There’s Fallon, Young and Gemmell who proudly wear the green
Clark, McNeill and Kennedy – the best there’s ever been
It is 1965. Celtic full back Ian Young has just played his part in the famed 3-2 Scottish Cup Final victory over Dunfermline which set the club on the path to Lisbon and glory. For Ian, as he dropped his fiancée off after the club’s celebratory banquet in the Central Hotel, it was a ‘top of the world’ moment. His long held-dream of a Scottish Cup winner’s medal nestling in his pocket. A beautiful woman he would marry the following summer. The pride of his father, a Junior football stalwart, having witnessed his son play on the winning side in the final at Hampden.
But something wasn’t right. “All of a sudden a huge feeling of anti-climax hit me. I don’t know where it came from but it hit me hard. For some reason, although I had just achieved my life’s ambition and had everything that I ever wanted or wished for, I knew that there had to be something more than this.” Whatever it was that Ian was looking for, it would take years to find. And the search led to the decision to write this book.
For Celtic fans born since the 1960s, Ian Young’s name is one occasionally heard in passing – as when the old song ‘Celtic, Celtic – That’s the team for me!’ gets an airing – but not a lot is known about the defender, or what happened to him after he left Celtic. As the book title suggests, he was a team-mate of the Lisbon Lions. But he wasn’t to share their stage of the Estadio Nacional on that glorious day.
Signed by Sean Fallon with Bob Kelly in attendance in May 1961 aged 18, in just over two years the Neilston boy had supplanted Dunky MacKay as the Celtic right-back. It had been a surprise signing for Young, a boyhood Rangers fan. Having trained at Ibrox with his brother as a youth, he turned his back on the deceased club when manager Scot Symon reneged on a promise to pay their travel expenses. After signing on at Celtic his former pals in the Neilston RSC now ignored him in the street, creating a desire to do down his former team that would match that of his next manager, Jock Stein: “No-one wanted to beat Rangers more than I did.”
The Young family had no qualms about Ian joining Celtic and, despite their Church of Scotland background, as far as Ian was concerned “my religion was football and that was all that mattered.” He categorically denies the claim of Tommy Gemmell that they were, as non-Catholics in a mostly Catholic team, subjected to abuse from team-mates on sectarian grounds: “Tommy’s recollection however is totally at odds with mine.” Instead, he recalls how on the way back from a 6-0 away victory over Deventer in the Netherlands in 1965 the first team sang a medley of rebel songs – with an Orange song thrown in for good measure.
The arrival of Jock Stein as Celtic manager in 1965 changed the course of history at the club. Ian Young played more first-team games than any other Celt that season. His standing would have been enhanced in the new manager’s eyes by his famous tackle on Rangers winger Willie Johnston at the start of the 1965 League Cup final which kept Johnston quiet for the rest of the game in front of 107,000 fans. This was seen at the time, and proved to be, a watershed moment in Glasgow derbies. The message was clear: under Stein, Celtic would now match steel with steel. Ian Young denies that the manager gave him an explicit order to take Johnston out of the game. But the message was understood by all and Celtic’s steel would soon be rewarded with silverware.
Ian won a League Champion’s medal in season 1965-6 but his appearances fell due to a bad ankle injury which allowed Jim Craig to take his place in the first team. He returned for the semi-final tie against Liverpool in the European Cup Winner’s Cup but was then dropped a few days later for the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers as manager Stein opted for the more attack-minded Craig. And the die was cast. He would only play in the Celtic first team one more time – in the Glasgow Cup.
In every sense Ian Young was a spectator as Celtic blazed the trail to domestic and European glory in season 1966-7. He was there on the side-lines in Lisbon – filming the game for Stevie Chalmers on the striker’s cine camera, capturing that incredible moment for his friend when his goal won the big cup for Celtic. Yet there is no bitterness shown towards the manager who dropped him or colleague who replaced him at right-back. After another season spent in the reserves he took a free transfer to his local club St. Mirren where he played on for two years before further injury problems – and impressive performances from a young Gordon McQueen – forced him to retire from professional football at the age of 26.
With a young family to provide for Ian settled into full-time employment away from football after a few years coaching Junior clubs. He continued to feel the gnawing sense of emptiness first experienced after the 1965 Cup Final but a number of years passed before he found what he considers to be his calling – Christianity. Without hectoring or evangelising, Ian sets out the path he went on which led to spiritual fulfilment. And it is the rewards that he has felt since that persuaded him to write this book, nominally about his football life but ultimately about his spiritual life. As he himself puts it, from the Lisbon Lions to being ‘alive with the Lion of Judah’ as Jesus is occasionally referred to.
This autobiography is entirely the work of Ian Young’s own hand – unusually for a footballer’s book there’s not a ghost-writer in sight – and he has done a fine job. It is an honest and refreshing read. It is unusual because the motive in writing it hasn’t come from any desire to put the record straight or to slate former team-mates or managers. There will be little tabloid interest in Ian Young’s story. He chose to write it to share his spiritual experience and encourage others to follow him on the path to enlightenment. This makes ‘Life With The Lions’ both an unusual and unusually brave book.
There are insights along the way which will fascinate Celtic supporters, such as how he shared a near-death airborne experience with Jimmy Johnstone which led to the famous winger’s infamous fear of flying and also how he was the beneficiary of an act of charity by Desmond White – a feat in itself more likely to encourage Celtic fans to believe that there is a God after all. Ultimately though, this isn’t a football book. It is much more.
A unique book in the burgeoning Celtic library, it adds to the compelling story of the squad of footballers who made the name of Celtic famous across the world. For Ian Young though, trophies, football and fame were to prove much less fulfilling than faith. He finally found what he was looking for.
The Shamrock rating: 7/10
The book can be purchased online here for £8.99: http://shnpublishing.com/ian-young/