October marks the anniversary of John Doyle’s passing in 1981. The following article was put up on the site five years ago on the 30th anniversary and it’s fitting to reprint it on the 35th anniversary…
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of Celtic player Johnny Doyle. On the night of 19th October 1981 John attempted to complete some electrical work in his Ayrshire home and, tragically, died from an electric shock. The news was announced in the media to a stunned Scottish public and the Celtic support went into a period of mourning.
Johnny Doyle himself would have been the first to admit that he was not the greatest Celtic player but his untimely death at the age of 30 has ensured that he will always remain in the memory as a great Celt. John realised a life’s ambition in March 1976 when he joined Celtic from Ayr United for a fee of £90,000. These days this would be a paltry sum but in 1976 it was a considerable outlay and it’s worth pointing out that it represented Celtic’s record transfer fee at that time.
He had a successful time at Celtic winning league medals in 1977, 1979 and 1981 and Scottish cup winners medals in 1977 and 1980. He is perhaps best remembered for being sent off in May 1979 when Celtic were 0-1 down to Rangers in the league deciding game. The Celts roared back to win 4-2 (that in itself deserves an article on it’s own), and Tommy Burns used to tell a great story of after the game while the players celebrated wildly, ‘Doylie’ was sitting inconsolable crying, ‘Ah let yeez doon, ah let yeez doon’. If John Doyle owed his team mates a debt he repaid it in full on February 20th 1980 when he had the game of his life for Celtic. In the Scottish cup replay at Love Street against St.Mirren an astonishing crowd of 27,000 turned out to create an electric atmosphere. They were not disappointed as first St.Mirren took the lead (before a lot of the crowd had gained entry) then Tom McAdam was controversially sent off after an incident with Frank McDougall before Danny McGrain took retribution on McDougall which saw him carried off from the field.
That’s when Doyle took control. He equalised before half time and after Saints had gone in front again it was Doyle who gained the penalty from which Lennox equalised after he was scythed down in the area by Peter Weir. With the game late in extra time and the Celts looking desperately tired Johnny summoned the energy to run from the halfway line, round goalkeeper Billy Thomson and smash the ball home from a tight angle. Celtic, who had played for 100 minutes with 10 men, had prevailed again.
A few weeks later he was the hero of the hour again after scoring a magnificent, if unlikely header, against Real Madrid at Parkhead in Celtic’s memorable 2-0 win.
But it’s not only his feats on the park he will be remembered for. In a recent LostBhoys podcast Alfie Conn recalled that Johnny would come to Celtic games wearing his old Celtic scarf and this was on occasions when he was playing !
An old friend of my Father’s was once in hospital and told of his astonishment when John Doyle walked into the ward. John walked down the ward looking at the names of the patients until he came to the man in question. He then introduced himself and said that his family had contacted Celtic and that it was his own turn for hospital visits. In those days Celtic players were very active within the Celtic community, visiting schools, clubs, supporters’ functions and hospitals. How I lament the passing of this activity. Hard to believe that the current crop of mercenaries would give their time so willingly. John was happy to be there though and he spent a long time just talking to my Dad’s mate about Celtic.
He would never be forgotten in the hearts of Celtic fans and when Celtic clinched the league in May 1982 the Jungle roared: ‘Won the league for Doyle, we went and won the league for Doyle.’
To his eternal shame, the then Celtic chairman Desmond White refused to consider a benefit match for John’s family. He said at that time:
‘A testimonial game was given very earnest consideration but eventually we decided against the venture on several grounds. In brief these were the difficulty of staging midweek, and in midwinter, a challenge match sufficiently attractive to pull out a crowd worthy of the occasion; the very substantial cost of bringing to Parkhead a big name club, as well as all the other incidental but considerable outlays of the night, e.g VAT payment, policing charges etc, unavoidable expenditure……..would burden those supporting the game which would contribute nothing to the cause.’
Shame on him. John Doyle left a widow and young family as dependants and you need only ask Davie Provan if Celtic fans are willing to turn out on a freezing winter’s night in tremendous numbers for a good cause
This weekend will see a short service at his graveside in Kilmarnock to commemorate his anniversary. It’s fitting that Celtic are playing in the Ayrshire town that day so that as many may attend as possible.
For those of us who recall Johnny’s efforts in a Celtic jersey it will be a poignant moment in recalling his passing. But it will also be a day of celebration; in recalling one of the most whole hearted players who ever played for the Celts. And it truly was a privilege to have watched him.
May eternal light shine upon him
And may he rest in peace.