Last month, Celtic FC bade farewell to one of their heroes from the past. Charlie Gallagher’s cortège made its way past the front door of Celtic Park itself so that supporters could pay their last respects. But what did we know of the man?
By Jonathan Foley
Charlie Gallagher enjoyed a 12-year stint at the famous Glasgow club between the years 1958 and 1970; making 171 appearances and scoring 32 goals in the process.
More than that, he acquired a clean sweep of Scottish domestic honours and, although he wasn’t on the field that day in Lisbon, he was an instrumental figure in Celtic’s 1967 famous European Cup success story. Although to say his successes came overnight couldn’t be further from the truth.
Born of Donegal parents, Dan and Annie (Gaoth Dobhair), Charlie also became the first Scottish-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland. In a 2017 interview with TheCelticView, Gallagher discussed how he had grown to love west Donegal, having spent many of his summer holidays there when he was a child.
He was well regarded for his ability to pickout pinpoint crosses from wide areas and set-pieces. One of his most famous assists is probably the delivery he sent in for Billy McNeill to rise up over Alex Ferguson to head in Celtic’s opener in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final rout of Rangers. As we will see, that was just one of many famous set-ups for his captain.
He was also the cousin of another former Celtic player, Pat Crerand, who was well-known for his precocious talents and aggression on the field for such other teams he played for, including Manchester United and Scotland. And if the local rumblings speak true, some will tell you that Crerand also played in a number of summer cup games for the Gweedore sides under a pseudonym, but hush, no more.
When Charlie Gallagher joined Celtic, the club was deep in transition. Rangers were utterly dominant and success was proving to be very elusive for the Hoops. Legendary figure and all-time leading club goalscorer, Jimmy McGrory, wasn’t enjoying the same successes as a manager, but such was his reputation, very few fans were calling for his head during this period of drought.
Frustrations were more so aimed at the board, then chaired by Robert Kelly.
In 1961, Gallagher made his debut in a League Cup victory over Raith Rovers and come the end of the season, aged just 21, many would’ve been expecting him to collect a Scottish Cup winners medal. Celtic went into this showpiece event as huge favourites against Dunfermline, but the Pars, managed by a certain Jock Stein, threw the script out and rejoiced in a surprise 2-0 win following a replay.
For success, Charlie Gallagher would have to wait.
Celtic were trophyless in the early 1960s and Gallagher was regularly rotated in and out of the starting eleven. His finest performances came in 1964 when he put in a dazzling display in a Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final victory over MTK Budapest.
The Hunagrains would overturn the tie in the second leg, however, and Gallagher openly claimed that this night as the most disappointing of his career. He would put in another stirring performance five months later though when Celtic pulled off an unexpected 3-1 win over Rangers in the league.
One year later, 1965, Jock Stein returned to Celtic as manager and Gallagher became something of a regular in his early sides. Despite a lowly eighth place finish in the league that year, Celtic did reach the final of the Scottish Cup again where they would meet Dunfermline for the second time in four years.
Many fans still regard this game as a pivotal turning point in the club’s history.
Having twice trailed in the match, Celtic levelled each time and eventually won the encounter courtesy of a 3-2 scoreline. Charlie Gallagher’s superb ball in from a corner set up McNeill’s winning goal and, alas, the Hoops ended an eight-year barren run of no trophies. Following that, Celtic FC were about to embark on something truly special in the following years.
They became the dominant force, not only in Scotland, but across the European continent as well.
Having played much of his time in the midfield area alongside Bobby Murdoch, Stein’s remoulding of Bertie Auld’s role – often regarded as one of his managerial masterstrokes – meant that again, Gallagher’s appearances became a bit more sporadic. Celtic were roaring, both domestically and in Europe, so getting into that team would’ve been a task for anyone.
With Auld and Murdoch holding the midfield and Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox taking up the wide areas, this was the most famous midfield which Celtic ever had. When he was called upon though, Gallagher was also more than capable of lending more than just a little help for the cause.
In the New Year meeting with Rangers in 1966, Gallagher thundered in a wonder-strike as the Bhoys routed their old rivals 5-1. A season later, in the quarter-final of the 1967 European Cup run against Vojvodina Novi Sad, his stoppage time cross found McNeill’s head (again) and his majestic finish sent the famous Parkhead stadium into raptures of delight.
In a time when only one substitute was named on a team-sheet and where he could only be deployed in the event of an injury, Charlie Gallagher did remarkably well to stay in the plans of Jock Stein as Celtic embarked on, what is still, the most successful and revered period in their entire history.
He was there that day at the Estádio Nacional when Celtic famously beat Inter Milan 2-1 to become the first team from the northern half of Europe to lift the famous trophy. Although he didn’t get a run out on the field, his role within the camp was regarded as important as anyone else’s.
He was known to have been very proud of the fact that he got to represent Ireland on the international stage. The country of his ancestry thanks to his Donegal heritage. He may have only got two caps during his career, but it must be remembered that he was competing with none other than the talents John Giles (Leeds United) for that position in the team.
Following his departure from Celtic in 1970, Gallagher finished out his career with Dumbarton before hanging up the boots in 1973. He would return to the East End of Glasgow to work as a scout between 1976 to 1978 and was often spotted still attending games and club functions right up until very recent times. A Celtic man, through and through.
Charlie Gallagher, ‘the Gorbals Irishman’ 1940-2021.