Bobby Evans

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The Independent Online

Robert Evans, footballer: born Glasgow 14 April 1927; player, Celtic 1944-60, Chelsea 1960-61, Raith Rovers 1965-67; player-manager, Newport County 1961-63, Morton 1963-64, Third Lanark 1964-65; married (one son, one daughter); died Cumbernauld, Strathclyde 2 September 2001.

Few footballers can claim to have been the main attraction for Danny Kaye, or a backing singer for Bing Crosby. Bobby Evans earned both of these distinctions, which in some way can at least recompense a man whose reward from his club, Celtic, was sadly out of tune with his service.

Evans spent 16 years in the Glasgow club's first team, making 535 appearances until he departed acrimoniously in 1960 for Chelsea. It was this polished half-back's misfortune to serve Celtic during one of its least illuminating eras, the post-war years, sandwiched between a title-winning side of the late 1930s and the all-conquering side of Jock Stein which secured nine successive Scottish League championships and won the European Cup in 1967.

Ironically, in the very year that Stein guided Celtic to its greatest hour, Evans, who had played alongside him in the 1950s, was hanging up his boots on a 23-year playing career, at the age of 40, with Raith Rovers. Stein would ultimately become one of 11 men granted a lucrative testimonial by Celtic – the most recent, Tom Boyd, earned over £500,000 from his match with Manchester United in May this year – but it is to the club's shame that Evans was never shown similar gratitude.

The 1950s were marked with cup disappointment and league mediocrity for Celtic. Indeed, on one occasion, in 1948, they had to scrape a 3-2 win away to Dundee on the final day of the season to avoid relegation. That match marked the conversion of Evans from a youthful inside-forward to a half-back, playing in front of the defence. The sturdy redhead fetched and carried with aplomb, providing service for his forwards. His partnership with Stein and Bertie Peacock is regarded as one of the great trios in Celtic's history.

Tangible reward, in the shape of silverware, was much harder to come by. Even Evans's longevity could only encompass one Scottish League championship in 1954, two Scottish Cup successes in 1951 and 1954 and two Scottish League cups, though the last of these would enshrine Evans's status among Celtic fans, as he captained the team to an astonishing 7-1 rout of their rivals Rangers in the final.

Scotland recognised Evans's standing by awarding him 48 caps, a record at the time of his retiral, and he captained his country at the 1954 World Cup finals in Switzerland.

Born in 1927, Evans was signed during the Second World War by Celtic from the Glasgow junior side St Anthony's and his talent was such that it was not long before he made his début in 1944-45 at the age of 17 against Albion Rovers as a forward, before his switch to the more profitable half-back role.

The poverty of Celtic's post-war years was such that any honour was seized upon by the success-starved fans. Thus, the Glasgow Charity Cup Final in 1950 became memorable. The competition may have been insignificant but the defeat of Rangers 3-2 in the final saw Evans lift his first trophy in a match that became known as "The Danny Kaye Final", because of the American actor's presence at the game, which swelled the crowd to 81,000.

Just a few months later, Evans was rubbing shoulders with the other half of the White Christmas double-bill. Celtic's post-season tour of Italy saw none other than Bing Crosby as their fellow passenger on the SS Royal Albert to Brussels. Crosby shared a beer with the Celtic players before giving his rendition of "I Belong to Glasgow". There was a touch of the showman about Evans too. He wore his shirt outside his shorts – unthinkable at the time – which became his trademark, though it was adopted in 1951 simply to combat the heat of a summer tour to the United States.

If the Double-winning season of 1953-54 remains the benchmark of Evans's time at Celtic as far as the record books are concerned, the crowning glory for supporters was that remarkable League Cup final defeat of Rangers in October 1957. Evans had graduated to captain after Stein's retiral a year previously, and had moved back into defence, where his reading of the game aided his longevity. An ageing side, with many, like Evans, beyond 30, humiliated their great Glasgow rivals.

However, Evans's parting with Celtic in May 1960 was as bitter as that day had been sweet. Celtic had agreed to buy Evans a house but inserted a clause obliging them to do so only "should he finish his career with Celtic". Evans made his dissatisfaction public in the Daily Express, saying he had been cheated by Celtic, and handed in a transfer request.

The affair tarnished the Celtic directors in the eyes of supporters, who respected Evans's toil. He moved to Chelsea for £12,500 but stayed only one year before moving to Newport County, then back to Scotland, where he played for Morton, Third Lanark and Raith Rovers.

Widowed nine years ago, Evans suffered in later years from Parkinson's disease.

Phil Gordon

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