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geoge connelly book
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Celtic’s Lost Legend: The George Connelly Story; by George Connelly with Bryan Cooney; Black and White Publishing; 256 pages hardback; £17.99

George Connelly has existed as an almost mythical character in the Celtic story for over 30 years; the man who apparently had all the gifts to play the game perfectly, in almost any position but who walked out of professional football at the age of 26 never to be heard of again.

Myths and legends sprang up about him; he was a womaniser, he had never wanted to be a footballer, he wanted to drive a lorry, he quit because he was hearing voices inside his head etc. etc.

Sightings of him had been limited to junior football and a brief spell on trial with Falkirk.

But now he’s re-emerged, visiting Celtic Park for the first time since walking out 30 years ago. Celtic TV have made a documentary about him and now there’s this book which attempts to set the record straight.

All of it is part of an attempt to combat chronic alcoholism which has affected him for the best part of 25 years.

The book has a slightly unusual format in that Connelly’s is not the only voice heard in the narrative. There are chapters from David Hay and David Cattenach (who were both in the reserves with Connelly), Billy McNeill and Connelly’s second wife and son.

By and large the football people stick to football stories and his family sticks to the home aspects of his life, which doesn’t appear to be that happy. Both his wife and his son profess great love for him but neither shirks from giving him both barrels over his alcohol addiction and how it has blighted their lives.

His wife’s description of how she found out he had been a footballer is comical. When they were going out he would take her for a drink and inevitably he would be verbally abused by complete strangers for wasting his talent. Nice when you’re trying to impress someone on a date.

The early chapters are a typical story of a young talented footballer spotted playing for his local team by a Celtic scout and finding himself on the groundstaff at Celtic Park, although there is an interesting aside to that tale. Jock Stein had tried to get him for Dunfermline at the same time.

From there it’s progression to reserves and a first team place alongside the Lions, whom he clearly idolised.

Throughout his time at Celtic Park it is apparent that he suffered from an inferiority complex like no other. On the one hand he seems almost to believe that he was unworthy of his success, yet at times he can be quite brazen about his talent, at one point saying that we never saw anything like the best of George Connelly.

However, it is clear that he had trouble with the gregarious nature of the dressing room.

As he begins to get more first team games his life around him starts to dissolve due to a seriously unhappy first marriage the circumstances of which sound pretty grim.

While most people would consider training and playing football every day an escape from any problems they might have, the opposite seems to be the case here. Connelly began to see his football career as a contributory factor in his unhappiness.

He began to disappear, he ran out of training a couple of times (once with the rest of the squad running behind him to find out what was going on) and he walked out on Scotland.

Jock Stein tried to coax him along reassuring him that the club would do anything they could, even arranging for a session with a psychiatrist (quite revolutionary and forward thinking for 1970s West of Scotland, but maybe not the best thing for a naturally shy person).

It was all to no avail.

The transfer of David Hay, his closest friend, after a dispute over wages was the final straw. Connelly had even gone on strike with Hay over their wages. But in 1975, after a long absence, Celtic released him.

Money features heavily in any discussion about players leaving Celtic Park at that time, but Connelly has perhaps provided the ultimate example of how poorly paid the players were. After he quit Celtic he took a job lagging pipes. In his first week he cleared almost double what he was getting with Celtic.

Even after his release from the club there were opportunities. One day he got a knock at the door and an offer of the chance to join Tommy Docherty at Manchester United.You would think that this might offer him a way to escape, leave his wife in Glasgow, start afresh.

Not a bit of it. He said no and closed the door.

The rest of the book is the story of how he met his second wife, slid into alcoholism, lost both his parents and a sister and a brother in alcohol-related deaths and basically lost contact with the rest of his family due to that (he has a pretty heavy go at them). He took up part time taxi driving.

This is not book with a clear-cut happy ending. His wife and son make clear this book is part of an on-going process to fight his addiction.

The stories of George Connelly the footballer are fantastic, his accounts of some games are truly fascinating, David Hay in particular has some great stuff here.

The story of what happened after that time is a grim tale but one which is definitely worth reading.

AB MURDOCH