Tommy Burns: A personal tribute

Share this article

IT was his comportment; the way he carried himself. As a youngster thrilling to favourite player Tommy Burns, there was a feeling of being treated to the sort of exotic, cerebral, cultured midfield play that was the preserve of football on the continent.

On his finest days, of which there were countless during his 15 years at Celtic between 1975 and 1990, you would wait for the moments of mastery and marvel at them.

Ping, the 60-yard crossfield pass would be swept over with that educated – to the point of being a PhD – left-foot. Then there would be the occasion he would pick up the ball, shuttle it downfield with the twists and turns – the fitting title of his autobiography – that would allow him to snake his way round opponents with a balletic grace.

It was little wonder he was tempted by Arsenal and the London club by him, but in the end he chose to remain with Celtic. He was an aristocrat in the mould of Liam Brady. It was no accident either that many of his outstanding displays came in Europe – his demolition of Sporting Lisbon and his running of the show against Dynamo Kiev – until he was kicked out of that encounter – spring to mind.

As an adult working with Tommy Burns, there was admiration for the way in which his religious devotion never strayed into piety, never made a man who possessed a wicked wit seem like a holy-moly and yet was always at the forefront of who he was.

Celtic was his temporal cause but he was spiritual about the club and those he encountered working within it. It was horrible to watch him be drained by the pressure of managing the club as Rangers pursued nine-in-a-row.

But Tommy will be remembered for the exhilarating brand of football that he understood to be the Celtic style it was his duty to give supporters and made the 1995-96 season, in which Celtic lost only one league game, as one the club's supporters still recall as the most fun you can have without winning anything.

During it, a typically unyielding display in the visitors' goal that allowed Rangers to escape Celtic Park with a precious point led Burns to quip, with that character defining mix of vulnerability and humour, that it would say on his tombstone "Andy Goram broke my heart".

It won't. Tommy Burns had a heart too big to break, a heart that beat for his family, faith and his football, a heart he wore on his sleeve.

Back to the top of the page