Remembering Tommy Burns

Tommy’s entry in an Alphabet of the Celts by Eugene MacBride, Martin O’Connor and George Sheridan covers the flame haired maestro’s playing days, Andy Murdoch looks back at TB’s career as seen from the Jungle and Average Joe Miller reflects on the day of Tommy’s funeral.

Jock Stein signed Tommy Burns as a full professional in 1974 and envisioned him as a first team man of 1977: “Doesn’t he have class! The way he passes the ball he could develop into another Baxter or Auld. His left foot makes the ball talk.”
Sure enough, Tommy won his first championship medal in 1977, won another in 1979 and his first Scottish Cup badge against Rangers in 1980. He was the schemer of the flag sides in 1981 and 1982.

In the Feyenoord Tournament played in Rotterdam in 1982, Ruud Gullit, Wim van Hanagem and Wim Kieft all played but the Man of the Series was Tommy Burns.

He won his first cap against Northern Ireland at Hampden on May 19th 1981. His control was “impeccable” and “he showed a willingness to take defenders on” but Tommy himself felt as if he drifted out of the game in the second half which cost him his place at Wembley on May 23rd, although he travelled with the squad, along with Davie Provan and Danny McGrain. Tommy had to wait until 1988 for a crack at the English.

Scotland were short of real class at the 1982 World Cup and Tommy, the man who could thread a needle with his left foot, was having his best season yet. On May 14th Jock Stein announced his name in the initial 40 from which the squad for Spain would be picked but, despite a fair game versus Wales at Hampden on may 24th, Tommy seemed unable to do enough to impress big Jock and was ultimately not selected for the final party of 22.

Against Sporting Lisbon in the European Cup on November 2nd 1983, Celtic took the field 2:0 down from the first leg. Tommy ran amok and Celtic won 5:0. Dynamo Kiev took precautions against that sort of performance on October 22nd 1986; they whacked Tommy hard and early.

By then he had another Scottish Cup medal (1985) and another championship badge (1986) for his collection.

This out-and-out Celt celebrated the Centenary Year by scheming the double home.

The way he played had to be seen to be believed. Celtic could be running about like headless chickens then on would come Tommy. Rationality restored.

At Celtic Park on November 12th 1988, “he guided a free-kick into the heart of the Rangers defence, a slanting and deceptive ball and one that so baffled Butcher that the big England defender glanced into his own net for the equaliser.”

Tommy played his last game for Celtic during the first half hour of the friendly versus Ajax on December 6th 1989 before being summoned off to admit the heir apparent, Steve Fulton. He removed his boots and threw them into the Jungle in farewell.

At Rugby Park, the fans chanted his name from beginning to end of the match against Hamilton on 25th April 1992 demanding he be made manager. He was duly appointed and took Killie into the Premier Division on May 15th 1993.

An all-time Celtic great, he was appointed to succeed Lou Macari as manager of Celtic in 1994, much to the widespread approval of the fans.

Celtic career:
App Gls
League 353 52
L Cup 70 15
S Cup 43 11
Europe 34 3

Total 500 81

Tommy Burns

In my list of favourite players as a teenager, many years ago, Tommy Burns came after people like Dalglish, McGrain, McStay. But having said that the finest 15 minutes of midfield football I ever saw was produced by Tommy Burns against Dynamo Kiev at Celtic Park on the 22nd of October 1986.

Kiev had players such as Blokhin, Belanov and Rats. They had destroyed Athletico Madrid in the cup winners cup final the previous May and their team was the basis for the Soviet national team.

But they couldn’t handle TB that night. He had them chasing shadows, until one of them stamped on his knee and finished his season. It also had a major impact on ours; four days later we lost the league cup final thus giving Souness his first trophy as a manager.

Had Burns played would we have won? We can never say for sure that we would, but you could certainly say our chances would have been enhanced.

I always thought Tommy Burns had a habit of producing that extra bit just when we needed it; the Centenary Cup Final was like that. Paul McStay had been having a fantastic season, but United had put the shackles on him pretty tight that day. During the second half, when Celtic were a goal behind, it was Tommy Burns running the show, demanding the ball, spreading the game out, even playing some nice passes with his right foot.

The following week he came on as a substitute for Scotland at Wembley. In his book – brought our shortly afterwards – he said he would be eternally grateful to the Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh for that because he now had one cap for each of his children.

His lack of any real international career was used as some as evidence that there was an anti-Celtic bias in the selection of the national team. Tommy himself never thought that. He always believed that Jock Stein (not noted for his anti-Celtic sentiment) simply never stopped thinking of him as “wee Tommy from the Calton”. Again, in his book he cites that as the real reason he wasn’t picked for the 1982 World Cup squad. There was also the fact that Scotland had an unusually strong midfield at that time.

In December 1989 Tommy was allowed to leave his beloved Celtic for £50k to join then second division Kilmarnock. He had several offers from Premier and First division clubs, but new Kilmarnock chairman Bobby Fleeting convinced him that Killie could make back in to the top division and stay there (from 19 years distance we can safely say he was right).

TB’s first game for Killie was against East Fife at Bayview, in December. A come down from the premier league to say the least and the day could scarcely have been worse. First the team bus broke down in a blizzard, the players had to be ferried to the ground in a fleet of taxis, which due to the delay in getting there had to double as changing rooms, the game went ahead but was eventually abandoned due to the weather. After the game Burns commented to one of his new team mates that he thought he would die due to the cold during the game.

But things got better for him at Killie. They were promoted from the Second division and in 1992 TB was appointed manager (they had offered it to him as a temporary post, but he insisted on it being full time).

He took them to the Premier League in 1993, even went to Ibrox and won in the autumn of that year and took Killie to the Scottish cup semi where they lost out in somewhat controversial circumstances to Rangers (the winning goal from Hately may not have crossed the line).

But in the spring of ‘94 Fergus McCann took over at Celtic Park. The Celtic manager at the time was Lou Macari who had publicly supported the old board. His days were numbered.

The final fixture for Celtic that season was a friendly at Old Trafford. Tommy was there as a guest. Shortly after that he resigned from Kilmarnock and joined Celtic as the new manager.

Within one year he had ended the 5 years trophy drought, bringing back the Scottish cup. The following season he led us back to the newly rebuilt Celtic Park and put together the best Celtic team since the Centenary team he had starred in.

They were a joy to watch. Boyd and Hughes were strong at the back, McNamara and Donnelly inventive and exciting on the right, Collins and McKinlay were a threat from the left and up front Van Hooijdonk was deadly. At the heart of it all McStay had one last marvellous season.

But despite the statistic of losing only one league game it still wasn’t enough to prevent Rangers again lifting the league trophy.

His last season as Celtic manager was an acrimonious one as player disputes and disagreements with Fergus McCann intensified. At the end of the season he was told his contract as manager would not be renewed. He was offered the role of running the youth academy. He declined the offer.

His teams at Celtic had always tried to play football. For him there was always only one direction in which Celtic should play and that was toward the opposition goal. He always had the players’ backing, always had their point of view in his mind, possibly as a result of his occasionally fractious relationship with managers he had as a player himself.

Those were possibly the things he lacked as a manager; the cynicism to pull his players back and kill a game; the mind games that Jock used to play (“I’m thinking of dropping you”) to get a bit extra out of the players and maybe the fact that to be a successful manager you have make decisions (such as looking a young player straight in the eye and telling them they aren’t good enough) that will eventually have someone think, not to put too fine a point on it, that you are a complete bastard.

After he left Celtic he joined Reading, but it didn’t work out. You got the feeling that despite what his own club’s result would have been, he would almost certainly have been more concerned with what happened in Glasgow – not through any lack of professionalism, but simply because Celtic was in his blood, he couldn’t just switch it off.

When he returned in 2000 to help Kenny Dalglish it was a low key homecoming, but Martin O’Neill thought enough of him to retain him. This time he was in charge of the club’s youth academy, the academy he had formed in 1994 when he appointed Willie McStay and the same role that Fergus had offered him in 1997.

Gradually he became more and more involved with the first team and by the time O’Neill left in 2005 and WGS came in Tommy was a firm fixture on the first team training ground, helping the younger players hone their skills, offering a word of comfort to those not getting a starting spot, always there with a laugh and a joke to lighten the mood if things weren’t going well.

Under WGS he retained that role (Strachan joked early on that almost everyone on the managerial squad at Celtic such as Tommy and Danny use to kick lumps out of him back in the day). But in March 2006 in was reported that Tommy was undergoing treatment for melanoma skin cancer. The treatment seemed to go well and we all hoped that would be that.

Then rumours began to surface that it had returned, and if this type of cancer returns it tends to be stronger and more difficult to shift. On March 2008 the club confirmed Tommy was be undergoing further treatment.

He died 20 years and one day after the centenary cup final, the day that (asides from his wedding day and the birth of his children) probably meant more to him than any thing else. The day that he was interviewed in tears, holding the Scottish Cup and apologising on national TV to a young boy in hospital who he hadn’t had time to visit yet.

No wallowing in public adulation for Tommy; for him it was always about the fans, the people who worked hard to buy their tickets, the people who stood and cheered for Celtic.

The reaction to his death was universal. Everyone who knew him was distraught and almost all of the tributes to him concentrated of Tommy Burns the man, not the footballer (although you could eulogise about his talent for long enough). That was the measure of the him; yes he was a very good footballer, but there are plenty of them about. There aren’t many people in this world as kind, generous and giving of themselves as Tommy Burns was.

AB Murdoch

Tuesday 20 May 2008

I’ve walked along the Gallowgate so many times heading up towards Celtic Park, my usual route. I always get the thrill.

Not today.

There is no game, even though there are plenty of fans heading the same way.

No tunes or noise from the Celtic pubs at the Calton/Barras. All is quiet, closed, flags at half-mast.

My insides are churning. I’m on my own, loads of things running through my mind but I’m trying not to think too much of why I’m making this journey.

At the junction where the Gallowgate, Bellgrove Street and Abercromby Street intersect there’s a banner hanging there on the corner for ‘Calton’s No.1 son’.

As I turn down Abercromby, my eyes have welled up as I see the turnout already outside St. Mary’s Church.

I pick up the Requiem Mass programme on entering the church. I recognise the picture straight away; it brings a big smile to my face as it’s one we have also used on the front page of NTV.

I take my seat, look around and recognise many faces from supporting Celtic and many from the football world, not just my team.

The service takes place and its hard to keep the emotions in check. We’ve all been in this position with our own family and friends and this is no different.

We laugh and smile at stories, but most importantly, we respect, for a man whose faith was so dear to him. I can understand why so many people get so much good out of religion, seen it many times and I’m seeing it so much today.

The service is nearing its end Then the coffin is lifted. For me this always confirms that the person I’ve come to respect is finally going away. Always looking for someone to tell us it’s a big mistake, but sadly we know it’s not.

As it reaches the church doors, the applause rings out from the people outside. This reminds us that we are not the only ones here after being transfixed for so long.

We filter outside and watch the cortege pull away.

I’m now heading back down the Gallowgate. I’m on my own again. No mates to talk about the game, there was no game today. Just tears in my eyes so honoured to have been asked to represent Not The View, just ordinary fans.

I look down once again to the Requiem Mass programme. On the back there’s the great man’s words, “I’m just a fan who got lucky”

Tommy Twists, Tommy Turns, Tommy Burns.

AJ Miller

1 Comment

  1. Wonderful tribute to Tommy. He was irreplaceable, most importantly , as a dad , grandad and husband and to our club.

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