TV Pundit Alan McInally answers our questions about his time as a Celtic player in the 1980s and what he thinks about the job Brendan Rodgers is doing at the Scottish Champions…
How much of an inspiration was your dad Jackie, who was a forward with Kilmarnock and Motherwell? Did you attempt to copy his style?
The person who was my main inspiration was always my dad. The Scots always say that you’ll never as good as dad and in this instance they were correct! He gave me great advice and encouragement yet he was also my harshest critic. We had different styles – my dad was more of an inside forward – but certainly he was my main inspirational to become a professional footballer.
Were you surprised when Davie Hay brought you to Celtic in a £100,000 deal from Ayr United in 1984?
No I was not surprised at all. My contract at Ayr United was coming end and I had numerous options to sign for clubs down south and both Celtic and Rangers came in for me. I weighed things up with my dad and decided to join Celtic. Gerry Collins, who was a great pal of the late great Tommy Burns – I loved that man – was at Ayr and he made me train in a Celtic top that he gave me and did some real hard selling to get me to go to Celtic. I was glad that I did.
Speculation persisted that you had been a boyhood Rangers fan – true or false?
Definitely false! No, I was never a Rangers fan or indeed a Celtic supporter. My parents were never religious people so there was nothing doing in that regard regarding picking sides. I’d put myself down as an Ayr Utd fan or a Killie fan even, just because of my dad played at Rugby Park. As far as Celtic or Rangers are concerned as I boy I don’t think I ever went to see either side play other than when they visited Somerset Park.
What was it like to play alongside the now Mo Johnston, Brian McClair and Mark McGhee in a team with an abundance of striking talent?
It was fantastic, actually it was a real highlight of career to be at Celtic, playing and training with the players that were at the club at that time and working with a great manager like Davie Hay. Mark McGhee came to the club a little later when he returned from his time playing in Germany – he is a really good friend of mine and incidentally I think that he’s a really good manager. I believe that he will get a top job in England again.
Playing with striking talent like that during my time at Celtic was brilliant. We all had our own goals and ambitions in the game but we were always working for the team. It was a pleasure training every day and playing alongside players of that quality.
How difficult was it for Celtic to compete with a Rangers team splashing record amounts of cash in the transfer market at the time?
We had had it our own way for a long time. Celtic were clearly the best team in Glasgow for years and the rivalry was with Aberdeen and even Dundee United rather than Rangers in terms of honours. Then Souness came in bought big, bringing in all the English lads like Butcher, Wilkins, Walters and the like. It became increasing hard for us to compete with this level of spending that was a completely new thing in Scottish football. At that time Celtic could not spend money like that – the club simply didn’t have that type of money. Aberdeen and Dundee United couldn’t either so it was a real game changer for Scottish football.
All we could do as Celtic players was to role up our sleeve sleeves and get stuck in. There was a league Cup Final that we lost to them that had little to do with the money they had been spending and more to do with them getting , let’s call it the rub of the green! So it was a challenging time for Celtic.
Were you frustrated at the lack of trophy success at Celtic?
Not really, we won title at that never to be forgotten afternoon at St Mirren and we won a very good Scottish Cup Final when Davie Provan put that free kick into the top corner and Frank McGarvey scored a wonderful winner. In football competition is a healthy thing and if there were more teams capable of winning trophies then that had to be good for the game, although all sorts of issues later emerged to make you think again about that. The frustration among the Celtic support at the big spending at Ibrox was not vented towards the Celtic players but to board who simply weren’t up to the challenges at that time.
You left Celtic in 1987 for Aston Villa at the same time Johnston, McClair and Murdo MacLeod left the club. Why the mass exodus?
Celtic did offer a new contract, a two year deal whereas I wanted a three year deal. It was an offer that wasn’t anywhere near what I was looking for but that wasn’t the main reason that I left Celtic. I left because I felt that they didn’t want me to stay. Mo Johnston and Brian McClair had already left and I was therefore surprised and also a little disappointed that Mr McNeill didn’t make the the effort needed to keep me at the club. If they had offered me a 3 year contract I would have stayed. I wasn’t looking for a move, indeed I wanted to stay and play for the club, believing we could win the league and do well in Europe. However it wasn’t to be and Celtic actually made it an easy decision for me as I didn’t feel wanted. Every player likes a pat on the back, to fell wanted and I simply wasn’t getting that so I signed for Aston Villa.
Frank McGarvey is quoted as saying that Charlie Nicholas signed for Arsenal a few years before, he increased his wages by a multiple of 23 times. What was the difference in pay you received from Villa and also from Villa to Bayern Munich?
Well I can tell you it wasn’t 23 times more. I think it increased by a factor of 2.5 times at that stage from Celtic to Villa and when I signed for Bayern Munich the wages increased tenfold.
Murdo went to Borussia Dortmund and you eventually caught up with him in Germany when you signed for Bayern Munich in 1989. How did that come about?
Bayern wanted a big centre forward for quite a long time and had looked at different players but none of them fitted. Their scouts saw me playing for Scotland a few times and liked what they saw. They started to come to watch me play for Villa and that was of interest to the club because the manager at the time Graham Taylor had said to me that he wouldn’t sell me to club in England so wanted to get me a move to the continent. At the time there were very few players for the English league moving over there, I think it was only Chris Waddle who was playing for Marseille and then myself at Bayern Munich. They made me an offer that I simply offer couldn’t turn down – 10 times wages – 4 years in total – stellar football, wonderful experience at the club and in the country learning the language and the culture. It was a life changing experience for me.
Any regrets about not getting the chance to return to Celtic when you came back to Scotland in 1993 to sign for your dad’s old team Kilmarnock?
It would have been nice but I was not fit enough. I only went to Kilmarnock because Tommy Burns was the manager – god bless him – I loved the man. I was relatively fit but perhaps only at 75% the player I had been due to the injuries. I went to Killie for Tommy and Danny Crainey George McCluskey and Billy Stark were all there too. Tommy had his own mini Celtic there and it was great.
A newspaper reporter christened you ‘Rambo’ after the muscle-bound character in the Sylverster Stallone movie. How did you feel about the nickname?
Rambo! That came from the Jungle, so I’ve got to give them full credit for that. I’d scored a good solo goal in pre-season where I ran through the defence knowing players out of the way and putting the ball in the net. A journalist described the run as being a Rambo style goal. When we got home to Scotland and came out to play funnily enough Aston Villa in pre-season match the whole Jungle started signing Rambo, Rambo; Rambo Rambo. It was a sign of real respect from our supporters who were always first class, it was a nice compliment – some of the players still call me it even to this day!
Anywhere I go in the world there will always be someone shouting ‘Hey Rambo big man, how are you doing?” and I’ll know it’s a Celtic supporter.
At the time the Celtic players called me Al, but they’d tease me by calling me Rambo when it suited them. I loved the humour of it all.
What advice would you give Patrick Roberts, who is on loan to Celtic from Manchester City?
Realistically he has little or no chance of getting into the Manchester City team. The best he can expect is to shine the bench with his bum and even that might be a challenge. A brilliant young player like that needs to play to get better. He doesn’t need my advice as he will have the right people advising him but for what it’s worth I would tell him to stay at Celtic, play in games and develop, win trophies, enjoy his football and build up Champions League experience. If he goes back to City his career will stall, that would be a great shame. Look at the route Moussa Dembele has followed through making the intelligent move in the summer to join Celtic. I would advise Patrick Roberts to stay at Celtic for a few years and forget all about being a bit player at City.
Have you been impressed by Brendan Rodgers in his time at Celtic and before that in the Premier League with Liverpool and Swansea?
Brendan is a top, top manager. He has gone to Celtic and has done what he had to do – he added pace into team. He added bite. Celtic, strangely had become rather tame in recent years and couldn’t put teams away in certain situations. The supporters saw that themselves. So big credit to Brendan, they are 100% better as a team with mostly the same players. People down in England don’t appreciate just how how big a job managing Celtic is but it is a huge job. Brendan is limited in what he can do regarding signing top players – Messi etc won’t be turning up in Scottish football to sign for Celtic – but he can be an intelligent manager when it comes to signings so he will improve the team year on year. I expect Celtic to win league every year he’s there and compete in Europe in a more meaningful way.
Peter Lawwell recently said that Celtic could be the biggest club in Britain if we had access to the English/Welsh leagues. Do you agree with him?
Did he say that? Listen, I don’t think one minute that the fan base at Celtic isn’t as big as any club in world football and I include Manchester United in that. As for the story about Celtic or Celtic and Rangers managing to get into premier league – I don’t think that is going to happen, certainly not in my lifetime, so that’s a non-starter. What I would say is that Celtic are watched globally and have supporters all over the world. There are few sides as famous around the world as Celtic with the green and white hoops.
NEW CQN PODCAST OUT NOW FEATURING TOMMY SHERIDAN
A Celtic State of Mind presents its 30th instalment of insightful discussion around the culture of Celtic Football Club, the city of Glasgow, and fans of the reigning treble-winning Scottish champions.
Kevin Graham is joined by Scotty Alcroft to interview Scottish pro-independence politician, Tommy Sheridan, at The Penalty Spot in Glasgow.
The interview took place as part of A Celtic State of Mind’s first live event – Five-a-sides at The Penalty Spot – and, as such, there is some background noise (including mobile interference – apologies) from the audience.
The other voice you may hear throughout this episode is that of former Celtic striker, Frank McGarvey, who is a friend of Tommy’s, and who was also interviewed separately that day for a future show.
You are sure to enjoy Tommy’s eclectic input, as he discusses everything from Catalan independence to Coolio, with a constant undercurrent of that thing called Celtic.
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