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"The Icicle"


Personal

Fullname: Alexander McNair
aka: Alex McNair, Alec McNair, Eck McNair
Nickname: The Icicle, Eck
Born: 26 December 1883
Died: 18 Nov 1951
Birthplace: Bo'ness
Signed: 2 May 1904
Left: Apr 1925
Position: Right Back/Defence
Debut: Celtic 3-0 Queen's Park, Scottish Cup, 10 Sep 1904
Years with club: 21 years (longest continuous run of any one player)
Internationals: Scotland
International Caps: 15
International Goals: 0

Biog

Alec McNair - Kerrydale Street In the history of Celtic, one of the curious ironies is the large part that has been played by men who were raised as Rangers supporters to have then turned their backs on them to help build our decent club instead. This list includes some of the greatest names to have played for us: Jock Stein, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Paul Lambert for example. The man who can possibly be said to have been one of the first on this list is Alec McNair. Few though have made quite as lasting an impact or played as important a part as Alec McNair.

Alec McNair was "a self-confessed Rangers supporter and thorough light blue" prior to his signing for the club. Celtic managed to nab him from under their noses as the Huns dithered in picking him up. Our gain that few could ever have imagined at the time. McNair's selection clearly illustrated the Willie Maley dictum of "It's not the creed nor his nationality that counts. It's the man himself." Willie Maley in a future book on Celtic's history referenced McNair an example of what he said that the club practise.

Despite his non-Irish/Catholic background, it was never an issue and he was taken to heart by the supporters. In fairness, this was the early days before Rangers trenchant sectarian policies were in full flow under Bill Struth. In those days there were various players who played for both clubs. However, McNair came and stayed with Celtic to our pleasure. He was truly great and very much respected as both a person and as a footballer.

Signed from Stenhousemuir in May 1904 McNair was to begin his remarkable career as a Bhoy in a 3-0 Glasgow Cup victory at Parkhead over Queen's Park on September 10th. He first actually played for Celtic in a trial in May 1903, however it was a year later when he actually signed for the club. It was to be another 21 years and 604 games before McNair would leave the Celts. No player in the history of the club played as many games as Alec McNair, and this figure likely is truly higher as likely doesn't include all the friendlies and extra matches from his time t the club.

There are few players to have ever walked onto a football pitch who were as cool and considered as the man the Hoops faithful christened 'The Icicle' in later years. Played mostly at right-back McNair was a model of consistency and a steadying influence during a a stunning prolonged period of Celtic dominance. He started in that position in a match v Rangers on Feb 1908, and was to be a thorn in their side for the rest of his career.

His excellent judgement coupled with fine ball skills and wonderful athleticism made McNair a formidable opponent for any forward and there were very few occasions when rivals ever got the better of The Icicle. Truth is that there are few reports to ever say if he ever had any poor games!

According to legendary Celtic manager Willie Maley:
"Shaw, McNair and Dodds understood one another so well that they developed the pass-back into a scientific move of which there have been many imitators but none to equal the originators. It was indeed a spectacle to see either McNair or Dodds passing, with unerring accuracy and cheeky coolness, the ball to Shaw two yards away, with the opposing forwards almost on top of them. That was their method of getting out of a corner, which in all probability would otherwise have been fatal." (Weekly News 25 July 1936)

Strangely, his cool demeanour seemed to bring out very differing religious epithets from some. One observer once said he had the "satanic power of being everywhere at once"! Another was the description of his part in "The Holy Trinity" defence of Shaw-McNair-Dodds, the defence being so effective it earned that sacrilegious tag. Must be a firm indicator of his great talent that it brought out the biblical references from some.

McNair's quiet confidence had a steadying effect on his more flamboyant team-mates and off the field the player was a dedicated trainer who possessed phenomenal levels of fitness and stamina. Incredibly such dedication was shown by McNair despite him having to cope with the most tragic of circumstances in his private life. In August 1915 his wife died and the player had to bring up five children by himself while carrying out wartime work on a 12 hour shift, and still play for Celtic.

After the First World War, he returned to his best despite age and wear. In one match he and a colleague (Jimmy McMullen) arrived on the pitch 30 minutes late for the Victory International v Ireland and yet still got a rousing reception. A clear indication of the love the support had for this man.

Capped 15 times for Scotland Alec McNair was 41 when he finally left Celtic and retired from football. This incredible man and footballer played a record 604 times for the Bhoys and scored 11 goals on his way to winning 12 league championships and six Scottish Cups. He wasn't a flamboyant player as can be seen from that he had a modest tally of goals from his lengthy career but each of those goals was likely to mean a lot to him.

Curiously, he was only briefly a captain of the first team. Possibly an indication that it wasn't his character to be hold such a position. He was also said to never use foul language either, and in one game where a small number of Celtic fans (sic!) tried to attack some Dundee players, McNair turned to cover for the players and gave the crowd a verbal (all remarkably said to be without having used any foul language).

On 4th Jan 1921, he was given a grand honour of a tribute match comprising of a "Ranger/Celtic Select XI" v "Scottish League Select". A great fitting tribute to reflect that all of Scottish football acknowledged the part that McNair had played for the game in Scotland. He was that well respected.

His departure was the end of an era, and few other players will have seen as great a change in their playing lives as he saw football rise rapidly in his. After football, he set up a stock brokerage but kept in football by being a referee supervisor for a period.

He sadly passed away in 1951, at the age of 68.

He is Celtic's most faithful servant and a much loved person in the club's folklore.

Playing Career

APPEARANCES
LEAGUE SCOTTISH CUP LEAGUE CUP EUROPE TOTAL
1904-1925 548
56
n/a n/a
(only tours)
604
Goals:
10
1
-
-
11

Major Honours with Celtic

Scottish League Championship (12)
Scottish Cup (6)
Glasgow Cup (9)

Pictures

Links


Quotes

"Alec McNair would have distinguished himself in any position, even in goals, with that calm, cool head and the sharp eyes."
Willie Maley (Celtic manager)

"Brains with a minimum of bash... the greatest back I ever played against!"
Hughie Gallacher (Rangers Player)

"It was a delight to see him wait for his man, pounce just when the moment was right and clear with such crispness and confidence."
Jock Bell (referee)

From Keep the Faith (see link)


[Note: the below article refers to Alec McNair having signed in 1903, but from our checks it seems that it was actually 1904 (he only played a trial in 1903), so our short biog above sticks to that date].

ALEC McNAIR by David Potter

David W Potter reminisces about another Celtic Legend – Alec McNair – who represented Celtic 604 times between 1903 and 1925. McNair was called ‘The Icicle', and was described by Willie Maley as, “The coolest, most intelligent player I have sever seen.” This is the story of a Celtic Legend.

Never have Celtic been better served than they were for the 22 years between 1903 and 1925 by ALEC McNAIR. Alec holds the record of appearances for the club playing a total of 604 times in League and Cup matches and that does not include the Glasgow Cup, the Glasgow Charity Cup and the innumerable friendlies that Celtic played at home and abroad in the glorious Celtic days of the early 20th century.

Alec's record number of appearances is unlikely ever to be broken, for it is hard to imagine anyone playing for so long at one club. He was seldom mentioned in newspaper reports - which is of course a great tribute to a right back - but he does score high in the memoirs of contemporary players and his Manager, Willie Maley, who sums him up as, "The coolest, most intelligent player I have ever seen".

Even the referee, Jock Bell, said that, "It was a delight to see him wait for his man, pounce just when the moment was right and clear with such crispness and confidence".

Yet perhaps curiously for someone who played such a distinguished part in the early years of the club, Eck was neither Irish nor Catholic. That of course only matters to the bigots, but Celtic's deployment of Eck McNair for so long shows two things about Willie Maley - one was that he was no bigot, and the other was that he could judge a football player.

Eck lived in Larbert all his life and travelled every day for his training, except when he was employed in the war years in the Munitions Industry at Bo'ness forging metal for horseshoes. The Great War was a tough time for Eck, for his wife, Mary(nee Niven) died in August 1915 and Eck had a young family to bring up. But in the same way that he would never shirk a tackle on the field, McNair faced that problem with fortitude, determination and perseverance. His family grew up to be a credit for him and his son Jimmy became a professional footballer with Stenhousemuir and Falkirk .

Eck McNair was very much a defensive right back. His colleagues (Willie Orr, Jamie Weir or Joe Dodds) tended to be the attacking Tommy Gemmell type of players and as centre halves often went forward in those days as well, it was vital that there was somebody dependable at the back. This was what McNair could do to perfection.

His mistakes were so rare that they were mentioned as collectors' items: on New Year's Day 1916 for example he fluffed a pass back to give Rangers an undeserved draw. Indeed passing back to Charlie Shaw became Eck's trademark, so that it became a Glasgow cliche to the question, "What will I do?" (about a job, a wife or any other problem). The answer was, "Pass it back to Charlie!"

One occasion long after Alec retired he was playing golf, and took a long time to work out what to do with a ball that had landed in a bunker. As he reflected, someone recognised him and shouted, "There's only one thing to do, Eck! Pass it back to Charlie".

Although he joined the club in 1903, it was not really until 1908 that he settled in as right back. This was because Celtic had the admirable Donnie McLeod for this position, but also because McNair's versatility meant that he could always be deployed as right half, centre half (particularly in 1906-7 when Willie Loney broke his arm) and even left back. Just occasionally he took the field as an inside right, the position that he had played in for Stenhousemuir before he joined Celtic.

But from 1908 until 1923, Celtic's right back was Eck McNair. He won 12 Scottish League medals and Scottish Cup medals in 1907, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1914 and 1923. He won the respect of all who played with him and that included really great players like Jimmy Quinn and Patsy Gallacher. He won 15 caps for Scotland , his most famous game being the 3-1 win over England at Hampden in April 1914 in which Celtic colleague Jimmy McMenemy earned the plaudits, but it was the quiet confidence of McNair which won the day.

Curiously for a man of his temperament, he was only captain of Celtic for a short time, being quite happy to work for the likes of James Hay, James Young and Willie Cringan. He possibly lacked the "devil" necessary for a captain, as he was more of a team man and he preferred to concentrate exclusively on the task in hand.

His last big game was the Scottish Cup Final of 1923 in which Celtic beat Hibs 1-0. It was by all accounts a grim game, but newspapers are full of praise for the quiet veteran, now called "The Icicle" for his coolness and unflappability. He was almost 40 and the Celtic crowd at full time rose to applaud him, knowing that they would seldom see his likes again.

Not least of his achievements was that he was a total gentlemen. He was so good a player that he did not need to foul, and was well regarded and respected by opponents, and that included great left wingers like Alan Morton of Rangers and Alec Troup of Dundee. The friendship of Troup and McNair was deep and owed a great deal to the time in 1920 when Eck saved the life of the diminutive Troup from an angry crowd at Parkhead.

Allowing Troup and other Dundee players to reach the sanctuary of the pavilion, McNair turned on Celtic's so called supporters and gave them a verbal barrage, which was vitriolic but apparently, even in those extreme circumstances, devoid of foul language. For Alec McNair, foul language was as unnecessary as foul play.

After retirement, he was Manager of Dundee from 1925 to 1927, but was not really cut out for the demands of that job and he settled down as a stockbroker in Falkirk , a job for which his temperament was far more suited. But he retained his love and interest in football, being a referee supervisor for a spell, a short time before his death on November 18 1951 at the age of 68. Alec died at 5 Rae Street Stenhousmuir. He is buried in Larbert Cemetery.

1921-01-04: Celtic/Rangers XI v Scottish League



ALEC McNAIR


David W Potter reminisces about another Celtic Legend – Alec McNair – who represented Celtic 604 times between 1903 and 1925. McNair was called ‘The Icicle', and was described by Willie Maley as, “The coolest, most intelligent player I have sever seen.” This is the story of a Celtic Legend.

Never have Celtic been better served than they were for the 22 years between 1903 and 1925 by ALEC McNAIR. Alec holds the record of appearances for the club playing a total of 604 times in League and Cup matches and that does not include the Glasgow Cup, the Glasgow Charity Cup and the innumerable friendlies that Celtic played at home and abroad in the glorious Celtic days of the early 20th century.

Alec's record number of appearances is unlikely ever to be broken, for it is hard to imagine anyone playing for so long at one club. He was seldom mentioned in newspaper reports - which is of course a great tribute to a right back - but he does score high in the memoirs of contemporary players and his Manager, Willie Maley, who sums him up as, "The coolest, most intelligent player I have ever seen". Even the referee, Jock Bell, said that, "It was a delight to see him wait for his man, pounce just when the moment was right and clear with such crispness and confidence".

Yet perhaps curiously for someone who played such a distinguished part in the early years of the club, Eck was neither Irish nor Catholic. That of course only matters to the bigots, but Celtic's deployment of Eck McNair for so long shows two things about Willie Maley - one was that he was no bigot, and the other was that he could judge a football player.

Eck lived in Larbert all his life and travelled every day for his training, except when he was employed in the war years in the Munitions Industry at Bo'ness forging metal for horseshoes. The Great War was a tough time for Eck, for his wife died in August 1915 and Eck had a young family to bring up. But in the same way that he would never shirk a tackle on the field, McNair faced that problem with fortitude, determination and perseverance. His family grew up to be a credit for him and his son Jimmy became a professional footballer with Stenhousemuir and Falkirk .

Eck McNair was very much a defensive right back. His colleagues (Willie Orr, Jamie Weir or Joe Dodds) tended to be the attacking Tommy Gemmell type of players and as centre halves often went forward in those days as well, it was vital that there was somebody dependable at the back. This was what McNair could do to perfection.

His mistakes were so rare that they were mentioned as collectors' items: on New Year's Day 1916 for example he fluffed a pass back to give Rangers an undeserved draw. Indeed passing back to Charlie Shaw became Eck's trademark, so that it became a Glasgow cliche to the question, "What will I do?" (about a job, a wife or any other problem). The answer was, "Pass it back to Charlie!"

One occasion long after Alec retired he was playing golf, and took a long time to work out what to do with a ball that had landed in a bunker. As he reflected, someone recognised him and shouted, "There's only one thing to do, Eck! Pass it back to Charlie".

Although he joined the club in 1903, it was not really until 1908 that he settled in as right back. This was because Celtic had the admirable Donnie McLeod for this position, but also because McNair's versatility meant that he could always be deployed as right half, centre half (particularly in 1906-7 when Willie Loney broke his arm) and even left back. Just occasionally he took the field as an inside right, the position that he had played in for Stenhousemuir before he joined Celtic.

But from 1908 until 1923, Celtic's right back was Eck McNair. He won 12 Scottish League medals and Scottish Cup medals in 1907, 1908, 1911, 1912, 1914 and 1923. He won the respect of all who played with him and that included really great players like Jimmy Quinn and Patsy Gallacher. He won 15 caps for Scotland , his most famous game being the 3-1 win over England at Hampden in April 1914 in which Celtic colleague Jimmy McMenemy earned the plaudits, but it was the quiet confidence of McNair which won the day.

Curiously for a man of his temperament, he was only captain of Celtic for a short time, being quite happy to work for the likes of James Hay, James Young and Willie Cringan. He possibly lacked the "devil" necessary for a captain, as he was more of a team man and he preferred to concentrate exclusively on the task in hand.

His last big game was the Scottish Cup Final of 1923 in which Celtic beat Hibs 1-0. It was by all accounts a grim game, but newspapers are full of praise for the quiet veteran, now called "The Icicle" for his coolness and unflappability. He was almost 40 and the Celtic crowd at full time rose to applaud him, knowing that they would seldom see his likes again.

Not least of his achievements was that he was a total gentlemen. He was so good a player that he did not need to foul, and was well regarded and respected by opponents, and that included great left wingers like Alan Morton of Rangers and Alec Troup of Dundee. The friendship of Troup and McNair was deep and owed a great deal to the time in 1920 when Eck saved the life of the diminutive Troup from an angry crowd at Parkhead.

Allowing Troup and other Dundee players to reach the sanctuary of the pavilion, McNair turned on Celtic's so called supporters and gave them a verbal barrage, which was vitriolic but apparently, even in those extreme circumstances, devoid of foul language. For Alec McNair, foul language was as unnecessary as foul play.

After retirement, he was Manager of Dundee from 1925 to 1927, but was not really cut out for the demands of that job and he settled down as a stockbroker in Falkirk , a job for which his temperament was far more suited. But he retained his love and interest in football, being a referee supervisor for a spell, a short time before his death in 1951 at the age of 67. He is buried in Larbert Cemetery .


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