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PersonalFullname: Brian John McClair
aka: Brian McClair, "Choccy"
Born: 8 December 1963
Birthplace: Airdrie, Scotland
Signed: 1 July 1983
Left: 30 July 1987
Position: Striker, Centre Forward
First game: Partick Thistle Glasgow Cup away 2-0 9 August 1983
Last game: Hearts league away 0-1 9 May 1987
First goal: Partick Thistle Glasgow Cup away 2-0 9 August 1983
Last goal: Falkirk league home 1-2 2 May 1987
International Caps 30
International Goals 2
Brian McClair first sprang to prominence with Motherwell in the January of 1983 with three goals and two goals against Rangers and Celtic, respectively, within the space of twelve days. He scored the winning goal in 'Well's shock 2-1 against Celtic on January 15th courtesy of a horrendous goalkeeping error by Pat Bonner, and so the young McClair had made his name.
The Airdrie-born forward was signed for a bargain £75,000 by Billy McNeil in June 1983 from Motherwell as the Bhoys searched for a replacement for Arsenal-bound Charlie Nicholas and George McCluskey who had signed for Leeds United. However, by the time McClair played his first game for the Hoops McNeill had departed the club and it would be new boss Davie Hay who would benefit from this astute piece of transfer business. McClair had been a highly sought-after schoolboy footballer who had a brief spell at Aston Villa before returning to Scotland in August 1981 to sign for Motherwell and begin a computer maths degree at Glasgow University. It was still a surprise when he joined up at Parkhead with many Celtic fans believing the signing of this mostly unproven player as typical of the club’s attempts to replace big money departures with players of significantly less value and quality.
McClair made an impressive debut against Partick Thistle at Firhill in the Glasgow Cup on August 9th, scoring in Celtic's 2-0 win. Celtic signed Jim Melrose from Coventry City a few days later and Brian found himself third in line behind Melrose and Frank McGarvey for the two strikers roles. McClair was mainly on the bench until September 24th when he scored four goals against Dundee at Dens Park with a wonder performance in Celtic's 6-2 win. Four days later he was sensationally dropped by Davie Hay for the uefa cup second leg against Aarhuus in Denmark. Hay received scathing criticism in the press and from the Celtic fans despite Celtic's fine 4-1 win against the Danes although after a couple of indifferent results he was recalled and never looked back.
Although Celtic won no trophies in 1983/84 Brian had become a first team regular, scoring 32 goals on the process. Highlights that season were a magnificent solo goal in the 5-0 win over Sporting Lisbon and a splendid effort against Rangers in the League Cup final despite Celtic's 3-2 defeat.
He started the following season well and scored a potential goal of the season on August 18th 1984 against Dundee United at Parkhead when he ran from inside his own half and fired a great shot past Billy Thomson in the United goal, however he did not endear himself to the supporters after publicly stating that he wished to move to England in the near future. In October Celtic signed Mo Johnston for a record Scottish fee of £400,000 and with Alan McInally also arriving from Ayr United, competition for places in attack became fierce. In the Autumn of 1984 Brian turned out regularly in the unusual number 4 shorts as an attacking midfielder to devastating effect, scoring a marvellous hat trick at Tynecastle in a 5-1 thrashing on November 17th. He fluctuated between midfield and attack for the rest of the season but was on the bench for the 1985 Scottish Cup final against Dundee United, Hay preferring the striking partnership of Johnston and McGarvey. With Celtic 1-0 down late in the game he was thrown on in place of the ineffective Tommy Burns and with Roy Aitken pushed into midfield Celtic roared back to sensationally win 2-1 and so Brian had his first winners medal.
With McGarvey's departure in the summer of 1985, McClair and Johnston became Celtic's regular strikers. Despite both having a wonderful scoring record they could never be described as a true partnership with both having a mutual dislike of each other, Johnston loving the bright lights with McClair being very much a home bird. The 1985/86 was a most disappointing season and Brian lost his place after Mark McGhee joined Celts from Hamburg in November but after a series of poor results in the winter period he was reinstated to the attack. He was again Celtic's top goalscorer, scoring a magnificent header on New Years Day 1986 in the 2-0 Parkhead win over Rangers.
Celtic came on with a late run in the league in the Spring of 1986, with Brian very much to the fore, and they dramatically clinched the title at Love Street on the last day of the season with McClair and Johnston both scoring twice in the memorable 5-0 win. During this period Johnston had become the darling of the Celtic supporters and despite consistently scoring more goals than his partner, the Parkhead fans never had that same special relationship with McClair.
Brian surpassed any previous achievements by scoring 35 times in the 1986/87 although Celtic again finished without a trophy and Hay was sacked for the this failure. On October 26th, against Rangers, McClair scored one of the best goals ever seen at Hampden when he finished off a flowing passing move with a rising 25 yard shot into the top corner, Celtic again losing 2-1. Both Johnston and McClair's contracts were up in the summer of 1987 with both being sought by the main clubs in Europe and Celtic made public efforts to retain Johnston which Brian felt was at the expense of his contract talks. Billy McNeill had taken over and immediately sought to keep him but McClair signed for Manchester United, angering McNeill who felt that McClair had not done the decent thing by keeping Celtic informed. Celtic wanted a £2 million fee but a tribunal valued him at £850,000 leaving both McNeill and the Celtic supporters livid at his departure and the injustice of the fee.
Although he left on a sour note Brian McClair was a good servant to Celtic, finishing top scorer in each of the four seasons he was at Parkhead. Despite often having poor control he was devastating at finding space in the penalty area and was a natural finisher with both feet and a great header of the ball. He was an intelligent player who had a great talent for making runs off the ball and creating space for his team mates. He had pace over a short distance and plenty stamina to last a full game. He had a cool head and showed remarkable restraint against Rangers on April 4th 1987 by coolly firing two penalty kicks past Chris Woods within ten minutes, especially the second after a deranged Rangers fan had ran onto the field of play and tried to attack him.
McClair would stay 12 years at Manchester United and in his first season at Old Trafford became the first United player since George Best to score 20 league goals. He would play a typically quiet but effective role in helping Alex Ferguson build a new and hugely successful dynasty with the Red Devils.
After spells coaching at Motherwell and Blackburn Brian McClair is (at time of writing) head of the youth set-up at Manchester United.
|Club||From||To||Fee||League||Scottish Cup||League cup||Other|
|Motherwell||30/06/1998||17/12/1998||Free||8 (3)||0||0 (0)||0||2 (0)||0||0 (0)||0|
|Man Utd||30/07/1987||31/05/1998||£ 850,000||296 (59)||88||40 (7)||15||44 (1)||19||23 (8)||7|
|Celtic||01/07/1983||30/07/1987||£ 100,000||129 (16)||99||14 (4)||11||19 (1)||9||13 (2)||3|
|Motherwell||01/08/1981||01/07/1983||Free||33 (7)||15||2 (0)||1||9 (1)||4||0 (0)||0|
|Aston Villa||01/08/1980||01/08/1981||Junior||No appearance data available|
|Totals||£950,000||466 (85)||202||56 (11)||27||74 (3)||32||36 (10)||10|
| ||goals / game||0.36||0.4||0.41||0.21|
Honours with CelticScottish Premier Division
- Scottish PFA Players' Player of the Year 1987
- Scottish Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year 1987
The Bhoy in the Picture - Brian McClairWritten by St Anthony
13 December 2010
In January 1983 Brian McClair was a Motherwell player when he exploded on to the Scottish football scene. On January 3rd he smashed in a hat trick against Rangers in Well’s 3-0 win and 12 days later he scored twice against Celtic when Motherwell put Celtic to the sword by two goals to one.
McClair’s winning goal was courtesy of a terrible last minute blunder by Celtic ‘keeper Pat Bonner and thus began a poor run of form which ultimately cost Celtic the league title by the narrowest of margins to Dundee United in May 1983. Upon signing for Celtic in the summer of that year, Brian was asked if he regretted scoring those goals to which he replied that he wasn’t, as he wanted to show Celtic that he was good enough to play for them and thus his plan had worked despite his part in Celtic’s title failure.
Billy McNeill signed Brian as a replacement for the departing strikers Charlie Nicholas and George McCluskey but he himself was to depart to Manchester City a matter of days later. Davie Hay inherited Brian’s talents and despite signing high profile strikers in the coming years such as Jim Melrose, Alan McInally, Mo Johnston and Mark McGhee, Brian was to finish as Celtic’s top scorer in all of his four seasons at Parkhead.
He made in inauspicious start to his Celtic career but came to the fore at Dens Park in September 1983 when he fired in four goals in Celtic’s 6-2 on his full debut. Astonishingly, Hay dropped him for a UEFA cup game in Aarhus four days later, preferring the more experienced but less talented Melrose. However Brian’s eye for goal ensured that he was to be a regular starter from then onwards.
When Mo Johnston arrived in 1984 Brian was able to adapt to playing as an attacking midfielder with great success to accommodate both Johnston and McGarvey in the striking roles. In November of that year he fired in a perfect hat trick at Tynecastle from a central midfield position in an excellent 5-1 win and it seemed that every time Celtic put a cross into the box that day that Brian either volleyed or headed it home.
On New Years day 1985 Celtic were in deep trouble at Ibrox at half time, lucky to be only 1-0 down. In the next 45 minutes they blew Rangers away and won more convincingly than the 2-1 score suggests and the winning goal was typical McClair with him timing his run perfectly from midfield to score from a cross ball.
He had an excellent record against Rangers and also scored on New Years day 1986, a cracker of a header from a superb Paul McStay run and cross, on the day when the Jungle taunted Ally McCoist mercilessly for his missed chances (Ally for Scotland ! Ally for Scotland !) although it’s fair to say that ‘Super Sally’ gained a fair modicum of revenge in the following 12 years.
He had a cool head in front of goal and was an excellent finisher. It’s my own viewpoint that, with the exception of the incomparable Henrik Larsson, McClair was the most natural goalscorer I have ever witnessed in the hoops. For a small man (at 5 foot 9 inches) his timing in the air was exceptional, he could score easily with either foot and like all good strikers he had a powerful shot when required. However he was not perfect and on the debit side his control often left a lot to be desired and his crossing could be wayward but there was no one better at timing his runs in the area and finishing inside the box. He had a totally natural talent of scoring goals.
McClair formed a fruitful but rather strange striking partnership with Mo Johnston. Although their scoring records were most impressive it was clear that both men disliked each other and there was clearly no warmth between them in the way Celtic partnerships had previously enjoyed, such as Dalglish/Deans and McGarvey/Nicholas. Johnston, with his dyed blonde hair, flash car, white tracksuit clothing and partying life style was in stark contrast to McClair, the married family man who liked nothing better than staying home listening to his huge record collection. On the terraces you could almost sense their dislike of each other.
Brian was responsible for some of the most spectacular Celtic goals of the 1980’s. Think of the goal he scored at Parkhead against Sporting Lisbon in 1983 when he ran from distance onto a Tommy Burns’ pass to score; the fantastic first time half volley at Hampden from 25 yards against Rangers in 1986 which flew in the top corner; the brilliant individual run and finish against Dundee United at Parkhead in August 1984 after he had ran 60 yards with the ball from his own half; the sliding execution from a perfect Davie Provan cross in the ill fated match against Rapid Vienna in 1984.
In April 1987 he rattled in two penalties past Rangers goalkeeper Chris Woods for a memorable Celtic 3-1 win (younger readers may actually be surprised to know that Celtic were once given penalties against Rangers in days gone by). Before the second penalty an intoxicated Rangers fan ran on to remonstrate with Brian before being ‘huckled’ by Strathclyde’s finest but this didn’t stop him from lashing in the penalty. When asked afterwards what the hooligan has said to him, Brian replied that he didn’t know as ‘He does not speak my language.’
In the spring of 1987 both McClair and Mo Johnston’s contracts were up for renewal which was not exactly great planning from the Celtic management. Celtic poured most of their effort and resources into trying to appease Johnston much to the frustration of many of us who regarded McClair as the focal point of the Celtic attack. Davie Hay was sensationally sacked in late May and Brian had enjoyed a close personal relationship with Hay which went back to their Motherwell days. It’s felt that these were the main reasons for his ultimate departure.
Despite Billy McNeill returning as Celtic manager Brian opted to leave for Alex Ferguson’s new Manchester United set up. Freedom of contract had now kicked in and the transfer fee was to be decided by a cross border tribunal with Celtic looking for his market value of £2M and United offering a ‘derisory’ £600,000. The eventual fee was decided as £850,000 with Celtic feeling rather swindled by the outcome.
It’s my opinion that only three Celtic players have ever left the club to truly better themselves in a footballing sense. One is McClair and the other two are Henrik Larsson and Kenny Dalglish. Had he chosen to decline the overtures from Old Trafford as Jock Stein and Larsson have done in differing eras then there is no doubt that Brian McClair would have gone on to become an absolute Celtic legend.
Brian also had a quirky sense of humour. When answering the focus questions (see pictures) he answered the following:
Which person in the world would you most like to meet ? – Idi Amin, former Ugandan President (!!!)
Team supported as a boy ? – The Lichenstein national side.
What would you do if someone gave you £50,000 ? – Buy 4,000 compact discs.
What would you do if you were invisible for a day ? – Raid the nearest record shop.
If you could be a fly on the wall where would you most like to be ? Inside 10 Downing Street during a cabinet meeting.
Do you have any recurring dreams ? Yes, being shot.
Brian McClair could certainly never be described as conformist.
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