For those of us of a certain vintage, ‘Celtic Daft’, The Johnny Doyle story, is a most welcome addition to the burgeoning Celtic book collection which supporters of the club are very privileged to enjoy.
Paul McQuade’s book details Johnny’s life in full from his close knit family upbringing in Viewpark in Lanarkshire to his tragic and untimely death in 1981 when he passed away after an electrical accident at home where he was performing home improvements. His childhood days are vividly described with the sadness of his father dying at a very young age following complications from an industrial accident. The story of the great Celtic captain, Bobby Evans, visiting his father in hospital undoubtedly strikes a chord, as there were many hospitalised Celtic supporters through the years who John Doyle visited in a similar vein, in the days when Celtic players had a magnificent close bond with the club’s supporters.
Naturally the details of his Celtic career are keenly anticipated but it would be remiss not to mention the influence which the great Ally MacLeod had on John’s career, and also his life, by rearing and coaching him down on the Ayrshire coast at Ayr United. The Somerset Park team which MacLeod built was one to be reckoned with and held their place in Scottish football’s top flight for the best part of the 1970’s. Such was the talent which MacLeod developed, Doyle made his only Scotland appearance whilst still an Ayr player, against Rumania at Hampden in December 1975.
When bigger clubs came beckoning it was to Johnny’s great delight that Celtic were first in line with a record £90,000 transfer being paid by the Celts to procure his signature. It should be noted that Johnny, a genuine lifelong Celtic fan who had followed the club as a boy, took a wage cut to join Celtic. He had actually earned more by combining working during the day with his part time role at Ayr United, a sharp contrast to the Celtic badge kissers of recent times who pledge undying love for the club before defecting for more money at the first opportunity.
The book lovingly details John’s Celtic days which, it has to be admitted, were a serious of contrasting peaks and troughs. The joy of his Celtic debut at Dens Park in 1976 and the pain of being stretchered off injured in that very game. The delight of winning the league at Easter Road in 1977 before being dropped for the cup final win against Rangers just a few short weeks later. The disappointment of losing his place on the Celtic right wing following the arrival of Davie Provan in 1978 and his determination to win back a place in the first eleven. The delirium of winning the league against Rangers in the ‘4-2’ game in 1979 but the startling fear that he had almost jeopardised it by being sent off that night. The elation of scoring against the great Real Madrid in a memorable Celtic European Cup night win in 1980 and the despondency of losing that second leg in Spain. And finally, the satisfaction of the 1980 ‘riot’ cup final win over Rangers but the blow of being substituted during extra time.
John Doyle on his own admission, could never be described as a Celtic great in the mould of Dalglish, McGrain and Aitken, all of whom he played with during his Celtic days. However, he had a great effect on the Celtic players many of whom attest to the pranks and high jinks which John, and some others, got up to at that time. There is also a section of the book where supporters recall their memories, in an era when hand written letters were the main method of correspondence. John Doyle had a profound effect on a great many people’s lives and they still remember him for it.
Of all the disappointments I’ve suffered as a Celtic fan, nothing will ever compare to hearing that he had died in 1981 as a raw 15 year old schoolboy. No subsequent Celtic defeat or heroes leaving the club in later years could ever equal it. In later life I would berate myself for not putting into perspective that although Celtic had lost a hero, the main focus of attention should have been that a wife had lost her husband and two young kids had lost their father. Celtic players tell of how they trained the next day after his passing and then played Hibs at Easter Road just a few days after that. There would be no chance of that happening in the modern age but in 1981 men were meant to be men and get on with things without showing much emotion.
On a personal level, I was fascinated to discover that Jock Stein made clandestine efforts to sign Johnny’s old Viewpark pal, Iain Munro, when he was at Hibs. I always rated Munro and thought he would have made an excellent Celtic player.
Paul McQuade is to be congratulated for keeping Johnny’s memory alive on the year of his 40th anniversary. I fully appreciate the effort and dedication that writing a book like this takes. ‘Doylie’ was one of the great Celts, a character in his own right who left his mark, and for those of us who saw him in the green and white he left us many happy memories.
If you saw Johnny play for Celtic then you need to buy this book – you won’t be disappointed. If you’re too young to have seen him play then buy it and read up on the man who was everything that a Celtic player should be.