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.

MILLER: McNAIR, McNEILL, EVANS, McGRAIN:  MURDOCH, DELANEY, LENNON, COLLINS: GALLACHER, LARSSON

Subs:  BORUC, GEMMELL, McGRORY, DALGLISH, NAKAMURA 

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: https://the-shamrock.net/2019/09/11/avdp-tom-campbell/

 

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