Farewell Bertie Auld, combative and guileful Lisbon Lion, and master of comic timing

If there are turnstiles at football Valhalla – or should that be Olympus or Nirvana? – the legends must be jostling one another in the queue, such is the rate at which we are losing a generation of the game’s totemic figures. Jimmy Greaves, Walter Smith and Ron Flowers have now been joined by Bertie Auld, whose death from dementia, at the age of 83, has been announced by Celtic.

Auld was a combative but guileful presence in the middle of the park with Celtic, for whom he made 279 appearances, mainly during the club’s golden era under Jock Stein, a passage which saw the Lisbon Lions become the first British team to win the European Cup, the most lustrous gem in a collection that included nine domestic titles in succession, at a time when Scottish clubs featured regularly in the later stages or finals of continental tournaments.

During his employment in the east end of Glasgow, Auld collected five league medals, plus three in the Scottish Cup and four from the Scottish League Cup, yet his career did not begin auspiciously because of a temper which was ignited all too easily, as shrewd opponents soon realised. He was farmed out on loan to Dumbarton and then sold, in 1961, to Birmingham City, with whom he made more than 100 appearances, won a League Cup medal and played in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, where City lost 4-2 on aggregate to AS Roma.

He returned to Celtic in 1965 and always believed that Stein, who had not yet moved to Parkhead, had been the instigator. Certainly, when Stein arrived later the same year, he converted Auld from winger to midfielder, alongside Bobby Murdoch.

That combination was part of the alchemy worked by Stein to transform a Celtic side, famously composed of 11 players born within 30 miles of Glasgow city centre, into the paramount team in Europe. If Jimmy Johnstone, tiny, flame-haired and mercurial, was the epitome of spellbinding trickery indulged by Stein because of its genius, Auld was the throaty voice of defiance and challenge, the most notable example of which occurred just before the 1967 European Cup final as the teams lined up side by side in the tunnel.

The Inter Milan players had been over the course, winning the trophy twice in the three years prior to their encounter with Celtic, and presented an image of svelte entitlement. Auld, sizing up their insouciance and Latin grooming, decided to disrupt what he construed as an air of presumptuousness.

Fists pumping the air, he bellowed the opening words of the Celtic Song – ‘It’s a grand old team to play for!’ – and the others joined in, to the discomfiture and astonishment of their opponents. “That was first blow to us,” said Jim Craig, the Lions’ full back, years later.

It was not to be the last time Auld would render the song to effect. When Billy McNeill, the towering Celtic captain of the Stein era – and another victim of dementia – died in 2019, Auld and another of the Lions, John Clark, laid a wreath at the statue of their skipper outside Parkhead, below.

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