Celtic travelled to Paisley on a warm summer’s day in 1981 hoping to revenge a 3-1 home defeat to St Mirren only a couple of weeks previously. That result had helped St Mirren to the top of a four team League Cup section, with Hibs and St Johnstone being the other teams in the group, and Celtic were required to win this match to have any remaining chance of qualification to the quarter finals.
18 years old defender Davie Moyes was starting only his second full game for Celtic and it was his rash challenge on Lex Richardson which led to the penalty which allowed Billy Stark to give St Mirren an early lead. After that the Saints’ goal led a charmed life as Celtic attacked constantly before Murdo MacLeod equalised with a stunningly powerful low shot. Celtic were now in the groove and George McCluskey exploded on to the scene with a great finish when he was clear on goal, to give Celtic a much deserved 2-1 half time lead.
In the second half the Celts had gone on to give a wonder performance with McCluskey very much to the fore with his clever play and intelligent movement in attack. In 55 minutes he took a Davie Provan pass before blasting an unsaveable high shot past ‘keeper Billy Thomson from the edge of the area. Celtic were now on top form and McCluskey rounded off his afternoon by scoring his hat trick by sending in a powerful header from a perfect Provan cross.
However, the main memory of George McCluskey that afternoon is not any of any of his three goals but of an audacious piece of skill from the Celtic striker in the second half when he just failed to score. A Frank McGarvey pass sent George through on goal and he managed to knock the ball past Thomson and retrieve the ball on the bye line before it went out of play. He then pirouetted to beat John Young on the touch line before smashing the ball off the face of the cross bar from the tightest of angles. Let there be no doubt, that had that ball gone in, this would have been one of the greatest goals in Celtic’s history.
Murdo MacLeod rounded the scoring off before the end with a fifth goal and for the remainder of the game Celtic were happy to play possession football as their fans roared each player’s touch in the sun.
George McCluskey must have enjoyed the Paisley air as he scored a fair number of goals on St Mirren’s old Love Street pitch during his Celtic career. This was a fine Celtic team and on the day Danny McGrain, Davie Provan and Murdo MacLeod were stand outs what had been a magnificent performance, so much so that the Sunday Mail had described their display as ‘an experience which was a delight to those who preach attacking football.’
However it is George McCluskey’s performance, goals and dazzling pieces of skill that day which will long remain in the memory.