Nothing in the way I write this blog or describe how he made me and most other Celtic supporters of our generation feel will truly describe the admiration, love and respect I have for this man. Thanks. That’s the overriding emotion I have towards Tommy Burns. A thanks for guiding a wee Bhoy into catching the bug of supporting and loving the Celtic. A thank you for giving me the pleasure of seeing the most exciting style of football I’ve seen us play so far in my lifetime. For bringing through our youth whether they made it at Celtic or not. I’m truly and eternally grateful for Tommy showing how you can make it in all aspects of life by showing great humility, courage and decency. One word sums up TB in my opinion. Class.
TB was the fan who lived out his dream. I won’t start hitting out with the statistics from his superb career. This isn’t for that. It says everything that he had the complete respect of his fellow professionals. He was known as a players player. With a cultured left foot and a tenacity to match the surroundings in which he had grown up. Hard as nails. You don’t get to play for Celtic for as long and as TB did without being special. From 75′-89’Tommy played with some of the best players to wear the Hoops in recent times and never looked out of place. His efforts on the pitch, his background and his all round love and appreciation towards the support was second to none. He was one of us, a warrior for his club and people. We loved him then. We love him now.
After moving to Kilmarnock as player/manager TB galvanised a very weary support in Ayrshire and gained promotion to the Premier League. His infectious enthusiasm had given Killie a new lease of life and the fans still speak fondly of TB and his efforts whilst there. When the call came to return home to Celtic there was only ever going to be one outcome. Tommy being unveiled as our new manager was welcomed with great joy from the support. I can clearly remember the elation around my family households when the news broke. Tommy was one of us and you just knew that when he spoke it was from the heart. We believed in him and he never let us down.
The quote above should be used as a mantra for any Celtic player to absorb. It came from Tommy and you can picture him selling Celtic to the likes of Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete. In his all too short time as manager Tommy would only lift one trophy, the 95′ Scottish Cup. For me this trophy was just as important as any silverware the club has won in its history. It brought a realisation that we were not down. That we could still have those days. That final had taken years off most of us. We could have ended the drought against Raith in the Coca Cola Cup final but for The Maestro missing the deciding penalty. In defeat Tommy radiated calmness and solidarity with a support in dire need of trophies. His team had Celtic men all through it with Bonner, Grant and Mcstay representing us out on the pitch. You could see the hurt in these players in defeat and the relief in victory. You genuinely related and skipped the same beats as these men. You couldn’t do that now.
The style of football we played under Tommy Burns was an exceptional one. A joy to watch. Attacking, adventurous, daring and exciting. Youth given a fair chance. A mixture of homegrown and foreign stars entertained us and showed the passion TB had instilled in his team. The facts and figures say we never won the league. This much is true. At the time we never knew there was a serious financial advantage bestowed upon our deceased rivals. Carte Blanche was afforded to the dead club. No-one could have competed with that freedom of spending. Although Tommy very nearly broke the stranglehold the crooks had over the Scottish game. The SFA/RFC facilitator Jim Farry deliberately holding up the Cadete transfer without a doubt had its baring. The “offside” Cadete strike at Ibronx too? The kind of things we were up against at the time.
After leaving Celtic for a second time Tommy took on several roles in England but never looked at all comfortable in another teams colours. Thankfully TB returned to us during Kenny Dalglish short stint as manager. Many Celtic fans wanted Tommy to take the reigns once again but Martin O’Neill was to come in. Making Tommy head of Youth Development was a shrewd move. The youth could only benefit greatly from Tommy’s knowledge of the game and the attitude needed in keeping with what our club stands for. Who better to teach you how to be a good human being as well as nurture you as a footballer?
Coupled with his involvement with the national teams set up Tommy Burns was a great link between players and management. You couldn’t imagine morale being anything but good with a man such as TB around. Blessed with a comedic nature and a known patter merchant TB wouldn’t tolerate the heads being down. Anyone that can amuse Gordon Strachan more than he can himself has to be hilarious. When the time came for hard work however Tommy was as stern as any coach on the training field. The relationship he had with the players meant they were on his side. Anyone who’s played at any level can tell you that when you admire someone like they did with TB you give that 10% more in your efforts. That’s called inspiring people. Something this great man specialised in.
Tommy’s rapport with the Celtic support is one I doubt will be bettered. He moved to the same rhythm as us and we did with him. A policy brought in during his time as manager was the players going to Supporters Clubs functions. He encouraged this greatly. It made the support more in touch with our team and I personally feel we miss that relationship badly. Tommy was out there for us and we knew it. Without a doubt. When he hurt we hurt and vice versa. That is a rare thing these days. In my opinion TB at the club in any capacity would greatly benefit us and it’s no coincidence we enjoyed many successes and built foundations with Tommy involved.
In looking to get the ball rolling with our new training ground TB had been tasked with the job of going round some of Europe’s top clubs and bringing feedback on which routes we should go down. What we were given after his endeavour was a world class training ground in Lennoxtown. I cannot fathom why the facility hasn’t been named after TB but I’d hope in the fullness of time when we have people running the club that are in touch with things this is one of the first things on the agenda. Tommy had done the hard work at Barrowfield in all weathers and look at the football his teams produced. Imagine what we’d be seeing out on the park with the lush, bowling green surfaces the team get to train on now.
After bravely fighting illness Tommy left us behind in May 2008. All of football was united in grief. No matter the colour of your team. A man who united two supports that have no time for each other. The night we clinched the league title at Tannadice will live with me forever. “Tommy twists, Tommy turns, Tommy Burns” echoing throughout the night all over the city. We had won it for Tommy. A typical Celtic story played out just as it should have been given the great mans passing. God bless you TB.
Jock Stein is considered our greatest manager and rightly so given his success. For me Tommy Burns is just as important. In my opinion he led Celtic into a new era and brought a belief about us as a team that could achieve again. If you get the chance go onto YouTube. Hibs v Celtic, December 1995. Watch the quality of performance. The Maestro running the show and the players TB had brought in. Donnelly being moved out wide and excelling with Jackie Mac on the right. Paul Mcstay looking like he’d gone back years. Collins, O’Donnell and Thom with pace and guile. Big Pierre superb up front. What a team to watch. What a manager. What a man.