I want to start this week’s column by wishing Jackie Marsh all the very best.
Jackie is self-isolating at home after testing positive for coronavirus while in hospital and, not surprisingly, there have been lots of messages of support.
I can only respect and admire him and that Stoke City team of the 1970s.
I have been in his company quite often at Trentham Gardens when the former players were there for a get together and a walk around the lake. It was nice to be there with those lads when they were reminiscing.
These lads are the backbone of the club; these are the warriors. These are the people who were there when the game was tough and rough for everybody. There was no money in the game but they weren’t worried about that, they just went out and played.
It’s just sad that, when you look back, they never got much in the way of financial rewards from that era.
You can have your opinions on the modern game but there can’t be any dispute that these players from that era did give their all, worked their socks off and were loyal to the club.
They were close to the public and went out and played with few instructions because the manager didn’t need to give them many. It was a simple game and they would go out and do it – on heavy pitches with those big, brown footballs that nearly used to take your leg off when you kicked them!
While wishing my best to Jackie – and of course to everyone in this difficult time – I am also pleased to see my old team mate Kenny Dalglish is out of hospital.
He has also tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating at home, but I read he isn’t showing symptoms of the virus and has been treated for gallstones.
I completely agree with his comments about the wonderful NHS and how lucky we are to have them in this country. That’s certainly my experience of our fantastic health service.
He and I started at Celtic more or less the same time and he was a big Rangers supporter.
There were about 40 of us when we started in a youth squad and the competition was fierce because every kid in Scotland played football! You were invited for a two-year period to train at Celtic Park and, at the end of that they decided who they kept.
In my case I left my school then got a train for three quarters of an hour then two buses to get to Celtic Park.
I had grown up supporting them but they were pretty poor then. They didn’t win anything, it was Rangers and anybody else who won the trophies.
Then along came Jock Stein who guided them to be the first British team to win the European Cup in 1967. When you think of Scottish football now, you appreciate just how big an achievement that was. It is unbelievable.
We both went through that two-year period, on trial, and Jock Stein was there every Tuesday and Thursday night watching us train and grow up. That was at a time when there were four or five people at most who ran the football side of the club.
So myself and Kenny had the two years and I don’t think either of us thought we would be taken on at the end of it. Such was the competition and talent around at the time.
But D Day came for us and we were both taken on. Our work took place in the morning, getting the kit out for the Lisbon Lions who had won the European Cup. That was unbelievable for me, having started my journey with Celtic as a youngster on the bus watching them play, and never seeing them win anything until Stein came along and they swept all before them.
So, for myself and Kenny, our job started with putting the kit out for the first-team players then, after games, cleaning Celtic Park from top to bottom.
We both had deficiencies in our game. I was very small for a footballer and wasn’t that strong. In fact, without the manager and the four other people who ran Celtic at the time, I would never have been a footballer.
When I was still a youth player I had gone to play against England schools at the Dell, Southampton.
When I came back he asked me how I’d done and I had to say I was hopeless, I never got a kick. The pitch was too heavy and the English boys were too big and strong for me. There was a buy called Brian Kidd who was six foot and a lad called Mick Mills who was too strong.
Stein said, ‘right we have to alter that and get you some strength’. So, I was given running shoes and got on the track every afternoon as part of my upbringing. Eventually, I played for Celtic and then moved to England.
Without him, that would never have happened, especially the move to England because I didn’t really have the strength and power to play in English football. But having spent a few years with Stein, he taught me to look after myself, and I had no fear of anybody in English football in terms of strength and power.
He took me from being a weakling to giving me that confidence and strength to take on anybody in English football.
Believe it or not, Kenny’s deficiency was scoring goals. So, he would be practicing with a bag of balls every afternoon once we had done all our work.
He went from not being a great finisher to being one of the very best in Scottish football history.
There were a lot of us who came through at the time and we got the nickname, ‘the Quality Street Gang’.
There was myself, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, who went on to play for Scotland and Celtic for a long time, and David Hay who went on to play for Celtic and Chelsea for a long time.
If you were going to make it then hard work was a given for anybody that got their chance. I can say without a doubt that it would have been the same for Jackie Marsh and that super Stoke City team of his era.