The sad news of the passing of Joe McBride was announced yesterday after having taken ill at the weekend.
Joe McBride was Jock Stein’s first signing in the summer of 1965 and it’s arguable if he ever made a better one. In a Celtic team which was geared to all out attack Joe was the perfect striker to finish off the chances created by Johnstone, Murdoch, Auld, Lennox and Hughes.
Joe was mobile and had a stocky build which made it difficult for defenders to knock him off the ball. He had a great shot with either foot, was a good header of the ball and was especially good when required to volley.
I never saw Joe play but my Father and his friends spoke in venerable terms when recalling Joe in action. In later years Celtic had a plethora of strikers who would come and go but the Lisbon era of Celtic fan could always be heard to mutter that ‘He’s nae Joe McBride’. Not until Larsson was there to be a Celtic striker who was comparable with Joe.
In the period between August 1965 and December 1966 Joe score an amazing total of 78 goals for Celtic in all competitions. Mere stats alone cannot describe his contribution to Celtic’s greatest ever side and yet injury was to sadly deprive Joe of the opportunity of playing in Lisbon.
A couple of myths have grown through the years about Joe’s time at Celtic. The first is that Willie Wallace was bought to replace Joe after his injury which is not correct. Wallace made his debut on December 10th 1966 and Joe’s last game of the season was on Christmas Eve at Pittodrie. Stein’s plan was to team up McBride and Wallace at the expense of Stevie Chalmers but the knee injury meant that it was Wallace and Chalmers who would eventually pair up.
The other myth was that Joe had his leg shattered at Pittodrie and this resulted in him missing the European final. The truth is that Joe had an ongoing knee problem for some time which took a long time to diagnose and he had bravely played through the pain barrier before the pain became too bad to endure after Aberdeen.
Joe must have been disappointed at missing out on Lisbon and so were the Celtic fans who admired him so much in the hoops. Much was made of the absence of the great Luis Suarez to the Inter side but few recall that Celtic were missing a human goal machine. Fate is a funny thing and had Joe played in Lisbon he may have take a couple of chances and Celtic could have won 4-1. However it’s equally possible that he may not have been on the spot when Chalmers scored the winner. We shall never know.
Jock Stein never admitted to many mistakes but he did confess to letting Joe depart Parkhead too early in late 1968. With an embarrassment of strikers and with Macari and Dalglish in the wings Jock allowed Joe to move on.
Joe was born and bred in Govan like myself and I know it was an enormous source of pride to us Govan Celts that one of our own (and Jim Craig) had fared so well at Celtic. At St Gerard’s secondary I can still recall a teacher telling us impressionable kids – ‘If you work hard you can turn out like Jim Craig or Joe McBride…if you don’t you can end up like Billy Connolly…it’s up tae yirselves’. The reference to Connolly (another ex pupil) was not a kind one and he was not seen back then as the national treasure he is today.
The term ‘Lisbon Lion’ is often discussed and it should be remembered that it’s not just the eleven men who played in Lisbon who deserve the title. Joe McBride is an undoubted Lisbon Lion after his contribution to that wonderful season.
Perhaps Joe appreciated his Celtic success more than most as he had been a journeyman player with several clubs before finding his best form under Stein’s guidance. It’s said that when Celtic visited Nantes in 1966 the French press made comparisons between Joe’s looks and that of Marlon Brando. You can only imagine the kidding that he took from the other players over that one.
In his excellent autobiography ‘A lifetime in Paradise’ Jimmy McGrory was asked to name his all time best Celtic team. McGrory had been watching Celtic for 70 years and at centre forward he had no hesitation in choosing Joe. There can be no better accolade than that coming from the great McGrory.
For kids like me growing up learning about Celtic Joe McBride was the stuff of legend. Farewell Joe.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord
And may eternal light shine upon him
May he rest in peace