Joe McBride: Stalwart of Jock Stein's formidable 1960s Celtic side

 

Joe McBride was the quintessential striker. Whenever he didn't know what else to do with the ball, he stuck it in the net. So ran a tribute from the revered Celtic manager Jock Stein to one of his favourite charges during the late 1960s, when the Bhoys were sweeping all before them. Jimmy McGrory, another Celtic legend and the most prolific marksman in the history of the British professional game, reckoned his fellow Glaswegian to be the best centre-forward he'd ever laid eyes on, while Sir Alex Ferguson, who hails from the next street to McBride in Govan, believed that, but for injury, his former neighbour's final tally would have been of prodigious proportions.

As it was, the much-travelled marksman didn't do badly during a bountiful 16-year career in which he served nine clubs, his aggregate of 221 Scottish League goals bettered only by Ally McCoist and Willie Wallace since the war. Though fans of some of his other employers might beg to differ, McBride is remembered most vividly for his exploits in the green and white hoops, particularly in 1966-67, the season in which Celtic capped their domestic treble by becoming the first British club to lift the European Cup.

Agonisingly for the chunky sharp-shooter, he missed the climactic triumph over Internazionale of Milan, and eternal anointment as one of the "Lisbon Lions", through an injury sustained in a Christmas Eve clash with Aberdeen. A measure of his form at the time is that even though he didn't play again that season, his tally of 35 goals made him the leading scorer in the land in all competitions.

One surprising statistic is that although he was picked four times for the Scottish League, he played only twice for his country, against Wales and Northern Ireland in 1966, the paltry haul of caps the result of being the contemporary of such top-quality operators as Denis Law, Ian St John, Alan Gilzean, Wallace and Colin Stein.

McBride was born only some 200 yards from Ibrox, the home of Rangers, but he would never play for Celtic's great rivals, instead being recruited as a young right winger by Kilmarnock. After being loaned out to a junior club, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, he turned professional in 1956 and made his senior debut in a top-division encounter with Dundee on Christmas Day 1957.

Thereafter he progressed rapidly as a central attacker at Rugby Park, scoring so regularly that he attracted the attention of leading English clubs, eventually joining the reigning champions, Wolverhampton Wanderers, for £12,500 in November 1959.

Unexpectedly McBride floundered at Molineux, proving unable to unseat Wolves' splendid front pair of Jimmy Murray and Bobby Mason, and the Scot was sold to struggling Luton Town for £12,000 in February 1960 without being granted a senior outing in the famous gold shirt.

Though he scored six times in 13 games that spring, he could neither prevent the Hatters' relegation to the second tier, nor settle south of the border, and in November 1960 he was transferred to Partick Thistle. For two years, he flourished at Firhill, which earned him a £5,000 switch to Motherwell in November 1962, and at Fir Park the McBride career really took off as he finished as 'Well's leading marksman in three consecutive seasons ahead of his £22,500 move to Celtic as new manager Stein's first signing in June 1965.

It was at Parkhead that McBride became a star. In 1965-66 he was Scottish football's joint top scorer – along with his old chum Ferguson, then of Dunfermline Athletic – with 31 goals as Celtic were crowned as League champions. He featured in consecutive League Cup final victories over Rangers, and despite his injury he contributed hugely to the retention of the title in 1966-67.

McBride cut a powerful, pugnacious figure on the pitch. Quite brilliant in the air for a man of medium height, and packing a fierce shot, he was also deceptively skilful, being adept at controlling long passes out of defence and laying them off to his predatory team-mates, Bobby Lennox and Steve Chalmers.

However, despite plundering a hat-trick against Morton at Cappielow in December 1967 in his first full League appearance for a year, McBride was never again central to Stein's plans. The quicker, slightly younger Wallace had been acquired from Hearts, the veteran Chalmers remained potent and the darting Lennox was in his prime, so in November 1968 – having contributed 86 goals in a mere 94 games for Celtic – McBride was dispatched to Hibernian as a £15,000 replacement for their departing hero Colin Stein.

The Easter Road newcomer was an instant sensation, scoring eight times in his first three matches, and continuing to score freely over the next two years. Then, having entered his thirties and cutting a slightly bulkier figure, he was sold to Dunfermline for £4,000 on Christmas Day 1970, thus outraging the Edinburgh fans who had come to adore him.

In October 1971 McBride joined his seventh and final Scottish top-flight club, Clyde, serving them for the remainder of that campaign before retiring in April 1972. In recent years he had become a familiar figure at Parkhead once more, working as an ambassador for the club.

McBride's son, also Joe, was a Scottish under-21 international winger who played for Everton and Hibs among others before taking up coaching. He is currently working with the first team at Cardiff.

Ivan Ponting

Joseph McBride, footballer: born Govan, Glasgow, 10 June 1938; played for Kilmarnock 1956-59, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1959-60, Luton Town 1960, Partick Thistle 1960-62, Motherwell 1962-65, Celtic 1965-68, Hibernian 1968-70, Dunfermline Athletic 1970-71, Clyde 1971-72; capped twice by Scotland 1966; died Glasgow 11 July 2012.

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