Scotsman Obituaries: Charlie Gallagher, Celtic legend

Charlie Gallagher, Celtic footballer. Born: 3 November 1940 in Glasgow. Died: 11 July 2021, aged 80

Charlie Gallagher pictured before 2019's Celtic v Kilmarnock game (Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Charlie Gallagher pictured before 2019's Celtic v Kilmarnock game (Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Charlie Gallagher was a highly valued squad member of Celtic’s "Lisbon Lions” who made history in 1967 by becoming the first British team to win the European Cup, now the Champions’ League.

Although not in the team which triumphed in the Portuguese capital against the highly fancied Inter Milan, the club always recognised his part in the success. His teammates also fully considered Gallagher a Lion and he was a regular and welcome presence at commemorative functions.

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Gallagher played in two games en route to the Final, the home tie in the 2nd round against Nantes and the home quarter final tie against Vojvodina, in which he played a crucial role.

With Celtic 1-0 down from the away leg and having pulled a goal back to reach level terms, it seemed inevitable as full time loomed that a third game would be necessary to decide the stalemate.

However, in the final minute Celtic were awarded a corner which Gallagher expertly floated high into the penalty area with radar-like precision to be met powerfully by the head of onrushing skipper Billy McNeill, sending the home fans into raptures and Celtic into the semi-finals.

He also made history as the first Scottish-born player to be capped for the Republic of Ireland, through Donegal-born parents, winning caps against Turkey and Czechoslovakia in 1967.

Gallagher was an old-fashioned inside forward, a midfielder in today’s parlance, a skilful player, comfortable on the ball, who could create space for his forwards, to whom he would spray inch-perfect passes with either foot.

Gallagher also possessed a thunderous shot, and these qualities compensated for a relative lack of pace and physicality.

He spent 12 years at Celtic, winning three League Championship medals – in 1966, 1967 and 1968 – plus one Scottish Cup medal in 1965 and a League Cup one, also in 1965.

After his recent death, the club issued a statement: “Charlie made an immense contribution to his beloved Celtic over 12 years, having joined the club in 1958, he was an integral part of the squad which achieved great things in Scotland and Europe under the stewardship of Jock Stein. Charlie was a hugely popular figure with the Celtic support, who always recognised him as one of their own.”

Lisbon Lion and friend Jim Craig was quoted: ”He was a lovely man, Charlie, he was very quiet and he made himself a friend of everybody, there were never any bad moments with him.”

Gallagher first played for St John’s [Gorbals] Boys’ Guild and then for Holyrood Senior Secondary School before joining Kilmarnock Amateurs.

In 1958 he signed for junior club Yoker Athletic and in September that year became a "provisional” signing for Celtic, having been recommended by John Murphy, his former school PE teacher and an announcer at Parkhead on match days.

Gallagher made his full professional debut as an 18-year-old on 22 August 1959 at Parkhead, in the League Cup against Raith Rovers. A report highlighted his potential: “Gallagher played his first match for the first team and he may develop into a very fine player. Not for many a day have I seen a player make so many accurate long passes, and he gave Rovers’ defence a most harrowing afternoon.”

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At this time success was thin on the ground for Celtic, although promising individuals were coming through, well-known names such as McNeill, Bertie Auld, Pat Crerand and others known collectively as the “Kelly Kids”, a nod to the influence of chairman Robert Kelly.

The 1961 Scottish Cup Final against Dunfermline Athletic offered the club the chance of redemption but after two games in front of a total crowd of 200,000, the Fifers prevailed, with Gallagher playing in both.

Success in the Glasgow Cup the following season, when he scored twice in the final, offered a crumb of comfort, while later in 1962 Celtic and Gallagher made their debut in European competition against Valencia in the Fairs Cup, the first of a total 13 European appearances.

In April 1965 shortly after the appointment of Jock Stein, Celtic brought their barren spell to an end by winning the Scottish Cup against Dunfermline, with Gallagher providing a pinpoint corner for the crucial winning headed goal by McNeill, having earlier laid on the team’s first goal in the 3-2 success.

And six months later Gallagher won a League Cup medal against perennial rivals Rangers as Celtic’s fortunes improved greatly under Stein, with the first of nine consecutive League titles being secured later that season, the first of three for Gallagher.

Reportedly, tension grew between the manager and Gallagher, who played little towards the end of the decade, and in 1970 he joined Dumbarton, for whom he played 95 games and scored 41 goals.

He was an important member of the team which won the old 2nd Division title in 1972, bringing top tier football to the club for the first time in 50 years.

After retiring in 1973 he had a spell as a scout for Celtic and later worked as a taxi driver. He and his family lived in Bishopbriggs and he is survived by wife Mary, children Paul, Kieron and Claire, and several grandchildren.

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