The Saint Gerard’s film show was arranged by the Brighton (Street)
Celtic supporters club and they had arranged for Frank McGarvey to
attend. That night Frank was a credit to Celtic as he patiently signed
autographs and spoke to his adoring public. However, my first
impression of seeing my hero at close quarters has always stuck with me
to this day. He was around 5 feet 9 inches, slight looking and wiry
thin. I couldn’t believe that this was the same guy who bravely led the
Celtic forward line and crossed swords each week with such physical
brutes as Tom Forsyth, Gregor Stevens, Colin Jackson, Willie Miller,
Craig Paterson and an assorted selection of European defenders.
However, despite being on the small side, Frank was blessed with the
heart of a lion and seldom came out second best, be it in a physical
tussle or one of a more technical footballing variety.
first sprung to prominence as part of Alex Ferguson’s fine young Saint
Mirren side of the 1970’s. His fine form and eye for goal had earned
him a £300,000 move to Liverpool in 1979 but he returned north to
Parkhead nine months later having never played for the Anfield side’s
first team, for a reduced price of £250,000. Celtic could only afford
to sign him due to having reached the European Cup quarter final
against Real Madrid and having had the finance from several huge crowds
at Parkhead in the process.
His first few months were not easy and
Celtic blew a considerable lead to lose the League title and there were
rumours of unrest in the Celtic dressing room over his salary which was
rumoured to be considerably more than the other players. Despite this
things settled down and by the autumn of 1980 Frank was a huge
favourite with the Celtic fans and had found his best form.
He had an ungainly running style and a great knack of getting out of
tight positions with his excellent touch and close control. This led to
some of his opponents to claim that they could not hope to tackle him
because he himself did not look as if he knew what he was doing.
However, this is insulting, as McGarvey had great technique and control
and, more importantly, a good football brain and a striker’s knack for
scoring goals which cannot be coached.
He was the perfect foil for Charlie Nicholas and George McCluskey, whom
he partnered in attack. Billy McNeill tried different permutations but
found that Frank was to be the constant in any pairing as his work rate
and effort was always greater than the other two, whose styles were
There were many great goals that Frank scored for Celtic but perhaps
the best remembered came against Saint Mirren in March 1981. Receiving
a pass with his back to goal 30 yards out, he beat one man, stumbled
past another and then when it looked as if he had lost possession, he
quickly regained his balance and fired a spectacular shot high into the
top corner. The half time whistle went minutes later and the Celtic
fans were still loudly cheering that goal. Celtic went on to win 7-0
that day which was a notable achievement against a Saints team, who
were regarded back then as a top four SPL side.
Between 1980 and 1985 McGarvey was one of Celtic’s best and most
valuable players. For three consecutive years (1982, 1983, 1984) George
McCluskey, Charlie Nicholas and Brian McClair, respectively, were the
top scorers in the SPL and the common denominator was that they were
all partnered in attack by Frank McGarvey. Despite being a great
striker he was also a great provider and his unselfish play and off the
ball runs, created many goals for his strike partners.
After David Hay became Celtic manager in 1983 he signed an assortment
of strikers in Jim Melrose, Alan McInally and Mo Johnston, and the
suspicion was that Davie did not rate Frank as a player. In May 1985
Celtic took on Dundee United in the Scottish cup final with Hay’s
position as Celtic manager in grave jeopardy. With time running out and
the sides level, Frank launched himself at a Roy Aitken cross to score
a spectacular late winner to spark joyous scenes of celebration amongst
the Celtic support jammed into Hampden.
Unfortunately Hay did not show much appreciation for Frank’s efforts
and controversially sold him to Saint Mirren the very next week for a
derogatory £70,000. McGarvey still had many good seasons left in him
and when Hay brought Mark McGhee from Hamburg as his replacement, the
Celtic fans were perplexed at best and livid at worst. McGhee was no
replacement for McGarvey, who was to have remarkable success at Love
Street by leading the Buddies to the Scottish Cup in 1987.
In his later years Frank McGarvey was to have two more notable
encounters with his beloved Celtic. In August 1991 Queen of the South
came to Parkhead and gave a great account of themselves despite going
down 2-1. McGarvey was exceptional that night, dragging Celtic
defenders all over the park with his clever play.
In January 1993 Liam Brady took his struggling Celtic side to Douglas
Park to play Clyde, who were than ground sharing with Hamilton Accies.
It was a game Celtic were expected to win easily but struggled badly
in. With minutes remaining, Frank went on a spectacular run down the
right wing and cut the ball back to an unmarked Clyde player (Jamie
McCarron if I recall correctly) who incredibly missed an open goal with
Pat Bonner well beaten. The game finished 0-0 and Clyde had literally
missed their chance. Despite the Celtic fans’ anger at such a wretched
display many of them stayed on to give Frank a deserved standing
ovation at full time.
It’s no secret that Frank has had problems in his personal life and
these were well documented in his excellent, recent autobiography.
Celtic fans will wish him every good wish for the future and for those
of us who recall his fine displays in the hoops, Frank McGarvey will
always be remembered as a Celtic great.
Pic 1- Frank scores an acrobatic header from a cross by the grounded Tommy Burns.
Pic 2 – Frank is chosen at outside left for Roy Race’s star team in 1981.
Pic 3 – This is a drawing of Frank’s marvellous goal against St Mirren in March 1981.
Pic 4 – Shows Frank up against St Mirren centre half Mark Fulton.
Pic 5 – Is the ubiquitous Shoot magazine ‘focus’ series from 1983 in which Frank answers a range of questions…