I hosted Tommy Gemmell’s tribute dinner, I was honoured to be asked and it was also a great excuse for me to sit next to someone who had scored a great goal in a European cup final.
Every Celtic fan seems to have a story about a special moment with a Lisbon Lion and the reason is simple, the legends of ’67 were normal working class people who never forgot their roots.
They may have earned a little more money than the common man, when playing at their peak for Celtic, but they maintained a connection with the fans who idolised them.
Tam was a special man, he had his faults, we all do!
He was funny and loved pointing out he had scored in two European cup finals. I could listen to him for hours and was lucky enough to spend some great weekends in his and his wife, Mary’s company at a number of events.
I can’t add anything of note that would enhance his reputation as a player. He was ahead of his time as an attacking full-back, he had a ferocious shot, scored great goals and would never shirk away from a fight.
The boy from Racing Club is still looking for his ‘baws’ after that famous brawl in 1967. The German, Helmut Haller was another man who felt the full force of big Tam’s boot, this time up his arse!
I like my heroes flawed, gallus, with streak of devilment and personality. Tam had all these qualities and he could play football.
A Craignuek boy, he always used to joke to me that he used to date my Mum at the dancing, which always prompted me to say my Dad was a European cup winner!
He suffered the wrath of Celtic manager Jock Stein on more than a few occasions and on his own reflection, he was gutted to be let go by Stein and Celtic.
Revenge was a dish served on a cold wet day in 1973 at Hampden as Tam led Dundee to victory in the League cup final against big Jock’s Celtic. You would have thought he would have enjoyed getting one over on his old boss after being transferred to Nottingham Forrest in 1971, but when I spoke to him, there was an element of sadness at being forced to leave Celtic too early. I did not get a sense of vindictiveness from Tommy, someone else may say something different.
As I welcomed him onto the stage at the SEC Armadillo, as the third inductee into Celtic’s greatest ever team, I could see the pride in his eyes as he took his place next to Ronnie Simpson and Danny McGrain. The fans loved him and he reciprocated that feeling back to the supporters.
He had a glint in his eye and that wicked little grin every time I entered his company, I will miss that smile and all the stories he shared with me about his great days playing for Celtic.
I once asked Tam why he sold all his medals, including the special one from 1967? He quickly replied “because my family can’t eat medals.” He pointed to his head and said I will always have the memories. That chat will live with me forever.
Rest in peace Tommy and thanks for the memories.