Very sad news reached the Celtic family on Sunday night of the passing of the 1970’s ex Celtic star, Johannes ‘Shuggie’ Edvaldsson.
Celtic were in a state of disarray when Johannes arrived in Glasgow to sign for them in July 1975. Jock Stein had just been seriously injured in a car crash and was to miss the entire 1975-76 season with Sean Fallon taking control of team affairs. Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone and Jim Brogan had also departed, leaving a huge void to be filled in their absence. Celtic needed players urgently and Edvaldsson was a most welcome arrival. He was an Icelandic international who had been playing in Denmark and initially came on a short term contract to see if he could settle. In monotone 1970’s Glasgow, Johannes was seen as an exotic creature and very cosmopolitan, as Celtic had not regularly fielded a non-British/Irish player for decades. He was a headline writer’s dream and cut a popular figure in the media with many references to the ‘Ice-Man’.
Upon his arrival, the Celtic fans christened Johannes with the nickname, ‘Big Shuggie’, which was a popular nickname in Glasgow. This was a moniker which would stay with Edvaldsson throughout his time at Parkhead and will remain with him even now. He made a memorable debut against Derby County in a glamour challenge match on a warm summer’s afternoon in August 1975. Derby were the reigning English champions and arrived with a host of international players such as Roy McFarland, Colin Todd, Charlie George and Bruce Rioch. Celtic won 1-0 with Shuggie stealing the show by scoring the winning goal in front of a healthy 44,000 crowd, giving Celtic fans a glimpse of what was to come.
Season 1975-76 was a transitional period for Celtic and was ultimately a disappointment. Kenny Dalglish and Danny McGrain were Celtic’s two truly class players but Shuggie had made a great impression by playing mainly in midfield and scoring 12 goals. The highlight of the season was the spectacular 7-2 win against Ayr at Somerset Park when the big Icelander scored a hat trick. Although he was a tall, imposing individual, he had a delicate touch for a big man and had more skill than he was often given credit for.
When Stein returned in the summer of 1976, Shuggie found himself on the periphery of the team. A young Roy Aitken was given the midfield enforcer role that Edvaldsson had previously filled with Roddy MacDonald and Pat Stanton forging a magnificent partnership in central defence. Because of this Shuggie’s opportunities were limited but he did have a fine end to the season. In the 1977 Scottish Cup final, Stein changed tactics after an injury to Ronnie Glavin and employed Edvaldsson and Roddy MacDonald as twin centre halves with Pat Stanton deployed as sweeper. The new line up worked perfectly with Celtic emerging victorious by 1-0 with Shuggie playing a starring role in blocking out the much vaunted Rangers’ strike partnership of Derek Johnstone and Derek Parlane.
Season 1977-78 was a complete disaster for Celtic. After Kenny Dalglish departed to Liverpool, Danny McGrain, Pat Stanton and Alfie Conn all suffered long term injuries. No trophies were won and the Celts could not even manage a place in Europe. Despite these setbacks Shuggie had a fine campaign. He proved to be a hugely versatile player, performing well in defence, midfield and attack at different stages of the season. He also finished second top scorer with 14 goals, behind Joe Craig with 16, which was a terrific effort from a player not particularly noted for his goal scoring exploits.
When Billy McNeill took over as Celtic manager in the summer of 1978, he settled on a central defensive partnership of Edvaldsson and Roddy MacDonald for an entire season. Things looked bleak at the New Year but after Danny McGrain returned to the team after a long absence, a magnificent run of form culminated in Celtic sensationally winning the league, by beating Rangers 4-2 in their final game, on 21 May 1979. They also won it by playing a large chunk of the game a man short after John Doyle was sent off. Shuggie can be rightly proud that he was part of the ‘ten men won the league’ side which has very much become part of Celtic folklore through the decades.
Shuggie lost his place at the start of the 1979-80 although he still made sporadic appearances. In October 1979 at Parkhead Rangers were holding a frustrated Celtic side at 0-0, with time running out on the Celts’ increasingly frantic attacks. Billy McNeill brought the big man on as a substitute and he caused consternation in the Rangers’ defence when he almost scored immediately. From the resulting corner, Davie Provan swung over a perfect cross for the unmarked Roddy MacDonald to score the winner, as the Rangers’ defenders were too focused on marking Edvaldsson. The big man will always be remembered as a Celtic player who excelled in the derby games against Rangers.
Shuggie moved on in early 1980 to continue his football in the United States with Tulsa Roughnecks. He is said to have had a fall out with Billy McNeill which led to his departure, which is very disappointing as he still had a good deal of football left in him to contribute to the Celtic cause. Celtic crumbled in the league run in of April/May 1980 to lose their title narrowly to Aberdeen. The feeling always remains that had Celtic retained Shuggie they would have won it that year too.
Johannes Edvaldsson was an enduring and popular character who will always be held in high regard by those of us who had the pleasure of seeing him play in the hoops.
May he rest in eternal peace.