Scotsman Obituaries: Benny Rooney, Scot who made his mark as football player, coach and manager

Benny Rooney, footballer. Born: 3 May 1943 in Cambuslang, Lanarkshire. Died: 28 July 2023 in Cambuslang, aged 80
Benny Rooney was considered a true gentleman in both the world of football and beyondBenny Rooney was considered a true gentleman in both the world of football and beyond
Benny Rooney was considered a true gentleman in both the world of football and beyond

Benny Rooney was part of the fabric of Scottish football, a well-known, popular and highly regarded figure who made a significant contribution over more than 30 years as player, coach and manager.

It might be said he was almost born into the game as the son of Bob, well remembered as Celtic’s physio/trainer in Jock Stein’s era. He had played professionally with various clubs before being trainer under manager Bill Shankly at Workington Town and it was there, aged ten, that Benny’s appetite for the game was whetted by joining the players in training sessions.

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Having started with Celtic without breaking into the first team, he went on to play a total of 439 games, mostly in the top tier with Dundee United, St Johnstone and Partick Thistle.

His playing career was most closely associated with the Perth club whom he captained, led to their first national cup final in the League Cup in 1969, to 3rd place in the old First Division in 1971 and then into their first and memorable European campaign where teams of the calibre of Hamburg and Vasas Budapest were defeated. An effective and determined central defender, Benny was a natural leader and Chair of the Players’ Union.

After retiring from playing he was manager of Morton, Albion Rovers and Partick Thistle before becoming coach at Celtic responsible for youth development.

He particularly made his mark at Morton where he won promotion for the part timers to the Premier Division, keeping them there for five seasons, enthusing Greenock supporters with the quality of play and gaining the respect of bigger, more powerful rivals, especially Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen who always struggled at Cappielow.

Benny also took the team to Scottish Cup and League Cup semi-finals and when interviewed about his managerial career said: “The highlight was at Morton, the time I had there was unbelievable, we had a great spirit, we were a real team.” Earlier this year he was deservedly inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.

Bernard Rooney was one of five children of Bob and Kate, with Thomas, Sandra, Rosemary and Margaret. Bob played for Clyde and Dunfermline before joining Leyton Orient and Workington Town. The family returned to Cambuslang when Benny was 12 as he began attending Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell, well known for producing footballers. In its under-15 team Benny formed a formidable half back line with future Celts John Cushley and Bobby Murdoch.

On his 16th birthday he signed provisionally for Celtic from junior side Cambuslang Rangers, for whom he continued to play. He was also “farmed out” to juniors Petershill and loaned to Dumbarton where he made his senior debut as Celtic monitored his development in the reserves as a striker.

Although unable to make the first team with several future Lisbon Lions on the books, he struck up lifelong friendships with Billy McNeill and Mike Jackson, who later was Benny’s assistant at Morton.

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In 1963 he moved on a free transfer to Dundee United where he played 38 games before being signed for St Johnstone by future Scotland manager Bobby Brown in 1966.

Between Benny’s debut in December 1966 and final match in September 1973 he was virtually ever present, making almost 300 appearances.

Still a centre forward when he joined, Brown made a career-changing decision moving him back to central defence where he made his name.

Under Willie Ormond as manager with Benny as captain the Perth club made further progress, reaching the League Cup Final in 1969 where they lost 1-0 to Celtic after Benny’s last minute shot was saved “masterfully” by Fallon.

In 1971 an unprecedented 3rd place in the League, ahead of Rangers, led to the memorable UEFA Cup campaign. Another highlight was playing in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid, who wanted a warm-up game against British opposition before their upcoming 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Chelsea.

With 15 minutes left it was 1-1 but two late goals for Real clinched the result.

Following 89 games for Partick Thistle, whom he captained to the new 1st Division Title, he joined Morton as player/manager but after six games hung up his boots to concentrate on managing.

The club was not in good shape when Benny took over but he transformed its fortunes, combining youth with experience on the pitch to win the 1st Division title in 1978 and earn promotion to the Premier Division, with Andy Ritchie featuring prominently.

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Given it was a ten-team league with the Old Firm never going to be relegated and a very strong Aberdeen and Dundee United, Benny did remarkably well to maintain top league status for five seasons with two teams being relegated annually, achieving a high of sixth in 1980.

After retiring from football he entered the licensed trade as a popular “mine host” of the Queens Park Bar/Cafe in Glasgow’s south side for several years.

On Hogmanay 1959 he and Marion Kelly, a hairdresser, met and began a relationship leading to their wedding on 10 February 1964. They initially lived in Dundee before making a permanent home in Cambuslang. They enjoyed a long and happy marriage during which they had children Debbie and Kevin, followed by grandchildren Joshua, Olivia and Aaron.

Benny was a committed family man, a supportive and encouraging father who engaged with his children in many activities during their upbringing. A tolerant and patient individual, he extended the same love and support to his grandchildren. Other interests included music, the theatre and dabbling in painting.

Benny Rooney was rightly considered a true gentleman in both the world of football and beyond and is survived by his wife, children, sisters and Joshua and Olivia.

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