Tributes paid to a true football man

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The Independent Football

Among the many tributes paid to the Celtic coach, Tommy Burns, who died yesterday, aged 51, after a fight against skin cancer, the unlikeliest of them gave a measure of the esteem in which he was held across Scotland’s entire footballing family. Rangers scarves were among those laid at Parkhead in his honour, some by fans en route home from Wednesday’s Uefa Cup final defeat. As one fan said: “I’m Rangers through and through, but Tommy was a football man, and he’ll be missed".

In a city that is all too often still infected by the bile of sectarianism, there was a unanimity in mourning for a privately devout man spent 20 years with Celtic as a player, manager and coach, and who also worked with Scotland.

Burns once said: "I think the saddest thing about the Old Firm rivalry is the people who have lost their lives after these games in the past, for such stupid reasons.

"Educate the kids to integrate with one another and not pay any attention to who's a Catholic and who's a Protestant, and any of that rubbish. Just go out there, support your team, make good friends and get on with your lives."

The Rangers captain, Barry Ferguson, was among those who paid tribute, as did Sir Alex Ferguson, politicians of all hues, and footballing figures across the game.

Rangers’ assistant manager, Ally McCoist, said: “You would never hear anybody in football say a bad word about Tommy Burns. To have been involved in football for so long, that's quite an accolade."

Celtic’s manager, Gordon Strachan, struggled to hold back his tears as he said: "No disrespect to football, but being Tommy's mate is the best part of coming to Celtic. People will be judged, not as a footballer - and there weren't many better than him - but as a person. He's top of the league when it comes to being a man.

“Through his intelligence, common sense and humour, he made me understand what Glasgow was all about. He kept me sane at times.”

Strachan spent time with Burns on Wednesday. "I said, 'Thirty years ago, if the Celtic and Aberdeen fans could see us now, they wouldn't believe us, me and you having a hug on your bed in the afternoon'.

"It can change from kicking lumps out of each other until me here now missing somebody as badly as I have ever missed anybody."