Terry Butcher was never happy to concede anything to Celtic as a player.
But now as he stands within his more accustomed position of watching on from the sidelines, he says he is keeping his fingers crossed that Neil Lennon’s men overtake his former club’s clean sheet record.
Parkhead keeper Fraser Forster has not lost a league goal in 1,124 minutes of action and if he makes it past the 31st minute of this weekend’s match with Hearts without conceding, he will set a new Scottish record.
Bobby Clark of Aberdeen is the man to beat, having racked up 1,155 minutes on league duty without having to pick the ball out the net. That was back in 1970-71. Then in 1986-87, with a certain defender named Butcher in front of him, Chris Woods set a British record with a lofty 1,196 minutes across all competitions.
But if Forster and his Celtic team-mates can eclipse both those achievements on Saturday, the Hibs manager says he will be delighted for them.
The former England captain is an admirer of the man he refers to as the epitome of the modern goalkeeper, and the performance against Hibs, where the Englishman denied Sam Stanton with a wonder save and also kept out a testing Abdellah Zoubir effort to help the league leaders to victory at the end of January, simply reinforced that.
“For Fraser to break the record would be immense,” said Butcher. “I really hope they do it. It’s nice a record like that can eventually go. It’s been a long while and that shows you how hard it is. If teams were doing it every couple of years you would think it was comfortable. If Celtic are doing it now just because of the resources they have, you think why haven’t they done it before. But if he does it I think it would be fantastic – because then people will also talk about what we did!”
Some naysayers have suggested that a Premiership campaign untarnished by defeat would reflect badly on the game north of the border, with Peter Shilton the latest to cast doubts on Forster’s claim to an England shirt while based in Scotland.
Butcher believes it is a sign of ignorance and says he had to withstand similar derogatory comments when he moved to Scotland to play for Rangers.
“They would laugh and call it a Mickey Mouse league and all that rubbish. Even Gazza said it was a pub league – but then when he came up here said it was the best league in the world! Peter Shilton has never played up here – although he’s played badly for England up here of course! If he had then you would respect his opinion more, but I certainly dismiss that having played in both leagues.
“Fraser is an excellent goalkeeper and I played with Chris Woods who played for Rangers and England. It’s not about the amount of saves you make, it’s about your concentration levels, when you are called upon you have got to make those saves. When you play for England, with all due respect, you’re generally not called upon to do much. But when you are you have to make the saves. So, in a way, Celtic and England are very similar. Joe Hart at Manchester City is the same.”
Both keepers look set to board the team plane to Brazil this summer and Butcher insists the Celtic keeper has earned the right. He also says he would have faith in Forster if he was given the opportunity to start.
“I don’t see any problems about him going there,” he said. “As an Englishman I’d be very happy for him to be in the squad and to see him fight for the No 1 jersey to be starting goalkeeper in that first game. He’s had a great season and, as an Englishman, I am really happy he is doing really well.”
But he refused to rank Forster ahead of his old colleague Woods, even if he found it tough to separate them on ability alone.
“I have never played in front of Forster but they are different keepers. If Fraser Forster fell down he’d be halfway home, he’s that big. He is the modern goalkeeper, he is good with the ball at his feet, his distribution is excellent, he is a good shot stopper and he comes for crosses. He is a big, big presence. You couldn’t ask much more of a goalkeeper to be honest.
“Woodsy was an excellent shot stopper and he’s come for crosses and he was a good talker. But he was my room-mate and he used to make a damn good cup of tea so that gives him over the edge!”
Still, Butcher says he would still be happy to see Woods’ record superseded by a goalkeeper from the other half of the Glasgow divide.