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Contrary to the impression given by the Celtic media department, the history of the club didn't begin during the age of televised football. Some of the football greats actually wore the Hoops before VHS and DVDs were invented, so we should be grateful that there are authors like David Potter who have made it their mission to keep the memory of these wonderful players alive, following up his earlier biography of Patsy Gallacher with this sterling work on the life of Jimmy Quinn.
To begin with the conclusion, Potter sums up Jimmy Quinn's contribution to Celtic by using a modern analogy: he accepts that comparisons between players of different eras are largely spurious, but he maintains that there are only two other players in the pantheon of Celtic legends who have left the kind of impression that Quinn did in his day. One is Jimmy McGrory and the other; 'Rewind a hundred years, substitute Quinn for Larsson and one can get some idea of the impact of the man.'
is a testimony to that, for Quinn's story is indeed the stuff of legend.
A reluctant hero, to begin with, Quinn was being courted by Willie Maley
to sign for Celtic but initially knocked back the offer of terms because
he thought he wasn't good enough to play for the Hoops. To paraphrase
the author, 'Fast forward a hundred years, substitute Petta for Quinn...'
The past is another country indeed.
It was a hard country as well. It is part of the legend that Quinn was a 'robust' player but to earn a living at the game at the turn of the last century you had to be. James E Handley, the author of 'The Celtic Story' is quoted as describing Quinn thus: 'With the deep chest and muscular shoulders of a charging bison he shed festoons of clinging opponents as he hurtled goalwards,' a whimsical image perhaps, but accurate in its depiction of Quinn being singled out for special attention by opposing defences. What passed for a fair tackle in 1900 would probably find you up in front of the beaks for aggravated assault these days. The picture on the cover of the book shows him wearing a pair of shinguards that wouldn't look out of place on Brian Lara, a necessary precaution when the full back's plan to stop him included such silky soccer tactics as ripping open old wounds (particularly a troublesome thigh) in an attempt to hobble him out of the game. No pansy stuff like substitutes in those days son.
In his descriptions of Jimmy's treatment by opponents Potter sometimes lapses into a style more in keeping with blatts such as this, but that just made the book more enjoyable for me. So we get his description of a match at Ibrox in 1908: 'Once again Quinn was targeted by the brutal half back line of May, Taylor and Galt, and after 25 minutes he was carried off with injuries to both thighs as the villains smirked and the crowd bayed.' Plus ca change eh?
Not that he couldn't give it out either. He was called up on occasion for Scotland in order to - as Paul Elliott might say - challenge the physicality of the English defence and appears to have had quite a reputation for charging through on goalkeepers at a time when it was perfectly legitimate to score by shoulder charging the hapless custodian into the back of the net provided he was holding the ball.
I loved reading the period touches. In 1902 the Hibs beat Celtic in the Cup Final and started to wind up their vanquished opponents by singing 'Goodbye Celtic we must leave you', a paradoy of the popular Boer War song 'Goodbye Dolly'. Bet that had the veins popping out on their necks.
'The team returned to a triumphant reception in Edinburgh which the Scotsman blamed for 'disrupting traffic and frightening more than a few horses.' The capital's nags have had an easy time since: Hibs haven't won the Cup in the intervening 104 years.
There was also the quaint Edwardian custom of having a neutral referee with one linesman appointed by each of the competing teams, a tradition which has apparently continued to this day if Andy Davis's performance at Tynecastle recently is anything to go by.. 'Honesty was expected and usually provided.'
If there's a criticism I have to make it's that at times I felt as if the author didn't go far enough in his praise of some of Quinn's more prodigious feats. Take, for example, Potter's description of his goal against Hearts in the 1901 Scottish Cup final: 'Celtic pulled one back after 71 minutes when Quinn beat about six or seven Hearts men to score a great goal.' That's more than half the opposition team left for dead. George Best eat yer heart out!
Far from simply being a brutish target man with a penchant for rushing through defences with the finesse of a panzer division, his renown was built on scoring sublime goals. Not only that, but prodigious feats of scoring feature throughout his career, a hat-trick in the 1904 Cup final against Rangers to help Celtic to a 3:2 win having been 2 behind being but one of the highlights.
If you're in a slough of despond after the events of Fir Park then get hold of this book and remind yourself of what the Grand Old Team's all about.