The Bhoy in the Picture: Danny McGrain
Written by St Anthony
Monday, 12 January 2009 15:51
When I was younger I never really had a favourite player. It was too easy to like the guys who scored the goals and grabbed the headlines such as Johnstone, Hood, Lennox, Dalglish, Macari and Deans (try making a forward line out that lot!). Then you had the players who, it seemed, never had a bad game such was their consistency, for example Hay, Connelly, McGrain and Stanton. These Celts were the back bone of the team although when you are younger you often fail to notice such qualities.
As I grew older Danny McGrain came to impress me greatly. Danny was a wonderful specimen of a Celtic player and had every attribute that you require in a player. He had skill, pace, technique and most of all heart because Danny never knew when he was beaten. You can add courage to that list for Danny overcame three setbacks that would have beaten lesser mortals – a fractured jaw in 1972, diabetes in 1974 and a mystery ankle injury which cost him 18 months of his career when he was at his peak. But most of all Danny stayed loyal to Celtic and gave his best years whilst others turned their back on the club.
Between 1974 and the ankle injury suffered in October 1977 Danny was
generally accepted as the finest attacking full back in the world and
his combination with Kenny Dalglish for Celtic and Scotland during this
period had to be seen to be believed. After his comeback in 1979 he had
lost a bit of pace and as he became older he played more with the head
although by this time he had developed a greater presence on the park
and became a successful Celtic captain. It was not unusual to see him
control the game from his right back position which was quite a feat.
In the late 70’s Jim Craig attended my school to make presentations and
surprised us all by advising anyone who played full back not to copy
Danny McGrain. Reason being that Danny was unique to this position and
did not play it in the orthodox manner.
In the early 1990’s I read a book in which the players who had won the
footballer of the year award in England were to choose their team of
best players from their contemporaries. Between 1970 and 1984 every one
of them picked Danny in the right back position such was the impression
he had made which is quite a compliment given the fact that he never
played for an English team in his career.
There are a few recollections of Danny in the hoops that will remain
with me. In 1979 as captain he steadied the young Celts around him in
the frenzy of the famous 4-2 Old Firm game when it looked as if they
might buckle under the pressure, refusing to allow their heads to drop
and inspire them to victory. In the Scottish Cup final of 1985 Celtic
were leading 2-1 with seconds remaining when Ralph Milne sprinted down
the right wing. Milne was the fastest forward in Scottish football at
that time but even at 34 Danny still had the stamina to chase him and
deliver the perfect slide tackle that was his forte. In 1987 Danny
played his final Celtic game at Tynecastle in a forgettable 1-0 defeat.
Celtic had capitulated to Rangers in the run in and there was a lot of
unrest at the club which ultimately led to the departures of
mercenaries like McClair, Johnston and McInally and would also cost
David Hay his position as manager. Despite this the Celtic fans stayed
behind after the game and called for the team to make an appearance.
They all came out with one exception. Danny McGrain knew that Celtic
had failed their supporters and did not think that it was befitting for
Celtic players to take the acclaim of the fans after a season of
failure. And so Danny had missed his last chance to sat farewell to the
fans. Or so we thought. Three months later Tommy Burns was granted his
testimonial game against Liverpool and arranged for Danny to take one
final bow in front of a packed Celtic Park, which was a typically
generous act from Tommy.
There are only two wingers I can recall giving Danny a tough time and
they are Arthur Graham of Aberdeen and Jesper Olsen of Ajax. Graham
became something of a bogey figure to Danny who was uncomfortable
against Graham’s direct physical style before his departure to Leeds
United. In 1982 Olsen gave Danny a tough game in the European Cup at
Parkhead although the bold Jesper was given only one kick in the
Amsterdam return and that was Danny’s boot right up his backside as can
be witnessed on this site in the recent ‘Lost Weekends’ series.
In the present day Danny is now a coach at Celtic and it should give us
great reassurance to look too the bench and see him. Danny McGrain was
and is Celtic through and through.
Image 1 shows Danny in action for the Celts and is taken from Roy of
the Rovers in August 1979. One wonders what Thomas Mannion of Glasgow
is doing these days and what he spent his two quid on.
Image 2 is perhaps one of the earliest pictures of Danny in the hoops.
Danny made his debut in August 1970 at Tannadice and this picture is
from the Hibs – Celtic clash from 19 September 1970 which would have
been only his fourth or fifth game in the first team. A very young
Danny is shown executing a perfect sliding tackle on Hi-bees’ Erich
Schaedler. Schaedler, a fine full back in his own right, is sadly no
longer with us having passed on at the young age of 36 in 1985. May he
rest in peace.
Image 3 shows an older Danny perform the art of the slide tackle again,
this time on Rangers’ John McDonald from a game played on 23 March 1983
at Parkhead which finished in a 0-0 draw.
In image 4 you will see a ticket from his testimonial game against Man
Utd in August 1980 and a selection of collector’s cards. The game
finished 0-0 with United winning on penalties. Curiously, the Celtic
fans cheered United’s Lou Macari to the rafters after having booed
Kenny Dalglish mercilessly less than two years earlier. I could never
The last image shows Danny receive Shoot magazine’s Scottish player of
the year award in the summer of 1977 shortly before Celtic’s tour of
Australia and the Far East. He is presented with the award by Jock
Stein and I have spared you the sight of Andy Gray’s ugly mush on the
next page as he was the English player of the year.