In early 1982 Celtic were dealt two terrible blows when Frank McGarvey and Charlie Nicholas suffered leg breaks in separate incidents. They had developed a fantastic partnership and had scored a combined total of 57 goals the previous season. Manager Billy McNeill had an enormous headache and the under-rated George McCluskey happily stepped into the breach to be the league’s top scorer in 1981/82.
As this Glasgow derby game approached McNeill cursed his luck further when McCluskey was ruled out through injury. Pressed into an emergency, Billy called up the talented but inexperienced youngster Danny Crainie, and paired him up front with the seasoned defender, Tom McAdam.
Tom had joined Celtic as far back as 1977 as a striker but had been converted successfully to become a very capable centre half. Now he was required to call on his old instincts to lead the Celtic forward line once again in an important match, at a time when Celtic and Aberdeen were neck and neck for the title.
Celtic attacked from the start and scored just after the first minute had passed. Tommy Burns sent Dom Sullivan racing into the area and his sclaffed cross was bundled home by young Crainie. Throughout the first half Tom McAdam looked to be enjoying his stint in the number 9 shorts and he showed he was still capable of holding the ball up and giving the Rangers’ defence problems.
Celtic went 2-0 up shortly after the break. Crainie was fouled on the left flank and when Tommy Burns’ free kick came over, Tom McAdam stole in at the back post to powerfully head home to double Celtic’s advantage.
Rangers now went for broke and pushed Celtic back into defence with the strong wind now behind them in their favour. Davie Cooper swung in a succession of free kicks and corners to trouble the Celtic defence and McAdam, having performed admirably in attack, was now pressed into defensive duties to assist his beleaguered team mates.
Derek Johnstone began to give Celtic’s young centre half, Davie Moyes, a torrid time and he struck the bar with a powerful header before he scored, when his shot took a fortunate deflection off Danny McGrain to beat Pat Bonner. Celtic now defended desperately and Sullivan bravely headed a John McClelland header off the line, with McGrain then throwing himself in the way of a goal bound Cooper shot.
Celtic held out and won 2-1 in the end. Billy McNeill was ecstatic after the game, having won such an important fixture without his three star strikers. He also announced that McGrain, Burns and Davie Provan had all played whilst being well below 100% fitness in a great show of bravery for the Celtic cause.
Tom McAdam had enjoyed a fine afternoon at both ends of the park and the Glasgow Herald noted the following: ‘McAdam was asked to move up front to team up with youngster Danny Crainie and, apart from heading what turned out to be the winning goal, he gave a stirring display of commitment and tenacity.’
Celtic went on to narrowly win the title just over a month later and this victory over their old rivals went a long way towards that success.