Johnny Bonnar was a shale-miner and much sought-after as a junior. His parents were from the same part of Donegal from which his namesake and fellow-goalkeeper Packy was to emerge in the late 1970s. He “seemed inspired” on his debut for Arbroath versus Cowdenbeath on October 19th 1946. Celtic bought him as cover for Willie Miller after Rolando Ugolini’s departure for Middlesbrough. At the”start of 1949-50 Johnny held out for better terms and Manchester City considered him a possible replacement for the great Frank Swift until he re-signed on September 5th. Alex Devanney had become Celtic’s second choice ‘keeper in the meantime and Johnny spent most of his Saturdays sitting in the stand. Willie Miller injured his hand before 44,238 at Tynecastle on Hogmanay 1949 but it was ‘Tiger” (as Tully called him) not Alex who was nominated to replace him. Sports reporters with a short memory and little judgement were soon calling him “Celtic’s best since John Thomson.”
“He’s not a big lad but he makes up for it by his cat-like ability and magnificent anticipation.”
Johnny was a competent goalie but inconsistent and never wholly assured of his place against George Hunter and Andy Bell.
He dropped a corner in the first round of the Scottish Cup at Methil on January 27th 1951 and the strong-going East Fife went 1-0 up. Johnny had ‘flu for the replay and Sonny Hunter took over in goaL ”I know I’ve been off form lately. A spell in the reserves wil do me good. I wish George Hunter the best of luck.”
He turned into gold in May 1953 after talk of Celtic’s interest in Jimmy Cowan. He had a great game against Queen’s Park in the final of the Charity Cup on May 9th 1953 and thus secured his place in the no-hope Parkhead side included in the Coronation competition only because the Celts were
This “jewel of a ‘keeper” broke the hearts of Arsenal, Manchester United and a great Hibs team in that order. His game so inspired Celtic that had Puskas’ Hungarians been in Glasgow the Tims might well have beaten them too.
In the race with Hearts for the League in 1954, against Partick Thistle at Firhill on March 20th, in a match Celtic had to win to stay in contention, he made four world-class saves, the first when Celtic were 1-0 down. At Easter Road on April 17th, the day the League was won, Celtic scored at the start of each half and for the rest of the game Johnny played Hibs on his own.
On April 23rd 1955, he went up too early to intercept Archie Robertson’s fluke corner in the last two minutes of the Cup final versus Clyde for a 1-1 draw.
Celtic now turned to Dick Beattie as a last line of defence.
Johnny became first organiser of the Celtic Development Fund (31st March 1963).
To fans of his era he will always be “Coronation” Bonnar.
SL: 120 apps. 33 shut-outs. SLC: 38 apps. 10 shut-outs. SC: 22 apps. 6 shut-outs. Total: 180 apps. 49 shut-outs (27%).
An Alphabet of the Celts