A Game of Two Haffeys

From the sublime to… Frank Haffey. In his book about goalkeepers, ‘In The Way’, Nick Hazelwood reserved a special mention for another of Celtic’s illustrious custodians of yesteryear who became something of a colourful legend in his own inimitable manner.

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Scotland the grave?

Yuri Gagarin came home from the first manned spaceflight in April 1961. The Daily Mirror greeted the Russian astronaut and his spaceship Vostok I with the huge headline, ‘WELCOME BACK TO EARTH’. In London violent clashes broke out after a massive ‘Ban the Bomb’ march. Meanwhile in Israel, Adolf Eichmann stood accused of the slaughter of six million Jews in the Second World War. In Florida 5,000 American-sponsored counterrevolutionaries were preparing for a farcical invasion of Cuba. In Lucca, Italy, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker was about to be sentenced to 19 months’ imprisonment for possession of drugs and, back in Britain, What’s My Line? was put off the air by a strike of BBC electricians.

It was a crucial moment in the history of the world, in so many ways a turning point – but if you happened to be Scottish there were more significant matters to be dealt with: how to recover from a 9-3 defeat by England at Wembley and how to get your hands around the throat of a man called Haffey.

That afternoon, 15 April 1961, has become the most extravagant symbol of one of the enduring traditions of goalkeeping folklore – the almost supernatural incompetence of the Scottish custodian. It’s a tradition that says that Scotland is to goalkeeping what Bosnia is to peacekeeping. It’s a tradition that says that if a Scottish goalie walked in front of a double-decker bus it would go between his legs, and it’s a tradition that continues by saying that when the rest of his international team-mates are practising swerves, dribbling through cones and throwing medicine balls at each other, the hapless Scots keeper is doing a specially designed exercise – ball-retrieval repetitions.

In the popular consciousness – though probably only the English one – the abiding images of the Scottish keeper are of a man wrapped around a goalpost, legs flapping like the torn shreds of an old kite caught on an electricity pylon, or a man tangled in a mass of netting like some cast-off from a failed Houdini experiment. The word that’s most commonly applied is ‘butterfingers’. It’s also a tradition that says that Wembley is the graveyard of Scottish custodians and that it is here that the Scots come to bury their keepers.

But is it fair? Is it a tradition that has a firm grip on reality or the slippery Flora-coated fingers of an old Frank Haffey?

There are many instances that the advocates of the tradition would put forward in addition to the 1961 debacle. The afternoon in September 1885 when Arbroath put 36 goals past the despairing fingers of the keeper of a team called Bon Accord for one.

It was the first round of the Scottish Cup, and even before the kick-off it was reported that the difference in class between he two teams was apparent – Bon Accord turning out in a variety of different-coloured shirts, working trousers supported by braces and no boots. In Contrast Arbroath were kitted out in neat maroon shirts and white shorts.

Nevertheless, Bon Accord’s luckless keeper, Andrew Lornie, could hardly have expected what was about to befall him. In a game described by the Arbroath Guide as ‘the most amusing football match ever seen’, the home team forwards ran amok, firing 15 past Lornie before the whistle for half-time.

Lornie was ordinarily a right-half with no experience of goalkeeping – he had agreed to fill in in the absence of Bon Accord’s normal keeper. It is said that he wasn’t to blame for a good 20 of the goals, but it is nevertheless also rumoured that he retired from the game soon after, a tad embarrassed at his inclusion in the record books.

At the other end, the Arbroath keeper Jim Milne had the quietest afternoon of his career – he didn’t touch the ball once. On a day that saw the heavens open, not only on his opponents, Milne sought refuge from the rain under a spectator’s umbrella and lit up a pipe. Mmmm, Condor! (I’ve also read an account of this match that has Lornie under the brolly smoking a pipe, which would explain a lot – Historical Ed)

It didn’t help the reputation of Scottish goalkeepers, nor indeed Scottish football in general, that on that very same afternoon, less than 20 miles away, Dundee Harps were putting a mere 35 goals past Aberdeen Rovers’ goalkeeper. For a brief, euphoric moment they must have believed that they were about to enter the record books for the highest tally of goals ever scored.

And then there’s Joe Crozier. The official Scottish records don’t recall him as the national team’s most unfortunate keeper – but that’s what he was. Joe, who played for Brentford, was called up twice by his Country during the Second World War, but for unofficial internationals against the ‘auld enemy’, designed to lift morale – which they most certainly did if you happened to be a Sassenach. Crozier watched forlornly as eight crashed past him at Maine Road in 1943 and was probably even more downcast as a further six were rattled in just four months later at Wembley. An international keeper with an average of seven against – Crozier must have been relieved that the games weren’t credited in the official annals.

It was 1961, though, that was the big one. Six years after losing seven goals to England, Scottish supporters could be forgiven for thinking that their nightmare had come true. Never has a game been more successful in wounding national pride than the 9-3 hammering of April 1961. There are several reasons for the longevity of its survival in the national psyche: the sheer scale of the defeat, to the team the Scots would least like to be defeated by; the truly inept performance of the team’s goalkeeper; and the presence of one Jimmy Greaves in the victorious England team. This was the game that both conceived and delivered the legend of the Scottish goalkeeper.

It was a match that the Sunday Express described as a ‘nightmare massacre … this Sassenach cakewalk’, and it began with a 20-yard volley from Bobby Robson that saw Scottish goalie Frank Haffey diving seconds too late.

By half-time Haffey and his team-mates were three down, but not out. Denis Law had had a goal disallowed for offside, and within minutes of the restart Scotland had scored twice. They were within an ace of pulling it back when a controversial goal settled the day. From a free-kick which the Scots argued was taken yards from where the offence had been committed, the men in blue were forced to watch in agony as the ball trickled from Haffey’s hands and rolled inches across the line. There was to be no looking back for the English.

There may, of course, have been mitigating circumstances for such a heavy loss. One of the stories doing the rounds at the time was that the reason Scotland lost was down to the colour of the ball – orange, the colour of rampant Protestantism. In the sectarian Protestant/Catholic split that is Glaswegian football, it was said that there was no way a Celtic goalkeeper was going to hold onto the thing and no way that Rangers full-back Bobby Shearer was going to kick it!

haffey 1

Under a vicious parade of nine painful photos, the Sunday Express filled their back page with the headline ‘The man who let through 9 goals’. Haffey is seen grounded, stranded, despairing, clutching, flailing, crawling, sprawling, agonising and failing identified in the most cruel and graphic of ways as the man responsible for what the paper called ‘a slaughter in the spring sunshine’.

It was all rather tough on Haffey, an isolated figure as he left the field. He wasn’t the first-choice keeper for the game and was clearly out of his depth. But despite his inappropriateness for the big match, the greater part of the blame should surely have gone to a misfiring Scotland team in which others were most certainly more culpable.

Haffey had been drafted in to cover for. Tottenham’s Bill Brown on the basis of being a competent if somewhat erratic Celtic keeper. He was a likeable, big-hearted man prone to both blunders and pranks, but also playing decent football in a club not at its best.

Anecdotes of his goalkeeping eccentricity abound: how even as a youngster, playing Boys’ Guild soccer, he had shocked his team-mates when, in an attacking position, they were put off by the sound of music emanating from their own goal. Turning to look back, they found the young Haffey sitting on his crossbar singing his heart out.

It was a favourite trick even in adulthood, according to Stuart Cosgrove who in Hampden Babylon writes, ‘In more than one crunch game when the pressure was off and the ball was in the opposition’s half, Frank would climb on to the bar and endear himself to the Celtic faithful by pretending to sleep on the woodwork.’

The blunders were, naturally enough, part and parcel of the man too. One story tells of how, against Hearts, a 40-yard speculative shot from Johnny ‘Jumping Jack’ Hamilton passed through Haffey’s legs as he bent down to collect it.

Whatever the truth, the fact is that when he stepped onto Wembley’s turf, he stepped out of his class and in so many ways will never be forgiven.

In actual fact the press were mixed in their treatment of the young goalkeeper. Monday’s Daily Record didn’t know which way to look. Under a picture of Haffey leaving the field at the end of the game, the paper talked of a national disgrace, adding, ‘He’s just been beaten more times than any Scottish international keeper in history … so no wonder Frank Haffey’s so unhappy as he leaves the pitch at the finish.’

But in another article it dredged up the ghost of goalkeeping failure past – Freddie Martin, the man who had conceded seven goals to England in 1955: ‘Only one man can really understand the goalkeeping nightmare that was Wembley for young Celtic keeper Frank Haffey … And no doubt Martin will join us as, with Scots footballers everywhere, we send a “cheer up” Monday morning message to young Haffey saying, “Don’t worry, Frank. Just try to forget it.” ‘

In the Daily Telegraph, Welshman Donald Saunders debated whether it was the ineptness of the keeper or the brilliance of England’s Johnny Haynes that was the decisive factor in the massacre: ‘Always the English will believe the genius of Haynes earned glorious victory; Scotsmen will for ever blame Haffey’s shortcomings for ignominious defeat.’ He concluded, though, that ‘England would have destroyed Scotland on Saturday whoever had been in goal.’

There was no ambivalence to Hugh McIlvanney’s searing condemnation in The Scotsman: Greatest humiliation in the 90 years of international football
It was a night (in West End pubs later) when most preferred to identify themselves with Rangers or Celtic rather than Scotland, although the representatives of Parkhead were not rushing to defend the performance of Haffey.
The young goalkeeper’s was the biggest personal tragedy on a day when there were no shortage of them. He might have saved at least four of the goals, including the vital first in the eighth minute … After that mistake he erred with the clumsiness and regularity of a substitute in a second-class work’s team. Admittedly, the actions of some of the players in front of him were liable to convince him that he was, in fact, in such a side.

Haffey seemed to exacerbate his reputation, not least of all because he didn’t seem to realise the degree of his disgrace. He may have looked a downtrodden, lonesome figure as he trudged off the field, but just minutes later he was astonishing his teammates by singing happily in the bath. It was almost as if he knew that this was the final chance he was ever going to get of playing for Scotland and, despite the enormity of the calamity, he was darned well going to enjoy every last minute of it. As the team bus pulled away from Wembley it was attacked by a mob of outraged Scots. Bottles, cans and stones rained down on the coach, but as his colleagues cowered below their seats Haffey beamed radiantly and waved with all the aplomb of passing royalty.

Some didn’t see the funny side. At Glasgow’s Art Gallery and Museum in Kelvingrove a young man threw a lump of sandstone at Salvador Dali’s famous crucifixion painting Christ of St John of the Cross and followed up by tearing the canvas straight down the middle. Word went around town that as he was carted off to Barlinnie prison he told the police, ‘I’d had a few drinks in me at the time, and I thought it wis a picture o’ big Haffey swingin’ fae the crossbar!’

Haffey’s career in Scotland was not to last too much longer. He wasn’t selected for the national side again and although he played 200 times for Celtic, including giving a great performance in the 1963 Scottish Cup final against Rangers, he soon headed off to a new life in Australia where, after playing for clubs with exotic names such as Hakoah, St George, Budapest and Sutherland, he began moderately successful careers as both a cabaret singer and radio disc jockey.


haffey small

HAFFEY, Francis

Goalkeeper 1958-64

b. Glasgow, 28th November 1938

CAREER: Campsie Black Watch/CELTIC trial) Ne’erday 1958/CELTIC 18 Feb 1958/ Maryhill Harp (farmed-out) 1958/Swindon Town 9 Oct 1964/free 1965/St George-Budapest FC (Sydney) 28 June 1965/Hakoah (Sydney)/Sutherland FC player-coach by 1976.

Debut v Third Lanark (h) 4-1 (SL) 30.4.58

“Is Haffey an improvement on Beattie?” was the question until Celtic knocked Rangers out of the Scottish Cup on February 28th 1959 and Bobby Evans approached the big ‘keeper with his hand held out in congratulation at the end.

It was Haffey versus Rangers again in the Charity Cup semi-final of May 2nd 1959. He was “Haffey the Barrier, Haffey the Cat, Haffey the Hero” on Ne’erday 1960 when he even saved a Billy Little spot-kick up in the postage stamp corner in the 59th minute.

Against England at Hampden (9th April 1960) he saved another penalty this time from Bobby Charlton but the referee ordered a re-take. Hendid not accept the 9-3 humiliation at Wembley of April 15th 1961 as casually as Denis Law has made out.

So affected was he that John Fallon expected to be in the Cup final side versus Dunfermline the following Saturday. Frank rescued his career from the catastrophe and carried on.

As a Celtic goalie he is associated with moments of high comedy. 3rd February 1962: he tries to steer a free kick smartish to Dunky MacKay and puts it in his own net; 17th March 1962: furious rowing with Crerand and McNeill and the ref has to calm down all three; 2nd March 1963: he throws a pass-back between his legs to Jim Kennedy as he staggers out of the penalty box with the ball; 13th April 1963: Frank duffs a clearance right to McDonald’s feet for Raith’s equaliser in the Scottish Cup semi-final; 26th October 1963: penalty for Celtic 9-0 up against Airdrie; fans chant for Haffey; Frank ambles up, cannonball shot, Roddie McKenzie’s save is stunning, Frank applauds.

But otherwise the man was brilliant. Only he and McNeill stood between Celtic and a real thrashing in the Scottish Cup final replay of 15th May 1963. A broken ankle against Partick Thistle in the Glasgow Cup (13th November 1963) signalled the end of his career with Celtic. Frank (who always just happened to have his music with him) commenced a new career as a cabaret performer in Australia and took a vivid interest in Australian Rules football.


SL: 140 apps. 41 shut-outs. SLC: 24 apps. 9 shut-outs. SC: 34 apps. 10 shut-outs. Eur: 3 apps. 1 shut-out.

Total: 201 apps. 61 shut-outs (30%).

Alphabet of the Celts, McBride et al.

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1 Comment

  1. A small point. Frank’s great display was in the 1963 Final (I remember an ‘8 impossible saves’ headline), not the replay. He was more human in the replay which we lost to a very good Rangers 3-0. He was a great guy, he used to come round to our house and sing (my grandfather knew a lot of people at Celtic).

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