Jock Stein often used the phrase ‘full control’ in interviews and there
is no doubt this is what he had at Parkhead. In his early days as
manager, Celtic chairman Robert Kelly would come in the dressing room
pre-match before an Old Firm game to exhort the Celtic players to play
fairly and to avoid any trouble on the field. Each player would
respectfully nod to their chairman, including Stein, and when the
dressing room door shut Stein would tell them to forget about that
‘crap’ and instruct his team to take no prisoners during the ensuing 90
minutes. Celtic would no longer ‘fight’ Rangers with one arm tied
behind their back.

I’ve heard several ex Celts of the period state that Stein was ruthless
and that the players could often dislike him intensely. Tough. Stein
was there to achieve results and his strong management led to
unparallel success. If some shrinking violets were upset along the way
then that’s life. Oh that we had such strong management with the
current squad on recent occasions.

thumb?stein1However, he had a gentle side also. Tommy Burns tells of the time he
arrived for training as a 17 year old on a particularly rainy day,
‘like a drowned rat’. When his manager asked where his raincoat was,
Tommy informed him that he was on £15 per week and could not afford
one. The next wage packet Tommy received had an extra £30 in it with
the message -’Get yourself a decent coat’. It’s not clear if Stein
personally gave the money but he would have authorised that extra
payment at least.

People often mention his devilish sense of humour. On arriving at an
airport he was approached by a foreign journalist who asked, ‘Are you
Stein ?’ (pronounced Stey-in) to which the big man replied, ‘Naw, I’m
going back on Thursday !’ In the recent excellent STV series, ‘The
Football Years, Rodger Baillie told of Stein in Lisbon looking for a
hat to avoid the heat in May 1967. He tried one on which was clearly
too small and quipped, ‘It would have fitted me okay this time last
year’. In September 1972 after a resounding 3-1 win over Rangers at
Hampden, an interviewer said what a great result that was and Jock
replied, ‘Aye…for Rangers.’

He cared deeply for the Celtic fans. In 1965 it has to be said that we
did not have a good reputation and he took it upon himself to educate
and encourage good behaviour amongst the fans and made full use of the
new medium of the Celtic View to get his point across. Celtic fans’
behaviour then improved tremendously, but when standards sometimes
slipped it was not unknown for him to go into the crowd and chastise
them in person. In 1972 when Celtic fans were travelling to a game in
Dundee, they were caught in a heavy snow storm around Perth. The match
was postponed and the Police were turning the buses back and in the
blizzard Stein’s familiar bulky figure could be seen assisting the
Police and instructing the buses to turn back for their safety.

thumb?stein2In late 1971 my friend’s Father was working in the main stand which had
recently opened and had encountered problems and was in need of urgent
repairs. A squad of 10 workmen (6 Celtic, 4 Rangers) were entrusted
with the repair work. Each day Jock Stein would visit them to check
their progress and enjoy some banter with the workers. As New Year
approached, the prospect of the traditional Celtic-Rangers fixture came
into conversation. One day a prominent Celtic director appeared and
generously distributed a complimentary ground ticket to each of the
workers for their hard work. Unfortunately for the Rangers fans these
tickets were for the Celtic end of the ground. They were told brusquely
that if they wanted Rangers end tickets then they should contact Ibrox
for them. The director departed and Jock arrived shortly after. When he
heard the plight of the Rangers workers he shook his head as if he had
seen it all before and left them to it. He returned an hour later with
four Rangers end tickets to exchange with the workers in what was seen
as a wonderful and much appreciated gesture.

As the day of the big game loomed the Celtic workers pressed the big
man to reveal the Celtic line up. He answered their question with one
of his own :

‘Which player do you think is first on the team sheet when we play Rangers ?’
‘Jinky, because he can unlock the tightest defences…’
‘Big Billy because he’s our captain and leader..’
‘Wee Lennox ‘cos he’s the fastest thing on two feet…’

thumb?stein4To stop the men from becoming exasperated Jock explained that Jim
Brogan was his first pick. Rangers had a strong physical presence and
could easily intimidate opposing teams and he explained that you had to
fight fire with fire. Only by playing the likes of Brogan, Hay and
Murdoch could the likes of Johnstone, Dalglish, Hood and Lennox be
allowed to express themselves and perform. This was a rare insight into
big Jocks mind. The irony is that Celtic won the fixture due to a
dramatic last minute goal from a certain Jim Brogan. Perhaps Jock
really did have the gift of foresight.

In recent years there has been a lot of discussion over the Knighthood
that Jock did not receive in the 1960’s. It is generally regarded that
Stein refuted initial approaches which are never recorded as no one can
be seen to refuse such an ‘honour’ For that reason Robert Kelly was
given a knighthood in 1969, the establishment’s recognition of Celtic
for their European triumph in Lisbon. Kelly was a good man with fine
morals and ideals but it is difficult to imagine why he would receive
such an award if Stein had not initially declined. Anyway Jock was very
much a man of the people and ‘Sir Jock’ just doesn’t sound right.
Better to leave that to those in life with more inflated egos.

The Ibrox disaster would, no doubt, have left a psychological scar on
him in 1971. After the Celtic team bus had departed, Stein had stayed
on to assist Rangers officials and the emergency services and had
helped move the injured and dying. There are many people today who
would do well to remember this.

thumb?stein5In May 1997 the Pavilion theatre in Glasgow performed the ‘Jock Stein
Story’ and a fine production it was too. John Stahl played big Jock, he
is best remembered for the role of ‘Inverdarroch’ in Take The High
Road, and a fine job he made of playing Stein. There is a part in it
where Jock is given the chance of moving to Manchester United as
manager and discusses the move with his wife, Jean. After giving it
consideration he recalls his days in Llanelli and how his house in
Hamilton had been burgled and the misery this had caused. Celtic made
their move thereby ensuring that he return home, move house and never
again have to go down a mine to earn a living. He decides that he owes
Celtic too much and declines the move to Old Trafford. He may have felt
that he owed Celtic but it is Celtic who will ever be in Jock Stein’s

When he became Scotland manager he would often drive South to watch his
Anglo Scots play, especially in Manchester or Liverpool where it was
only a three hour drive away. John Clark had just been (very unfairly)
sacked by Celtic in 1983. Stein phoned him and arranged to take him
South in his car for company, a move which John greatly appreciated. As
they were driving into Liverpool they were stopped by a traffic cop who
was concerned at their speed. When Jock explained where they were
travelling to, the cop recognised him and gave them a personal police
escort to ensure they made the kick off.

thumb?stein6He died in 1985 in very public fashion. A lot of nonsense was spouted
at the time that this was the way he would have wanted to go which
spares no thought for his family and the turmoil they endured. Had the
big man lived he would have been feted like a king for the rest of his
days and his advice and experience may have been a help to Celtic in a
period when they found themselves struggling.

On a wet and windy September day Jock Stein was laid to rest. Unknown
to me, my Father and some friends gained a ‘pass oot’ from the
shipbuilders and stood on the road approaching Linn crematorium which
was lined with people paying their respects. I was annoyed as I would
like to have gone but there was something fitting about those men
attending by themselves. If Stein was Celtic’s general then they were
the foot soldiers who had faithfully followed him through Celtic’s
glory years and who trusted him implicitly. One can only imagine the
memories they had on that sad day.

Jock Stein was a modern day Moses who led the Celtic fans into the
promised land, giving them success and glory they could never have
dreamed of. The Jock Stein stand is a fine memorial to Jock’s memory
but there’s still plenty of room at the front entrance for a huge
statue of the man, holding that huge European Cup, so that future
generations of Celtic supporters will be in no doubt as to his
importance in Celtic‘s history.

After all these years I can still find myself saying…God bless Jock Stein.


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