Deputy Sports Editor
Approaching Celtic Park, dominating the horizon is The Lisbon Lions Stand; a tribute to the 1967 European Cup winning side.
Lamp posts adorned with the faces of the Greatest Ever XI accompany you on the walk towards reception, standing before which are three statues. To the left is Brother Walfrid, the founding member of Celtic Football Club. To the right stands the club’s best ever player, Jimmy Johnstone. The centre piece of the triumvirate is Jock Stein, who managed the club to, among many other successes, European Cup glory.
Inside, another club legend awaits: Tom Boyd. An accomplished defender, Boyd captained the Glasgow giants between 1997 and 2001. On top of his 300-plus appearances in the famous green and white shirt, Boyd is Scotland’s fifth most capped player with 72 outings. He also represented his country at three major tournaments: the 1992 and 1996 European Championships, as well as the 1998 World Cup.
It is clear that Boyd is extremely proud to have played for his country at such a level. He says: “It was absolutely fantastic. The first European Championships in Sweden, I missed the first two games. That was when I was just about starting – they went for the more experienced players. When we’d been beaten by Holland and Germany, they decided the give me a go. I played in the last game against the CIS national football team (Commonwealth of Independent States, which represented the recently-dissolved Soviet Union), as it was then, and we won 3-0. We ended on a high so that was good.”
He continues: “The Euros 96 in England was fabulous; obviously meeting the Old Enemy, England. It changed when Gary McAllister missed a penalty and there was a massive atmosphere; the supporters really took to that one.”
Then his face lights up. In an excited tone, he says: “At one stage, in the final game against Switzerland, with ten minutes to go, we were through. If the game had stopped, Scotland, for the first time ever, would have qualified for the next round of a major competition. Knowing our luck (England goalkeeper) David Seaman let a goal in, he let it in through his legs.” Only half-jokingly, Boyd remarks: “He never did that – I think he did it deliberately but that’s another story!” England conceding meant that Scotland exited the tournament.
He reflects fondly on France 1998: “To go to a World Cup Finals and play the opening game (a 2-1 loss to Brazil in which Boyd scored an own goal), which had the second highest viewing figures other than the final, was a very worthwhile experience.”
New changes brought in mean that more teams will qualify for Euro 2016 in France – 24 rather than 16 – than before. Boyd is optimistic about his country’s chances of qualifying. He says: “It’s been a while since Scotland last qualified. I was glad of that result ( a narrow loss against World Champions Germany) but I hope it isn’t another glorious failure thing because, under Gordon Strachan, we’ve been doing exceptionally well with some great results. We’ve got a lot of consistency going. I’m certainly hopeful that we can get qualification this time because I think it’s almost harder not to qualify.”
At domestic level, Boyd was in the Motherwell side which claimed 1991 Scottish Cup glory, in his last game for the club. Following one year at Chelsea, he moved to Celtic and was captain when The Hoops prevented Rangers from clinching an historic ten league titles in a row in the 1997/98 campaign. For the majority of the 2000/01 treble-winning season under Martin O’Neill, Boyd led the team onto the pitch.
“In my first year as Celtic captain, my remit was to stop Rangers’ best-ever team from doing ten in a row. We didn’t start too well as we lost our first two league games but we got there in the end. The joy of almost a generation of supporters, who hadn’t seen Celtic win the First Division Championship for a long time, meant it was a great season.”
From such a distinguished career, Boyd struggles to pick out a single proudest moment. He reminisces: “Winning your first international cap would obviously be up there, and having a great victory for Motherwell in my very last game for them. I think the most important one was winning the first league championship with me as captain and a supporter. It meant so much to the fans and that was very memorable for myself.”
New Celtic manager Ronny Deila has had an indifferent start to his career at Parkhead. Having failed to qualify for the Champions League, Deila’s men then claimed an impressive Europa League victory over Croatia’s most successful side, Dinamo Zagreb. In the next game, The Hoops lost at home to Hamilton Academical for the first time in 76 years.
But Boyd is keen to dismiss any notion that the absence of a strong Rangers has contributed to inconsistent form: “In terms of the way we’ve played, I think there’s just been general inconsistencies. We had enough chances to win the (Hamilton) game and we’re not killing teams off. We scored six against Dundee United which was exceptional but then we go and lose to Hamilton Accies and draw with Motherwell.”
In clear support of Deila, he adds: “There’s a new manager who has come in and he’s trying different things. This club demands that you win every single game and I know that can’t happen at times; there is a crisis after the next defeat. The manager is suffering a lot of injuries to key players too so there’s a variety of reasons and it’s certainly nothing to do with Rangers not being in the league.”
Deila’s predecessor, Neil Lennon, left Celtic after a highly-successful, trophy-laden spell in charge. But he is yet to be employed by an English side. Boyd says: “I am actually very surprised that he hasn’t got anything up to this stage. Maybe he is just waiting for the right one to come along. He was a fantastic manager for us who had to go through a lot both on and off the pitch; more so off it, in terms of the trouble he had to deal with.”
Lennon’s career has been plagued by controversy and, in May 2011, was sent a bullet in the post. Boyd continues: “His strength in character means that he would be able to fit into managing in England’s Premiership no problem and I think it’s only a matter of time.”
Debate has continued to rage about Wayne Rooney’s appointment as captain of England and Manchester United. Boyd, as a very successful captain himself, feels that Rooney is currently failing to live up to expectations. He says: “There is a certain responsibility and I know that Wayne has that ‘element’ in him but it doesn’t help the team or himself if he does childish things like that (he was sent off in United’s win over West Ham). I was sent off at Motherwell myself but that was when I was a young kid and Wayne’s not a young boy anymore.”
Looking to the future, Boyd feels that, due to an increase in revenue, extra importance has been placed on the development of youth players. He says: “We have to now try to structure, and the club has invested a lot of money into, the youth system. We’re trying to get the best coaches in to help them along and you’ll see more players trying to break through because of where Scottish football is at the moment. If they play well for two or three seasons, unfortunately they will be snapped up by clubs down south. We’d love to see another one-club man, like Paul McStay, but that won’t happen. I’m not sure you’ll ever see a testimonial here again.”