: John McPhailaka
: 27 Dec 1923Died
6 Nov 2000Birthplace
: Glasgow, ScotlandSigned
: 14 Aug 1941 (prov); 27 Oct 1941 (full)Retired
: 5 May 1956Position
: Centre-forward and defenderDebut:
Celtic 1-1 Partick Thistle, Regional League, 25 Oct 1941Internationals
: ScotlandInternational Caps
: 5International Goals
The universally popular figure of John McPhail originally joined Celtic in 1941 from Strathclyde.
His nickname was "Hooky
" due to his tendency to kick the football with the outside of his boot.
Initially used as a right-half John’s early career in the Hoops saw him as one of the most assured performers in a generally disappointing era for the Bhoys. He did pick up a winners medal in the Victory In Europe Cup in 1945 but it wasn’t until he was moved to centre forward in 1950 that his career really took off.
As a robust and bustling forward McPhail combined physical strength with a subtle touch and great vision. He was strong in the air and with the ball at his feet he demonstrated a wonderful and clever passing ability, plus he was a regular goal scorer. He became in season 1950-51 "his side’s inspiration, and the idol of the supporters".
He created history by scoring a goal in the first 10 seconds v East Fife on 16 Dec 1950! Some reports put it as quick as 6 seconds, a record that will likely stand in the Celtic records. At this point East Fife must have been sick of the sight of him as he had now scored a barrowload against them in the whole season, including a 4 goal haul earlier in March as well as a hat-trick in this game.
His intelligence and cool head made him an ideal captain and he skippered the side to Scottish Cup glory in 1951 when he scored the only goal of the final against Motherwell with a strong run and deft finish.
That Hampden success was Celtic’s first cup triumph since 1937 and it cemented McPhail’s deserved place among the heroes of Celtic history. Further honours were to follow as John picked up a Coronation Cup winners medal in 1953 and a league winners medal in 1954.
His younger brother, Billy McPhail also played for Celtic, and is widely remembered for scoring a hat-trick in Celtic's 7-1 victory over rivals Rangers in the 1957 Scottish League Cup final. John McPhail also scored three goals against Rangers, in the 1950 Glasgow Merchants' Charity Cup. This is the only occasion to date in Celtic v Rangers history that brothers have achieved this feat.
Must add that he played for Celtic in a poor era for the club but he was still respected and admired. Better management could have seen both he and Celtic achieving far more and greater than they did, and the support would have been there proudly cheering him and the team on.
One example of mismanagement by the board/coaches was as per the following example (as re-told by journalist Archie MacPherson):
“John McPhail told me that he was playing badly and expected to be dropped. Jimmy McGrory and the directors had a meeting outside the dressing room after which McGrory read out the team, including John McPhail, but [then chairman] Bob Kelly was not with the other directors when the team was announced.
“After the game, Bob Kelly asked John McPhail why he was playing. McPhail said, “I was picked”, to which Bob Kelly replied, “You were not supposed to be”.
“It turned out the Bob Kelly had diarrhoea and was unable to get instructions through on who he wanted to play."
McPhail throughout his career been plagued with injuries and in his latter years as a Celt he struggled hard to keep fit and in shape. Eventually he retired from the game in May 1956 after a phenomenal record of 335 games and 100 goals.
He went on to work as a journalist with the Daily Record
for over ten years, but returned to Celtic writing for The Celtic View
in the years following its launch.
He died in Glasgow on 6 November 2000.
| APPEARANCES || LEAGUE ||SCOTTISH CUP||LEAGUE CUP|| REGIONAL |
| REGIONAL LEAGUE CUP || TOTAL|
|1941-56 ||142 ||24||38||106 ||25 ||335|
Honours with CelticScottish LeagueScottish CupCoronation Cup
Obituary: John McPhail
Independent, The (London, England)/Financial Times
November 9, 2000
IN HIS abilities and demeanour John McPhail could have played for no other club than Glasgow Celtic. Born in the city and schooled in the great footballing nursery of St Mungo's Academy, he was to the club who signed him at the age of 17 as a novitiate is to the acceptance of holy orders. He wore the green and white hoops with as much love as distinction in a playing career which lasted from October 1941 until 1956 when, plagued by injuries and severe problems in keeping his waistline to manageable proportions, he discarded his boots and took to the typewriter as a colourful and sympathetic reporter of Scottish football.
In his earlier days as a player, McPhail, or "Hooky", as he was popularly called by the fans, for his tendency to stab at the ball with the outside of his boot, suffered the disadvantage of being with a club dominated by the great rivals Rangers and he found himself having to shoulder this with great resilience, which he manifested on the field with a tall commanding broad-chested action which could easily have him likened to a John Charles or a Duncan Edwards.
But in a paradoxical way his versatility eventually diluted his identity. In the mind's eye, there were several McPhails. There was the robust spearhead, using shoulders and broad thighs to cut swathes through defences in great individual sorties. There was the central defender cast in iron, solid and dependable. There was the industrious yet skilful midfielder.
In the former role I witnessed him score one of the great Scottish Cup Final goals, on 21 April 1951 against Motherwell, when his mix of intimidating physical presence and gentle touch confused the defenders and his first touch control with chest and eventual delicate lob to the net presented Celtic its first triumph in 14 years. Of such individual feats are legends made.
As a left-sided midfielder, McPhail converted to a more subtle role in 1953 when he helped Celtic brush aside Manchester United in the Coronation Cup Semi-Final and then to beat Hibs in the memorable final. His emergence as a figure of Celtic indomitability helped stabilise the club during a sterile era, so his abilities merited more rewards than are attributed to him in the record books. But his talents spilled over on to the international field, where he made the first of five appearances for his country, against Wales, on 9 November 1949 and scored a goal which few observed in a fog- bound Hampden Park.
While he played with fiery conviction during his career, he retained a geniality which might at first have seemed at odds with his determined attitude on the field, except that his record of playing hard but fair was renowned. When he led Celtic as captain to Rome to play Lazio in May 1950, to the astonishment of those who knew him he was sent off after an altercation with the defender Remondini although "Hooky" insisted that it was the Italian who was sent off and that the referee had only asked him to leave "to placate the crowd".
That dignified demeanour was beset though by recurring injury problems towards the end of a career which saw him play 204 games and score 87 goals for his only club. Worse than that, he was getting fat. He once told me that as he was being criticised for his incipient slowness on the field he took to the ageing remedy of the Hungarian international Ferenc Puskas, shortening the stride and increasing the number of steps he took to lend the false impression of pace.
It was his droll way of admitting the inevitable and although the club had once sent him to a health farm at Tring, Hertfordshire, in 1954, he was being dropped simply because he was not fit enough. His previous status made it difficult for him to live with that and on 5 May 1956 he retired.
As a journalist afterwards with the Daily Record he gave more to the public than merely a name tagged to sub-edited copy but followed the game with an astute but kindly eye. To listen to him enthrall listeners with gentle tales of an age when football was truly the working man's only real leisure pursuit was like listening to the chronicle of a golden age. Names like Fernie, Tully, Stein, Collins on his own side; Waddell, Thornton, Young for Rangers.
He talked as if the Old Firm were knights of the Round Table. Of course they were not that, but from his lips even they could be made so.
John McPhail, football player and journalist: born Glasgow 27 December 1923; married (two daughters); died Glasgow 6 November 2000.
Celtic all-rounder who always led the line dies
8 Nov 2000
CELTIC all-rounder and captain John McPhail, ''Hooky'' to his legion of friends and admirers, died on Monday night aged 76 after a short illness. He was one of two brothers who made a considerable impact on Scottish football. In style they were very different. Billy was a graceful, slight player, particularly strong in the air. John was burlier but tall with it and possessed of a real gift for the old fashioned process of leading a forward line. He came from that great scholastic nursery for Glasgow players, St Mungo's Academy and had a few months with Strathclyde before signing for Celtic in October 1941. He at once showed himself a player to be reckoned with despite his having joined the club at a time when it was being abysmally run.
Some of the great 1930s Celtic side were still in place - Malcolm MacDonald, Jimmy Delaney, and Bobby Hogg for example. John McPhail was an outstanding player in his early days at right-half and he was one of the very few defenders, John Charles and Andy Kerr being perhaps the only two other examples, who could play the centre forward position not as a stop gap but as though the position was naturally theirs. He was apt to say that his versatility cost his caps but it is hard to sustain this belief when one remembers that his team mate Willie Fernie was capped in five different positions just about that time.
Where the selectors could be criticised was in going for battering-ram centres such as Billy Houliston rather than the sophisticated skills of McPhail. In November 1951, he had two of the six goals by which Northern Ireland were torn apart in a 6-1 rout. His distribution that day was exemplary but then for once in a way the Scottish selectors had gone for out and out skill and his inside forwards were Jimmy Mason and Billy Steel. Incredibly, the lesson was not learned. It was not as if it was the first time that this had happened.
A year before he and Alex Linwood, then with Clyde, had proved a formidable combination against Wales and each had scored in a 2-0 win. Over the piece, his time with Celtic coincided with a rather careless approach by that club but his distinctions were very real, if few. In 1951 he scored a gem of a goal in a Scottish Cup final against Motherwell. He could boast a league championship win in 1954 and he turned out for Scottish League sides. Several times when he seemed to be about to establish himself as a regular Scotland player illness or injury supervened.
He was unlucky in the matter of injuries and he was not a quick healer. Despite this he attained veteran status at Parkhead and completed 15 years as a Celtic player. He was a memorable one. If there were players whose feet worked faster there was no-one whose brain did. He was a great ''keep it on the deck'' disciple and over 10 yards he was certainly as fast as he needed to be. He often regretted that he did not play alongside his brother Billy for his beloved Celtic.
The miss was all the more galling because it was by a matter of weeks rather than months. He had a long fuse although against the Italian side Lazio the Romans discovered that there was a limit to his tolerance. He and an Italian had to leave the field. How good was he? Think of his rivals and that will give you an idea. He competed with Ian McColl or Bobby Evans for the right half berth and with Willie Bauld or Lawrie Reilly for the centre forward spot.
They were really good.
So too was the hugely talented and ever courteous John McPhail and when later he moved to journalism his judgments were not only perceptive but merciful.
IF YOU KNOW THE HISTORY - THE CELTIC LEGEND OF JOHN McPHAIL
By David Potter
Fifty years after the floruit of this great man, it remains difficult for us to appreciate just how much of a Legend he was. Times were hard then. Most of us remember with horror the early 1990s, and the early 1960s were not a great deal better, but the 1940s were the worst of all. In desperate times, the support needs a hero. In the 1940s, they found one in John McPhail.
John joined Celtic as an 18 year old in 1941, and thus he spent his first few years with Celtic in the dark days of World War 2, dark days which only the occasional touch of brilliance from Jimmy Delaney could enlighten.
McPhail's apprenticeship was thus a hard one, but he did play brilliantly in the 1-0 win at Ibrox on New Year's Day 1945, only to see the team relapse into complacent mediocrity almost immediately afterwards.
Injury and illness plagued John McPhail as well - he missed almost all of the 1946-47 season - but he was there in 1948 when after Celtic's worst ever season, they rescued themselves from relegation at Dens Park.
The next three years were probably the best of John's career, although many supporters testify to the intake of breath as the teams were read out over the tannoy, then the release of pent-up emotion when "McPhail" was read out. Proof that John was not the victim of yet another injury.
Yet he did not seem injury prone. He was big and burly, and more than a little capable of looking after himself on the field. But a centre forward must expect more than his fair share of knocks.
The fact that John McPhail was in what was undeniably a poor Celtic team meant that all the more seemed to depend on him. Supporters lyricised about him. He was called John McNever-Phail, and even "Erin 's Green Valleys " (the favourite anthem of the time) was adapted for John.
“All Hail John McPhail,
The pride of Parkheid
We worship, we love you
And the team that you lead!”
Yet success would not come for the Celtic fans, some of whom with children who had never in their lives seen Celtic win a Scottish trophy. 1938 had been the last time. This is why the feelings concerning the 1951 Scottish Cup Final were possibly more intense even than those we experience today.
The 1951 Scottish Cup Final opposition was Motherwell, the weather was glorious and it was McPhail who put Celtic ahead, running on to a through ball and lobbing the goalkeeper in the style of Henrik Larsson (versus Rangers in August 2000) to release bedlam on the King's Park terracing.
But only 15 minutes had gone, and the remaining 75 were passed in grim, tension-ridden anxiety as the very fine Motherwell team turned on the pressure. McPhail, the captain, had to re-deploy himself as a defender, but marshalling his defence. And with Fallon and Rollo, their hair brushed back in the style of 1951, "kicking everything that came over the half way line", and Alec Boden and Joe Baillie playing the games of their lives, the final whistle at last came and it was "big captain John" who received the trophy.
"For there's Jock Weir and Collins - and big Captain John
With Peacock and Tully to carry us on!"
But the success was not maintained and John McPhail was injured so often that he had to be relieved of the Celtic captaincy. This eventually passed to Jock Stein, and alongside Jock, McPhail would have one other moment of glory. This was in May 1953 when he played at left half - Evans, Stein and McPhail - to defy the Famous Five forward line of Hibs in the Coronation Cup Final.
At times the Celtic defence were overwhelmed that day, but they never gave in, McPhail keeping Bobby Johnstone quiet and keeping up the spirits of the desperately tired defence.
Injury kept John McPhail out of most of the triumphant 1954 season, and his last big game was the Scottish Cup Final of 1955 when a goalkeeping error direct from a corner kick cruelly robbed Celtic and McPhail of another Cup medal. For the Replay, Collins was dropped, the forward line was re-jigged and McPhail was illogically played at inside-left.
In 1956 John McPhail retired, a couple of days before his younger brother Billy joined the Club.
Nobody seems to know why John was called "Hooky". His nose was not particularly aquiline, and it may be because once in his early career he scored a goal with a "hook". He also on one infamous occasion in Rome managed to land a right "hook" on a Lazio player! It may have been a reference to the way that he flighted a cross, but however, he was called "Hooky" and was much loved by the fans.
John played five times for Scotland , but never against England . This was a shame, for he might have scored in 1950 the goal that would have taken Scotland to the World Cup.
In later years until his death in November 2000, John was a football journalist, and was very much involved with "The Celtic View" on its foundation in 1965. He remained very fond of the team that he had served so well.
The author well recalls one day at the barber's in 1953. An amiable drunk was shouting the odds about "John McNeverPhail" while waiting his turn to be taken.
This author, not yet at school, but even then precocious, ventured the opinion that "McNeverPhail" played for Celtic. He was rewarded with half a crown (12 pence, and an absolute fortune in 1953) for knowing this!