I recently read 'Hoops, Stars & Stripes' by Paul John Dykes, the author of The Quality Street Gang (2013) and Celtic’s Smiler: The Neilly Mochan Story (2015).
It’s a fabulous book about former Celtic hero Andy Lynch who claims his football journey began near the end of the 1965 Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park when from a corner from Charlie Gallagher the iconic Billy McNeil hovered and darkened the skyline with a majestic leap high above the Dunfermline back row and sent a deft flick into the path of Andy Lynch’s weaker right foot. As Lynch stretched desperately McNeill had started celebrating one of the most important goals in the club’s history.
Lynch’s life with Celtic was all a surreal dream - From Gallagher‘s corner to McNeill‘s head, to his fantasy moment at Hampden Park. It had been a long eight years of hunger and angst for the euphoric Celtic support and typically the contingent of 110,000 fans exploded into joyful intemperance. Celtic held on to win 3-2 and the eagle-eyed fans with an eye for Celtic history will no doubt berate me for getting the facts all muddled up. In reality, Andy Lynch was a 14-year-old ball boy at Hampden Park that day and it was a mere 9 years before he could proclaim himself as a teammate of the illustrious Billy McNeill – One of the greatest football captains in football history.
Football aficionados will protest that this is untrue and they’d be absolutely right. Lynch was too young to be on the field of play and the scenario is a figment of his imagination – one played out by thousands of school boys every day – To score the winner in a cup final and wheel away to lap up the adoration of the faithful at a packed to capacity football arena.
Lynch is proud that he was there to witness an important moment in Celtic history as the dark storm clouds disappeared from the horizon and heralded a bright new era for the Bhoys. Lynch recalls the roars of elation and relief as Celtic lifted a trophy after 8 barren years. It had been tough, gruelling, disheartening, dark and the success lifted the collective gloom which had enveloped the Celtic brigade. Lynch recalls that historic moment: “I could see the beads of sweat on their brows, and the steam from their exhausted heads. And I couldn’t hide my unbridled elation.”
Celtic had won their first trophy under a man who Lynch would later call “Boss.” Jock Stein, Scotland’s greatest ever manager, had started his transformation of Celtic and Scottish football would never be the same again.
As a youngster, Lynch had got involved at the national stadium through a childhood friend, Sandy West, who lived around the corner from his family in Cardonald in Glasgow’s South Side. His dad was a Queen’s Park Director and he was asked to help out on ball-boy duty.
He recalls: “The downside was that I had to attend Queen’s Park home games, but the cup finals and international matches more than made up for that. By that age, I was already football-daft and it meant that I could get close to the action and to some of my heroes.
“The Ground Secretary, James Gillies, would write “to request my attendance” for each match and I recall a Scotland international where I was able to observe first-hand the talents of Denis Law, Dave McKay, Ian St John and other stars of the time.
“They were practising in one of the vast areas behind Hampden’s goals and I was transfixed by their immense ability as they volleyed the ball at pace to one another. The ball never hit the ground as they worked it around the group until one of them shouted and they switched direction and the foot they were using.
“The sequence lasted around ten minutes and I was amazed at their skill. They seemed superhuman and it was an inspiring experience. I decided that I would train and practice as much as I possibly could because I wanted to be as good as them. I wanted to play at Hampden Park.”
Although Lynch had had burning ambitions to play for Celtic, geography meant that his first football wage would not be drawn from Celtic Park but from Ibrox Stadium, the home of his team’s fiercest rivals. On match-days, the Rangers hoards would descend upon the South-Side of Glasgow in their tens-of-thousands and (as economic conditions improved) hundreds of cars would be parked on the streets surrounding the family home. Rather than see this as a hindrance, Lynch established a regular patch and politely asked the arriving motorists, “Can I watch your car, mister?” Anyone who has driven to a football game in Glasgow will be familiar with this ritual. A young ragamuffin will look after your motor while you enjoy the match and, at time up, your aspiring security guard will be rewarded with a few bob as a gesture of thanks. Lynch’s entrepreneurial flair was evident even in his earliest years, as he secured business from around 20 vehicle owners for less than two hours of work.
Lynch recollects his first impressions of Ibrox: “The first thing that hit me when I entered the vast expanses of Ibrox was the incredible atmosphere. The noise and thrilling excitement sent a shiver down my spine. I was immediately hooked on that feeling and, once I had tasted it, I wanted more. I was also engrossed as I watched all these giants playing at Ibrox. I used to stand at the Copeland Road end of the ground and studied the players’ movement and positioning and was learning all the time.
“The skill of one player, in particular, left me mesmerised and it didn’t matter to me that he wore the blue of Rangers. His name? Jim Baxter. His silky play, perfect passing and gliding movement as he effortlessly manoeuvred his lithe frame beyond the opposition left me enthralled. I also noticed that he was all left-footed, just like yours truly. Many years later I would have the pleasure of making Jim’s acquaintance on more than one occasion but it wasn’t on the field of play.”
As one of the hottest young prospects in Scottish football Lynch earned a move to Parkhead in 1973 after Jock Stein shelled out £35,000 following a promising 4-year stint at Hearts which resulted in 21 goals from the left side of midfield. The eagle-eyed Tommy Docherty had also capped Lynch at under 23 level. Due to a pelvic injury which affected his mobility Stein played Lynch at left back as he went on to win three Scottish titles and two Scottish cups, scoring the winner and only goal of the 1977 Scottish Cup final against Glasgow rivals Rangers. He also captained Celtic until Danny McGrain took over the role long term.
Lynch speaks candidly about life after football? “I’ll tell you all about that as well. Is there such a thing as life after wearing the green-and-white hoops of Celtic? The club, its colours, the traditions, those unbelievable memories, the even more incredible supporters: those things have never left me, regardless of where I have ventured. I have been approached by Celtic fans all over the world from Kearney to Kilkenny and am always remembered for being ‘Andy Lynch of Celtic’. I’m more than happy with that. I have been asked countless times about scoring the winner against Rangers in a Scottish Cup.”
In 'Hoops, Stars & Stripes' Lynch speaks of a remarkable journey that will span from Stenhousemuir to San Francisco, from Queen’s Park to Queensland, and the maniacal atmosphere and frenzied tempo of a Glasgow derby. Lynch covers expansive stretches of open road, full of wonderment while cruising along on auto-pilot with not a care in the world. The reader will be taken off the beaten track on a bumpy ride over treacherous and winding paths and uneven surfaces, where anxiety lies before every bend.
Lynch shares the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, monumental success and debilitating disappointment as the reader is taken on a guided tour of all the highways and byways of Scottish football throughout the late 60s to the early 80s.
There’s the great men that Lynch knew and admired, the talents wasted, the joys and pitfalls of life as a professional footballer, and how to come back stronger having sunk to those depths of despair.
Working with Dykes to write his life story made Lynch appreciate a lot of things that he wouldn’t have otherwise contemplated: “My Mum and Dad gave me love and encouragement throughout their lives, and were always there for me and my brothers.
“Both of my parents died from cancer, and I will be donating a percentage of any earnings made from this book to the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow.”
He speaks of the great coaches who undoubtedly helped him to believe in himself and strive to get better all the time - Harry Davis at Queen’s Park, Jock Wallace at Hearts, and the great Jock Stein and Billy McNeill at Celtic.
Just like countless others Lynch’s story tells a tale of how Celtic Football Club, which began life as a social institution to support starving and homeless street children played a huge part in the lives of so many and ultimately has led to what we have today – a global family and phenomenon which has given ordinary people extraordinary experiences and emotions for almost 130 years. As Lynch concludes: “It is a family of millions, and one that I am eternally proud to have represented.”
By Emdad Rahman.