OBITUARY: Battling Bertie was more than just the joker in Jock Stein’s pack… ‘Mr Celtic’ was blessed with a razor-sharp wit but was tenacious, fast and the complete midfielder that led the Hoops to European glory
- Bertie Auld was an important part of Celtic’s European Cup success in 1967
- Auld was quick-witted and the Celtic star was also fond of a practical joke
- Auld’s death at the age of 83 will be felt by a generation of Celtic fans
He was wider than the river which runs through the city of his birth. As a footballer, he was lionised for his contribution to all that came before and after Lisbon.
As a singer, his modest vocal gifts were never any barrier to an impromptu rendition or five wherever his extraordinary life took him.
Bertie Auld’s death at the age of 83 on Sunday will be felt across the world by that generation of Celtic fans who watched him conquer Europe in 1967 and also by those who simply felt his personality radiate from the terraces when he reverted to being one of them again.
Bertie Auld’s death will be felt by the Celtic fans who watched him conquer Europe in 1967
Auld was a supremely talented footballer and had a liking for the dark arts of the game
Auld (pictured with Rod Stewart) was blessed with razor-sharp wit and he had an appetite for a practical joke
While he would never have claimed to have been the finest player in Jock Stein’s peerless side, he was a supremely talented footballer in his own right – his liking for the dark arts of the game no state secret either.
‘He could kill the ball immediately and know exactly where it was to be launched with radar accuracy,’ the late Tommy Gemmell once recalled.
‘He had an instinctive feel for the game. Bertie wouldn’t have to look round when he was hitting the ball wide for me to run on to. He just knew I’d be there.
‘He was frightened of nothing and no one. He was a marvellous team man too – a guy who could get you out of a tight spot.
‘The bigger the occasion, the more he revelled in the atmosphere. It was like oxygen to him.’ Born at 95 Panmure Street, Maryhill in 1938, the first in a family of eight, Auld played for Maryhill Harp, joining Celtic in 1955 where he was converted from a full-back to a winger.
With Celtic going through a prolonged fallow period, he spent a season on loan at Dumbarton but was unable to rid himself of an impetuous streak and was sold to Birmingham City for £15,000 in 1961.
A marvellous team player, Celtic star Auld wasn’t frightened of anything or anybody
Tenacious, fast and blessed with vision and a deft touch, the Blues were to be the beneficiaries of that particular transaction. By then a centre midfielder, Auld won the League Cup with City in 1963 having made his debut in the final of the 1961 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which they lost to Roma.
He returned to Celtic in January 1965 in a £12,000 deal shortly before Stein came back to the club from Hibernian.
Given the offer to return was made by a close confidante of Stein’s called Dougie Hepburn, Auld had a strong inclination that the Big Man was behind the move and was about to replace Jimmy McGrory as manager.
‘Big Jock had plenty to contend with as he attempted to awaken the club from its slumbers,’ Auld recalled of a move that necessitated a pay cut. ‘I was ready to do my bit.’ The following April, victory over Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup Final kicked-off Celtic’s golden era.
But no one then could have guessed that the midfield partnership Auld had formed with Bobby Murdoch would become the bedrock of the side which would beat Inter Milan 2-1 two years later in the Portuguese capital.
He would be present for five of the titles which comprised the club’s first nine-in-a row, would claim three Scottish Cups and four League Cups and also played in the ill-fated European Cup Final against Feyenoord in 1970.
His display at Hampden in the semi-final that year against Leeds was seen as his best in the hoops.
He didn’t score in Lisbon three years previously but his contribution to that historic success became every bit as famous as that of Gemmell or Stevie Chalmers.
Standing in the tunnel beside Inter’s immaculately groomed players – ‘They all looked like film stars’ – Auld began singing The Celtic Song, with the words soon emanating from team-mates.
Helenio Herrera’s players laughed it off at the time but later admitted to being startled.
‘It was highly unusual, of course, and it certainly got the message across that this wee team from Glasgow were not just there to make up the numbers,’ Auld said.
His relationship with Stein was at times fiesty. The manager once pinned Auld to the dressing room wall by his throat after a win over Clyde, retribution for the fact the midfielder had sat on the ball three times.. And it was not the only time they clashed.
‘Once Jock went up like Vesuvius, it took a long time for him to come back to earth,’ Auld recalled.
His admiration for Stein the manager knew no bounds, though.
Auld’s relationship with Jock Stein was feisty at times but he admiration for his manager
‘There was a warmth to Jock but if you crossed him, you knew you were in serious trouble,’ he explained. ‘He wasn’t interested in popularity contests. It was all about Celtic and the players he believed could do a job for the club.’
Auld’s love of Old Firm games was legendary. ‘I loved the rivalry,’ he said.. ‘I don’t think for one fleeting second that any other match on this planet could hold a candle to an Old Firm game. Some of them should have carried a government health warning.’
Blessed with a razor-sharp wit and an appetite for a practical joke, no one was safe from Auld.
Gemmell once recalled taking the stage in a US nightclub to sing a Frank Sinatra song and his bemusement at the vast crowd demanding encore after encore.
Auld had convinced the audience that the man with the mic was actually Danny Kaye.
Auld loved playing against Rangers and relished relished the rivalry of Old Firm matches
During Celtic’s European Cup success in 1967, Auld made a significant contribution
Standing in the tunnel at Ibrox before an Old Firm game, Auld recalled Rangers skipper John Greig asking him what win bonus he was on.
‘£3,’ replied Auld. ‘Really? we’re on six,’ said Greig. ‘Aye but we’re guaranteed three,’ quipped Auld.
On another occasion, Auld once reputedly asked Jim Brogan: ‘Jim, what was your favourite moment in football, scoring the winning goal against Rangers or carrying the hamper for the Lisbon Lions?’ In 1997, Auld was asked how the Lisbon Lions would get on against the Rangers side which had just won nine-in-a-row.
‘It’d be a hard game but we’d win 2-1,’ he dead-panned. ‘Mind you, most of us are in our 50s!’ While reporters of all eras delighted in recording Auld’s quips, he was a snapper’s dream too.
After one Celtic match, he stripped to the waist, put the ball under his arm and posed while wearing a Trilby hat.
In his time as a boss, in the days before it was frowned upon, puffs of cigar smoke filled many a still.
He left Celtic for the second time in 1971, moving to Hibs and combining playing with coaching over two years before retiring.
Auld managed Patrick Thistle twice and also had spells in charge of Hibs, Hamilton and Dumbarton
He managed Partick Thistle twice, Hibs, Hamilton and Dumbarton.
Auld, who earned three Scotland caps, was inducted to Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
In recent years, he became a regular contributor to CelticTV and was a regular attender at matches until being diagnosed with dementia earlier this year.
On his relationship with the Celtic fans, he once said: ‘I can be walking down the road and someone will stop me to speak.
‘My family will ask me who it was but I won’t know the guy’s name. He’s just a Celtic fan….’
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