Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club - Est. 1999
Bobby Lennox
Bobby Lennox PDF Print E-mail

"If I'd had Lennox in my team, I could have played forever. He was one of the best strikers I have ever seen."

images/stories/bobby_3.jpgThe above quote, from Manchester United and England legend Bobby Charlton, sums up perfectly how many people in the game regard Bobby Lennox. His 273 goals in 571 games make him the second highest goalscorer in Celtic's history and the highest since the Second World War. It is a truly staggering number of goals in what was a very competitive time in the Scottish game and European football in general. And it earns him the accolade of being one of Britain's greatest ever footballers. Bobby has a European Cup winner's medal, eleven Scottish League winner's medals, eight Scottish Cup winner's medals and five League Cup winner's medals. All of which are overshadowed, of course, by his honorary membership of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club!

images/stories/bobby_1.jpgWe caught up with Bobby recently at St. Mary's Church in Saltcoats and asked him a range of questions that were suggested by members and friends of the club. What we envisaged to be a short question & answer session grew into a quite fascinating interview, with Bobby waxing lyrical on everything from Ayrshire and Celtic to his playing career and football in general. Bobby also signed a rare photograph of himself in the old shamrock shirt of the early 1960s - "To the Irvine No1, Hail! Hail!, Bobby Lennox, May 2012" - which has now been framed and given pride of place in the top bar of the club itself.

Before we provide you with the interview we would like to thank Bobby Lennox for giving up his valuable time, Fr. Graeme Bell for arranging the interview and all of the members and friends of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club who submitted questions via the website and the club's Facebook group, namely Sam Abercrombie, Christopher Bell, Raymond Devlin, David Gorman, Kevin Hendrie, Lynne Marshall, Kenny McCleary, Carolyn McGeachie, Gary McPhee, Gary Scott, Ian Shaw and Tony Woods. You have all contributed greatly to what we certainly consider to be an excellent addition to the website. And here it is..................

Bobby, you entitled your autobiography Thirty Miles From Paradise which celebrated the point that you were the "outsider" in the Lisbon Lions being born and raised a much further distance away from the club than any of the others. What role did Ayrshire play in shaping a future Lion?

Well first of all I am really proud to be an Ayrshire guy and all of the Glasgow and Lanarkshire guys knew that. But what role did it play? Well, football was literally everywhere for many youngsters in Ayrshire, and it certainly was for me. The fact that we played on grass pitches, as opposed to the ash pitches that were favoured up in Glasgow, played a huge role in the development of my game. As did the fact that football in Ayrshire was generally well organised and there was a good calibre of players and coaches. Playing on decent surfaces, with decent team mates and decent opposition, allowed me to hone my talent. And I caught a break in terms of the fact that certain scouts would watch more matches in Ayrshire than in other areas and there seemed to be a really good network around which word on a promising young player would be spread. Generally speaking, Ayrshire was a very supportive environment for me. I had a very supportive family at home and very supportive teachers at school, all of which allowed my game to grow and me to develop as a person.

Given that you have lived here almost all of your life, what do you most like about Ayrshire and, in particular, your home town of Saltcoats?

I would have to say my wife as she might read this! But to me it's just a great wee town, full of great people. I really enjoy being so close to the sea and it was always something that the lads from Glasgow and Lanarkshire were very envious of. Back in my playing days I would always look forward to coming home after big matches, to spending time with the family, to going for a walk by beach. Going out ‘on the town', as they say, never interested me much.

You made a very poignant statement in your autobiography when you said that toiling away in a very repetitive job alongside thousands of workers at the old ICI plant in Stevenston gave you great perspective on the opportunity that followed to become a full-time footballer. Give the attitude that we see from some young players today, do you think they would benefit from a similar experience?
Would a year away from full-time football, working in a really hard job that they didn't like, perhaps make them fully appreciate what they have?

Yes, definitely, it certainly ensured that when my opportunity came along I grabbed it with both hands and made the very most of it. The money that is in the game these days has created an attitude with some young players where they expect too much too soon. I remember even back in the 90s, when I was the reserve team coach at Celtic Park, a trainee complaining to me that he didn't enjoy the more flexible hours that were accorded to Charlie Nicholas. I had to explain to him that Charlie was a ‘superstar', if you like, a first team regular, but when he started out he would have had the same hours as this lad. He didn't get the concept that this reward had been earned, as rewards were in our day, and didn't come overnight.

On a related note, in light of the continued appearances and performances of, for example, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, and as a player yourself who played at the highest level into your late thirties, can you give any advice to a young player taking up the game as to how they can maintain their fitness and competitive edge for such a prolonged period?

Well apart from the obvious things like having a good diet and a good daily routine you must have a thirst for the game and you must be conscientious in your approach to training. Towards the end of my career when I was used more sparingly I still trained like I was a first team regular. If I wasn't playing I would train. Back home I would go out many an evening for a run along the beach, or simply ‘run a lampost, jog a lampost' through the streets, simple routines that kept me in shape. I've said it before but you have to work as hard as you can. And you have to think about things. I didn't feel like I could come into Celtic Park in the morning, work hard in training and then just go away. I thought about what I was doing with my time, whether or not I was resting and preparing for the game, because that's very important too.

Billy McNeill once famously said: "Bobby Lennox knows what it means to wear the Celtic jersey". In one short statement Bobby, what did it mean to you?

It meant everything. Simple as that. I got the chance to ‘live the dream', to play for the team I supported, and it was a privilege. We all know what Celtic is about: community, family, a ‘people', if you like. Pulling on the jersey and representing all of that. What an honour. I loved playing for Celtic. And the fact that Saltcoats was only "thirty miles from paradise" meant that I could stay in my home town with my support network around me while I done so. I was very very fortunate.

Of your many many career highlights, what would be your top three?

I honestly don't think that I could pick a top three for the simple reason that that were so many. I hope that doesn't sound big-headed, I certainly don't mean it to sound big headed, but there are just too many moments that stand out. I was blessed to play in one of the greatest football teams ever, and in four completely different Celtic teams, and to the age of 37, which has left me with so many wonderful memories. There is the final whistle in Lisbon, the final whistle in the Semi-Final beforehand, my first League title, my first Scottish Cup win, my first goal against Rangers, the time I was made captain for six weeks, so many cherished moments. And then there was my goal in Di Stefano's testimonial match at the Bernabeu. And, of course, scoring Scotland's second goal in our 3-2 win over England at Wembley. I think I would be right in saying that I was the first Celtic player to score at Wembley and that is a great source of pride.

Can you describe in your own words the feeling when the final whistle blew in Lisbon?

It was elation, pure elation. I just remember running over to John Clark and embracing him. We basically jumped on top of each other. And then chaos ensued!

Conversely, what was your worst ever day in football?

Milan. Without shadow of a doubt, Milan. We could have won the European Cup for the second time and it was bitterly disappointing in the end. It's not a game that I have watched since - I don't think many Celtic supporters have watched that game - though some people tell me that we played OK. I'm not so sure about that. I certainly wasn't happy with my performance. Did we underestimate them? Perhaps. But when all is said and done I think we simply came up against a better team on the night. Feyenoord were ruthlessly efficient. Their work rate was incredible. They stifled our game. They deserved to win.

Which of your 273 goals for Celtic do you regard as the best?

I couldn't pick one as they were all brilliant! Seriously though, there are too many for me to pick just one. Many of the goals which I thought were technically the best came in fairly low profile games. Not too many people would even remember them. Then there are the ones which people talk about. I couldn't pick just one as my best.

Who was the hardest individual opponent you faced in your career? In other words, who most frustrated Bobby Lennox?

My answer to that question will always be a stocky right-back called Benitez who played for Barcelona. He was a really strong wee guy. A fine defender. I played against him when Barcelona came to Celtic Park in 1964 and I didn't get a kick of the ball all night. He was an extremely tough opponent. He was on my back all night. He did a great job. I played against a lot of very good Scottish players throughout my career but he was definitely the man who most frustrated me.

Throughout your playing career how important was family and faith to football?

Well, I simply couldn't have achieved what I did without my family behind me. My mum was very much the head of the family. She was a wonderful woman. Both of my parents were wonderful. My brothers too. You take great strength from having such a loving and supportive family behind you. Regarding faith, I always found strength in the Lord and Our Lady. I still do. I've prayed to Our Lady throughout the years and I believe she has looked after me. She is very important. It's very fitting that I have a long association with this very church, Our Lady, Star of the Sea, which we know as St. Mary's, and it is good to see it in safe hands these days.

After all the celebrations in Lisbon and back at Celtic Park what was the first thing you did when you got home to Saltcoats?

That's a great question. I don't think I've ever been asked that before. Basically I went over to my parent's house and had a cup of tea! It was certainly back in Saltcoats that the enormity of what we had just achieved really hit me. I had the space and time to really process what we had done. The celebrations in Lisbon were actually a bit of an anti-climax due to the wives and girlfriends flight home being delayed twice which, to cut a long story short, left us up most of the night but without a bar open to get a drink! Celtic Park was just bedlam. So it was in the tranquility of my wee home town that it really sunk in that I was a European Cup Winner.

Apart from your Lisbon Lions team mates, who would you regard as the greatest post-war Celtic players?

That would have to be Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Henrik Larsson. There have been many great players over the years but they would always be my top three. They were phenomenal players and they made a huge contribution to the successes that Celtic achieved in their times. Legends.

Which player in the current Celtic squad do you believe would come closest to breaking into the Lisbon Lions team?

I would have to be honest and say none of them. I don't mean that to sound bad, I really don't, but, while there are many good players in the current squad, some of whom have the potential to be truly great players, there is really no one of that calibre. I think most Celtic supporters would agree with that assessment. If you are talking about players who could have broken into the Lions then you would need to go back to the players I've just mentioned. People always talk about how strong we were as a unit, as a team, but we had so many outstanding individual players. Guys like Bobby Murdoch, Jimmy Johnstone, they were world class players, and only a very small number of Celtic players since would even get close to them.

How would you summarise Neil Lennon's two years in charge of Celtic? And how far do you think he can take us?

I think he has done a fantastic job. We've had a few disappointing results, sure, but on the whole he has done a magnificent job. And I think that too many people forget that this is the guy's first job in football! When you look at what he has achieved, at the squad he has built, and the fact that he has the team playing the Celtic way, it's just great. And the fact that he has done it all while dealing with such awful events in his personal life says a hell of a lot about the man. How far do I think he can take us? Well, I certainly think that he can keep Celtic at the top of Scottish football and, with the right additions to the squad, I don't see why he can't make a dent in Europe. That is obviously the big challenge. That's where we want to be.

On Sunday 13 May Neil placed the SPL trophy on the turf in front of the Green Brigade section as a thank you to them for leading the way in "bringing back the thunder" to Celtic Park. What are your thoughts on the Green Brigade?

Well I do think that one or two of the banners they have displayed have been out of order but, on the whole, they have been terrific. The noise, the colour, it's been great and there is no doubt that they have been the catalyst for the much better atmosphere we've got at Celtic Park these days. I love the fact that they've now got the whole stadium involved in the "Come On You Bhoys In Green" chant. It sounds incredible. Great stuff.

Following on from that, there has been a lot of debate on how we can now maintain this "thunderous atmosphere" at Celtic Park including some tentative talk about a designated standing area. Would you like to see the return of the terracing?

Definitely. If it can be done properly, and safely, then I would definitely like to see that. We all know that back in the days of the "Jungle" all of the guys that wanted to sing could congregate there and start the songs. When the stadium became all seated, and season books were required, those guys were dispersed all over the place. It certainly had an effect on the atmosphere. Obviously having the Green Brigade in one section has gone some way to addressing that but a designated standing area would make things even better. I know there are some stadiums now that have sections where the seats can be ‘folded away' so maybe that is something that could be looked at. The terracing generated an amazing atmosphere in my time and it would be nice to see a bit of that return.

On a related note, with the exception of Celtic Park, what was your favourite Scottish football ground and why?

Well I loved playing at Hampden, Ibrox, Pittodrie, Tannadice, all the big grounds, but my favourite ground was always Firhill. Night games at Firhill were electric. I loved them. The pitch was liberal, you had the room to play, but the fans were right on top of you so you lost none of the atmosphere. I also seemed to score lots of goals there!

Over the years in Scottish football have we seen corruption or just bad refereeing?

Corruption is a very strong word. I really don't think there has been an orchestrated campaign against Celtic, against any team for that matter, but we have certainly been on the receiving end of some poor decisions. There were a few offside decisions that went against me when I knew that I was onside. Looking back at the footage proved me to be right. Maybe I was just too fast for the linesmen! There has been bad refereeing over the years but I really do believe that the lion's share of it is down to human error.

Why do you think the footballing authorities in general seem reluctant to embrace TV evidence for critical decisions at the top end of the game?

I think what seems like reluctance is just them taking the time to get this one right, in my opinion. I am certainly in favour using a ‘goal line camera' when there are question marks over whether or not the ball has crossed the line, and it seems that UEFA are making moves to introduce that, but there are other scenarios that might see the game slowed down too much and I'm not so sure that we, as fans, would want that. I think that is what the footballing authorities are thinking about. They want to introduce technology so blatantly obvious errors can be addressed but the football still flows as much as possible. It's about getting the balance right. And that takes time. None of us would want to see the game stopped too often.

What are your thoughts on the liquidation of Rangers?

Well, there are lots of opinions on this one, and I respect everyone's viewpoint, but I just try and concentrate on being a Celtic supporter and not get drawn too much into this debate. I do think that the players and fans would desperately miss the Old Firm games though. If there is no Rangers then there can be no beating of Rangers!

Do you think that they should be stripped of trophies for what many view as cheating Scottish football?

Again, that's not for me to say. I'm a Celtic supporter. I don't see what is happening with them, or with any other team, as being part of my business.

Do you believe that Celtic could thrive without them?

I think that Celtic could thrive in any arena but, as I said, a significant part of the ‘excitement', for both players and supporters, wouldn't be there.

Finally, as Ayrshire's Lisbon Lion, and as an honorary member of the Irvine No1 Celtic Sports Club, do you have a message for us in our twelfth year?

Has the club been open that long? How time flies! Well, it is a great club, a really great club. I am delighted to be an honorary member and I have thoroughly enjoyed attending the Sportsman's Dinners and the various Celtic events there over the years. It's very pleasing to see such a big Celtic club thriving in the heart of Ayrshire. Well done to all of you who have played a part in that. And very best wishes for the future.

Last Updated ( Apr 17, 2013 at 02:23 PM )
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