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Lou Macari On Celtic, Jock Stein, Manchester United And Almost Joining Liverpool

Lou Macari On Celtic, Jock Stein, Manchester United And Almost Joining Liverpool

An interview with Lou Macari, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You started your career at Celtic under legendary manager Jock Stein. What was Jock like to work with in your formative years at Celtic?

“When you start off in life as a Celtic supporter, going to Celtic Park as a kid to watch the team, signing for the club is a dream come true.

“I trained two nights per week at the club initially as a young player alongside Kenny Dalglish and Danny McGrain who were in the same position as me. We all wanted to impress and eventually make the grade at the club. 

“We had all been promised two years of training at the end of which we would be told if they wanted to sign as apprentices on the ground staff at the time in addition to playing.

“We trained on a Tuesday and Thursday evening and Jock Stein was there watching every training session. 

“That summed up the brilliance of the man because for the manager of any football club to take a real interest in the youth players that could one day make it to the first team is a real credit to them. Not everyone does that. 

“I worked as hard as I could to impress him and thankfully I did and had the opportunity to go and work under him. 

“Jock took no nonsense. He was a disciplinarian who expected you to always give your all with respect for others or you would be shown the door.

“He was a fair man and he would always advise you and try to improve you in order for you to have a career at Celtic.

When you broke into the first team at Celtic in September 1967, you were immediately playing alongside the famous Lisbon Lions who had won the European Cup a few months previously. How did they welcome you into the fold?

“It was a dream for me to be putting their kit out in the morning as part of the ground staff because they were my heroes. 

“So, to eventually go on and train and play alongside side then was unbelievable. I honestly thought I would never have an opportunity because when you have the Lisbon Lions ahead of you in the pecking order, that is one big mountain to climb.

“They were household names in global football. Don’t forget, they were the first British side to win the European Cup. That is the status of player we are talking about. 

“However, every footballer, even a Lisbon Lion, gets older and eventually move on such is football. That then opened the doors for youngsters like me, Danny McGrain, Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay and George Connolly to come in to the Celtic team and take on the mantle from those greats.”

You won numerous trophies at Celtic including 5 league titles. However, I have to ask you about the Scottish Cup final replay of 1971. You scored a decisive goal that saw Celtic win the Scottish Cup against Rangers in front of over 100,000 fans. Can you put into words what that was like to be part of? 

“I remember being on the bench for the initial cup final which was a different feeling to the players of today because back then teams only had one substitute. That meant the chances of getting on were slim. 

“We were winning that cup final and even though I was on the bench, I was excited about the thought of getting a Scottish Cup winners medal for the first time. 

“Although, that excitement soon faded to disappointment as Rangers went on to score an equaliser which would force the final to a replay which would be played just a matter of days later.

“Jock took us straight back to Seamill Hydro which is where we would prepare for such matches. For some unknown reason, Jock decided to start me in the replayed final on the Wednesday evening.

“I honestly was not expecting it but Jock would often spring a surprise with his team selections from time to time.

“All of the experienced players helped calm me down and I scored the opening goal of the game which was an unbelievable feeling especially in front of a crowd of that size.

“We then went 2-0 up before Rangers pulled back a goal to make it 2-1. That is how the game finished and I had the winners medal that I so desired from the Saturday. 

“My mother and father were there to watch me which meant a lot because that was the first massive game that I played in and it marked the start of a career for me in the game.”

It is often said that great teams are able to build upon success and your Celtic side was able to do that by beating Hibernian in the 1972 Scottish Cup final 6-1. You scored two goals in that final in addition to goals from Billy McNeil and Dixie Deans. How proud a moment was it for you to retain the Scottish Cup?

“It was another incredible feeling to return to Hampden for another showpiece final. Playing in those occasions was something you could only dream of as a kid so to be able to do it again was great. 

“We won comfortably that day and scoring a couple of goals topped off a great day for the club. 

“I did not realise it at that time but I have to be honest and day that my career in football was down to Jock Stein. 

“His methods and success showcased that he is the greatest Scottish manager ever. He took Celtic to new heights, the greatest heights in the history of the club and his desperation and will to win drove each set of players that he had to bring the numbers of trophies back to Celtic Park that they did in his tenure.”

Your success at Celtic led to interest from clubs in England. You signed for Manchester United in 1973. However, I believe you could have joined Liverpool if it was not for the intervention of Paddy Crerand? 

“That is true but I had no idea that any club was interested in me at the time. 

“I only found out because my contract was up at Celtic and I went in to see Jock Stein about singing a new deal. He offered me a £5 rise in my wage and I thought that I would get a bigger rise than that given my form at the time.

“It was also a difficult period of my life because my father had just died and my mother was on her own so I had to look after her and in addition to that, I was about to be married.

“Jock told me that he could not offer me any more due to the budget that he had at Celtic so I made my mind up that I would have to leave such were my circumstances.

“I did not know where I could go and there was no agents at that time so I was on my own with this uncertainty. 

“I did not know how a transfer worked or what happened but Jock told me that he would keep me informed. 

“He called me a few days later and told me that a car would pick me up in the morning from home to take me to England. I did not ask where I was going or what was happening because I would not dare question him. He was the boss and I was only a player.

“So, the car picked me up and when we got past Carlisle, I started to wonder where I was going. 

“We eventually drove into Liverpool and I realised that there was a game on that night and that I was going to Anfield. Jock Stein was close with Bill Shankly so it all fitted in to place that I would join Bill at Liverpool. 

“I spoke to Shankly and he told me that he wanted me to join Liverpool but I could not understand why when he already had Kevin Keegan and John Toshack in attack. They had no real need for me as far as I could see. 

“Anyway, I went and watched the game in the directors box and the seat next to me was empty. A few minutes later, Paddy Crerand sat down and asked me why I was at Anfield.

“I told him I was about to join Liverpool which led to him frantically telling me not to because he would call Tommy Docherty at Manchester United because they couldn’t let me join Liverpool. 

“True to his word, he called Tommy and told me that I was wanted by Manchester United which meant that I had to tell Bill Shankly I was not signing for him, because I wanted to join Manchester United as soon as they were interested given their success under Sir Matt Busby previously and their stature as a club.”

Your time at Manchester United was a rollercoaster as the club was relegated under Tommy Docherty before bouncing back straight away. You then win the FA Cup in 1977 with the club. How would you sum up your time at the club as a whole? 

“I had eleven great years at Old Trafford. Anyone who wears the Manchester United shirt is a lucky player and I loved every minute. It is a great club just like Celtic. 

“I scored goals, played in three FA Cup finals and played at Wembley around a dozen times while I was at the club. 

“Winning the FA Cup against Liverpool in ‘77 was special and meant a lot to me and the team because we lost the final against Southampton in the previous season. 

“I always remember collecting my losers medal in front of a packed and the feeling that gave me. It was not fun, put it that way. 

“That inspired Tommy Docherty and the team on to win it the following year. We were underdogs against Liverpool who were the Champions and going for the treble.  

“We won the game with Jimmy Greenhoff deflecting my shot past Ray Clemence to win 2-1. It was an incredible feeling because I had walked up those Wembley steps as a runner up just 12 months previous and now I was walking up as a winner. 

“Celebrating with our fans was brilliant and joyous. It was a wonderful feeling. 

“I achieved a lot in my career and playing at Manchester United was something that meant a lot to me. 

“I had three managers in Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson who all played me and whom I enjoyed working with so I was more than delighted with my time at Manchester United. I would not change it for the world.”

Upon retirement, you entered management. You had success at Swindon Town with two promotions, at Birmingham by winning the Football League trophy and at Stoke by winning another promotion and Football League trophy. How do you reflect on those successes as a manager? 

“For any manager, you need to have players that are fully committed to you and to the club that you are at. 

“If you have that then you have half a chance of succeeding. You see that with the number of managerial changes in the modern game. It does not always happen. 

“My successes in management were down to the players that I had. They bought into what I wanted to do and I applied many of Jock Stein’s methods because he had a great influence on me as a coach as well as a player.”

You returned to Celtic as manager in 1993. You support the club and had great success as a player however your time in charge of the club was a difficult one. Was your time as manager of Celtic, a case of the right club at the wrong time? 

“I knew that I should not have joined Celtic as manager given the circumstances at the club at the time. 

“It was a time that Celtic did not have any money to spend and therefore, it was going to be an uphill task for me. That was spelt out to me by the Kellys who owned the club at that time. 

“Despite knowing this information, I just could not turn down Celtic because as a supporter, I wanted to return. I wanted to be a part of the club again and knew that I would need support to achieve any sort of success. 

“Unfortunately, I did not have the support from the boardroom that I needed but I tried my best and got a few results here and there. 

“An ownership change then happened and Fergus McCann took control of the club and he made it clear to me from day one of his ownership that he did not want me. 

“It was actually Brian Dempsey who broke that news to me but when you are not wanted, there is nothing you can do. 

“They tried to get me to leave but I put up with certain things until I eventually left. 

“Thankfully, Celtic did get better in the years ahead and the stadium was improved to what it is today thanks to Fergus.

“It is what it is and it is a part of the history of the football club and my history. It was not great but if every job was great then no one would ever move jobs or take on new challenges when they present themselves.”

Last but not least, Lou, I have to discuss your work with the Macari Foundation. You support the homeless community in Stoke on Trent. How proud are you of the work that you do and how can our readers support the charity? 

“We started with eight people and I wanted to help them to try and improve their lifestyle. I set out to give them clothes, food and a roof over their head. 

“I am delighted when people can turn their life around but that is down to them. I can provide them with basic everyday essentials but the actual change of lifestyle has to come from them. 

“We then moved from eight people gradually to working with 50 homeless people in a new facility with individual pods as living spaces. 

“I take great delight in feeding them and helping to put a roof over their heads. We take them away on trips to Blackpool or Alton Towers from time to time as well to try and help them mentally relax. 

“You quickly realise that many of them have never been to these places and it means a lot to be able to give them opportunities to enjoy themselves. They are always very thankful which is satisfying because we are all human beings who deserve the best chance at life and support when we require it. 

“I do not like asking for help for the charity but you can access our work at our website. http://macari-foundation.co.uk/

“We accept any donation or support from the public and any help that people can give then it would be greatly appreciated and we would be incredibly thankful.