In the early 1970’s it seemed that Celtic had a conveyor belt of young talent. In April 1972 Pat McCluskey became the latest Celtic reserve to break through into the first team when he appeared for Celtic in the two legs of the European Cup semi final against Inter Milan. The young, inexperienced Pat played in both ties and made a fine impression. In the heat of the penalty shoot-out against Inter he even had the courage to volunteer to take a penalty and had score, despite Celtic losing 5-4 in the process.
For a short period Pat was a stop gap for the injured Bobby Murdoch but he became a regular starter in early 1974 when George Connelly broke his leg and was out for a long period. Pat was a real team player, someone who was comfortable playing in midfield, centre back or at full back and always gave everything that he had for the Celtic cause. In a team full of colourful individuals such as Jimmy Johnstone, Kenny Dalglish, Dixie Deans and Lou Macari, Pat was content to play a background role with his determined play in any position in which he appeared in.
He went on to have many successes for Celtic which are worth recalling. In December 1972 he displayed his talent to the full by scoring a terrific hat trick from midfield against Dumbarton at Boghead. In Madrid in 1974 he had played a heroic role in defence as Celtic held out against Atletico Madrid against all the odds until late in the match, in yet another European Cup semi final. And in 1975 he had his most memorable moment as a Celt when he scored the clinching goal from a penalty when Celtic beat Airdrie 3-1 in the Scottish Cup final.
Pat was embroiled in controversy in 1975 when he was named as one of the ‘Copenhagen five.’ These were five Scottish players, Pat, Billy Bremner, Arthur Graham, Willie Young and Joe Harper, who were all alleged to have been involved in a serious incident in a Copenhagen night club after appearing for Scotland against Denmark. All five were given a life time ban by the SFA, which was later rescinded, but only Harper and Graham ever played for Scotland again.
Pat was a mainstay for Celtic caretaker manager Sean Fallon in the 1975-76 season when Jock Stein was in hospital after a serious car crash. Celtic carried some serious bad luck that season and finished without a trophy with the defence taking the brunt of the criticism. After Stein returned in the summer of 1976 he signed the experienced Pat Stanton from Hibs. This was an inspired move and with Stanton taking up a new defensive role, Celtic won the league and cup double with some style. Unfortunately for Pat McCluskey, he was the player to give way to Stanton and his chances became limited, although he was still a regular member of the first team squad.
In the summer of 1977 Pat was said to be interesting Newcastle United and Norwich City, both of whom were top tier English sides at that time. It was then with much surprise when it was announced that he had been transferred to lowly Dumbarton for a paltry £15,000. It was thought that Pat was worth more than that and could have got himself a better move to a bigger club.
The sad thing is that Pat Stanton was badly injured in August 1977 and subsequently had to retire from the game. It took Celtic a long time to replace him and Stein must have regretted letting McCluskey go to Boghead as he would have been a ready made replacement in the Celtic defence for Stanton. He was still only 25 and was thought to have a lot of good years still left in him.
Pat McCluskey is fondly remembered by the Celtic fans of the period for his wholehearted commitment and forceful tackling. He won three league titles, two Scottish Cups and one League Cup. It still remains a pity he did not hang around in the summer of ’77.