Paul Lunney looks back at the Celtic career of Pat McCluskey, who sadly passed away this week.
When I first went along Paradise way to watch the Celts in 1974 (aged nine) the team was full of hero figures with names that easily and lovingly rolled off the tongue – Harry Hood, Jimmy Johnstone and Dixie Deans to name but three (unless, of course, you possessed a stutter, like my mate, in which case it would take you/ him about two hours to spit out such an apt nickname as ‘Jinky’).
Along with George Connelly and a youthful Kenny Dalglish, these were the star performers in whom the Terracing Tims and Jungle Jims placed their faith every week, and I too marvelled at the magical mystery and silky skills of such a glittering galaxy of charismatic characters.
In defence we had the biting tackles from the gritty ‘Brogie Man’ and the equally uncompromising ‘Quiet Assassin’ Davie hay, not forgetting the elegant youngster soon to become the world’s finest right-back, Danny McGrain.
True, we idolised them all, but my own favourite was a larger than life figure called Pat McCluskey.
No slender chap was Pat, and certainly Mark McGhee’s anthem, “He’s fat, he’s round, he’s worth a million pounds” could well have been written and sung about the redoubtable McCluskey lad.
His baptism in the famous green and white hoops came on 5th February 1972 at Celtic Park when he replaced Dixie Deans during an emphatic 5:0 gubbing of poor wee Albion Rovers. Amazingly, after only one more appearance as a sub he was pushed into the side for the European Cup semi-final against Inter in the fabulous San Siro Stadium to replace the injured Jim Brogan.
He did enough to keep his place for the return leg, and although Dixie missed the moon by a matter of inches with his spot kick during the penalty shoot-out, Pat converted his with all the ease of a veteran. Subsequently it came as no surprise when he gained the honour of becoming the club’s recognised penalty taker.
As a robust footballer pat always belied his weight problems with an enthusiastic, skilful style of play, best described as a ball winner with a bit of flair. However, in common with many great Celts, controversy reared its ugly head when the national and under-23 squads played in a European Championship match in Denmark in 1975. An SFA official was apparently none too pleased when he entered the room of McCluskey and Billy Bremner to find them turning a bed upside down as a prank. Along with Willie Young, Joe Harper and Arthur Graham – collectively renowned as The Copenhagen Five – they were banned from the national eleven and Scotland lost what might have become the nucleus of the best drinking team in the world. Although the ban was later lifted in 1976, that game in Denmark was to be Pat’s last in a Scotland jersey.
Pat’s exploits still linger on in the memory, though, whether as a sweeper or in midfield; like the day he substituted for Cesar on a rain-soaked Paradise to save the Celts from defeat against a fine Hibs side; or the time he scored the winner against Aberdeen in a League Cup quarter-final tie.
But perhaps memories of his finest hour-and-a-half can still be rekindled today if you place yourself between the tins of beans, breakfast cereals and the meat counter at one of ASDA’s stores in Perth, twenty-five years ago the site of Muirton Park, home of St. Johnstone, for it was there that Pat wrote his own little piece of Scottish football history. On the TV documentary ‘Only A Game’, Jim Baxter fondly recalled the occasion when he scored twice against England at Wembley and wanted to complete a unique hat-trick by scoring through his own goal, deprived of doing so only because the score was 2:1 at the time and not 2:0. His opportunity was lost forever.
Well, Pat achieved what Slim Jim never did on 20th September 1975 in a league game at Muirton. Celtic were leading 1:0 thanks to a McCluskey goal when they were given the chance to double their lead from the penalty spot. As usual Pat converted the kick with ease. On returning to the centre circle you could almost hear his brain going into overdrive. St. Johnstone raced into the attack and Pat grabbed his chance to give Peter Latchford no chance. Eat your heart out Baxter!
Latterly, with the emergence of teenager Roy Aitken and the arrival of old head Pat Stanton, my hero was plummeted into the oblivion of reserve football and eventually joined Dumbarton for 315,000 in August 1977, the same week as King Kenny was sold to Liverpool.
He returned to the Premier League with Airdrie and subsequently had spells in America and with Queen of the South, but my cherished memories of Pat McCluskey in the Hoops of Celtic remain as vivid as my childhood summers.