No More Heroes: Bertie Auld

From a very early NTV as part of a series where our contributors were invited to remember the football influences of our formative years.

Back in 1966, when I was six years old, I would be taken along to Terry the barber with my old man to get a haircut. Having been propped up on several cushions in the chair I would demand a “Bertie Auld”. The Brylcreemed side-shed was no problem, but I would inevitably leave distraught at the less than complete transformation, since sideburn transplants for six year-olds had not yet been invented and there was always the problem of simulating a chin like Fred Flintstone with not so much a seven o’clock shadow as an eleven o’clock black-out.

I recount this merely to illustrate the complete influence Bertie, wee “Ten-Therty” had on my young life, right down to getting my auntie to sew a green number 10 on to the shorts I wore when sporting the hoops during our ten hour long matches in the park.

I was too young to remember Bertie’s first spell at Celtic Park, which began when he signed from Maryhill Harp in 1955, but the folklore was handed down. In those early days he was already showing the characteristics that would endear him to the fans in years to come; when God was handing out the professionalism Bertie was getting an extra helping of cheek, and he was getting plenty of practice in the finer arts of the beautiful game in tussles with the likes of Rangers hard man Bobby Shearer, of whom Bertie said, “Playing against him you needed shinguards on the back of your head”.

After six years and numerous run-ins with then Chairman Bob Kelly, Bertie was transferred to Birmingham City in 1961, where he settled for four years.

When he eventually returned to Glasgow he left behind his name in countless referee’s notebooks and a host of stories for the City fans to recount for years to come.

One of them concerns the time Bertie was playing against Fulham in an important cup-tie. Having left an opponent in a state of considerable agony to be followed by several weeks in a sanatorium recovering from one of his special tackles, the ref called Bertie over to invite him to partake of first use of the Palmolive. The Fulham player was stretchered off, to be followed by Bertie. In those days substitutes were not allowed, so now both teams were to be reduced to ten men. However, as Bertie made his way to the early bath, the then England strlker Johnny Haynes chose this inopportune moment to have a word in Bertie’s shell-like. An exchange of views regarding sportsmanship was followed by Haynes discoverlng at first hand the derivation of the phrase “the Maryhill Kiss”. More work for the stretcher-bearers was the result. Net result: Birmingham 10 men, Fulham 9.

During his time in England Bertie was in the process of converting from a winger to an inside-left, and when Jock Stein returned to Celtic as manager in 1965 he moved to take him home to Celtic Park. As an indication that some things never change, he moved back to Celtic in a deal that saw him earn £5 a week less than he was making at Birmingham.

He was simply happy to be playing for the Celts though, and celebrated his return with two goals in the ‘65 Cup Final against Dunfermline which was to herald the glory years.

By then the wild streak in him had been tamed somewhat and playing in midfield with Bobby Murdoch they
were the men who ran the show in those days, and his supreme arrogance allied to brilliant skill rubbed off on the rest of our wee toothless warriors who became the
champions of Europe.

In Lisbon Bertie’s “gallusness” was well-illustrated when he famously started singing “Hail Hail” as the teams
lined up in the tunnel before the game. The Italians could only look on in puzzled amazement. “We should have been wearing kilts instead of football pants,” he recalled later.

After 1969 his career with Celtic began to wane, partly due to injury and partly to time catching up with him, but when necessary, as against Leeds United in the ‘70 semi-final he could prove that he still had the old magic.

Maybe it’s because of his later image as manager with the Jags, but somehow when I look back and remember wee Bertie I somehow imagine him in midfield, sauntering about, wearing the hoops, a big bunett and smoking a cigar the size of a UFO.

And of course there was the patter. In his book “More Celtic Greats”, Hugh Keevins recounts a tale of when
Bertie was manager of Thistle. He decided to take off Alex O’Hara, and as the player trudged off Bertie
turned to the Thistle assistant manager and said, “Look at him, he’s so lifeless even the lice are jumpin’ aff his heid!”

I wish he was playing for us now.

Rest in Peace Bertie.

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