When Gordon Strachan took over from Martin O’Neill as Celtic manager in the summer of 2005 it was obvious that he would look to bring in his own players as he sought to have the team play the way he wanted.
One of his first moves he made was to bring the dependable right back, Paul Telfer, from Southampton. Telfer had played for Strachan for a considerable part of his career at both Coventry and Southampton and the new manager knew that Telfer was a player he could both trust and rely on.
Paul did not enjoy an easy start at Parkhead. He was approaching 34 and was thought to have his best years behind him and Celtic fans did not take to him immediately as he was replacing fans’ favourite, Didier Agathe, in the right back position. Also, on his debut Celtic had disastrously lost 5-0 to Artmedia of Bratislava as they crashed out of the Champions league qualifiers and the team suffered a number of bad results early in the season.
Strachan eventually made his mark on the side with faithful servants, Agathe, Chris Sutton and Alan Thompson moving on to be replaced by new faces, Shunske Nakamura, Artur Boruc and Maciej Zurawski. Nakamura became particularly popular with the Celtic support with his remarkable ability to score from free kicks and his overall technique. Paul Telfer linked with Nakamura on Celtic’s right flank and Telfer’s unselfish running off the ball allowed Nakamura the time and space to showcase his considerable talents.
Celtic found their form in autumn and went on a 12 match unbeaten run, the highlight of which was two emphatic wins over Rangers in November within ten days. A difficult fixture at Pittodrie in December 2005 saw Celtic emerge as 3-1 winners with Paul scoring his only goal in the hoops with a hard low shot after a fine run into the Aberdeen box.
Telfer was a steady, unspectacular player whom the Celtic fans eventually took to. Despite his mature age he was a highly fit player with great stamina. He had a fine game in the memorable New Year’s day 2006 game at Tynecastle when Celtic produced a tremendous comeback from 0-2 down to win 3-2. In March, Paul won his first major football honour of his career when Celtic beat Dunfermline 3-0 in the League Cup final and he followed that up by winning a League championship medal in April when John Hartson’s goal clinched the title against Hearts in a 1-0 win at Celtic Park.
For the 2006-07 season Paul was expected to be a fringe player after Celtic signed young full back, Mark Wilson, from Dundee United. However, Wilson suffered a number of injuries which meant that Paul got to experience the wonders of Champions League football at the ripe old age of 35. He played in the vital game against Manchester United at Celtic Park in which Nakamura scored one of the most memorable goals in Celtic’s history with a trademark long range free kick. Celtic won through to the last 16 where they were desperately unlucky to lose to the eventual winners, AC Milan, after extra time in the second leg in the San Siro.
By the end of his second season Paul left Celtic on a free transfer as he was suffering from a niggling hip injury and his family were homesick to return to England. He left Celtic with good wishes and could look back on a successful period where he had collected two League medals and League Cup medal. But perhaps it is the Champions League games that Paul will recall with most relish where he performed with distinction against the might of Manchester United, Benfica and AC Milan.