Frank Connor: Celtic stalwart who held six club positions and two unique distinctions passes away aged 86

A special place in the annals of Celtic’s history would be a badge of honour for any lifelong supporter. Frank Connor, who has died at the age of 86, forever proudly cherished that he was the holder of two, unique distinctions.
Former Celtic, Raith Rovers and Hearts coach Frank Connor has passed away at the age of 86.Former Celtic, Raith Rovers and Hearts coach Frank Connor has passed away at the age of 86.
Former Celtic, Raith Rovers and Hearts coach Frank Connor has passed away at the age of 86.

The ebullient Blantyre-born personality - all bark, but warmth and humour in place of real bite - served his club in more capacities than any other individual across the modern age. And, in answering the call to become caretaker manager for a Celtic team on its knees in October 1993, he enjoyed a four-game unbeaten run. A stint during which wins were claimed at home to Sporting Lisbon and against Rangers at Ibrox, it means he is the only man to take charge of Celtic for at least a quartet of encounters and remain unbeaten.

He breathed life into a side then moribund, prompting the resignation of Liam Brady and his assistant Joe Jordan within hours. Stepping up from the reserve team coach role he had assumed that summer, the scrapping 2-1 home win over Dundee from players he instantly rallied, incredibly, secured Celtic a first league win on their own soil of a grim campaign. The appointment of Lou Macari as manager in late October 1993 came before the team were faced with a daunting trip across the city to face their then imperious rivals. A last minute Brian O’Neil headed-winner allowed him to leave the Govan ground with his head in the clouds. “I was manager of Celtic for just four weeks but it was magnificent,” he said in 2010.

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Connor’s associations with Celtic originated through him being on the books as a goalkeeper between 1960 and 1962, a period during which he made eight senior appearances. He then had spells with Portadown, twice, St Mirren and Derry City before becoming player-coach with Albion Rovers at the end of the 1960s. In the mid-1970s, he was player manager with Cowdenbeath, before managing Berwick Rangers between 1980 and 1982, then working briefly as assistant to Jock Wallace at Motherwell, whom he idolised despite their natural allegiances.

Inbetween, in the late 1970s, he returned to Celtic as reserve coach and then found his way back again in 1983 to serve as assistant to Davie Hay, and later first-team coach before he was dismissed in 1986.

Connor is then considered to have laid the groundwork for the halcyon days of Raith Rovers that would ensue the following decade. As manager at the Kirkcaldy club for four years he earned them promotion to First Division in his first season of 1986-87, and then kept them up, before he became no.2 to Jordan at Hearts in the early 1990s. Celtic called once more for him to have his brief time in the sun in that October of 1993, before he a stint kitman completed a remarkable set: his service to Celtic comprising six different positions.

Funny, often unconsciously so, he once said: “If anyone is looking for an ugly wee man who shouts more than anyone else in Scottish football, I’m there for them.” He had a habit of talking conspiratorially by cautioning that he was speaking “off the cuff” (instead of record). All who met him were energised by his presence, even if he was giving them an earful. Celtic’s smart, poised football that allowed them to secure a slender first leg lead over Portugal’s Sporting in the second round of the UEFA Cup could have earned a more telling advantage but for a glaring chance missed late on. Connor’s despair over that resulted in one of his most memorable lines. “He was through on goal…and the nappy came ‘aff!”

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