summer of 1991 saw the knives finally come out for Billy McNeill.
His last game in charge was Pat Bonner's testimonial gainst the
Republic of Ireland. The game finished 3:2 to Celtic. Gerry Creaney
scored a hat-trick and Paul Elliott made his final appearance
for the club. His last competitive appearance had been against
Dunfermline three weeks earlier but suspension had kept him out
for the remainder of that season.
was the first truly commanding centre half Celtic had had since
McNeill himself, but unlike his manager, Elliott had little idea
of club loyalty. Celtic had bought him when nobody else was interested.
He recovered his fitness, his form and his confidence before promptly
disappearing over Hadrian's Wall. Cheers.
one really curious aspect of his stay in Glasgow was the legal
wrangle he had with the club over finance for a house. Celtic
offered him £150,000 to buy a property. Elliott seemed to
believe that the club had given him the full amount, therefore
he could buy a house for what he wanted and pocket the change.
it ran for months and months before finally being settled in the
May 22nd was the day big Billy was finally shown the door. He
would later state in the Campbell and Woods book "dreams
and Songs to sing" that it was a relief when it was finally
over. Since his return in 1987 Celtic had won one title and two
Scottish Cups as well as appearing in another Scottish Cup final
- losing on penalties - and a League Cup final. But these bare
statistics merely masked the truth: Celtic had fallen behind Rangers
in every department.
turning point in his second spell with Celtic was arguably the
defection of Maurice Johnston in July 1989. McNeill had invested
a lot in that transfer. He had paraded Johnston to the media with
the player bedecked in a Celtic jersey with the clear intention
of sending the message to Ibrox that the club was ready to compete.
McNeill thought he had brought back not only a fans' favourite
but a striker of proven quality. Rangers would once more have
reason to fear Celtic's forward line. McNeill had said it was
a done deal and we had his word. this alone was worth a lot. many
of the players who played under him said that it was the presence
of McNeill, the feeling that they were in the dressing-room with
a somebody, that most impressed them. when he spoke, they listened.
treachery might not have affected the players but it certainly
seemed to have an effect on McNeill. He had been duped. Played
for a sucker in front of the entire football world. The stated
reason for the collapse of the deal to take Johnston to Celtic
was a dispute over £30,000, which itself sent out a message
from the Celtic board to Ibrox - we are living in the Dark Ages,
please feel free to trample all over us.
judgement in the transfer market was never as sure after the Johnston
affair. the man who brought to the club such players as provan,
MacLeod, McClair, Sullivan and Stark, all for transfer fees under
£150,000 was suddenly paying huge amounts of money for the
likes of Martin Hayes. His tactics too had increasingly come under
scrutiny. In his first season Mike Galloway played in eight different
positions. Not surprisingly he took time to settle. The long ball
also became a featured tactic, from a manager who had himself
neutralised this particular threat from other teams quite easily,
most notably in the '88 Cup Final when Mike Conroy was coached