Amongst the many who have served between the Celtic posts these past 60 years or so, three stand head and shoulders above the rest. Veteran Lisbon Lion, Ronnie Simpson; Irish legend and Centenary Double stalwart, Pat Bonner (Celtic’s shut-out king); and Polish “Holy Goalie”, Artur Boruc, form that great triumvirate (though it has to be said, the latter was never a particular favourite of yours truly, despite his heroic status to the bulk of the fans). Of the three, Simpson, as linchpin of Celtic’s most celebrated team of all time, walks unopposed into the 25thMay “Ultimate Squad”. The other two remain on standby meantime.
Despite his comparatively slight stature, “Faither”, as Ronnie was affectionately dubbed, oozed reliability, born of total concentration. He dominated the box, instilling a sense of confidence in the defence in front of him that Bonner and Boruc never quite achieved; and cat-like reflexes afforded him a shot-stopping ability that rivalled the inspirational Irishman and Pole at their best.
Other potential contenders during the period in question include Coronation Cup hero, John Bonnar; Dick Beattie, of “7-1” fame; the mercurial Frank Haffey, absolutely brilliant on his day but sadly stigmatised as the convenient fall-guy for Scotland’s infamous 9-3 Wembley massacre of 1961; and Ronnie Simpson’s understudy and immediate successor, super-Celt John Fallon. None, however, seriously threaten the above trio for a place in the squad.
Another three Goalies stand out like beacons across the first 60 or so years of Celtic history:
Davy Adams was a virtual ever-present between the sticks for the first truly great Celtic side, the one that won six titles in a row from 1904/05 to 1909/10. The game was far more physical, indeed, at times brutal, then than now; and to put together such a prolonged run in the most vulnerable position of all speaks volumes for his courage and resilience, as well as his ability as the last line of defence.
“Johnny” Thomson, immortalised in song as the mighty hero who, quite literally, died for the Hoops, achieved almost mythical status in a tragically short but dazzlingly brilliant career that was snuffed out in an on-field collision saving his goal at Ibrox in September 1931. Stories of his almost superhuman talent abound and need no re- telling here … another “shoo-in”.
The largely uncelebrated Willie Miller is considered by some Celtic historians to have been arguably the best Celtic ’keeper of them all. A first-hand observer whose opinion I rate highly and who was privileged to watch every Celtic goalie from John Thomson to Pat Bonner, bracketed Miller and Thomson as our joint-best-ever “No 1”. Playing in poor Celtic sides at a bleak time in the club’s history, including the dismal World War 2 years, his consistent class reportedly saved the Hoops from serious embarrassment on many occasions … a man of his time, then.
Others of the very early years and up to the midway point of Celtic’s history who merit honourable consideration in this category are Dan McArthur, Charlie Shaw and “Joe” Kennaway, to whom fell the unenviable and well-nigh impossible task of taking over the gloves from the tragic, legendary Thomson.
What, then, are we to make of all that? Well, following the guidelines outlined earlier, my “shoo-ins” are Thomson and Simpson. By repute, Miller joins them, along with the charismatic Boruc, despite personal reservations, on account of the heroic idolatry bestowed upon him by the vast majority of the fans of his period of tenure, who surely can’t all be wrong.
So here we have them, in chronological order, the 25thMay Ultimate Celtic Goalkeepers:
JOHNNY THOMSON … WILLIE MILLER … RONNIE SIMPSON … ARTUR BORUC
Not a bad start!