Peter Latchford signed for Celtic on loan, in February 1975, and I can still vividly recall a game against Partick Thistle shortly after. It was a horrible wet and windy day and the conditions on the Parkhead pitch were terrible. A Partick Thistle defender, by the name of Danny Kellachan, sent a high free kick into the Celtic penalty area. He over hit it and Latchford misjudged that the ball was going over his bar and could only look on in horror as the ball dropped behind him and into the empty net. To say the Celtic fans were not impressed by their new goalie is putting it mildly.
It says a lot for the big genial Englishman that he had the strength of character to overcome such a setback and go on to be one of the most popular Celtic players of that era. It also says a lot for the patience of the Celtic fans that they did not turn on the big man and allowed him to find his feet (and his hands !) in due course in Scottish football.
It’s said that England boss Don Revie, a close friend of Jock Stein, recommended Latchford when Stein was looking for a ‘keeper at a time when Denis Connaghan and Ally Hunter were failing to impress. He arrived at Parkhead from West Bromwich Albion at a difficult time when the great Celtic team of the 1970’s was going through a period of transition.
Peter’s biggest advantage was that he quickly established a brilliant rapport with the Celtic fans. Before each game, especially at Parkhead, the fans had their pre match ritual and would chant:
‘Peter Latchford, Peter Latchford, give us a waaaaave, give us a waaaaave !!!’
To which Peter would reply with a wave. The fans would then chant back:
‘Latchford !!!’…. ‘Latchford !!!’….. (or very occasionally) ‘Latchford for England !….Latchford for England !’
However much we loved the big man it was clearly a ridiculous proposition that he could compete with either the great Peter Shilton or Ray Clemence as England goalkeeper although he did revel in the nickname ‘The Cat’ which was a slightly double edged nickname some fans had bestowed on him.
At that time street vendors sold button badges with distasteful slogans outside Parkhead (one can still recall the likes of ‘I’ve got a soft spot for Rangers – quicksand’ or ‘1690 – we want a replay’) and there was one for Peter – ‘Latchford holds more balls than Britt Ekland.’ Wonder if Rod Stewart had one of them, the attractive Miss Ekland being a glamorous flame of Rod’s from that period.
Peter Latchford had many fine games for Celtic. He saved a penalty from Boavista’s Alves in Portugal in October 1975 which helped Celtic to the quarter finals of the old European Cup Winners Cup. He had another fine match against Real Madrid at Parkhead in 1980 but had a sorry experience in the second leg in the Bernabeau when he was impeded for Real’s first goal on the night when Celtic when down narrowly on aggregate.
Celtic fans will always take to their hearts players who excel in games against Rangers and Peter was most capable in that respect. In March 1977 he received a shoulder injury at Ibrox and bravely played on as there were no substitute goalkeepers in those days. With minutes to go and the game tied at 2-2 he threw himself across goal to palm away a goal bound header by Alex MacDonald much to his own discomfort but to the great appreciation of the Celtic fans massed on the terracing behind his goal.
In September 1978 he saved a penalty from Alex Miller to help Celtic to a 3-1 victory however his best performance against Rangers came at Ibrox in December 1979 in what was Celtic’s last game of that decade. The Ibrox pitch was frosty and rock solid and Celtic did not play well. Time and again Rangers threw balls into the box with ‘Gas Meter’ defying the Rangers forwards. Eventually he was only beaten by a Derek Johnstone header after he had lost his footing on the treacherous surface but, thankfully, Bobby Lennox equalised within 60 seconds.
In the summer of 1980 Peter suffered a hand injury and Pat Bonner took over the keeper’s role and would be Celtic’s first choice until 1995. Peter surprisingly stayed until 1987 much to the detriment of his career as he could have been a first choice elsewhere, but he remained loyal to Celtic.
In the 1978/79 season Peter played in opposition to his brother Dave Latchford who was Motherwell’s goalkeeper during several Celtic-Motherwell games that season. His other brother was Bob Latchford, a hugely successful England international, who is mainly remembered for his period at Everton between 1974 and 1981 and who had a fine partnership with Kevin Keegan for England in the 1970’s.
It has to be said that Peter had his flaws as a goalkeeper but he was generally forgiven by the fans who appreciated that the big man gave his all. A likable and athletic character Latchford was prone to conceding the odd soft goal but for the most part he was a solid last line of defence who was capable of pulling off some truly astounding saves.
My own favourite memory of Peter is at the end of the 1980 Scottish Cup final. After 120 minutes of play Celtic were hanging on to a 1-0 lead when Peter came out for a high ball on the penalty spot. He caught the ball but also grabbed team mate Mike Conroy round the neck and the two of them became caught up together. After disentangling the referee blew the final whistle and Peter, with ball still in hand, turned joyfully to salute the Celtic fans behind him at the Kings Park end of Hampden.
Peter Latchford was a genuine character in an era when players were encouraged to display their own distinctive personalities. For those of us who remember the big man we will always do so with happy memory.