Martin O’Neill came north Tommy was given a role with youth development, a role that he would relish indeed as Gordon Strachan arrived at Celtic, Tommy was given the role as first team coach, no matter who has been in charge over the past few years at Celtic, they have always wanted Tommy by their side that says something about the man and what he knows and means to Celtic.

Tommy was also involved with the international scene as assistant to Berti Vogts who after a turbulent time in charge of the national side was replaced by Walter Smith but not before Tommy had a taste of management on the International scene as he was caretaker manager as the team lost 4-1 to Sweden. Even as Berti Vogts took a hammering from the Scottish press, Tommy always stood by the German even in his darkest hours that is the measure of the man. Tommy stayed loyal to Walter during his time in charge of the national side and formed a great backroom team with his Old Firm rivals Walter Smith and Ally McCoist. When Walter and Ally went back to Rangers, many felt that Tommy could be given the chance to take the national job on but Alex McLeish was given the nod and Tommy devoted his time to Celtic.

Tommy had other things on his mind as he was receiving treatment for melanoma, a form of skin cancer and had two lumps removed from his leg, many thought that Tommy would now be clear of his illness but unfortunately that was not to be as further treatment had been received but to no avail and Tommy passed away at home. Many things have been said and written about Tommy, he was a special person, unique, funny, had a great voice when he was singing his favourite song-Mac the Knife, a talented footballer, family man and devout Catholic, his faith and his family meant more to him than anything.

Celtic lost an icon but dedicated their title win to him as the whole squad wore a t-shirt saying, ‘You’ll Always Be With Us’ under a photo of Tommy and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on the back, Tommy was looking down from above on his beloved Celtic.

Much was written and there have been many tributes to this wonderful man, former Aberdeen and Scotland midfielder Gordon Strachan enjoyed many a tussle with Tommy over the years but in the end he was glad to know the man who was just Tommy.

Gordon went on to become Celtic manager and grew closer to the Celtic legend with each passing day. Gordon had paid this glowing tribute to Tommy after his passing.

“The best part of coming to Celtic, above everything else, is that it has been a fantastic journey,” he said.
“But the last few years, calling Tommy Burns my friend. That’s the best thing you can get.”

He added: “That’s no disrespect to football, but being Tommy’s mate was the best part of joining Celtic. We’re talking about a legend here. As I said all along, people should be judged not as a footballer but as a person.

“There weren’t many better than him. But, as a person, he was top of the league when it comes to being a man.”

There have been tribute nights and matches since Tommy’s death but on March 4th there will be another occasion to pay tribute to the man and also contribute to a fantastic cause.

One of the staff at ACCA in Glasgow – Graeme Brunton – has set up a charity match against Chick Young and his Dukla Pumpherston side.

The match takes place at the East Kilbride Showpark (the Village) and kicks off at 2pm (Donations at the gate) with all profits going to the Tommy Burns campaign for the Beatson.

There will also be raffle tickets on sale before the game, with the winning tickets drawn at half time.

Prizes are as follows:

1. Signed Scotland Top
2. 2 tickets for an Aberdeen match
3. Two match tickets for Celtic v St.Johnstone on March 31st
4. A tour of Ibrox for 6 people

This is a fantastic cause as many people in every walk of life will know someone who has unfortunately been touched by Cancer and by going along to events like these you will not only remember the legend that Tommy was but it will help build the Glasgow Centre for Cancer Research and that can only be a good thing for everyone.

Get along on Sunday if you can and enjoy the match.


About Author

Chief Features Writer for Scotzine.com. Sean has written for various publications and websites over the years and has been involved with making documentaries on Aberdeen Football Club, Dundee United Football Club, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lambert and Jock Stein and also Radio programmes, one of which "Old Firm Day" won a Bronze Sony Award. He also worked in the Scottish Football Museum at Hampden Park. His love of writing started off with The Punter and has gone on to write for the following FIFA magazine, 442, Scotland's Oracle, Players Inc, British Football Week, ESPN, Give Me Football, Inside Futbol, 67 Fanzine and the matchday programmes of Aberdeen, Carlisle United, Montrose, Partick Thistle, Stockport County and Queen's Park. He has also been asked to write a blog for Youth Football Scotland on St.Mirren YFC such was his passion for football at every level from Grassroots to the professional game.

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