In case any younger fans are somewhat confused as to why the name of a cartoon character adorns these pages, John Hughes, Celtic’s powerful forward of the 60’s and 70’s, was affectionately given the moniker ‘Yogi Bear’ by the appreciative Celtic fans of that period.
John was at Parkhead a long time (1958-1971) and played a huge part in the Stein years when Celtic had the most glorious success in their history. However, the big man was notoriously inconsistent and could split the Celtic support and it is said that half the fans swore by him and the other half swore at him !
Yogi was one of the Kelly kids of the early 60’s and unlike most of those young Bhoys such as Jackson, Colrain and Crerand, he would go on to have a long and successful Celtic career. He was also a versatile player who was as comfortable on the wings as he was through the centre and relied on his power and strength to get by his opponents, yet for such a big man he could display a remarkably subtle touch and delicate skills.
John was at centre forward when Stein inspired them to the Scottish cup in 1965 and he was Celtic’s hero in the 1965 League cup final when he fired home two penalties to give Celts the cup in a 2-1 win against Rangers, showing remarkable coolness in the process. This inspired the ‘currant buns’ to invade the park at the final whistle in a serious breach of crowd disorder and because of this laps of honour were banned at Hampden for the best part of ten years, thus depriving many a Celtic side of the reception in front of their own fans that they deserved.
John was a regular in the side until March 1967 when injury struck and it ultimately cost him his place in Lisbon in the European cup final. Bobby Murdoch once said that he also had an ankle injury at this period and never declared it as he had seen Hughes lose his place in the team, so keen was he not to miss the final months of the historic 1966/67 season.
At his best big John was one of the most spectacular sights ever seen in the Scottish game. Once he got into that stride of his he was a very difficult man to dispossess or knock over. Older Celtic fans swear that he scored two of the finest goals ever seen in the mid 1960’s. In January 1964 in a mud heap at Cappielow he ploughed past several Morton players and almost burst the net such was the power of his long range shot and I am sure Lachiemor has touched on this in a previous article. In August 1965 he ran across the field at DensPark against Dundee and fired home another howitzer of a goal. In 1965 on a bitter frosty day at Parkhead against Aberdeen, John turned out in a pair of ‘sannies’ and ran amok in an 8-0 win scoring five goals in the process. On his day John Hughes was virtually unplayable and one of the great characters of the period. It is said that John was probably at his most effective during winter when conditions were heavier.
John experienced his highest and lowest moments as a Celt in the space of three weeks in 1970. In the European cup semi final second leg at Hampden against Leeds, Jock Stein fielded him in the unusual position of centre forward. Stein recalled that in the 1968 Scotland-England international that the big man had terrorised the English centre half Jackie Charlton who was also the Leeds number 5. Hughes had a magnificent game that night and headed Celtic’s first goal in their 2-1 victory which was fairly unusual as John was not a noted header of a ball despite his height and build. Three weeks later John retained the number 9 shorts against Feyenoord in the final in Milan. Celtic played well below their best but Yogi ran through the centre of the Dutch defence at the start of extra time and hit the post with Celtic’s best chance. Had he scored he could have become one of a select band of players to score the winning goal in a European cup final.
John Hughes himself claims that his relationship was never the same with Jock Stein after that final. Stein could display a cruel streak and John was sometimes on the receiving end of it. Hughes turned up to play one day at Celtic Park and was disappointed to hear he was not even listed as substitute, turned, left the ground, jumped in a taxi and went home. In the following fixture in Dundee, Stein listed Hughes in the squad and was amiable and pleasant to him all the way in the journey north, giving the impression that he would be playing that day. Before the game Stein announced the team and again John was not listed and he fired this broadside at Yogi – ‘You getting a taxi hame the day, eh Yogi ?’ Many years later Yogi and Jim Craig were invited to a supporters’ function and recalled Stein’s hard side and laughed at the fact that they would attend the function to listen to the Celtic fans’ fond recollection of Jock Stein yet the fans did not have a clue about the difficult relationship Jock could sometimes have with his players.
No one seems to be quite sure how the nickname ‘Yogi Bear’ came about. One story is of a foreign away trip when Celtic players went for a walk in local woods and John got lost, raising fears amongst the locals as there were wild bears in the vicinity. Another more likely version is that he was ‘smarter than the average bears’, a cheeky reference from the Yogi Bear kids’ cartoon show, referring to Celtic’s domination over Rangers during the Stein years. Whatever the reason the name Yogi was to stick with him always. The Celtic fans loved to sing ‘Feed the Bear, Feed the Bear, Feed the Bear’ and the big man was in his glory as he got into his stride running down the wing at a susceptible full back. Years later that chant would be adopted for the rugged Celtic defender Roy Aitken.
John moved on to CrystalPalace in 1971. Palace were a top division team at that time and played in a distinctive ‘Ajax’ style strip with a claret and blue band. He scored one of his trademark long range goals against Southampton which was a candidate for goal of the season on BBC1 and also helped Palace to remarkable 5-0 win over the Best-Law-Charlton Manchester United team in December 1971. He then moved to Sunderland for a short time to join brother Billy who was a member of the legendary Sunderland cup winning side of 1973, before retiring through injury.
Celtic fans from the Lisbon era fondly recall his power and skill and it’s fair to say that John had a very unique but effective playing style being very much a gentle giant on the field of play with his distinctive head of black hair. He may not have played in Lisbon but no one would grudge John Hughes the title of ‘Lisbon Lion’. As with most of the Lions it’s felt that John was allowed to depart when he still had a couple of good seasons left in him. Yogi at his best definitely gave Celtic a different dimension on the field of play.
Last time I was in McConnells bar in Hope Street there was big John behind the bar pouring pints for his customers and talking of his days as a Celt.
And Yogi has plenty to boast about and be proud of from those halcyon days as a Celtic player. Feed the Bear !!!