In this latest interview, St Anthony speaks to ex-Celtic striker Joe Craig about his football career and the two years he spent at Parkhead between 1976 and 1978 when he scored an impressive 37 goals in 73 appearances. Joe also discusses his famous Scotland goal which caused him to be a subject of a football trivia question.
What was your first football game and who was your first football hero?
The first game I went to I was about 4 and my mum took me to Alloa v Stirling Albion, a local derby at Recreation Park. When I was young I never watched a lot of football, I would rather have played it. My brother is four years older and he played but my dad never went to the games, in fact he only saw me play once in my entire career. It’s not that he didn’t like football just that he was always working or playing ‘bools’. It was a Partick Thistle reserve game he saw when I was 17 and it was against Celtic reserves. Celtic had something like 6 internationalist that day, Jimmy Johnstone played, Bertie Auld, John Clark, John Hughes. We actually beat them 6-5 and I scored a hat trick. I still meet guys who played in that game and we still talk about it. It was 5-5 late on and I shut my eyes and hit a shot which flew in the top corner. That was the only game my dad saw me play.
Believe it or not it was Jimmy Greaves. Obviously because we had television then. Scottish players then it would be Denis Law, Jim Baxter, Jinky and the Lisbon Lions. But the best goal scorer I saw back then was Jimmy Greaves, by far. Greaves rarely scored outside the area and he never shot at goal, he just passed the ball into the net. All good players make things look simple. Great players are like snooker players, they’re always thinking two shots in front.
Did you model yourself on anyone in particular?
Not really. My brother, Nicol, who was older, signed for Rangers at 16. He was the one I looked up to both as a brother and as a fantastic player but a bad injury put him out at the age of 17. He played at Scotland under 16 level down south and they beat England 5-0 and he scored the 5 goals. That’s how good he was.
How did you get to Partick Thistle?
Davie McParland actually stayed in Alloa and he knew my mum and dad and my brother. My brother kind of opened doors for me because when someone is a half decent player, all the scouts come and watch him. I knew a lot of scouts around Alloa because of my brother so I knew they were watching me. It was Davie McParland who came to our house to talk with us when I was 15 and playing with Sauchie juveniles under 16’s. He wanted to sign me but I wasn’t impressed, I just wanted to play each weekend. The rule was then that you got farmed out to junior clubs so I played two years with Sauchie juniors and loved it.
Thistle had a good youth system in those days.
Davie McParland started it all, probably around 1968-1969. He got rid of the older players as Thistle were known for a time in the late 60’s for having older players, guys who had had half decent careers and came to Thistle near their end. Davie was an excellent coach and had been at the SFA at Largs and he decided to keep 2 or 3 experienced players and make the rest up with kids. I was very fortunate that the year after they won the League Cup in 1972, I went straight into that team at 17. Myself and Danny Kellachan got called up. In the September they sold Jimmy Bone to Norwich and I was right in. For a 17 year old that was great and overall I made 24 appearances and scored around 10 goals. In that team we had big Roughie in goal, John Hansen, Alex Forsyth, Ronnie Glavin and Alex Rae in midfield with Denis McQuade, Frank Coulson and Johnny Gibson up front. They were all good players. I went to school with Alan Hansen, who is only a year younger than me. When Alan turned 17 there was a big debate as to whether he became a professional football player or a professional golfer. The reason he chose football was that he could never win his local golf tournament so went full time with us. He was tall, solid and he had pace, he was really quick.
How good was Hansen?
Alan always had unbelievable talent but he was very lazy. At 15 he was a midfield player and I never saw him play anywhere else. He had great ability but wouldn’t run for a ball. He wasn’t a great tackler, he wanted you to do that and give the ball to him. By 17 he became physically stronger and started tackling and winning balls in the air. Davie McParland put him in straight away but he cost us so many goals because Alan would never just kick the ball away, he would take the ball anywhere on the park and play his way out. He would try nutmegging people on the edge of our own 18 yard area. However, we had no doubt watching him play and in training that he was quality. At 18 he was the best centre half in the old first division. He wasn’t the traditional aggressive centre half, he was a different type altogether. When we were asked back then ‘who is your best player?’ we all said ‘Alan Hansen.’ It wasn’t till he actually left that people appreciated how good he was.
Bertie Auld took over at Firhill in 1974.
Everybody’s got a story to tell about Bertie. Bertie was different from Davie but they both had their ways of getting things over. Bertie liked confrontation and it was a culture shock for a young boy like me seeing this icon coming in and he was in your face and shouting at people. A lot of the young players, me included, didn’t like him much because we thought he was a bully. But what he did do was to toughen us up. He was only trying to get the best out of us and it’s only when you get older that you realise that. When I was at Partick I didn’t like Bertie that much but when I came back from England in 1982 to join Hamilton, I worked with him again and became a coach and he was brilliant with me. I will always be grateful to him for helping me.
Did there come a time that you wanted to move on?
I was happy at Firhill, the only thing I disliked was being part time. They encouraged me to get a trade so I was a part time motor mechanic. After I qualified I went full time for a year but never liked it much so I went back to being part time because at 22 as I was getting married and needed more money. You could earn more by playing part time. The move to Celtic came out the blue. I was starting my 6th season with Partick and my wife was working in St Kent’s school in Blackburn. It was a Friday afternoon and I was working in the garage when the boss came in and said there’s a call from Glasgow but he won’t say who he is. It was Bertie Auld and he said ‘If you would like to move to one of the big two in Scotland then get yourself through here pronto.’ I drove through and in all honesty I never knew if I was going to meet Jock Stein or Jock Wallace. I hoped it was Mr Stein as I fancied Celtic more than I did Rangers. I met Bertie and all he said was ‘There’s a man in there I admire so don’t muck him about.’ Mr Stein was there and said he wanted to sign me. After 30 seconds I signed the contract. Money wasn’t even mentioned. Davie McParland was now Jock’s assistant manager so that may have been something to do with it although I had scored 22 goals up front with Doug Somner and we had a fantastic partnership. I felt I was ready for it at that time.
Your first game was against Hearts at Parkhead the following day.
When I signed on the Friday I dropped in to do some photos for the Celtic View and the very first person I met was Jimmy McGrory. I shook his hand and I thought, this man is a legend. There were photos of him all over the place and he said ‘Hi Joe, welcome to Celtic Park.’ I couldn’t take it all in. I say to people, you never realise how big Celtic is until you are actually there. The only other time I felt anything like it was when I played at Hampden for the first time and walked on to the park. Mr Stein left me and said see you tomorrow at quarter to two and I was on my own just looking around the place. It didn’t seem real. Going in to the home changing room was weird but the first person I met was Ronnie Glavin so I was fine. I was looking around at guys like Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, and Shuggie Edvaldsson and thinking how lucky I was to be there.
You were the last part of the jigsaw for this new Celtic team and it started well.
The goal against Rangers was a signature moment for me for two reasons. It was my first Old Firm game, it was a night game, and it was at Ibrox. I never knew that our record at Ibrox was poor and that we hadn’t won there since 1973. Going to Ibrox was a major turning point for the team and for me as it was my goal which won the game. Because it was a half decent goal it made it sweeter for the fans and for me. People remember that goal because we won but if we’d lost 2-1 not many would remember it. The major game came against Hearts at Tynecastle when we won 4-3. We went in 3-1 down at half time although we had played really well. They had 3 chances and had scored them all. When we went out for the second half there were 15,000 Celtic fans, with their scarves up, singing Rod Stewart’s song, ‘We are sailing.’ We were losing 3-1 and they were singing their hearts out. Any other fans would have given their team dogs abuse. I have no doubt in my mind that those fans won us the game that day.
Later in the season Celtic signed Alfie Conn.
Alfie was a fantastic person, he was a lovely man. Alfie had a happy-go-lucky attitude but on the park he was dead serious. He had wee bit of edge to go by people and could get on the end of things. He had a good footballing brain but he didn’t like authority much and getting told what to do. If he didn’t like certain people then he wouldn’t hide it. When Billy McNeill came in as manager in 1978 there was a clash of personalities.
How was it playing with Kenny Dalglish?
He is the best player, by far, that I ever played with and Danny McGrain wasn’t far behind him. They had an almost telepathic link on the pitch. My job was easy. We played a sort of 4-3-3 with Doylie and Paul Wilson out wide but Kenny would just go and play anywhere on the park. Ronnie Glavin and Roy Aitken used to patrol the midfield. My job was basically to hold the ball when it got played up and give it to Kenny. When I was up there with my back to goal the first friendly face I always saw was his. When I gave it to him, I would run in the middle and let him do his magic as all I wanted to do was score goals. I saw him do something at Parkhead one day which shows his talent. Danny had the ball at right back and I was standing at inside right. I moved inside and then Kenny ran into the space I had created. As Danny chipped the ball it came over Kenny’s shoulder and he controlled it with his right foot, let it bounce and hit it with his left against the bar. I was standing there thinking ‘that was sheer class.’
What kind of captain was Kenny?
He wasn’t a great motivator on the park. Pat Stanton and Roy Aitken were better motivators. Kenny never talked a lot on the park, he just led. When you see him on television that is not his personality as he is guarded. He liked a laugh and a joke but he wasn’t a born leader. People appreciated Kenny because of his skill on the park. He was a dream to play with as irrespective of where you were on the park he would take the ball. He could take a bad pass and make it look like it was a good pass. He could be a bit ‘crabbit’ at times. One of my pet hates was always when a player came in on goal at an angle and they shoot and the goalie blocks it. Kenny had peripheral vision and in that position he would make the correct decision 99% of the time and that’s what made him a great player.
You scored the goal that won the league at Easter road in April 1977 but there is no footage of the goal.
It was disappointing that Hibs’ chairman, Tom Hart, never let the TV cameras in but teams had won the league at Easter Road for a few years and I think he was sick of it. We should have won it at Motherwell the previous Wednesday. We pummelled Motherwell that night yet lost 3-0. I can remember the goal that won it, Ronnie hit the bar and the ball went wide for Alfie to cross it and I volleyed it in. It may have been Hart was unhappy at Pat Stanton winning the league after leaving Hibs. Pat was a fantastic player. He was brilliant for us and made Roddy MacDonald the best centre half in Scotland. Roddy knew if he missed anything or if someone got past him then Pat would get them. Pat was another who was miles in front in the head and he was a hard bit of stuff when he had to be. I remember speaking with Ian McCulloch (ex-Kilmarnock and Notts County) and he was a hardy guy. He said he went 50-50 with Pat one day and Pat went right through him. He didn’t think Pat had that in him but Pat could look after himself.
You won your only Scotland cap against Sweden just after that. That great old quiz question of who scored for Scotland before he had kicked a ball?
The timing for me was quite bad because it was Willie Ormond’s last game as Scotland manager and he named me in the squad. I was on the bench and I got on for Ronnie Glavin and it was Roy of the Rovers stuff. I was just on when Sandy Jardine got past a guy and put in a great cross to the back post, the ball bounced and I headed it into the net, at the Celtic end as well. First touch of the ball. It’s every boy’s dream to score at Hampden but I missed a couple of snips after that when I should have scored and I could have walked off with a hat trick which would have been more impressive. I had a shower and was feeling really pleased with myself when I came out into the corridor where Mr Stein passed me by. He looked at me and said ‘Did okay, should have had a hat trick’ and he just walked on.
Then we won the Scottish Cup against Rangers in May.
I missed two chances late on in the cup final. I remember being through one on one with the keeper and the earlier you hit the ball the more chance you have of scoring. It depends on your last touch. Stewart Kennedy came out to me and made himself big. I wanted to go by him but I dinked it past him and I thought it was in, but as I fell on the ground I saw it go past the post and I thought, ‘Oh yah b******.’ Usually I was good with one on ones. Then Kennedy saved my shot on the line after Paul Wilson took a huge swipe and missed it. I was behind him and it hit me and stopped dead. Kennedy was there with Sandy Jardine and Alex MacDonald at either post so I couldn’t see any of the goal. I hit it and Kennedy saved it, it hit Sandy Jardine and rolled by the post. I was left with my hands on my head.
In the summer of 1977 the team go to Australia then Kenny leaves.
I only played 20 minutes of football in the Far East tour. Big Jock never gave me an explanation. I think what he was looking for in those games was pace and I didn’t have that so he played Doylie up front with Paul Wilson because they were quick. Everybody knew Kenny was off when he wasn’t on the bus to Glasgow Airport. He confided in us at the end of the season that he could be off to Liverpool but there was always transfer talk. On the bus we were like ‘where’s Kenny?’ Big Jock told us when we came back that he was going to Liverpool. £440,000 was a lot of money, second only to Keegan. There were rumours before the end of the season but we never thought it would be as soon as that. It left us with a problem because how do you replace Kenny Dalglish?
If season 1976-77 had been a high then 1977-78 was a low.
Kenny went to Liverpool and Danny McGrain came back from Scotland’s South American tour with jaundice then got a bad injury. Pat Stanton got an injury on in the first game, as did Alfie Conn so that was four of our best players out straight away. Big Jock wasn’t well and there were rumblings about the park, things just weren’t the same. No disrespect to the guys who were brought in but they weren’t the same class as what had left. I felt sorry for John Dowie who had come all the way from Fulham and his first game was Rangers at Ibrox and he wasn’t fit. Frank Munro came from Wolves but he was in his 30’s.
You were involved in a controversial incident at Ibrox in January 1978.
Colin Jackson put two hands on my back and shoved me into the net as I was about to score. We ran to the ref who waved us away, next thing we looked up and Rangers were running over the half way line with only Frank Munro and Pater Latchford in defence. It was a joke. So it went from being 1-1 to being 2-0 down. That was the only game I lost against Rangers when I played for Celtic. When it came to restarting the game, Tom McAdam and I kept kicking the ball away to prevent the game starting. The referee, John Gordon, said ‘You can’t keep doing that.’ Jock Stein eventually shouted to us from the sides to get the centre taken.
Jock left and Billy McNeill took over and your last appearance was against Rangers in September 1978.
I had a hamstring injury when Billy took over and when you’re out with a new manager it’s hard to get back in. He picked Tom McAdam up front instead of me and it was frustrating as I was scoring goals in the reserves but couldn’t get in. I went into see Billy around mid-September and he told me he preferred McAdam up front to me so I asked away and that was it. The last game I played was against Rangers. I was a sub and there was some crowd inside Parkhead that day. I wriggled past Tom Forsyth and set up Tam McAdam for the third goal in a 3-1 win. When you leave Celtic Park you are on a downward spiral even if you go to big clubs in England. You go anywhere in the world you will meet a Celtic fan or see someone in the street with a Celtic top on. I mind going to play in the European Cup in Luxembourg and when we walked out there was a van load of guys that I knew from Fort William. I gave them my boots after the game.
Why go to Blackburn Rovers?
I got the chance to go to Fulham and Shrewsbury. The people at Shrewsbury were great and lined my wife up with a job but the standard wasn’t great. The reason I went to Blackburn was it was a real football ground, you could feel the tradition even though they were toiling a bit. I got the same money I was on at Celtic and I enjoyed 3 seasons there. I got to play against Liverpool at Anfield and got to see Kenny and big Hansen again. The guys in the team were telling me ‘wait till you hear The Kop.’ I saw it and thought it and I thought what noise? At Parkhead or Ibrox the noise would have been deafening.
Do you regret leaving?
Yes. I didn’t have anyone older to give me advice, I should have knuckled under and forced my way back in and I would have. When I was away I thought ‘what have you done?’ and I regret not sticking it out. It’s a fantastic club and it’s only when you leave you appreciate how big it is. Even now I get people coming up to me on holiday and asking about the goals at Ibrox and Easter Road. I am remembered for two things. That goal at Ibrox and the goal against Sweden at Hampden. If I am remembered for two things then that will do me as there were a lot better players than me that are remembered for worse.
It was pleasure watching you Joe.
It’s been great to talk and it feels like yesterday. It’s a fantastic club and I would never let anyone say anything bad about it. I have great memories and if I made people happy then I did my job.