Happy 80th birthday to Charlie Gallagher
Charlie Gallagher with the coveted European Cup which Celtic won in 1967.
By Paul Cuddihy
Charlie’s Celtic career, which spanned three decades from 1958 until ’70, is synonymous with set-pieces and a couple of corner kicks immediately spring to mind, albeit they are two of the most significant corners ever delivered by a player in the green and white Hoops.
The inside-forward made his debut in a League Cup against Raith Rovers in August 1959 and would go on to play 171 times for Celtic, scoring 32 goals, making his last appearance in 1968, although he remained at the club a further two years.
Despite playing with Kilmarnock Amateurs in the late 1950s, not even the persuasive powers of Willie Waddell at Rugby Park could make Charlie sign for the Ayrshire club once Celtic’s name was in the hat.
He would remain at Celtic for over a decade as the club was transformed from perennial underachievers into one of best teams in the world under Jock Stein. During that era, the silky midfielder would make a massive contribution to those achievements in the greatest Hoops side ever assembled, and narrowly missed out on a place in the European Cup final in Lisbon.
He picked up Scottish Cup, League Cup and League medals, playing in the 1965 Scottish Cup final – Celtic’s first trophy success under Jock Stein – while he also won two international caps for the Republic of Ireland.
Yet, his name will live on among the Celtic support for two specific corners. The first of these came against Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup final on April 24, 1965. With eight minutes to go, the teams were locked at 2-2, when Celtic were awarded a corner out on the left.
Charlie ambled over to take it, sent a beautiful ball into the middle and Billy McNeill rose above everyone else to power the ball home for the winner – the Celtic glory years begun in that instant.
Reflecting later on that Hampden success, Charlie identified it as his favourite trophy win. He said: “Maybe it’s in my imagination, but I think that was what set us up for the nine-in-a-row because the year after that we started running riot, and scoring a lot of goals.
“I think it was the camaraderie between the team at that time, and everyone was fighting for one another. When you win a trophy, that’s it, and it was the first cup win in quite a while.
“Having won that cup set us up as that was when Celtic really started, and I believe that is what big Billy said, that is when the club started to become a club again.”
Just under two years later, against Vojvodina in the quarter-final of the European Cup, as Celtic approached the final whistle locked on 1-1, they won another of the many corners that night, this time out on the right.
A play-off in Rotterdam looked likely and Charlie was about to place a short corner to Jimmy Johnstone – until he saw two markers being draw out of the area. In an instant he changed his mind and sent a beautiful out-swinger into the box and once again Billy McNeill avoided the crowd in the area and rose to head home another winner – Lisbon was back on the agenda.
“Those two goals are always bought up,” Charlie said. “When I was playing, I never thought about it when the goals went in. It just seems to come up in every conversation, particularly when there is a game against Dunfermline in a cup tie.
“It’s nice to have your name mentioned in the paper on a regular basis, through that and other things, and it keeps my grandchildren amused to see my name in the paper every so often.”
Charlie Gallagher, third from left in the back row, who played for Celtic and Dumbarton.
It was apt that Charlie had made such a telling contribution on the road to Lisbon, given that he had played in Celtic’s first ever European game when they were give a baptism of fire against Valencia in 1962. That was the start of an incredible journey for the club
Within the cauldron of the Mestalla Stadium, the Hoops lost 4-2, a credible result, particularly given the disruption they encountered prior to the game.
Despite Gallagher and his team-mates’ best attempts, however, they couldn’t manage to overturn that deficit in Glasgow, with the return fixture finishing in a 2-2 draw, consigning them to an early exit from the tournament.
A gifted Valencia side went on to retain their trophy, while Celtic proved quick learners in this environment, reaching the last four of the Cup-Winners’ Cup the following season. Just four years later, they were champions of Europe under the masterful guidance of Jock Stein.
Gallagher made a vital contribution to that stunning success and the classy midfielder played his part in a host of other European encounters during a 12-year career with his beloved Hoops.
A cousin of Paddy Crerand, he also became the first Scotland-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland and, to celebrate that, Jock Stein allowed him to lead the Celts out as captain in the Scottish Cup against Elgin City in February, 1967.
“That was one the top moments in my life, particularly my second cap which was in Dublin against the team that was running riot in Europe, Czechoslovakia,” Charlie recalled.
“They were one of the top teams in the world at the time. To do that and be reminded every time I get introduced that I was the first Scots-born player to play for the Republic is something I am quite happy with. Both my parents were Irish and everyone in my family were Irish, so I was quite happy with that.”
And as for his favourite Celtic goal, Charlie chose one in a 5-1 thrashing of Rangers at Celtic Park on January 3, 1966. He scored Celtic’s third in a game that saw Stevie Chalmers net a hat trick.
“They scored first and then we tanned them,” he said. “It was a bad, foggy day and I don’t think half the supporters saw the goals. They all went into the Celtic End, so they would have seen them but I am not sure about those who were in The Jungle.”
Charlie Gallagher moved on from Celtic to play for Dumbarton FC in their Boghead days. He was a tremendous asset to the club. Charlie and his wife owned a shop in Bellsmyre and was a big favourite with his customers, and he helped the Sons through one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.