On the 14th of November 1984 Scotland achieved one of their greatest ever results when they beat Spain by a scoreline of 3-1 at Hampden. The Spaniards, including Arconada, Santilliana and Butragueno, had been destroyed by the strike pairing of ex Celtic captain Kenny Dalglish and current Celt Mo Johnston and a huge crowd turned out at Tynecastle three days later to watch Celtic’s visit to Edinburgh on the back of that result.
Johnston had only recently signed for Celtic and Davie Hay now had the difficult problem of picking two strikers from the trio of Johnston, Frank McGarvey and Brian McClair, all of whom were goal scorers of the highest calibre. Hay then sprang a surprise when McClair ran out at Tynecastle in the unusual number 6 shorts and lined up in a most unfamiliar midfield role. The Celtic fans on the Tynecastle terraces were surprised at this but were to be delighted by McClair’s devastating display on the day.
Celtic led 1-0 at half time through a goal of the highest order. Paul McStay got himself out of trouble at the edge of his own area with a fine one two with Tom McAdam and laid the ball off to Danny McGrain on the right. He in turn found McClair in midfield who passed to Davie Provan. The Celtic winger then beat Brian Whittaker on the run and delivered a hanging cross for Johnston to rise superbly and bullet home a header.
However, the second half was to belong to Brian McClair. He now looked totally at ease in his new role in the middle of the park and it was obvious that Hearts players were unable to pick up his deep runs from midfield. In 48 minutes Provan again found room on the right hand side to chip a cross over for McClair to score with a spectacular diving header. Only a matter of seconds later and Brian had scored again. Hearts had just taken centre when McStay won possession and sent McGarvey clear on the left with a wonderful long pass. McGarvey smashed his shot against the bar and as the ball came out McClair showed great anticipation to be the first on the spot to fire home the rebound.
This was some of the finest football Celtic had played for some time and the fans inside Tynecastle roared with delight as their team put in what was described as ‘an exhibition performance.’ In 82 minutes the bold Brian then finished off his hat trick. The crowd focused on Davie Provan who had just been struck by a coin from the Hearts end of the ground but as Danny McGrain carried on and swung over a cross, McClair rose to send an unstoppable header into the net off the underside of the bar.
Tommy Burns scored Celtic’s final goal with Willie Johnston finishing the scoring with a late consolation. Afterwards the media poured plaudits on Provan, McStay and Johnston for their majestic displays but it was Brian McClair who was rated as top man for going about his business quietly but with devastating effect. He had shown his versatility on the day and delighted Davie Hay who had shown great faith in him by playing him in that attacking midfield role.
In later years Brian was to join Manchester United for a bargain £850,000 fee and Alex Ferguson utilised him in this deep attacking role where he was a United mainstay for many years. But it was on this day in gloomy Edinburgh that Brian McClair first came to prominence in the role he was to fulfil so well at Old Trafford.