Throughout Celtic history, an attacking philosophy has largely prevailed (call it “The Glasgow Celtic Way”, if you like) and wingers have always been close to the hearts of Hoops fans. For the purposes of this exercise, the term “winger” will be applied equally to the conventional concept of the touchline specialist of the 1-2-3-5 formation that dominated the game from earliest days right through to the mid 1960’s and the midfield wide man of the various shapes that have been adopted since then and into modern times.
From the likes of Alec Bennett or Jimmy Delaney of old, through to James Forrest, Kris Commons and Paddy McCourt in the current squad, there is nothing more thrilling than a thrusting, high-speed dash for goal or for the by-line; or a gifted ball-player going on a mazy run that decimates a defence and ends in a killer cross or a direct attempt at goal, either from long or close range. Better still if it ends up in the opposition net!
So rich is the Celtic heritage in this category, I have no intention of tackling the thankless task of a comprehensive review. The following is a brief resumé and a highly subjective selection, based on personal observation, historical reading, anecdote and reporting by first-hand witnesses. Feel free to concur or disagree as you see fit – and let us know. After all, opinion and controversy are the life-blood of the game.
Unsurprisingly, Celtic’s (Official) “Greatest Ever Player”, the great “Jinky” Jimmy Johnstone walks unopposed into this category. Beyond that no-brainer, the field is wide open, if you’ll pardon the pun.
The first acknowledged “great” forward line in Celtic history was the crowning glory of Willie Maley’s wonderful Edwardian side that swept to six titles in a row in the first decade of the twentieth century. Bennett, McMenemy, Quinn, Somers and Hamilton rolled off supporters’ tongues at that time and for decades thereafter, as readily as would, for future generations, the names of, say, the Empire Exhibition Trophy front line of 1938, the immortal “7-1” team, Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions, or the Centenary Double squad.
So, Alec Bennett (despite his later “defection” to his boyhood heroes, Rangers – a move he is said to have regretted ever after) and Davie Hamilton stroll into serious contention. As also, one of Bennett’s successors, Andy McAtee – like his legendary contemporary, Jimmy Quinn, a son of Croy.
Likewise, the remarkable Jimmy Delaney of the “Empire Exhibition” side, an all-time Celtic great in most people’s opinion.
Other potential contenders from the earlier eras include Neilly McCallum, Johnny Browning, Adam Mclean, Bertie Thomson and Jimmy Delaney’s thirties left-wing partner, Frank Murphy.
A few names that spring readily to mind from the middle of last century are Jock Weir (last-day “hat-trick” hero of the allegedly relegation-haunted 1947/48 season), the scintillating but ultimately injury-prone John Higgins and the one-and-only Charlie Tully, who breezed across the Irish Sea to bring a smile back to the faces of a Celtic support that had been too long starved of the kind of success and pleasure that had formerly seemed like a birthright.
Alex Byrne and Bertie Auld (who, of course, ultimately carved his niche in Celtic history as one half of the immortal Murdoch/Auld midfield engine of The Lisbon Lions) were other prominent characters on the left wing in the frustrating, stop-start fifties. Auld’s fiery, defiant temperament famously attracted the displeasure of the hard-line Chairman of the time, Bob Kelly, resulting in his “banishment” to Birmingham, until his tellingly historic recall and role conversion in preparation for the glorious Stein era.
From that time on, courtesy of such as arch bogey man, Alf Ramsey, outright wingers have become an increasingly endangered species in football generally, being progressively displaced by “wide midfielders” and overlapping or attacking full backs, reflecting the changing formations and tactics of the modern game. Gratifyingly, though, that has been less so in Celtic’s case; and the likes of Paul Wilson, Johnny Doyle, Davie Provan, Frank Brogan, Brian McLaughlin and more recently, Paul Byrne, Bobby Petta, Aiden McGeady, Niall McGinn and James Forrest have, of course, kept the touchline speciality flame burning.
A small random selection of others who have, more recently, plied their trade principally on the flanks but with a wider remit of play-making and/or tracking back, as required, include: Alan Thompson, Shunsuke Nakamura, Shaun Maloney, Kris Commons & Paddy McCourt.
Okay, I’ve been rabbiting on long enough and played out way more than enough rope to hang myself. So, no more beating about the bush – time to put the cards on the table.
Alongside “Jinky”, I’m going for Bennett, Delaney and (for his oriental charisma and dead-ball skills) Nakamura on the right, with the irrepressible Tully on the left, balanced by the dour, combative directness of Thompson, the goal threat of Commons and the outrageous genius of McCourt.
So, there you have it, in chronological order, the 25thMay1967 all-time Celtic “Wide Bhoys”:
Alec Bennett, Jimmy Delaney, Charlie Tully, Jimmy Johnstone, Alan Thompson, Shunsuke Nakamura, Paddy McCourt and Kris Commons.
Over to you, then … with apologies for any controversial, blatant or less contentious omissions!