Obituary: Joe McBride, footballer

Joe McBride
Joe McBride
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Born: 10 June, 1938, in Glasgow. Died: 11 July, 2012, in Glasgow, aged 74.

In spirit, if not in fact, Joe McBride was one of the Lisbon Lions, the greatest club side ever produced in Scotland. Had injury not cruelly robbed him of the chance to play in that match, he most probably would have featured in the Celtic side which famously won the European Cup on 25 May, 1967.

As it was, though he did not play past Christmas in that season of 1966-7, he still finished as the club’s and Scotland’s top scorer with 36 goals in 26 matches, making an invaluable contribution to Celtic’s unprecedented achievement of winning every tournament they entered.

His fellow players always treated McBride as one of the Lions squad, along with John Hughes, Willie O’Neill, Charlie Gallagher and John Fallon.

Such was his impact at Celtic that this highly personable Glaswegian remained a favourite of the fans long after he departed, and indeed he became a club ambassador and match-day host.

His death following a suspected stroke has left not only Celtic FC grieving, but also Hibs and Motherwell, for whom he was also a prolific scorer, and his other clubs Kilmarnock, Partick Thistle, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Luton Town, Dunfermline and Clyde.

It will be as a Celtic player that he will be most remembered, though. A natural centre forward with an unerring eye for goal and considerable heading ability, McBride was an explosive forward who could make space for himself instantly and was deadly with boot and head.

Born in Govan, McBride attended St Gerard’s Secondary, where he was an outstanding, prolific goalscorer who helped the school win honours at every age level. A teammate was Brian Quinn, later deputy governor of the Bank of England and chairman of Celtic.

After school, he was apprenticed to a scientific instrument maker and began his senior playing career at the age of 15 with Kilmarnock Amateurs, then junior sides Shettleston Town and Kirkintilloch Rob Roy before signing as a professional with Kilmarnock FC.

Former Rangers hero Willie Waddell became manager at Rugby Park and promoted McBride to the first team where he began his notable goalscoring exploits.

An unhappy brief spell with English champions Wolverhampton Wanderers followed, before he moved to Luton Town. Returning to Scotland, McBride played for Partick Thistle before joining Motherwell.

Brought back to revitalise the sleeping giant in the East End, former captain Jock Stein was the first Celtic manager to have complete control of playing matters. His first signing was McBride, bought from Motherwell for £22,500 just weeks after Stein arrived at Parkhead in April, 1965 – that he had scored twice for Motherwell against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final advertised his talents.

Supplied by Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch and Bertie Auld, McBride showed his nose for goal by scoring 42 goals in his first season to help Celtic win the 1965-6 Scottish League Championship which gave them entry into the European Cup.

McBride played a significant part in the early part of the European Cup run, scoring against FC Zurich and Nantes in the preliminary and first rounds respectively. But an injury to his left knee was already troubling him.

It is part of Celtic myth that Willie Wallace was purchased from Hearts for £35,000 – a record fee for the club – to cover for the injured McBride but in fact Stein, with uncanny prescience, knew that he needed three proven goalscorers in the squad and Wallace and McBride played alongside each other before the latter’s knee finally gave way.

Wallace and Steve Chalmers became the main strike force, and while McBride was given every chance to recover, eventually he required major knee surgery for the removal of damaged cartilage. This was carried out by pioneering surgeon Professor Roland Barnes, who discovered that bone flakes behind McBride’s knee cap that he had removed were cancerous – the injury thus saved McBride’s leg and possibly his life.

McBride’s Scotland career was also truncated. He won just two caps, but this was an era when Scotland had an embarrassment of striking riches with players of the quality of Denis Law and Alan Gilzean up front.

McBride played against Wales and Northern Ireland in the Home International Championship of 1966-7, the former match a 1-1 draw and the latter a 2-1 victory for Scotland in a side boasting nine Old Firm players. McBride was also selected four times for the now defunct Scottish League XI.

McBride said at the end of that season: “Sure, I missed out on all the end-of-season excitement, but I still like to think I played my bit by laying the foundations for our league title win by scoring so regularly early on.”

There was considerable surprise when Stein allowed McBride to leave Celtic for 
Hibernian in 1968 – Stein later admitted it was mistakenly premature – but he had fallen in the pecking order behind Wallace and Chalmers, and Stein knew that Kenny Dalglish and Lou Macari would soon take their place in the first team. McBride had played 92 times for Celtic scoring 86 goals, including 24 in just 21 League Cup matches.

At Easter Road, McBride quickly became a fans’ favourite, scoring freely. To this day he remains the club’s top scorer in European football.

After spells with Dunfermline Athletic and Clyde, McBride retired from playing in 1972. He followed many other footballers into the licensed trade, firstly running The Sideline near Celtic Park with former teammate Bertie Auld and then taking sole charge of the Wee Mill near Shawfield.

Latterly living with his family in Bishopbriggs, McBride’s wife Margaret was one of Scotland’s longest surviving kidney transplant patients before her death from cancer in June 2004.

McBride is survived by his son Joseph, formerly of Hibs and Everton and now a coach and scout, and daughter Julie, and his grandchildren.

Details of his funeral will be announced by Celtic in due course.

MARTIN HANNAN