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HALL OF FAME – The Cannonball kid

By June 13, 2019No Comments

PLZ HALL OF FAME BY PETER MARTIN

Charlie Nicholas, he had it all.

Good looking, gallus and with a ball at his feet, quite simply a genius.

Growing up in the west of Scotland, we all wanted to be Charlie.

Ok, maybe just Celtic fans!

He had the ‘new wave’ haircut and looked as good as David Bowie in a leather jacket. If he wasn’t sticking the ball in the back of the net on the back pages, he was modeling with some gorgeous ‘birds’ in the centre pages.

I feel Charlie is very much the forgotten hero for Celtic. Once you make that transition from footballer to pundit, the road can become treacherous, especially if you have an opinion that is critical towards your old club.

In 1978, Billy McNeill returned as manager at Celtic. The greatest ever captain had a huge job on his hand trying to build a team that was on a slump after the departure of Kenny Dalglish in 1977.

Billy put a solid team together with two exciting young talents in Davie Provan and Murdo MacLeod, added to the experience of Danny McGrain and the youthful drive of Roy Aitken. It was a team that would eventually go on to win the title at the end of 1979 with a 4-2 victory over Rangers the highlight of the season.

However, the Celtic fans craved a new hero and the buzz around Parkhead was all about a young kid creating a stir in the reserves.

In season 1980-81, everyone was talking about the ‘Cannonball kid.’

Charlie was scoring goals for fun and his skills were sublime.

I was in high school listening to Simple Minds, trying to copy Jim Kerr’s dancing skills and believing I could replicate Charlie’s flicks and goals on a football park.

When you come from a huge family in Lanarkshire, you don’t quite have the money to copy Charlie’s gear and Burtons menswear wasn’t quite at the cutting edge of the fashion scene!

What made the young Nicholas even more special was the fact that he was a fan playing for his favourite club. The supporters craved one of their own and Charlie fitted the bill.

Two goals against Rangers at Parkhead in a 3-1 win in February 1981 sent the ‘kid’ onto a whole new level and prompted Billy McNeill to tell everyone that the world was going to hear a lot more about Charlie Nicholas.

At 16 years of age, my world was dominated by music, movies, fashion and football.

Trying to look old enough to get into Panama Jax nightclub or Maxwell plums pub in Glasgow to see if Charlie was there was our goal on many an occasion. Telling everyone you met him would have made you the top man in fourth year at our school. I would have to wait a few more years to achieve that ambition.

Charlie didn’t just score goals, he fired in crackers; a left foot thunderbolt at Ibrox, a deft chip against Ajax, an unbelievable goal for Scotland against Switzerland at Hampden.

Listening to Charlie in interviews made you love him even more. He was just a down to earth lad from Maryhill with the same accent as me and brilliant cheeky west coast banter.

Just like my boyhood hero Kenny Dalglish, ‘Champagne Charlie’ was always going to attract attention from down south and by the time the 1983 season was at an end, we all knew he was all set to move on to pastures new.

Charlie had battered in 48 goals that season and I was desperate for him to announce he was going to sign for Liverpool. I had followed ‘King’ Kenny’s career at Anfield and I felt Nicholas was the natural successor to Dalglish.

However, Charlie had other ideas and decided the task of filling Kenny’s boots at Liverpool was too great and that the bright lights of London was the best option.

Arsenal won the race for his signature in the summer of ’83 for a fee of £750,000. Who the hell picks the Gunners over the Reds? Wtf are you doing Chas? Arsenal are shit! Yes, all these statements that came out of my mouth in 1983, although not in front of my Mother or I would have received a clip round the ear.

I’m sure in hindsight, even Charlie looks back with some regrets, despite the fact that he remains an idol to Arsenal fans of a certain age.

Even on his return to Celtic many years later in very troubled times, there were still some flashes of the old magic and one wonderful swansong of 21 goals in season 91-92.

I had the good fortune to work with Charlie at STV in my early years as a reporter. He had great patter and remained the cheeky chappy I used to idolise all those years before.

I might not agree with everything Charlie says as a pundit on Sky Sports, but nothing will alter my opinion that he is a Celtic great and a player that made my high school years much more enjoyable watching him twist one way, then the other before dispatching the ball into the roof of the net.

There are some Celtic fans that have no time for Charlie, but for the purists who can look beyond punditry and look back at his contribution to the hoops, there is no doubt he was and remains a Celtic great.

Charlie Nicholas, gallus, cheeky, trendy, skillful and a phenomenal goalscorer. He had it all.