Celtic and Australia

Roy Hay, ‘Celtic and Australia,’ The Celt, 100, February 2006, pp. 28-31.

How do you recognise the contribution of Eugene McBride to the story of Celtic? The man is a marvel and and a model but really one of a kind. His enthusiasm, knowledge and generosity is unbounded and leaves all of us who know him bowing in admiration and respect. So from the furthest reaches of the football world here is a small homage to a great Celt.

Over the years Celtic players have had a significant influence on the game down under. One of these days I will get round to doing a more comprehensive search for former Hoops who played in Australia, but here I want to mention three players and a team. The players are Duncan MacKay, John ‘Dixie’ Deans and the irrepressible Frank Haffey and the team is the squad which won a four-team tournament in Australia in 1977, just a couple of months before we landed in this country.

Duncan MacKay

Duncan MacKay had a relatively short but stellar career with Celtic, racking up 236 games for the club from 1958 to 1964 and 14 Scottish caps in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He moved to Third Lanark in 1964 when Bill Hiddleston was engaged in the destruction of that club and in 1965 Frank Burin from the Croatia club in Melbourne persuaded him to try his luck in Australia. Mackay had an immediate impact on the club which had just been promoted to the Victorian State League, the top division.

Croatia had been up and down between the State League and lower divisions over previous seasons but this time president Enver Begovic organised an open cheque-book approach that resulted in the expenditure of £5 000 in two months. Hammy McMeechan from Slavia was signed for a Victorian record fee of £1 200. Other newcomers were Joe Keenan, Ian Currie, Bobby McLachlan, Bill McIntyre and Brian Adlam.

Croatia finished sixth in 1965. It was the ‘Glamour Team’ of the season, according to the Victorian Soccer Federation Yearbook. The early season form had been poor, six of the first seven games were lost, and it looked as if Croatia would go back down again, but the attraction of Duncan MacKay and the other players resulted in a transformation in the second half of the season when it finished with eleven wins. Croatia was also runner-up in the Dockerty Cup in 1965.

The team which was to take Croatia to the top in Victoria and Australia was now in place. Croatia finished 6th in 1966, 3rd in 1967 under Jimmy Adam, and won the State League for the first time in 1968 under coach Mijo Kiss, finishing seven points clear of Polonia. Only four league games were lost all season. In addition, Croatia won the Ampol Cup and the Dockerty Cup, to complete an extraordinary triumph.

Croatia at Olympic Park, Melbourne, 1968. Back row, left to right: Frank Burin (Secretary), Horst Rau (Captain), Mirko Kovacek, Billy McArthur, Frank Bot, Hugh Gunn, Mijo Kiss (Coach), Jimmy Mackay, Duncan Mackay, Peter Davies, Zlatko Balic (Reserve Goalkeeper), Ivan Mustapic (Property Steward). Front row: Billy Vojtek, Brian Adlam, Alfred Glaser, Hammy McMeechan, Billy McIntyre.

In 1972 after an incident involving crowd trouble in a match against Hakoah, Croatia was suspended from the Victorian Soccer Federation and eventually refused permission to regain its position in the State League. It was not till 1974 that the Croatians took over Essendon Lions and resumed participation at a lower level. Duncan MacKay returned to Scotland in March 1972 and was player-coach at St Anthony’s, but he came back to Australia to the Azzurri club in Western Australia in 1974 and in 1977 he returned to Melbourne with Essendon Lions as player-coach.

John ‘Dixie’ Deans

John Kelly Deans, known to everyone but his family as ‘Dixie’, was a crowd favourite wherever he played, capturing the hearts of Celtic fans by his enthusiasm and willingness to shed blood in the cause, as well as score a barrow-load of goals, 124 in only 184 games, and 89 in 126 league matches. He had been doing the business for Motherwell when Jock Stein came in for him in 1966.

He left Celtic for Luton Town in 1976 and the following close season he signed with Adelaide City Juventus in South Australia, just in time for the first season of the National Soccer League in Australia. He was top scorer in the league with 16 goals in 26 games in 1977 and knocked in 30 in all in 57 games over three seasons, almost keeping up his incredible goals per game strike rate. He scored four against Mooroolbark in 1977, the whipping boy of the first year of the competition, and hat-tricks against Footscray (1977) and Sydney City (1979).

John Deans congratulated by Steve Murray.

His gap-toothed grin was a signature image of the early NSL. Injuries truncated his Australian career. In 1980 he was back in Scotland and had a trial with Partick Thistle in July.

Frank Haffey

Francis Haffey may not have been the first goalkeeper to merit the title of ‘mad’ but he gave a unique twist to the characterisation of those whose role is nominally to keep the ball out of the back of the net. In 201 games for Celtic he kept a clean sheet in 61, but in between times he had his moments. His two caps were against England and the story about him singing in the bath after the nine-three defeat in 1961 may owe more to Denis Law’s fine comic sense than sober reality. But he did swing on top of the cross-bar in Sydney during a quiet moment in a game. After a spell at Swindon Town in 1964 he signed for St George Budapest in Sydney in June 1965, moving to Sydney City Hakoah and later to Sutherland as player-coach by 1976.

Frank Haffey in action for Sydney City Hakoah against Pan-Hellenic's Peter Clarke.

Celtic tour 1977

Over the years Celtic have made it their business to win one-off trophies at every opportunity and in the close season of 1977 the Bhoys made a trip down under for a competition involving Arsenal, Red Star Belgrade and the Australian national team, the Socceroos. It was a fair-dinkum tournament, taken very seriously by most participants, though Malcolm ‘Supermac’ MacDonald and Alan Hudson were sent home by Arsenal manager Terry Neill for insubordination and drinking, charges which MacDonald denied. The win was worth $36,000 (£27,720), plus the clubs’ guarantees, something not to be sneezed at in those days.

Tommy Burns with his shirt being held by Vladimir Petrovic of Red Star Belgrade during the final of the World of Soccer tournament at Olympic Park, Melbourne.

Celtic had tough games against all three opponents and Stein was not just being polite when he told the Australian media ,‘We don’t want another one like that too soon’, after Celtic had beaten the Socceroos by three goals to two. Celtic went on to beat Red Star in the final at Olympic Park by two goals to nil, scored by Roddy McDonald and ‘Shuggie’ Edvaldsson. Jock Stein got a mention for abusing a television commentator who had forecast a Red Star win. That game drew about 22 000 or 23 000 depending on which version of Laurie Schwab’s match report you prefer to read.

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