An Interview with Tom Campbell

Born in Glasgow in 1934, Tom Campbell emigrated to Canada in 1956. After obtaining an Honours degree in English Literature from Ottawa’s Carleton University, he spent four years at St Paul’s in Alliston, southern Ontario as head teacher. He returned to Ottawa to become head of the English department at St Wilfred Laurier High School before taking on a similar post at the city’s largest high school, Glebe Collegiate. He has also taught in El Salvador.

Tom has combined his literary interest with a lifelong support of Celtic to become the author/co-author of 13 books on the history of the club, including The Glory and the Dream (with Pat Woods), Jock Stein: The Celtic Years (with David Potter), Tears for Argentina (a project which involved interviews in Buenos Aires with Racing Club players who took part in the infamous 1967 World Club Championship games), Charlie Tully: Celtic’s Cheeky Chappie and Bobby Evans – Celtic’s Forgotten Hero. He has also contributed to magazines such as The Celt and appeared on Celtic TV.

Tom (left) with his friend and long-time co-author Pat Woods

The Shamrock caught up with Tom on the line from his home in Ottawa, Canada to ask about his love for Celtic and football and the ‘golden’ post-war period of the late 1940s and early 1950s which forms the backdrop to his new book A Very Different Paradise.



What are your earliest memories of Celtic games?

I had a cousin (Eddie) four or five years older than me, and he was a fanatic.  He used to go to games at Celtic Park with his father … and then tell me about them, suitably embellished.  I actually remember going to one match with them, and recall moping outside a pub in the Gallowgate for an hour with Eddie while his old man (a wild Irishman) refreshed himself inside.

My initiation and education as a Celtic supporter followed well-defined lines:  as a small boy I was taken by my father to Moore Park in Govan several times to see St Anthony’s (who also wore the Hoops), two or three times to see Celtic Reserves, and finally to graduate on special occasions to see ‘the big team’.   I have met another Celtic supporter of about my age who had a similar introduction, except in his case the junior team was St Roch’s.

In retrospect during those days Celtic were a poor team … but they were my team.  My grandfather told me stories about the great days of the past:  Jimmy Quinn’s heroics against Rangers, Patsy’s miraculous goal against Dundee, John Thomson’s last fatal save at Ibrox … and the most recent triumph (the Empire Exhibition Trophy) in 1938.  Even I (about five years old) could sense those days were past.  After all, my first experience of a Rangers-Celtic game was at New Year’s in 1943 and Celtic lost 8-1 at Ibrox!  I had the consolation of seeing Celtic win at the same ground a year or so later when George Paterson scored from thirty yards on a frozen pitch.  Incidentally, I watched both those games from the Rangers’ End as my father was concerned about the sporadic outbreaks of hooliganism and bottle-throwing that marred some Celtic seasons back then.  No trouble at all from the Rangers’ supporters around us, by the way.

 A couple of other war-time games stick in my memory.  I watched both of them from the Jungle and both were won thanks to Celtic comebacks:  down 0-2 at halftime to struggling Albion Rovers, Celtic fought back to win 4-2 … and, trailing to Hamilton Accies, Celtic scored twice in the last five minutes to win 2-1.  Both goals against Hamilton were scored by Gerry McAloon, and he always was a favourite of mine.  Gerry actually played in the Empire Exhibition Cup for Brentford, played for Celtic during World War 2, and went back to Brentford afterwards but re-joined Celtic in the trade for George Paterson.  I also have the vague impression he was used as make-weight in Charlie Tully’s arrival from Belfast Celtc in 1948.  In later life Gerry McAloon worked as the janitor in Sacred Heart in the Calton, but sadly died of hyperthermia after collapsing in the street in mid-winter.  

Such a contrast in life to the stars of today. Slightly better than a journeyman player, Gerry McAloon deserves a greater recognition. I think that’s why I started to write about football — to pay tribute to often neglected performers who contributed so much to brighten up otherwise dark days

Cover Bhoy: Celtic’s Gerry McAloon – 1947


In those days factory-workers often often worked over-time in mid-week and usually till noon on a Saturday.  So, my father did not go to many games but one of his mates was ‘Big Hughie’, also the bus-convenor for Penilee & Cardonald CSC.  My dad arranged for me to become a member of that club, and for a number of years (1947 to 1952) I travelled to almost every Celtic game … and I was well-looked-after: I was subsidised on the bus, somebody paid for me to get into the grounds, and always there was a member nearby to ensure I didn’t get lost, and could find my way back to the bus safely.  Thank you, gentlemen …. a bit belatedly.  

At present I am a member of the Ottawa CSC, and I find it hard to realise that the youngest member of Penilee & Cardonald is the oldest member of the Ottawa club.  Time passes, and I have noticed that my recollection of past, long-ago players and matches is much sharper than recent games.  For example, I can recall every nuance of John McPhail’s thrilling gallop through Motherwell’s defence to win the Cup in 1951, but my memory of last season’s winner against Hearts is less clear.  I suppose that is a benefit for a historian.    


What are the main differences between Scottish football then and now? 

Bob Crampsey once described the toilet facilities in many Scottish grounds as “worthy of eliciting comment from the more fastidious tribes of the Amazon”.  He was right.  It was picturesque squalor for the most part.  And, because we love the game, we tend to remember the ‘picturesque’ and forget the ‘squalor’.  

I remember getting the tram-car to Bridgeton Cross, trudging up London Road in the rain, standing in an open terracing in a downpour for ninety minutes, and then having to walk back into Argyle Street and St Enoch’s subway in that same rain to get home.  And, if we won, it was well worth it!

I don’t think the average supporter of today accustomed to present standards would (or could) accept what we did in the past without complaint,

All-seated stadiums?  Definitely, a great improvement in every way.

Cover from the elements?  Surely, it’s basic common sense?

Playable pitches?  Compared to the past, the playing surfaces are almost ideal.  Look at the old videos and you can see that, even as recently as the Lisbon Lions, football matches were frequently played on pitches bereft of grass and often just mud-bowls. Brendan Rodgers’ complaints about the grass at Tynecastle would have been scorned back in 1950.

The ball?  The all-weather ball came into use around 1953, replacing the traditional leather ball (that got heavier and heavier as the game progressed on rainy days and muddy pitches).  Astonishingly, many football people objected to the new ball; Rangers threatened to walk off the pitch at Celtic Park in 1954 when the referee (Jack Mowat) opted to play with the ’new’ ball.

An aerial view of Celtic Park in the 1950s

Substitutes?  If a player was injured and unable to continue, he was not replaced.  It was considered ‘character-building’ to play short-handed.  To have a player substituted for tactical reasons was laughable.  Substitutes (only one player) was introduced into Scottish football around 1966. 

Back then, change was suspect.  The Hungarians who defeated England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 and 7-1 in Budapest a year later were described by a Scottish selector (and incidentally the headmaster of a Scottish secondary school) as ‘freaks’. Training was designed principally for stamina or strength.  Footballers were denied access to a ball to make them “hungry for it when Saturday comes round”.

Tactics were predictable:  teams employed a static formation of two full-backs, three half-backs, and five forwards … full-backs early ventured into the opposing half of the field, only wing-halves took throw-ins, sides made changes only for injuries or suspensions.  I can still run off Rangers’ regular side of the late 1940s and early 50s:  Brown;Young and Shaw; McColl, Woodburn and Cox; Waddell and Gillick; Thornton; Duncanson and Rutherford.

Of course, players were mere chattels, tied to a club for life and limited to salaries decided upon by the clubs.  For example, the great Bobby Evans, in a football career of twenty-odd years, probably earned a TOTAL of around £26,000! 


Matt Busby – what do you consider to be his unique strengths that brought him success as a manager?

Jock Stein was asked once if he had ever discussed football tactics with Matt Busby and his answer was significant: “No, I wouldn’t want to embarrass him”.  

Tactics in those days were simple and uncomplicated, and Busby, a Scottish internationalist wing-half, was a product of his times.  Everybody who met Busby spoke of his dignity and natural gravitas; he invoked respect automatically and without effort.  He was recognised as an intelligent man, an honourable man, and a thoroughly decent human being.  People wanted to work for him; players wanted to play for him …  Sensibly, he knew which players could complement each other; he may have fielded Best, Law and Charlton up-front but he had grafters like Styles and Crerand to support them.  

You have been based in Canada for many years now – has the experience of supporting Celtic from that distance changed over time? 

I went to Canada in October 1956 and quite a few of my friends thought I would be back in Scotland to watch Celtic within a year.  Well, it didn’t work out like that:  for one thing, I didn’t have enough money to come back … and I had enrolled in a university programme, a completely new direction for me.  By the time I was earning enough to return, I had become more settled in Canada.  Admittedly, I was homesick at times but not quite enough to seriously consider going back.

Celtic?  I always knew how they were doing (unfortunately, sometimes).  There is a five-hour time-difference between Glasgow and Ottawa.  In the early days, I could buy the Toronto newspapers in Ottawa on a Saturday night and get the results.  The most memorable was on Saturday 19th October 1957 when I read that Celtic had beaten Rangers 7-1.  Jubilation turned to doubt when I thought it might have been a misprint.  Eventually, I phoned the Toronto Telegraph and asked for the Sports Desk.  It was a long-distance call, and in 1957 it was expensive.  A tired voice at the other end confirmed the score, adding the information he had received ‘hundreds of calls’.  I remember to this day his closing words: “I guess it was an important game, eh?”

In later years, the CBC picked up segments of the BBC World Service at noon on Saturdays and included all the British football results.  That’s when I fell out of bed in January 1967 when the announcer calmly intoned “Berwick Rangers 1, Rangers 0”.

Much later around 1998, I became one of the founding members of the Ottawa Celtic Supporters Club, and spent Saturday mornings twiddling the dials on a Short-Wave Radio; across the city, Ronnie Campbell (also of the CSC) was doing the same and we phoned each other several times, to check that we had heard things correctly; reception was very intermittent at times.  Our club met about once every three weeks, sometimes in the basement of my house, and sometimes at Hughie Campbell’s.  This was to watch videos of Celtic games.  The Hamilton (Ontario) CSC was one of the largest and most prosperous in Canada.  Every week they got the skimpy BBC coverage of Scottish football and transcribed (sic) them into a North American format.  Once they had about an hour’s worth they would copy it, put it on to a Greyhound Bus and send it to Ottawa (about 260 miles away); one of our members would pick it up at the Bus Station, and guard it with his life till we had our meeting (where it was shown, discussed with Jesuitical detail, and then shown again) … 

Tom and the Ottawa CSC celebrate the 4-0 goal defeat of Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 2018

A word about the Ottawa CSC.  It still flourishes and we now watch almost every Celtic game live, home and away.  For the past eighteen years we have met in the James Street Pub on Bank Street but only recently that tavern has closed down:  we have relocated to The Heart & Crown, a more palatial ‘howff’ in Ottawa’s gentrified Market area.  Another indication of how time passes:  one of our members, recently retired, is Art McKenzie.  Art is Canadian-born, and has no previous connection with Celtic, but he liked the look of their jerseys, found out about our club and eventually joined it.  I thought he looked vaguely familiar and, when I quizzed him, he replied:  ‘I look a bit different now, but you were my English teacher back in High School.”  And now he has just retired!

Fanatical Cetic supportersl, yes … but, in much the same way that Celtic is more than a football club, the Ottawa CSC has other attributes.  Last year the Ottawa Mission (an organisation that caters to the homeless) received the princely sum of $7,000 from the CSC … and the club’s principal charity (MS) received handsome donations.  Not too shabby from a club with about 20 members!  The money is raised, mainly from four well-attended quiz nights throughout the year, raffles, and donations from the members.  Brother Walfrid would have approved.  

Who do you consider were the best players in Scottish football in the immediate post-war era when you followed Celtic home and away? 

I have a preference for skilful players who give 100% but who remain sportsmanlike.  Here are some I remember.

Two great goalkeepers, Miller (Celtic) and Cowan (Morton).  Willie Miller, although very young, was an outstanding keeper for Celtic during the War. He was incredibly brave and suffered several injuries by diving courageously at opponents’ feet. A stylist, he was immaculate in dealing with cross-ball from either wing.  Jimmy Cowan, who succeeded Miller as Scotland’s keeper, was an excellent shot-stopper and acrobatic in making miraculous saves.  Sadly, Jimmy died at the early age of 42, shortly after retiring from football. 

Three outstanding full-backs:  Jimmy McGowan (Thistle), Sammy Stewart (East Fife) and Willlie McNaught (Raith Rovers).  McGowan was a whole-hearted defender, and always committed to Thistle’s cause; despite that, he was as clean as a whistle, rarely called up for foul play… because of his premature baldness Sammy Stewart always looked old.  Another no-nonsense defender, he was always reliable for the unfashionable Fifers … Willie McNaught also played for an unfashionable club but he earned several Scottish ‘caps’ despite that.  Always composed, he never looked flurried or rushed.

Harry Mooney (Third Lanark), John McPhail (Celtic) and Tommy Gallacher (Dundee) were typical Scottish wing-halves.  Harry Mooney of Thirds was a left-half and about the same height and build as Bobby Collins.  He had a long throw-in, and tackled like a tiger but nobody could complain of his sportsmanship …  John McPhail was a talented player and eventually appeared as a starter in eight different positions (every half-back and forward position) but he started off as a right-half.  He had a rolling gait and received his nickname by easing past a defender and ‘hooking’ the ball into the centre from the bye-line …  Tommy Gallacher (Dundee) was Patsy’s son and joined Dundee from Queen’s Park.  Dark-haired and handsome, Tommy was a highly popular player at Dens Park and, after retirement, was a respected journalist for a long time.

John McPhail takes the Scottish Cup won with Hooky’s famous goal in the 1951 final to his old school, St Mungo’s, to show to headteacher and Celtic’s first official historian Brother Clare (James Handley)


Scotland was famous for decades for producing an assembly-line of inside-forwards such as Tommy Orr (Morton), Willie Sharp (Thistle) and Jimmy Mason (Thirds).  Bob Crampsey once claimed that Tommy Orr was always so cool that, if he played with an ice-cube tucked into his oxter, it would not have melted by full-time.  An elegant player!… Willie Sharp would have been a regular for Scotland had he played for Rangers (or perhaps Celtic).  Always intelligent, he could anticipate events inside the penalty area and was a frequent goalscorer – including the quickest goal ever scored in Scottish football…Jimmy Mason spent his whole career with Third Lanark but earned ‘caps’ for Scotland.  He was industrious and an excellent distributor of the ball and, although not noted as a scorer, netted one of Scotland’s goals in a 3-1 win at Wembley in 1949.  

Willie Waddell of Rangers expressed surprise that he had been given so many ‘caps’, considering the opposition from Jimmy Delaney and Gordon Smith.  Waddell described Delaney as ‘the bravest of the brave’ and that was exemplified by Jimmy coming back from a horrendous arm-injury that side-lined him for almost two seasons.  Matt Busby signed him for Manchester United for £4,000 and described him as ‘my best-ever signing’. After joining Aberdeen later in his career, Jimmy was made captain for the Dons’ visit to Celtic Park; a crowd of 61,000 turned up for the former Celtic favourite and his immediate opponent Alex Rollo was booed unmercifully for fouling him; Aberdeen won the match by 4-3 and Delaney scored the third goal, and received an ovation for it.  A beloved Celtic player.

And lastly, perhaps my favourite player of all time — Gordon Smith of Hibernian.  Smith at outside-right and ‘poster-boy’ of the Edinburgh side’s ‘Famous Five’ forward-line, was an elegant winger who had everything: speed and skill, courage and sportsmanship, a creator of goals and a prolific scorer… He also has an unusual distinction in that he was a valuable member of three league winners other than Rangers or Celtic; the ‘Gay Gordon’ played for Hibs, Hearts and Dundee when they won the championship.  I have a personal memory of Gordon Smith from the time I was a net-boy at St Mirren; the only two players who thanked me for retrieving the ball were Bobby Brown, Rangers’ goalkeeper, and Gordon Smith.  


Finally, what is Tom Campbell’s greatest-ever Celtic 11? 

An almost impossible task, and it’s better to go with first impressions rather than agonise over it.



I have picked Bobby Evans (recognised as a right-half or centre-half) out of position but I have always felt that he would have made the ideal sweeper because of his anticipation.  Bobby Murdoch and Bobby Collins would have been formidable, skilled and hard, in any midfield.  Neil Lennon could read the game perfectly behind them and Jimmy Delaney, always full of running, would have been adept at linking defence and attack.  Patsy Gallacher, a genius, could flit between the midfield and attack, and link up with the incomparable Henrik Larsson.  And this is a side with considerable versatility:  McNair could play any defensive position, McGrain could be fielded as full-back on either the right or left, Collins could star in four forward positions and also in midfield.  Give Patsy a jersey and lt him do whatever he wants…

And that’s a pretty decent bench, isn’t it?


Bobby Evans in action

A Very Different Paradise is Tom’s new book which he has published privately with a limited edition of 375 copies.

To read reviews of the book and buy a copy, please click on this link:



Review: ‘A Very Different Paradise’ by Tom Campbell

‘And if you know your history’ goes the most famous of the Celtic songs.  How about, knowing that history better than most, you decide to have a go at re-writing it – posing the vital question “What if?” 

That is the intriguing premise behind the newest book from Celtic writer and historian Tom Campbell.  He has taken a ‘sliding doors’ moment in the club’s history and provided a remarkable insight into how Celtic’s post-war era might have taken a completely different course had a single decision been altered.

That this Celtic writer should take a risk in attempting such a novel approach to viewing the club at a critical historic juncture should come as no surprise.  His first book, Glasgow Celtic (1945-1970) was published a lifetime ago as far as some supporters are concerned (including yours truly who was born the year it came out) and was one of the first books in which the supporter of a club analysed a single period in the club’s history in a unique and refreshing style.  After a hiatus of a few years Tom then forged a memorable partnership with the redoubtable Pat Woods which led to a series of ground-breaking books including the influential The Glory and The Dream and the wonderful, timeless Rhapsody In Green

But Tom Campbell didn’t take the easy option and rest on his laurels after those successes.  For Tears In Argentina he travelled all the way to Buenos Aires and secured interviews with some of the surviving Racing Club players who denied Celtic the title of World Champions over three tumultuous encounters in late 1967.  In Celtic’s Paranoia: All in the Mind? he forensically examined the many controversial issues which have involved the club, its support, the game’s governing bodies and the media down the years.      

A selection of some of Tom Campbell’s writings on Celtic


A Very Different Paradise’ arose out of a discussion with the doyen of Scottish football historians and writers, Bob Crampsey.  The ‘sliding doors’ moment is the day when Scottish international midfielder and serving soldier Matt Busby knocked on the front door at Celtic Park during the early days of World War Two, offering his services to the club he grew up supporting in the village of Orbiston on the outskirts of Bellshill, Lanarkshire. 

During the war years, the Celtic board had effectively put the club in cold storage.  They were not interested in maintaining a strong squad or taking advantage of the many top English players such as Stanley Matthews and Tommy Lawton (who both turned out for Morton!) who were based in Scotland during the war and allowed to join local teams as guest players.  Even though Matt Busby was offering his services to manager Jimmy McStay for free through his desire to wear the hoops, the Celtic board still declined. 

Instead Busby went to Hibernian where he played over 40 games and took a hand in coaching the excellent young players that Hibs had at the time who would develop into ‘The Famous Five’ over the next decade.  When the war was over Busby was approached by Manchester United to restore their fortunes and within little time he was exceeding expectations as one of the first tracksuit managers, bringing through the ‘Busby Babes’ and making United the second British team to secure the title of Champions of Europe in 1968. 

The question that Tom Campbell poses is: what if Busby had been allowed to play for Celtic?  What effect would he have had on the young players in the team?  What if Celtic’s younger directors – Bob Kelly and Desmond White – had got round the intransigence of chairman Tom White?  How would Busby have gelled with the famed international coach Jimmy Hogan who joined the club in the late 1940s?  In short – could Matt Busby have done for Celtic in the 1940s what he achieved with Man United in the 1950s? 

This is a work of fiction and yet you have to keep reminding yourself of this fact because the story is based on a deep-rooted understanding of how football was organised and played at the time and especially the key characters who were controlling the destiny of Celtic.  Having created the scenario, the author then gets to indulge himself by suggesting possible signings and developments with some of the players already at Celtic Park being allowed to achieve their potential.  The best insights relate to actual players as well as tactics and the different outcomes that might have been achieved in certain encounters with well-known opponents.  The period from 1939-1965 is the least successful in Celtic’s history in terms of silverware.  Would that have been the case if Matt Busby had been allowed free rein to develop his coaching talent at Celtic Park and go on to lead the club?   




‘A Very Different Paradise’ is a fascinating, insightful and entertaining read.  It encourages you to think about football and our club’s history in a completely different way.  Fiction does have a place in football writing after all.  The real success of this book is the way it brings to life a key era in Celtic history – and convincingly presents alternative outcomes, based on Campbell’s in-depth knowledge of the people involved, their motivations, strengths and weaknesses.  I enjoyed it so much I immediately re-read the book after finishing it, trying to separate out the fact from the all-too-convincing fiction.  It is a Celtic version of Fantasy Football – but from the ‘40s and ‘50s rather than the ‘90s (which would be ripe for a historical re-write also!) 

And if it can help erase memories of the notorious Celtic frontline of ‘The Five Sorrowful Mysteries’ of the late 1940s, this alternative Celtic history is an idea surely worth embracing!   

The Shamrock rating: 9/10 


AVDP Front cover wording alone



A Note from Pat Woods

We recently received this communication from renowned Celtic historian Pat in respect of Tom Campbell’s new book: 




Tom with Pat at the book launch for ‘Kenny of The Celtic’


The book can be purchased here:


Listen to an entertaining interview with the author Tom Campbell on A Celtic State of Mind podcast here:


Read David Potter’s review of the book on the Celtic Star website:


Read a review of the book from the ELECTRONIC TIMS website here:  

E Tims – A Very Different Paradise and other reviews



‘A Very Different PARADISE’ BY TOM CAMPBELL – buy it here!

The latest book by acclaimed Celtic writer and historian Tom Campbell is a dramatic re-imagining of a ‘sliding doors’ moment in the fascinating history of Celtic Football Club . . .

During the six years of World War II organised football in Scotland was ‘unofficial’. Most clubs utilised the services of guest players, usually footballers in Scotland on military service. One such man was Matt Busby, a Scottish internationalist and a Liverpool player; born in Lanarkshire, he volunteered his services to Celtic . . . but his offer was rejected.

But what might have happened had he turned out for Celtic during those wartime seasons? This novel, with its blend of reality and fiction, its evocation of those times, its clubs, players and personalities explores that possibility.

If only . . .

A remarkably accurate depiction of Scottish football in the post-war era. The players, managers, chairmen and journalists come to life realistically – so much so that one can easily forget that this is a novel and not history. BOB CRAMPSEY (commenting on the book’s first draft)

A truly remarkable re-construction of past events in Celtic history. If this were only true, and not a delightful work of fiction! DAVID POTTER

Read a review of the book by David Potter on The Celtic Star website here:

The book has been privately published by the author and has been limited to 375 copies.

Buy a copy of the book here:

A Very Different Paradise

Cost: £17.50 (includes £2.50 P&P to UK and North of Ireland) . For quotes of postage costs to other countries, please email

17.50 £

Signed copies of ‘A Very Different Paradise’ are available. Please email if you would like a signed copy or for any further information.

A Celtic Retrospective