8thAugust 1981 Celtic 1-3 St Mirren
In the summer of 1981 Roddy MacDonald surprisingly joined Hearts after giving eight fine years of service to Celtic. A few days later Billy McNeill travelled to Pittodrie to buy Aberdeen’s experienced centre half, Willie Garner, as Roddy’s direct replacement.
Garner was an experienced defender who McNeill knew well from his spell as Aberdeen manager in the late 1970’s and Willie was expected to battle it out for a place in the centre back positions with Roy Aitken and Tom McAdam.
In August Celtic travelled to Rotterdam to take part in the Feyenoord tournament with the host club, Dukla Prague and Anderlecht. In the first game Celtic beat Feyenoord 2-1 through goals by Dom Sullivan and Frank McGarvey and in the final they beat Dukla Prague 2-1 with both goals coming from Murdo MacLeod.
In both games Willie Garner had performed well and he would have been looking forward to the new season with great anticipation, especially with the prospect of playing Juventus in the European Cup in September. Celtic were now playing a great brand of attacking football with a team full of players geared to going forward and there was great optimism for the new season.
Celtic’s first competitive match was against St Mirren in the League Cup at Celtic Park and a decent crowd of 26,000 turned out to see them on a fine summer’s day. Celtic began brightly and attacked the Saints’ goal from the start with their flair players, Davie Provan, Tommy Burns and Charlie Nicholas all showing up well. Several good chances had gone begging before Frank McGarvey deservedly opened the scoring with a fine header after great work by Provan and Sullivan.
Just two minutes later St Mirren equalised when a Frank McDougall shot was heading wide before it struck the luckless Willie Garner and the ball was diverted past Pat Bonner in the Celtic goal.
In the second half Davie Provan was in fine form on Celtic’s right flank but his good work did not come to fruition. In 61 minutes disaster struck Willie Garner again when he rose to head away a Lex Richardson cross but only succeeded in heading into his own net.
Celtic attacked desperately only for Saints to score a third goal when their new signing, John McCormack, headed home a Richardson corner and at time up the Celtic support could not believe they had witnessed a 3-1 defeat after all the good play they had witnessed.
Sadly for Willie Garner, he was not to recover from his misfortune and a young Davie Moyes appeared a few weeks later to make his debut to send Willie further down the pecking order and he was ultimately given a free transfer in May 1982.
Few players can have endured more misfortune on their Celtic debut than the luckless Willie Garner.