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Quality Street Gang
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Blessed talentsThe Quality Street Gang was the name given to the prodigious Celtic reserve team of young players in the late 1960's/early1970's which Jock Stein nurtured and ultimately brought through successfully to replace the Lisbon Lions as the Celtic first team.
Jock Stein had foresight and wisdom, and the Lisbon Lions were not to last forever (obviously) so with some planning Jock had the blueprint already for the next generation of players.
The "Gang" included some of the best young players Celtic has ever produced including:
- David Cattanach
- George Connelly,
- Kenny Dalglish,
- Vic Davidson
- John Gorman
- Davie Hay,
- Lou Macari,
- Danny McGrain,
- Brian McLaughlin
- Jimmy Quinn (grandson of the legendary Jimmy "Mighty" Quinn)
- Paul Wilson.
Under the shrewd (to say the least) management of Jock Stein these players carried on where the Lions left off and saw Celtic through to the nine league championships in a row.
The group of youngsters had been cropped from around 1967, and the prodigious talents played together as a unit from early on including at a youth tournament in Casle Montferranto (Italy) (picture above of the squad).
They were a close unit, and the core of the the "Quality Street Gang" began initially with Connelly, Cattanach and Hay. As the gang grew, their bonds grew, and they not only trained together but fought and socialised together. A major event for all was the regular meet-up at David Cattanach's home after matches. In the early days, at Davie's home, many players from the "Quality Street Gang" plus others used to meet up and stay with him for a get together and have a friendly (and competitive) kick about. The players lining up for these games were astonishing (Hay, Macari, Connelly, Gorman, Dalglish, McGrain, Alex Smith etc). Players from other clubs also used to take part as well at times despite it being centred around the Celtic circle of players. It became such a major part of their lives that those who couldn't make it any weekend used to ask their team mates for the score from these games the following Monday. It was something special and a whole life in itself. It played a strong part in the development of all those players, and it was all in a back garden!
The list of players and their success was exceptional, not least that of McGrain and Dalglish. Others were not far behind them in some ways, like Macari and Hay. It's probably the greatest set of youngsters that have ever been grown together ever in British football. Celtic enjoyed great success with these men over coming seasons, and many wonderful stories too, and it was a blessing for anyone to have seen them in action.
So what exactly happened at the end of it all? For Celtic it never reached the heights that the Lisbon Lions had achieved and they should have. The main crux and problem was financial. Times were changing in Scottish football and society. Celtic were no longer sleeping giants and so could not hold back in being compared to just their Scottish counterparts. That's good recognition for the club, but what goes with that is the other aspects of international comparison, and the biggest comparison for the players is financial. Those players who met up with fellows Scots in the international scene were seeing their counterparts (many a time of lesser ability) raking it in comparatively.
People must realise that the Celtic players at that time were actually not highly paid like modern players (earning not much more than the average joe), and the UK economy was in a declining state. Those with families needed finances to pay for mortgages etc and when the offers were there in England, then it was not surprising that they would be tempted. Celtic is where they wanted to be, but the board was run exceptionally incompetently by Bob Kelly and subsequently Desmond White, neither of whom had any great management ability. Celtic was run with a "Biscuit Tin" mentality (actually the money was held in shoe boxes!), and the finances that could have been raised to support the players were not there. Must be added that Jock Stein & Sean Fallon themselves were poorly paid, and when you reflect on the circumstances, it was not about greed for most but a battle by the players for a decent wage in a short career that could end very quickly.
The players were likely reflecting what was happening elsewhere in the country. Workplace strife was everywhere, and every firm saw management v staff battles. The problems at Celtic could easily have been managed, but sadly they mirrored the economy as a whole.
Finances undermined the club, and lost time and effort that could have been spent on other issues. Davie Hay went on strike over wages at one point before leaving (pushed out) and Lou Macari chased the money to Man U. Dalglish left for Liverpool for the challenge (and money). Jock Stein could not handle the financial issue as it was all out of his hands and he was from an old school mentality despite being a moderniser, but he was left with an old set-up by the board and little room for manoeuvre. His dreams and achievements with these youngsters were being undone.
Others from the group, did fine but were not of the same ability as McGrain and Dalglish. Davie Cattanach and Jimmy Quinn had their opportunities but couldn't capitalise on them enough, whilst Brian McLaughlin was undone by a serious injury barring which there was no doubt he would have become a Celtic Great.
The greatest of them all was Danny McGrain. He had to battle his own issues (e.g. diagnosed diabetes and later a major injury) but he was world class and lasted the longest at Celtic. He was a gem of a player and was so adored by the Celtic support that it's hard to even conceive him to ever play for someone else.
The great irony is that the players who were meant to take over from the Lisbon Lions in the most part left Celtic before even some of the Lions did. Lennox, Jinky and McNeill lasted a long time (Lennox until the '80s).
The old board had much to answer for, and sadly Jock Stein was left to deal with it. Possibly lost us the ability to win more European Cups. We had the talent at the club to do so, and that's the truth. It became a case of what could have been.
However, we still achieved so much with them: league titles, cup wins, another European Cup final and semi-finals, stuff that memories which live long in the memory are made of. Great victories v the Huns and many special victories over other sides both at home and abroad (e.g. demolishing Hibs in a Cup Final) more than hold their own against anything else in our history. We're proud of the players, but we just wish the old board were as appreciative of them at the time as we were as we could have built and held onto them.
Quotes"I remember playing in a reserve league cup section with Rangers in it. By the last section game we had to beat Partick Thistle by eight goals to qualify and put Rangers out. Big Jock came into the dressing room and offered us £20 a head if we did it. That was some money for a reserve team bonus and we were all peeing with excitement before we went out to play. I remember Kenny (Dalglish) making a bee-line for the toilet and shouting "Come on, we've got to f****** win this!!" By full time we'd won 12-1 and Big Jock paid out. I think that's when he realised how good we were."
Lou Macari on the old Quality Street group of players in the early 70s (1995)
Interviewer: "Were you ever intimidated when you walked into a dressing room occupied by such household names?"
Danny McGrain: "No, because when we first arrived we trained together. We were one squad. It wasn’t a first-team squad and reserve squad, so we got to know each other. We would play games together. You would be playing alongside and against the likes of wee Jimmy, Bobby, Big Billy and Bertie. You can’t become friends as we were too young but you just to know them, so when you made your first-team debut it was still a daunting task but you weren’t as nervous. They were still the Lisbon Lions, you still had a great respect for them, and I have great deal to thank them for. For me, Kenny, Victor and Paul to be able to play with these guys was like being at Yale University for football. We had to take everything from it, and I thing we did that."
Interviewer: "What it was like being part of such a talented group of young players at the club?"
Danny McGrain: "I think Jock Stein and Sean Fallon gave everyone the confidence that they could make it. The whole Lisbon team were ahead of us and it might be another five years before I could even try and get into the first-team. Originally, I was a midfielder who would run about everywhere, and Mr Stein and Sean Fallon put players in various positions in the reserve team – I think I played every position apart from centre forward and centre-half. After two or three years, Mr Stein thought I would be a full-back. However, I never thought I could be a full-back as I always thought that full-backs had to be hard tacklers and good defenders but once I played there I was comfortable. At that time, I was playing with Kenny, Vic Davidson, Lou Macari and Paul Wilson – all guys who made it into the first-team. And because we all made it into the first-team, it made it a bit easier to come into. Because we had come through together, you knew what kind of passes they wanted and what they liked."
Interviewer: "Was it a good grounding to play in that reserve set-up before you went into the first-team?"
Danny McGrain: "Charlie Gallagher played alongside us a lot and he was a very good player. You learned from him and there would be others who would play when they were coming back from injury. Davie Cattanach was there most of the time as well and he was a rough and ready defender who was very enthusiastic. It was good for us to see someone who was perhaps out the picture but still had great enthusiasm for the club and still worked hard. He also takes a bit of credit for our knowledge of the game."
Danny McGrain Interview 2012 with Celticfc.net
The full line up from this photo in Casale Monferrato, Italy is as follows:
Back Row (Left to Right) - Jackie Clarke (trialist on this tour and signed for two seasons on the back of it), John Gorman, Bobby Wraith, Billy Murdoch and Paul Wilson.
Front Row (Left to Right) - Lou Macari, Danny McGrain, George Connelly (Captain), Davie Hay, John Murray (Vice Captain) and Hugh (Aidan) McKellar.
Squad players who made the trip but who are not in the photo are Tommy Livingstone, Fred Pethard, Kenny Dalglish, Tony McBride, Pat McMahon, Johnny Hemphill, Jim Clark and Victor Davidson.
(Info from Paul John Dykes from his forthcoming book, 'The Quality Street Gang')
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