A few years ago I had the privilege of interviewing Frank McGarvey at his son’s home in Kings Park. Frank was a big hero of mine in my teenage years and I was delighted to discover that he was a pleasure to talk to and still had a lot of love for Celtic, even allowing for the considerable time which had surpassed since he was a Celtic player.

It’s easy to forget just how good a player Frank McGarvey was and what he achieved in the game. He was a £250,000 Scottish record transfer record when he joined Celtic from Liverpool in March 1980. In this era of mercenaries in football, it’s interesting to note that Frank actually took a pay cut to join Celtic and that Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen had offered him more in wages to sign for the Dons, but Frank declined his offer to achieve his ambition of playing for Celtic. It was years later before Ferguson would talk to him again.

Frank’s Celtic career wasn’t to start well. The Celts blew a considerable lead to lose their title in the spring of 1980, ironically to Fergie’s Aberdeen, although he obtained a Scottish Cup medal when Celtic beat Rangers in the infamous 1980 Scottish Cup final at Hampden. It was January 1981 before things really finally clicked for Frank at Parkhead. With George McCluskey and John Doyle injured and Bobby Lennox having to retire, Celtic manager Billy McNeill then threw the teenage protégé, Charlie Nicholas, into the attack alongside Frank, with devastating effect. That season Frank outscored Charlie by 29 goals to 28, in what was Celtic’s best strike partnership for many years and another league was won.

McGarvey and Nicholas were the ideal foil for each other. Frank’s energetic and intelligent running up front, was perfectly made for Charlie, with his more polished style and close control. They were the perfect blend. Frank proved what a fine footballer he was by being equally effective in taking on the role of being the main goal scoring striker or by providing the service for his strike partner, such were his capabilities.

Although the McGarvey Nicholas duo was successful, it’s worth noting that Frank also forged equally impressive partnerships with George McCluskey, Brian McClair, and Mo Johnston, during his six seasons at Celtic. Frank was the common denominator in the Celtic attack and Billy McNeill commented as such in January 1982 when he had played Nicholas and McCluskey at Ibrox in a 0-1 defeat. Their playing styles were too similar and Billy stated that Frank’s movement and more physical approach up front would not be overlooked again.

In 1981 I attended a Celtic film show in the Pearce Institute in Govan. I recall my father being taken aback at how slight Frank was. He was smaller up close that he looked on the pitch and it was astonishing that this slight frame went into battle for the Celtic cause every week against such brutes as Tom Forsyth, Gregor Stevens, Craig Paterson and Alex McLeish. Of all the attributes Frank had then perhaps it was his fighting spirit which was the greatest. Like all great Celtic centre forwards, from McGrory to Deans, there was never a lost cause as far they were concerned. As well as prime goal scorers they all had that same fighting spirit in abundance, an attribute in which the best Celtic sides were always built on.

Frank’s style was often described as unorthodox and ungainly and he must have been a nightmare for defenders to play against. Occasionally it was mentioned humorously by his contemporaries that if Frank doesn’t know what he is doing then how could defenders hope to cope with him? But this only serves to detract from Frank’s intelligent footballing brain, making fine runs to create space for team mates and having that positional sense to know where to be on the pitch. He was a hugely astute footballer and was never really given the credit for that.

Frank’s character came to the fore in the 1985 Scottish Cup final to give him his finest moment as a Celt. There were 85 minutes played with the game balanced at 1-1, and the huge Celtic support roaring the team on. Those of us who were there that day will never forget what happened next. Roy Aitken slung over a cross with Frank throwing himself forward to score with a brave header, the ball flying past United’s keeper, Hamish McAlpine. It was a very emotional moment and everyone could see what that goal meant to Frank in the scenes afterwards with him scoring what was the eventual winner. Frank recalled the celebrations that night with the wives of Celtic players offering him particular congratulations. When I enquired why, he explained that the considerable bonus for winning the cup meant for a good family holiday that summer which may not have been affordable otherwise, with Celtic players back then not being particularly highly paid.

Scottish football was stunned only days after the final when Celtic sold Frank to St Mirren for a paltry £75,000. Davie Hay informed Frank that Brian McClair and Mo Johnston were to be his strike partnership for the following season. When Frank made it clear he was willing to stay and fight for his place, Hay informed him that he was also behind Alan McInally in the queue for a place. Frank recalled, in humour, that if big ‘Rambo’ was in front of him for a place then he knew it ‘was time for the off.’ And so a great Celtic career came to an end on such sad circumstances.

II fairness to Hay, he admitted in later years that selling Frank was a mistake. Frank still had a lot of football left in him and he proved this by leading St Mirren to their first Scottish Cup final success since 1959 and taking the Saints into European football. The Celtic supporters were not only shocked at his departure, but disappointed, as they loved his busy, all action style.

Frank McGarvey leaves us many memories. His late winner at Parkhead in his first game against Rangers in April 1980. The tremendous goal against St Mirren when he beat two defenders and lashed the ball home from outside the area in March 1981. The goal at Tannadice in May 1981 which helped clinch the league. And the memorable European goals against DVTK (hat trick), Ajax, Sporting Lisbon, Aarhus, and Ghent (two).

As I said at the start, I interviewed Frank a while back. I asked him if he had any regrets from his time at Celtic and he said he had nothing. He stated that he had given his all and enjoyed every minute of it and he hoped that the fans would remember him fondly. Last month, after Frank’s illness was announced, he made a final emotional appearance in front of the Celtic fans at his beloved Parkhead. They left him in no doubt that day that they remembered him with tremendous affection.

Frank McGarvey faced up to his illness with the same courage and fortitude which he had shown whilst playing for Celtic between 1980 and 1985. He sadly passed away this morning and the thoughts and prayers of all Celtic fans are with the McGarvey family at this difficult time. May God grant them strength.

Rest in peace Frank, you were some man. Thanks for the memories.