Fans Favourite

Our next fans favourite is Henrik Larsson written by Joseph Montgomery in the week Henrik retires from football.

Never before has a foreign import ever had as much effect at a club or endeared himself to a set of fans as Henrik Larsson did at Celtic, the only non- Scottish player to be voted into the Teams Greatest Ever 11 and arguably the best player ever to wear the Hoops.

When Wim Jansen forked out £650,00 to sign an out of favour player from Dutch side Feyenoord in July of 1997, many of us were left wondering how this signing was going to help us prevent Rangers doing 10 in a row, but little did we know that 10 months later that this man, Henrik Larsson would score the opening goal against St Johnstone which helped clinch the clubs first league title for 10 years.

They say first impressions are everything, but never has a first impression been turned round so drastically as the first impression Henrik left on me, as on his debut Henrik gave the ball away to Chic Charnley who hammered the ball home to give Celtic the worst possible start to the season with a defeat away to Hibs. Then just to give me an even better opinion of him he scores an own goal in a European game against FC Tirol and at this stage I was wondering was this man really good enough for the Hoops. But things turned round for Henrik as he found the net for the first time for Celtic with a diving header against St Johnstone in the league, and we were now starting to see that this man could play a bit. Henrik’s first honour for the club ironically came at Ibrox when he scored the second goal in 3-0 win against Dundee Utd which seen us clinch the League Cup, a day I remember well as it was my first time seeing Celtic win a trophy and I can still remember celebrating this success at the Copeland Road End.

Saturday 9th of May 1998 will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life and I am sure it is a day that every Celtic fan will forever hold in their memory banks as it was the day we won the league and stopped 10 in a row. A good start was needed on this nervous occasion and what a start we were treated to as within 2 minutes Henrik had given us the lead, a goal which would see him finish as the clubs top scorer. I can remember the explosion of noise as he cut inside the St Johnstone full back and curled the ball home, showing that he really was a player we could rely on on the big occasions as this goal helped us to a 2-0 win which clinched the title and gave Henrik his first of 4 SPL winners medals.

Season 1999-00 was to prove a fruitless year for Celtic, but this was the season in which Henrik became mine and many other fans idol mainly for his goal scoring exploits but also for his clever play and work for the team. His double against Rangers in the 5-1 demolition on the 21s November 1998 was his first goals against Rangers, and I can still remember him wheeling away after nut megging Colin Hendry before dinking the ball home to make it 4-1. This was probably the most memorable of Henrik’s 38 goals this season and it was only a sign of things to come.

Henrik started the 1999-00 season in devastating form forming a formidable partnership with Mark Viduka and in the opening 9 games he notched up 8 goals, but then disaster struck. I can still remember the sick feeling I felt travelling home from Cushendall after watching Celtic on TV being beaten 2-0 by Lyon in a Uefa Cup match, but this feeling was not just down to the poor result, but down mainly to the horrendous leg break which Henrik sustained that night. The fact he broke his leg while chasing back to help his team epitomised what Henrik was about, but as he was carried off the Stade Gerland pitch that night all I could think of was that we had seen the last of this great player, but I was wrong as Henrik made a return to action as a substitute in the final game of the season against Dundee Utd and I can still remember the roar that went up when he came out to warm up minutes before he took to the field again as every single person inside Celtic Park realised that this was the return of a special player.

Ironically the first Celtic opponents of season 2000-01 was again to be Dundee United and this seen Henrik’s first competitive start for almost a year and it didn’t take him long to get back amongst the goals as he struck the opener in a 2-1 victory which also saw him link up with new strike partner Chris Sutton. This set the tone for the season for Henrik as went on the goal trail bagging 53 goals in all competitions. Henrik’s first goals back at Celtic Park came against Kilmarnock as he bagged both goals in a 2-1 victory and I can still remember how we sang his name from Glasgow to Stranraer in recognition of his comeback and in celebration of his two goals. Arguably Henrik’s greatest goal for Celtic came in the 6-2 demolition of Them at the end of August 2000 and in my eyes this classy goal which seen him shrug off Bert Konterman before coolly chipping the ball over Stefan Klos showed us all that Henrik was back and also showed us just how great a player we had.

The 18th of March 2001 saw us clinch the first leg of a domestic treble as we claimed the CIS Cup with a 3-0 victory over Kilmarnock, and this final will forever live in my memory as the Henrik Larsson show as he scored all three goals as he almost single handedly destroyed Kilmarnock. The SPL title soon followed and then back at Hampden in May Henrik again ran riot scoring two goals to help us see off Hibs and win the Scottish Cup to clinch a domestic treble. These two goals seen Henrik take his final total for the season to 53 a feat which may never be repeated for Celtic. The European Golden Boot was added to the list of honours Henrik won this season thanks to his 39 league goals.

This season added to the love myself and all Celtic fans had for Henrik as not only did he score many great and important goals for the club, he also worked his socks off for the club and his work ethic along with his undoubted qualities in front of goal made him a joy to watch. Another League medal was to follow for Henrik in season 01-02 and he did not disappoint on the goal front either bagging another 35 goals as he again treated us to great striking play.

Season 2002-03 must have been the most heartbreaking season in memory, as not only did we lose the league on goals scored, but we also lost out in the CIS Cup and Uefa Cup Final in Seville. This season was also a memorable one for Henrik as he scored many goals to help the side get to the Uefa Cup Final, most memorably his late winner in Boavista which ranks up there as probably his most important goal in the Hoops. For Henrik then to go on and score two of the best headed goals ever seen in a European Final only to end up on the losing side hurt a lot, but these two goals will forever live in my memory as this was the night when Henrik again showed the world how good he was and showed us fans how lucky we were to have him.

The next season was Henrik’s last in the Hoops, but he did not disappoint as he again scored goals for fun which helped us regain our SPL crown and complete a domestic double winning the Scottish Cup. What an emotional day it was on 16th May 2004 as Henrik played his last League game at Celtic Park and the standing ovation which lasted almost 5 minutes when he was replaced late on after scoring two goals showed how much this man meant to each and every one of us. His interview after the game showed us all how much the club meant to him and this gave me even more respect for the man whom made going and watching Celtic a joy.

Henrik in my eyes will never be matched again at Celtic Park for his goalscoring and all round quality as a footballer. His attitude after a terrible injury and his loyalty to Celtic when he was there was second to none and this as much as anything endeared myself and many others. Definitely the one of the greatest players ever to wear the famous Hoops.

A few quotes to leave you with:

‘It is a nice club. I heard a lot of good things about the club and also the trainer [Wim Jansen]. That’s why I chose Celtic. I think it is a very good move for me. I’ve been long enough in Holland, so I had to try something new. Celtic looks like a very good club, so I think it is going to do good for my development as a player and as a human being. I know about the rivalry between the two clubs; it is known worldwide. I will play my best here and I hope the team will play very good, then we have a chance to prevent them [winning 10 titles in a row].’
Henrik Larsson in his first interview after signing for Celtic

“This is the club for me. This is where I made myself as a player, this is where everybody got to know me and this is the club that I will be eternally grateful to for giving me that opportunity when maybe other clubs didn’t believe in me. This is where I got back into the Swedish national team an went on to play in European Championships and World Cups for Sweden. I couldn’t have done that without Celtic.”
Henrik Larsson On Celtic in the Herald newspaper ( 25th May 2008)

'They should learn a lesson. Never talk untill the game is finished.'
Larsson on Blackburn after the second leg, 2003. Celtic won 2-0

"People always talk about Ronaldinho, and everything but I didn't see him today - I saw Henrik Larsson. Two times he came on - he changed the game, that is what killed the game - sometimes you talk about Ronaldinho and Eto'o and people like that, you need to talk about the proper footballer who made the difference and that was Henrik Larsson tonight "
Thierry Henry pays tribute to Larsson.

Henrik Larsson Gallery

A special thanks to Joseph.

Our very first fans favourite is Paul McStay written by Eugene Maxwell.

Home or away you will always hear Celtic fans of all ages sing about there hero’s and idols, songs to the tune of the Holy Goalie, Henrik Larsson, Jimmy Johnstone or Aiden McGeady. There is one song that sums up are all time greatest heroes and that is in the words of Willie Maley…. ‘’and they gave us James McGrory and Paul McStay, they gave us Johnstone, Tully, Murdoch, Auld and Hay. It is with great pride that I take from this song as it mentions my idol and an idol to thousands of other Celtic fans with the name of Paul McStay.

A one club man who played for Celtic on 678 times scoring 72 goals from midfield between 1981-1997. Like many of us, Paul lived the dream as first and foremost a Celtic fan dreaming of the day he would play for Celtic. Being from a die-hard Celtic family were his uncles Jimmy and Willie both played for Celtic along with current reserve team manager Willie they all took pride in wearing the famous green and white hoops.

As a seventeen year old, Paul’s 1st major honour was to captain Scotland to an U-18 European Championship, still to this day the only major trophy won by the SFA. However it was within a Celtic top that Paul entered the hearts of every Celtic fan with his performances in the early 80’s winning 3 league titles, 3 Scottish cups and the league cup once.

It wasn’t until 1990 when Paul got appointed Celtic captain that I also become the fan who went on to idolise him to this very-day. It was a time in which Rangers were dominating in Scotland, but that still didn’t distract me from dreaming of the chance to go to my 1st Celtic game with my dad to see Paul in the hoops against Rangers which we lost 2-0, but for me it wasn’t about the result, it was seeing my idol play live something I had never done before and leave the ground in complete awe of an amazing talent.

Having got my 1st Celtic top at 5yrs old, my mum didn’t have to ask me what name and number to put on the back of it, as even at that age it was clear that the only player I talked about or dreamt of becoming was that of Paul McStay. Everyday at school when we were allowed to play football, all the boys in my class would try to repeat the tricks that McStay done are try and attempt to copy the amazing goals that Paul scored on so many occasions. My favourite goal to this day that Paul scored was at Ibrox August 1994 when we beat Rangers 2-0, with McStay scoring from 25yards out, before running to the Celtic fans, dropping to the ground in his knees kissing the Celtic badge that meant more to Paul than a football club.

During my childhood, I got to see the best and worst days in Paul’s career. Having not had a chance to lift a trophy as Celtic captain, McStay had the best opportunity to turn this around in the League Cup final of November 1994 when we played Raith Rovers at Ibrox. The game went to a penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 draw, McStay had the decisive spot-kick but was saved. This proved to be heart-ache for Paul McStay and to also thousands of Celtic fans and especially for me who never dreamt that someone so talented could miss a penalty.

It was after that day I remember asking my dad, ‘when Paul McStay would lift a trophy’, the answer my dad would keep telling me ‘just keep praying at night and it will happen’. Thankfully it wasn’t to be long that the saying ‘keep the faith’ was to come true, as 6months later at Hampden Park, Celtic reached the Scottish cup final against Airdrie and a single goal by big Pierre Van Hooijdonk was to seal a 1-0 win for Celtic and finally give McStay the chance he and the fans had dreamt for lifting aloft a trophy above his head as captain of Celtic.

My fondest memories of this triumph was the boat home to Larne, still to this day I have never seen celebrations like it and was probably the 1st time I had ever seen my dad drunk as well, although I was told to keep that quiet when I got home to my mum. This was the first trophy Celtic had won in 6years and finally began to turn the tide on Rangers who previously had dominated in Scotland.

Still thought the saddest day was still to come in my time idolising Paul McStay when he officially announced his retirement in 1997 due to a persistent ankle injury that had plagued Paul for two years of his career late on. It would be the last time we would have the chance of seeing Paul play, a favourite son of the Celtic family and a player who had carried Celtic throughout the early and mid 90’s to carry them through the hardest time of the club’s history but Paul McStay still managed to come out a winner. Had Paul been able to shake of his ankle injury he probably would have been the captain who would have lifted the League trophy in May 1998 to stop Rangers 10-in-a-row challenge, never the less I had seen Paul lift a trophy before this and that meant more to me than anything in the world.

Looking back over Paul’s career it was amazing how he rejected moves to some of the biggest clubs in European football to help Celtic through its darkest days. The likes of Inter Milan, Juventus, Udinese all wanted Paul to sign and had offered him more money than Celtic could ever have dreamt of offering Paul, but it was something Paul McStay didn’t think about, as Celtic was the only club he had ever supported so why should he leave the club were he was idolised and which he adored. It didn’t mean anything to McStay playing for the best teams in Europe, as long as he had Celtic in his life then this is what made him proud and was something no money could ever replace in his life.

It is no surprise that you will see the name of Paul McStay in the greatest every Celtic team voted on by the fans, alongside greats such as Billy McNeill, Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone and most recently the king of kings Henrik Larsson.

Having had the honour of meeting Paul McStay on various occasions at different dinner dances and had many photos taken alongside the ‘Maestro. A question that I have often found myself asking Paul is regarding the banner that Rangers fans use to unfurl at home and away games which read ‘’ Paul McStay as Captain of Celtic, YOU will NEVER lift a trophy’’, to which McStay without hesitation replied ‘’as a Celtic fan you should never lose the faith in your ability or more important the Celtic football club and what it can achieve’’. It could also be said that the old cliché of ‘’who ever laughs 1st, will last laugh’’ was in Paul’s thoughts as Paul proved to every blue nose what Celtic meant to him and every faithful supporter that he would have never lie down to Rangers.

My best moment being in Paul McStay‘s company was at a Ballymena Shamrock CSC dinner dance, whilst standing at the bar ordering me and my mate a coke, sporting my Celtic top with ‘McStay’ and number ‘8’ on the back, I got a tap on the shoulder and whispered in to my ear ‘Paul you’re an amazing footballer, can I have your autograph?’, when I turned round there was my idol standing with a pen and bit of paper in his hand to which I signed my autograph on it trying my best to copy Paul McStay’s autograph. Throughout the night I was speechless at having my idol ask me for my autograph and even taking time out to spend some time with me.

Its no surprise that whatever Celtic Supporters club is having a dinner dance, the name that every fan wants to see as a guest is the name of Paul McStay, as they know that there are getting a guy who is Mr. Celtic and who the fans can do nothing but love, adore and idolise in everything the man does.

So next time your hear those words of … ‘and they game us James McGrory and Paul McStay’, I hope that the name of Paul McStay will give you all a new meaning and revive any special memories that some of older fans may have in the Ballymena Shamrocks club or memories that some of our new or younger fans may have heard there Dad, uncle or granda once talk about from his goal-scoring debut against Aberdeen or to his testimonial game against Man Utd in 12th December 1996 which Celtic won 3-1 and a crowd of 37,306 gave Paul the perfect send off to a great career in Paradise with his beloved Celtic.

A few quotes to leave you with:

‘Celtic Football Club is the fans, without them there is no club’
Paul McStay

‘ The game was ninety minutes long, but for me the game lasted as long as my five years as captain and six years without a trophy’
Paul McStay (1995 Cup final v Airdrie)

‘ The queue outside the ticket office was unbelievable and was formed hours before the tickets went on sale, the game is a big attraction and the response for tickets proves how much Paul McStay means to the supporters, he is so popular on and off the pitch, Paul is heart and soul a Celtic man’.
Peter McClean (Public Relations Manager)

Paul McStay Gallery

A special thanks to Eugene.

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