Bobby Evans, Celtic and Scotland captain and centre-half from the 1950s, was renowned for his commitment to the cause and ability on the ball. One of the first players to play with their jersey outside the shorts, Bobby and his famous red curly hair led Celtic out of one of their darkest historical periods to glorious success with the 1954 League and Cup double, the Coronation Cup, the St. Mungo Cup and, of course, 1957’s League Cup final victory over the defunct Glasgow team ‘Rangers’ by SEVEN goals to ONE.
Bobby was respected throughout the game and could more than hold his own when challenged or subjected to what he felt was unfair comments. Charlie Tully found this out to his cost when his ghost-written newspaper column contained some indirect criticism of Bobby’s performances for Scotland, resulting in a dressing room brawl just before the ‘Hampden In the Sun’ final.
It is sometimes said that footballers are too removed from the fans nowadays and, even in this age of social media, that modern players live in a bubble devoid of criticism and awareness of what fans are saying. Bobby Evans was never one to place himself in a bubble or hide when criticism came his way.
During a Scottish Cup tie at Paisley as he was nearing the end of his career in 1960, Bobby was being run ragged by the St. Mirren striker Gerry Baker (brother of famous Hibs and Torino forward Joe Baker) and to avoid a cross reaching the attacker at one point he simply jumped up in the air and grabbed it with both hands.
This led to one fan, a Mr Mackenzie from Gallowhill in Paisley, writing a letter conveying his unhappiness at the Celtic player’s actions which was published in one of Glasgow’s daily newspapers of the time, the Evening Citizen, on 16th February 1960:
I left the St. Mirren-Celtic cup-tie at Love Street with a firm opinion on one aspect of our future international sides – Bobby Evans is no longer the man to fill Scotland’s centre-half jersey. I have long been an admirer of Bobby Evans, both as a footballer who never gave up trying and as a sportsman. It may have been a good tactic to jump into the air and catch the ball like a goalkeeper (as he did on Saturday) but it was a surpisingly graceless act from a no.1 player. Bobby, slow on the turn these days, has been relying on his positional sense. Now it seems, even that is suspect.
Ouch. Mr Mackenzie didn’t miss the Scottish internationalist. At the time newspapers would offer a ‘right to reply’ to anyone subject to criticism and no doubt enjoy the resulting controversy if any player did reply . That wasn’t Bobby Evans’ style. And neither was letting the matter go . . .
A day after the letter was published Mr Mackenzie answered a knock at his front door – and found himself facing the imposing figure of a discontented Bobby Evans. The Celtic player had travelled back to Paisley to remonstrate with the letter writer face-to-face. Not over the suggestion that he was “past it” but about the reference to bad sportsmanship on his part. That was a criticism that Bobby Evans wasn’t prepared to take on the chin.
There was no shouting or physical confrontation but the rather shocked Mr Mackenzie was left in no doubt that if he was going to make any public assertions of a lack of grace by Bobby Evans, he better be prepared to do so to his face. The Celtic player and internationalist said his piece and the pair parted on good terms.
It is not known, though, whether Mr Mackenzie ever wrote to the evening papers again . . .
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Read more of our series of Celtic Snippets here: https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/celtic-snippets-the-celtic-view-from-yesteryear-2/
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