For more years than we care to remember, second-hand book shops up and down this land have proven to be an irresistible lure for BTLM. We’re always up for a furtive rummage around for old football book bargains and, over the years, we’ve duly acquired a sizeable collection of the classic, the mundane, the obscure and the just plain weird.
We thought we would revisit and review some of our collection here on BTLM, curious as we were to see whether such books offer much to the contemporary reader when read out of their original context. We’ll start this series with a 1970 autobiography by Lisbon Lion and Celtic legend, Bobby Murdoch.
All The Way with Celtic by Bobby Murdoch
(originally published by Souvenir Press in 1970) 128 pages with 12 pages of photos.
Few players epitomised the dyed-in-the-wool Celtic fan turned player better than Bobby Murdoch. From an early age he knew that Celtic was the only club he wanted to play for and was willing to turn down better terms at Motherwell in order to sign for his boyhood club on a part-time basis. This was back in a time when it was not necessarily the obvious move you might have thought – Celtic was very much a second-rate club in the late 50s and early 60s.
Murdoch’s early Celtic career soon stagnated and his talent only really flowered when Jock Stein arrived as manager in 1965. Stein immediately appreciated his ability and cleverly moved him deeper from inside-forward to wing-half reckoning this would take better advantage of his excellent passing range and vision, while still allowing him scope to make late runs into scoring positions.
Murdoch went on to become a key player in Celtic’s dominant side of the late 1960s and was instrumental in the 1967 European Cup win over Inter. He played for Celtic until 1973 and enjoyed a career swan song at Middlesbrough, helping them win promotion to the First Division. Bobby Murdoch died in 2001 at the young age of 56, the first of the Lisbon Lions to pass away.
Murdoch talks warmly about his early career as a metal worker by day and Celtic trainee by night in the years before he turned full-time professional in 1961. Throughout the book his love of the club and his slight incredulity that he gets to wear its famous jersey seeps through, sometimes inadvertently. That’s not to say that he was blind to problems there: Murdoch talks candidly about the lack of drive and direction at Celtic in his early years and how he agonised for long periods about seeking a move to realise his potential elsewhere.
Stein’s arrival turned his career round and despite hinting at occasional disagreements, Murdoch’s deep love and respect for his manager is apparent here. The book drifts somewhat into a rather too rapid canter through the parallel rise of player and club into major forces of the European game. In what must have been an amazing time to be a Celtic player, this part of the book reads as a somewhat perfunctory recitation of results and trophies, broken up with little in terms of interesting anecdote. Teammates and opponents alike are offered up as two-dimensional entities with little colour to embellish their characters.
It’s a book lacking in any noticeable vitriol or score-settling, which in part can perhaps be explained by the nature of the man himself. Murdoch comes across as a simple, down to earth family man who, despite his huge success in the game, seemed to be still struggling at the age of 26 to reconcile himself with the extraordinary career that was going on around him. He’s certainly happier and on surer ground when talking about matters closer to home like the sectarianism that dominated Glaswegian football. He makes clear his dislike of it and because of the poisonous tension and bitterness he believed split Glasgow as a whole, Murdoch writes of how, if he were not playing, he would prefer to be at home with his family rather than ever watching an Old Firm match. He ponders the number of young kids he sees every week at Parkhead and wonders if they would be better served out playing the game, rather than watching, at that age, We wonder what he would say have to say about today’s Playstation generation.
The reader gets a decent insight into how fragile the careers of even fine footballers like Murdoch can be in an age that afforded players little of the protection that is taken for granted today. Despite his importance to Celtic, Murdoch seems full of uncertainties and insecurities about his career; whether his ongoing battle to keep his weight down or the knee injury that blighted him for years. It’s a common theme for players from that era for whom an uncertain post-football life was looming menacingly into view.
There are some curiously mundane sections: his fairly lengthy diatribe about the laws of the game that permits clubs to legally set their pitch dimensions to considerably different sizes seems all filler, no thriller for a man who, after all, experienced first-hand the ‘Battle of the River Plate’ against Racing Club. That event should have been one of the most interesting of his career to retell, but instead little in the way of information or insight not already in the public domain is offered up here.
Bobby Murdoch was, in BTLM’s opinion, Celtic’s most important player in their late-60s heyday and his career is one that every modern football fan should know about. If you are interested in buying this book, the least expensive second-hand copy we found online was available for £22. Perhaps at this sort of price, All The Way With Celtic won’t offer enough of interest to people beyond the most committed of Celtic supporters however.