This cracking wee picture is taken from a Celtic game in 1972. As you can see it's a typical misty midweek game at Parkhead and Dixie Deans is shown jumping for a ball with the opposition goalie and centre half. Dixie was always good in the air but this is a fine example of just how high Dixie could get up. The unmistakable figure of Tommy Callaghan is in the background.
Anyone care to hazard a guess at the opposition ? It's a real toughie but worth a guess. Clue : It's a Scots team, not European. I'll post the answer at a later date but you will have everlasting fame if you get it right !
About 6 months ago Dixie came into my workplace and when I realised who he was I blurted - 'You're Dixie Deans !', in an embarrassed schoolboy fashion. We had a wee chat, the Hibs cup finals, the Inter Milan penalty miss, that kind of thing. Thoroughly nice guy.
Altogether now...OH DIXIE, DIXIE...DIXIE, DIXIE, DIXIE, DIXIE, DIXIE DEANS
For any Celtic fans that followed the team through the 1970's the name George Connelly brings a contrast of emotions. The memory of the imperious player with touch, finesse and a glorious range of passing in what was Celtic's greatest ever period, but also of the troubled soul who struggled to cope with the pressures of the modern day footballer and was ultimately lost not only to Celtic but football by the age of 27.
In January 1966 the Parkhead crowd who had attended the European clash against Dynamo Kiev, looked on in amazement during the half time interval as a 16 year old boy walked round the entire perimeter of the touchline with a faultless display of keepy-uppy such as they had never seen before. The enthralled crowd noted the boy's name - George Connelly - and in the Scottish cup final of 1969 he cemented his name in Celtic folklore. As John Greig took a pass from his goalkeeper Norrie Martin, Connelly ran across, dispossessed Greig and casually rounded Martin to slide the ball into the empty net. Celtic went on to famously win 4-0 and from then on George was a fixture in Jock Stein's Celtic and he was not yet 20 years old.
His progress continued to develop although arguments remained over his best position. During the 1990 world cup the TV pundits where in raptures over Holland's Frank Rijkaard who could play centre half in one game, right wing in the next game and then midfield in the next. The virtues of Holland's total football were extolled but George Connelly was doing this for Celtic 20 years before Rijkaard.
In the early days Stein deployed him more as a midfielder and he was a resounding success in the 1970 European cup semi final victories against Leeds United. Much has been written about Celtic's defeat to Feyenoord in the final that year and there is no doubt that dropping Connelly for that game was a big contribution to their downfall.By 1971 George had settled in alongside Billy McNeill in central defence. The new buzzword in football was 'sweeper' and that role was to suit George perfectly.
Comparisons with Franz Beckenbauer are not to be made lightly but there were certainly similarities between both. At this point in his career Stein appeared to be grooming him as McNeill's replacement, not only at centre half, but as captain also.
In 1973 his career was at its zenith. As Celtic completed their 8th title win in a row, Connelly was voted as Scottish player of the year by the Sportswriters. In September he was part of the Scotland side that beat Czechoslovakia to qualify for their first world cup finals for 16 years. A long and successful career for club and country looked certain. However trouble was already looming.
In June 1973 he was picked to represent Scotland in a meaningless friendly in Berne. He turned up at Glasgow airport and inexplicably left without informing anyone and it is said he climbed out a toilet window in an effort to leave, although he was to deny that in later life. In March 1974 he badly broke his leg at Parkhead against Basle in the European cup. The injury not only deprived Celtic of one of their most valuable players against Atletico Madrid in the semi final but also put a stop to George becoming a star on the world stage in West Germany that summer. During the autumn of 1973 he had been in dispute with the club over a loss of bonuses through being out with injury and this led to a short suspension. His relationship with Celtic was never to be the same and his appearances became more sporadic although the biggest blow came during the summer when his best friend David Hay left for Chelsea. Hay had impressed greatly at the world cup and was the most highly sought midfielder in Britain at that time with Chelsea beating Manchester United and Tottenham for his signature. Who knows how Connelly's career would have developed had he been able to play in the world cup finals.
By all accounts he had a quiet nature and had found the rambunctious Celtic dressing room difficult and with Hay departed time ran out for George. His last game was in September 1975 and by 1976 Celtic had lost him. Stein returned after a year hiatus and a last effort of reconciliation had failed. The biggest regret for Celtic is that had they retained Hay and kept Connelly onside then they could have exceeded their 9 in a row record and the capitulation of the spring of 1975 may never have happened. Instead of losing one class player Celtic would lose two.
It is possible that Connelly suffered a breakdown at this stage in his life. In the present day he would be accorded all sorts of medical help and sympathy but in 1970's Glasgow men were expected to get on with their life, especially men who were in what everyone regarded as a privileged position. No one knows what was going on in his head around that time. He also developed a problem with alcohol which was perhaps partly caused by associating with a team of players many of whom where hardened drinkers, with the notable exceptions of the teetotal McGrain and Dalglish.
Celtic fans are left with their memories of George Connelly. In 1972 in a one sided Old Firm game at Hampden he indulged in a spot of showboating by keeping the ball in the air during the game much to the delight of the Celtic support. At Tynecastle he strolled out from defence, side stepped two defenders and fired a glorious shot into the net from 25 yards. But his speciality was the effortless looking long pass from defence. Not a hopeless punt by an incapable defender but a measured through ball by a master of his craft to an onrushing Celtic attacker, never better illustrated than against Ujpest Dosza when Macari benefited from his vision and sent Celtic into another European semi final.
On October 3rd 2007 George Connelly was welcomed onto the Parkhead pitch for the first time in 32 years to loud acclaim and it was fitting that it would be a Champions League game against AC Milan as he was associated with playing at the highest level. He has released his autobiography titled 'Celtic's Lost Legend' and it sure to be of interest to football fans that remember his talents. It will hopefully also explain what went wrong during the difficult periods of his life.
Every Celtic fan will wish health and happiness to George Connelly.
Remember if you have a favourite player from approx 1965-1985 then let us
know below and we'll try and get a pic