My Dad is something of a dinosaur. A man very set in his ways. Modern advances in technology have by in large passed him by. It’s not that he’s ignorant or unintelligent, he simply sticks to what works best for him. Fair enough. This is why he can still be found in his den watching videos. Not DVD’s but VCR. Videocassette Recorded movies. Ancient. Older than dirt. He still keeps all his favourites in a suitcase in his room. Almost every cassette I wouldn’t watch stranded on a desert island. There is one shining light in his collection though, Maestro, the Paul McStay story. A story that I could never tire of watching on his old tv/video combo antique. I’m surprised the video is still in working order. The amount of times I’ve watched it must easily hit three figures. From a young age and still now it is still a privilege to be able to watch what I consider an artist of the beautiful game. Here I try to convey just why Paul McStay will forever be my favourite player.
It was perhaps written in the stars that Paul Michael McStay would play for the club he loved. Following in the footsteps of his great uncles Jimmy and Willie, Paul was to pull on the Hoops and serve our great club with distinction. A player well ahead of his time, with a range of passing second to none and a knack for scoring spectacular goals, McStay was a joy to behold. His introduction to the first team on league duty began with a typical McStay goal in a 3-1 win over an impressive Aberdeen side of the time. Paul went from strength to strength through the 80s. It’s as our captain in the 90s that I will mostly focus on here though. About how his drive and determination impressed on me that, in life, you don’t always have to be the loudest or most brash to succeed.
It must be worth mentioning that in some supporters eyes Paul was something of a let down in his career. That he never fulfilled his early promise. Some say the only reason he never left Celtic was that no other teams came in for him. Call me a romantic but I much prefer to believe that Paul stayed with us for one simple reason. He had Celtic blood pumping through his heart. That to lead our team meant more than monetary gain. Everyone is open to their own opinion of course. Not every player will capture every fans adoration. Blinded by my love for Celtic there can only be a select few in my mind who can truly represent Celtic and the Celtic philosophy. In an earlier blog I wrote on Tommy Burns a keyword I used was humility. This is a recurring theme throughout when discussing players our support has been able to relate to as if in the stands alongside us. I’m glad it was only a minority who didn’t fully appreciate Paul and his many efforts.
Paul McStay was the maestro of the team I first started watching and grew obsessed with. I can’t comment so much on his work in the 80s as it will all have been seen secondary. I do consider myself to have been privileged to watch the man play for Celtic for a few seasons at least. The barren years that we faced throughout the early nineties coupled with our club almost going under was an extremely tough time to be a Celtic supporter. One constant throughout this time though was McStay and his unbowed, relentless drive to carry us on the park. He done this unselfishly. Playing under these circumstances and surrounded by players of far less ability and understanding must have been the hardest of tasks yet you never heard a bad word from our captain.
When Pauls ex teammate Tommy Burns took over as manager at Celtic there must have been an immense pressure amongst the real Celtic men within the group. Peter Grant, Packie Bonner and Paul along with Tommy would have hurt the same as us supporters during these dark times. The League Cup of 94 was an opportunity to end our misery trophy wise. This culminated in McStay missing the deciding spot kick in the final with Raith Rovers. Sitting some 14 rows directly behind the goal where the penalties would be taken to see my hero fall at the last hurdle in such a fashion was a memory I would rather forget, although never will. He would not be starved much longer however. The Scottish Cup Final of 95 would see us face Airdrie at Hampden. Tosh Mckinlay’s wand of a left foot set up Big Pierre and the wait was over. The relief our captain must have experienced that day must have been unimaginable. I remember watching the game and my household was ecstatic. We had won silverware for the first time in a long time and this may well have been the catalyst for what we were to see in future seasons. We had a belief back. Thank you, Tommy and Paul.
Nowadays the sleeve tattoo and a variety of odd haircuts are the tell tale signs of the modern footballer. Back in the 90s there were more sinister temptations for footballers in Glasgow. Our enemies from over the river had a few undesirables in their ranks. Durrant, Ferguson and Goram the more unsavoury. They thought nothing of pandering to the Neanderthal followers of their team. They were happy to hit Paisley Road West and keep the company of various Loyalist figures. Think about that in contrast to the men we had leading us at the time. These men didn’t need to align themselves with any risqué element of our support. They lived in a humble manner. Paul McStay especially. A class apart from the names I mentioned earlier. They couldn’t touch him on the park and couldn’t stand next to him off it. Absolute class all the way with our captain. In recent years we have learned that a cheating establishment and other black arts were against us. This is why it’s a travesty that men like Tommy and Paul never had more silverware. You wouldn’t hear them complain or blame anyone else though. Like I said, class.
My sister works for a major airline. A stewardess on long haul flights has been her job since leaving school. On a flight to Sydney, Australia one day she recognised the man himself, albeit a bit greyer in hair and fuller in shape. Approaching the Maestro she explained that she was a Celtic fan and that her brother idolised him. McStay replied that I myself must be a fair age now. When my sister informed him I was late twenties he was shocked. “Why does he like me?”, “Can he even remember me?” My sister said exactly what I would have, “Because you are a legend Paul”. That chance meeting epitomises everything about Mcstay as a man. Humble and grateful for what Celtic gave him. We should be the grateful ones.
You’ll Never Walk Alone Paul.