Film Review: CELTIC’S SMILER

CELTIC’S SMILER – THE NEILLY MOCHAN STORY

Smiler cover

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When the ball hits the net

Like a vampire jet –

That’s a Mochan!

(That’s a Mochan!)

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Neilly Mochan, as the above tune demonstrates, is no unsung Celtic hero.  I first heard this supporter’s song in the early 1990s, four decades after Neilly’s renowned exploits up front in the Hoops.  Despite the passage of time, I knew who Neilly was:  the old, white-haired man on the bench next to a succession of Celtic managers.  He was no mere eye-witness to Celtic history, he lived it and his name is write large over many key chapters in it:  The Coronation Cup Final in 1953; the Double the year after; the 7-1; Lisbon; Milan, the 4-2; the Centenary Double.  Even my Dad, then an 8 year old in the crowd at the Coronation Cup Final (or ‘The Mochan Final’ as Jock Stein and team-mates referred to it), remembers Neilly’s amazing goal that day.  Pat Stanton describes it as “the sort of goal that Superman or Popeye might score – and with his weaker foot too!”  This is truly the stuff of legend.

neil mochan card

There are plenty of history books that record Neilly’s goal-scoring achievements and his long service of dedication to the Celtic cause.  The book on which this film is based – the much-anticipated follow up by Paul John Dykes to his excellent debut ‘The Quality Street Gang’ – will breathe new life into the Mochan legend and bring him to the attention of a new generation of  Celtic fans.  But the medium of film is different altogether:  a book contains all the information but a film conveys the drama, the humour and first-hand accounts of a life well lived.  These are the features brought together here which truly illuminate Neilly Mochan’s life story up on the big screen – and what a tremendous achievement it is.

Goal Diagram  Neilly Mochan 1953 Coronation Cup Final
That goal!   Neilly’s magic strike in the ‘Mochan Cup Final’

 

 

From Pat Stanton recalling Neilly’s increasingly fanciful tale of his Coronation Cup goal, to various Lisbon Lions’ glowing descriptions of a cherished coach and mentor to Brian McClair discussing some gentle dressing mocking from Mochan to make sure his head didn’t get too big – this documentary film really has it all.  There could be no better introduction to the life and times of a great Celt.  There is a great cameo from author Pat Woods – who has done more than most to document the club’s treasured history – and it’s a delight to hear him explain the significance of the 7-1 victory and a give personal recollection of the Neilly’s five goals against St. Mirren in 1960.  Mentions of that feat re-occur throughout the film – most memorably when Frank McAvennie discusses the two occasions when he was substituted after scoring four goals only to be goaded by Neilly in the dug-out: “You’ll never beat me son!”

 

Neilly Mochan v George Young
In action in the hoops – against Geordie Young of Rangers

 

 

The story is told from all sides:  Neilly’s sons, a brother, a nephew; Celtic historians and biographers; Celtic players from the 60s, 70s, 80s and even into the 90s – including some you may have rarely heard of but who all make a valuable contribution to an understanding of a man who straddled the decades when Celtic became a force in world football.  In his later years he left his mark on dozens of young players making their way through the ranks at Celtic Park mostly through his humour and peculiar observations on things such as ‘obstacle illusions’ yet he was respected by all, as Billy Stark pointed out: ““No one overstepped the mark with Neilly.  He could cut them down with a one-liner.”  Or, in the case of striker Andy Peyton, a superbly crafted wind-up which left the Englishman handsomely out of pocket, out-foxed by the old fox.  Graeme Souness also learned it was not wise to talk ill of Celtic or ‘his’ players in Neilly’s ear-shot.

 

Danny McGrain bench Love Street 86
Love Street 1986 – Neilly urges Davie Hay’s men on to a sensational last day Championship victory

 

 

This is not your standard football documentary.  The graphics used throughout are striking and innovative.  From the thrilling opening sequences we’re taken on a journey punctuated with first-hand accounts of the staging posts in a remarkable career.  Crucially we see great footage of Neilly in action in glorious black and white at Hampden, Celtic Park and beyond.  The stylised re-enactment of Neillly’s famous Coronation Cup final goal at Hampden stands out.  His significance as a sharp-shooter who helped restore Celtic’s tradition of free-flowing attacking football in the 1950s becomes apparent as does his role as a vital cog in the Stein Machine that careered across Europe a decade later.  Archie MacPherson, one of a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of Scottish football who contributes to the film, describes Mochan as “the interpreter of Stein’s moodsand a crucial intermediary between the famed manager and his players.

 

We also come to understand how he was a key figure and confidante in a succession of Celtic squads under managers Billy McNeill and Davie Hay right through to Tommy Burns’ return to the club as manager in 1994 and the dawning of a new era.  This film expertly captures the humour and humanity of man who ensured the Celtic spirit burnt bright in the boot room and dressing room during some dark times.  His importance was outlined by Billy Stark when he recalled rejoining a club in turmoil as Assistant Manager but could rely upon an ever-present behind the scenes:  “Neilly gave us reassurance.  His aura settled us down.”

Centenary Champions squad
With a hand on Billy McNeill’s shoulder, Neilly is deservedly centre-stage as Celtic celebrate the historic Centenary Double

 

With a running time of a familiar 90 minutes, all the big moments are covered of a career which, in terms of longevity and Celtic dedication, can only be matched by the likes of Willie Maley and John Clark.  There are many highlights and thrilling insights although, in terms of impact, Neilly’s sudden passing and the emotional loss felt by family, friends, colleagues and proteges is captured with genuine poignancy.  What Brian McClair described as a “cacophony of a laugh” would no longer be heard ringing out in Paradise.

This film will prove a wonderful introduction and an enduring testament to a Celt who was truly faithful through and through.  If you want to ‘give the gift’ of Celtic this Christmas, look no further than this slice of Celtic magic.

Welcome to The Moch!

The Shamrock rating:   8/10 

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Watch the film trailer here:  http://www.smilerdoc.com/#top

Due for release:  December 1st 2015  More information here:  http://www.smilerdoc.com

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Read more from The Shamrock here:   https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/the-shamrock-online/

Issues 1 and 2 of The Shamrock – Celtic Retro magazine on sale at Celtic Park on home matchdays and through Paypal.  Digital version also available:   https://theshamrockglasgow.wordpress.com/magazine/

Sham Issue 1 front cover  Sham 2 cover

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