Every Celtic fan will have been saddened to hear the news of the passing of ex-Celtic player, Pat McCluskey, yesterday.
Pat was an integral part of Jock Stein’s Celtic side in the mid 1970’s and played a major part in the trophy winning years between 1972 and 1977. He was a versatile player who was happy to play full back, centre back and midfield to equal effect. A graduate of Celtic’s renowned ‘Quality Street Gang’ reserve set up, Pat broke into the Celtic side in the spring of 1972 and showed his talent and nerve by taking part in the two dramatic European Cup semi finals against Inter Milan, especially the second game when he showed great composure to score in the penalty shoot out as a teenager.
Pat remained on the edges of the first team after that. He made the headlines when he scored a spectacular hat trick from a midfield role in the 6-1 win over Dumbarton in late 1972, and in 1975 he had the unique record of scoring all the goals in the 2-1 win against St Johnstone at the old Muirton Park – at both ends. He grabbed his chance of a regular place when George Connelly sadly broke his leg against Basle in 1974 and Pat took his place as sweeper behind Billy McNeill in the Celtic defence. There was more European Cup semi final heartbreak in the controversial defeat to Atletico Madrid in 1974 but on a happier note Pat was a part of the double winning team that year after he played against Dundee United at Hampden in a 3-0 Scottish Cup final win. The next season saw the young McCluskey play another starring role as Celtic won the three domestic cup trophies available to them but lost out to Rangers on their quest for 10 in a row. Perhaps Pat is best remembered for scoring the clinching goal from the penalty spot in the 3-1 cup final success over Airdrie in May 1975.
By this time he had become a popular figure amongst the Celtic supporters due to his combative, hard tackling style and his great will to win. It’s easy to remember those parts of his game but he also displayed good control and was a fine passer. He played a full part in the traumatic 1975-76 season when Jock Stein was missing after a near fatal car accident near Lockerbie and in May 1976 he had the honour of captaining Celtic in a game against Hearts at Tynecastle. In the summer of 1976 Jock Stein returned to the helm and brought Pat Stanton from Hibs. This, alongside the advent of the young Roy Aitken, saw Pat drop out of favour for a while but he still played enough games to gain a league medal as Celtic triumphed again in 1977.
In the summer of 1977 there was tremendous disappointment when the talismanic Kenny Dalglish defected to Liverpool in a blaze of publicity. At that same time Pat departed to Dumbarton for a modest £20,000 fee with not much attention paid to him. Within days of Pat leaving, Pat Stanton was injured in Celtic’s opening game against Dundee United which resulted in him having to retire from the game. Had Pat been around he would have been the perfect replacement for Stanton alongside Roddy MacDonald in defence and may have helped to avoid a highly painful season as Celtic struggled defensively to replace the effective Stanton. Jock Stein definitely erred on this occasion by allowing such a whole hearted Celtic to depart prematurely.
In later years I had the pleasure of being in Pat’s company and speaking with him. He was sent home in disgrace from Scotland duty in 1975 after the ‘Copenhagen affair’ when five Scotland players (Billy Bremner, Joe Harper, Willie Young, Arthur Graham and Pat) where barred from playing for Scotland for life after an incident in a Copenhagen night club He commented that this had been an over reaction when bouncers had clashed with an inebriated Bremner and the others had not really been involved. He also took exception to those who thought he was overweight (he was referred to by many Celtic supporters as ‘Fat Pat’) and he claimed that the Celtic hooped shirts actually make some players look broader, depending on their shape. On a happier note he recalled playing foursomes with Kenny Dalglish at golf and making a fair bit from the other players, Apparently Pat and Kenny were exceptional golfers.
However, the most interesting thing he did say concerned his departure in 1977. I asked why he moved to Dumbarton who were a second tier club in Scotland at that time when there had been interest from Newcastle and Norwich who were top tier English clubs back then. Pat said that as well as that English duo, Hearts and Dundee were after him and all were prepared to pay a good bit more than the £20,000 which Dumbarton forked out. Pat said that he was told Dumbarton were his only option and he said that he believed that Jock Stein did not want him to go to another major club where he may have been a success as this may have reflected badly on Stein.
There’s a complimentary phrase which old time Celtic fans like to use – ‘jersey player.’ This is reserved not so much for the glamorous flair players but for those who go put and fight on the field for the Celtic cause and gain the respect and affection of the Celtic supporters. We’ve had plenty of them through the years such as Davie Hay, Jim Brogan, Roy Aiken, Neil Lennon and Scott Brown. Guys who put themselves on the line week after week and drive their team mates on to greater effort. I can think of no finer compliment to say that Pat was one of the finest jersey players I have seen.
Thanks for the memories Pat and may eternal light shine upon you.