May 15th of this year (2019) marked the 11th anniversary of the death of one of Celtic's much loved sons. A local lad from the Calton who lived the dream and played for his beloved team. As Tommy put it, he was simply a "supporter who got lucky".
Thomas "Tommy" Burns was born on the 16th of December 1956 in Soho Street of the Calton area in Glasgow's East End, only roughly 1 mile from Celtic Park. As most of those with historical knowledge will know, the Celtic and the Calton are synonymous to each other, with St. Mary's Chapel being widely regarded as the "birthplace" of Celtic Football Club, under the guidance of Brother Walfrid and others who are not as widely recognised.
Born to a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, there was no signs of any religious tensions in this mixed household, so it was no surprise that Tommy would attend local St. Mary's R.C school (also founded by Brother Walfrid), and later nearby St. Mungo's. It was in these early years with his Roman Catholic/educational upbringing that Tommy would become personally and deeply involved with his Roman Catholic religion - one that Tommy would spend a lifetime of devotion to, and never hid his love for his * and his faith.
Tommy grew up supporting his local team - Celtic. Like many children of his generation in the Calton, a ball was never away from his feet, kicking around the tenements and streets honing his skills and dedication to the game he loved with his main aim of one day playing in his beloved green and white Hoops. I've been told personally that Tommy was never the best footballer to have come from the Calton, but he was probably the only one with any talent that managed to stay away from the alcohol and gang fighting, although the naturally red-haired kid wasn't shy with his temper nor his fists.
Tommy began his footballing journey with the St. Mary's Boys Guild team, under the tutelage of fellow Caltonian - John Rice. Tommy tributes the man he described as "the Godfather of the Calton" as a huge influence on keeping him on the right track. Tommy then moved on to Eastercraigs Boys Club as a 14 year old in order to gain more publicity to scouts, as they generally never looked at Boys Guild teams. This move proved to be vital toward his dream, as it was here that he was scouted by Celtic, and invited to join the Boys team under the great Willie Fearney - another man who Tommy attributes to guiding him on the right path.
Tommy recalled a time when he arrived for training as a 17 year old in good ol' fashioned Glasgow rain when he described himself as looking like a "drowned rat", Mr. Stein asked him where his raincoat was, to which Tommy replied that he was only on £15 a week and couldn't afford one. In Tommy's next wage packet, there was an extra £30 inside the brown packet with a note that said "get yourself a decent coat". Stein never confirmed to Burns that is was he who had given the young bhoy the gift, but Tommy always suspected it was a generous move from the then Celtic manager.
During his time at Celtic Boys, Mr. Stein told Tommy that if he stuck to everything that he was told and applied himself well, he'd be in the Celtic team within 5 years. True to his character, Tommy stuck to the challenge set by Mr. Stein, and - after successful loans to Maryhill Juniors and then rather surprisingly a further loan move to Rhodesia (now known as the country of Zimbabwe) with Salisbury Callies, it was in 1975 Burns had finally accomplished his dream of playing for Celtic, making his debut as a substitute against Dundee.
It wasn't until a full year later that he would go on to make his full Celtic Park debut against Aberdeen, and after a few fleeting appearances, Burns made his Old Firm debut against Rangers on the 26th April 1976, and was widely regarded as the best player on the pitch during a 0-0 draw. Tommy that season would later go on to clinch a league winners medal as Celtic won the title at Easter Road against Hibernian, with Burns coming on as a late sub for Ronnie Glavin, and then as Celtic defeated their arch rivals from across the city in that season's Scottish Cup final, Burns was an unused substitute.
The following season was nowhere near as successful for Celtic nor Burns, as the reigning Champions finished 5th in the league, having been largely inconsistent throughout - probably due to the knock on affect of having lost Kenny Dalglish early on with the Parkhead icon moving on to Liverpool, and Celtic putting far too much dependency on 20 year old Tommy and the likes of a young Roy Aitken, Allan Sneddon and the mercurial George McCluskey.
Jock Stein left Celtic Park as manager, and was replaced by long-serving captain Billy McNeill for the 1978 season. Celtic continued to build their team around the younger players, although the likes of Davie Provan and Murdo McLeod were brought in to add much needed experience. The first half of this season proved to be a follow-on from the previous, with Celtic's play being dogged by further inconsistency - especially with Tommy. The semi final of the Scottish Cup was to be an extremely harsh lesson for Burns, with the fiery ginger (who rather aptly was known as "Moanie" by his team mates) seeing a red card for dissent over the award of a late penalty to Rangers, one which they would score from and go on to win the game 3-2, despite Burns being the best player on the park. Celtic though managed to put together an extremely impressive run of form - including a game where many believe Tommy scored his greatest ever goal for Celtic against Hearts with a thunderbolt volley in a 3-0 victory at Swinecastle on April 8th. League victory was in Celtic's grasp, and on May 21st, the Green and White Hoops managed to secure the league title in dramatic fashion as they beat arch-rivals Rangers 4-2 that was dubbed by Celts fans as "The night Ten Men won the league". Burns was to miss this game as a result of injury, but Tommy was iconically pictured celebrating ecstatically among the players and support.
The following season started off disastrously for Tommy, although over the full course he would go from zero to hero. Injury was to plague him throughout, but it was a huge bust up with manager Billy McNeill that almost resulted in Tommy's Celtic career being cut short. A squad get together at Seamill Hydro on the eve of Celtic's semi final against Hibs in which the fiery Burns took um bridge to being criticized by McNeill at a team meeting, with Burns squaring up to the Celtic manager, only for McNeill to grab Burns by the throat and ramming the Calton lad up against a fireplace! This could easily have spelled the end for TB's at Celtic but only an apology to McNeill managed to give Burns a reprieve. Tommy returned late on in the game against Hibs which Celtic won. Celtic faced Rangers in the final that year (having lost out on the league) which Celtic managed to produce yet another cup final victory against the Govan-ites, with Tommy particularly impressing.
1980 brought about a period of turmoil for Burns in his Celtic career. Early in the season it was thought that his temper was more than a liability for Celtic, this idea being particularly prevalent after Burns was sent off for a horror tackle on (rather ironically) Gordon Strachan versus Aberdeen. Before the end of the season, Tommy would go on to marry his beloved Rosemary at St. Francis RC church in the Gorbals, where hundreds of fans turned out to applaud the happy couple. This was a turning point in Burns life, both personally and professionally, but the last in a long line of off-field issues was causing problems between Burns and the Celtic heirarchy, as Burns (along with Roddy McDonald) were dropped by Billy McNeill as both men refused to sign contract extensions (both men out of contract in the summer, with Arsenal rumoured to be wanting Tommy as a replacement for Liam Brady who had signed for Juventus, although this never materialised).
The following season was a new dawn for Tommy Burns' Celtic career. Most likely with the now Mrs. Burns tempering Tommy's fire, he added a maturity and calmness to his game. Tommy was now showing superior consistency and judgement to his game, with the midfielder now being a goal scoring threat, with him reaching double figures by the end of the season. Celtic were again this season to become champions, with a 3-2 win against Dundee Utd at Tannadice on the 22nd of April. Tommy was to score the 3rd goal for Celtic that day with a sensational dribble past two players before thumping the ball past 'keeper Hamish McAlpine that brought the trophy back to Paradise once more. Tommy would cap this season off with achieving yet another professional goal of representing Scotland, making his debut against Northern Ireland at Hampden in May 1981.
The 1981/82 season was a remarkable one for Celtic and Tommy. Many say that this was arguably his best in a Celtic jersey. On the opening game of the season against Airdrie, Tommy scored the opener after 40 seconds, and this would go on to be the first of many goals and wins for Celtic as they went top of the league after this game, and went all the way to the end of the season in 1st place, although only clinching the league mathematically on the last day with an emphatic win against St. Mirren at Celtic Park. Fans from the older generation that I have spoken to during this season Burns was without doubt THE best midfielder in Scotland at the time, and that this Celtic team were by far playing the best Celtic football since they heydays of the Lisbon Lions.
In the 1982 season, Tommy was again under scrutiny as his contract was due to expire once more. Again, Arsenal (along with Everton) were rumoured to want Burns, but TB put these rumours to bed and signed an extension with Celtic. Towards the end of the year Celtic were showing insatiable form, having clinched the League Cup by beating Rangers 2-1 at Hampden. On January, Tommy was to score a majestic goal against Dundee, although only a few short minutes after scoring his wonder goal, Tommy sustained an injury that kept him out of the side for a lengthy period, culminating in Celtic losing form in dramatic style that lead to them dropping considerable amounts of points and allowing Dundee Utd to clinch the league.
The following season, manager McNeill had departed the club and was replaced by Davie Hay. The "Quiet Assassin" had his first major hurdle to overcome, with Burns seemingly keen on a move to Chelsea, although this move would not come to fruition, as the London club refused to go higher than the £150,000 that they had bid for Burns. Tommy was to remain a Celt, but injury prone-ness and inconsitency had again creeped into Burns' game. Celtic again failed to capture the league title, as the team produced some woeful performances and were crippled by inconsistency. However, Celtic managed to clinch the Scottish Cup with a dramatic 2-1 victory over Dundee Utd in which Frank McGarvey scored a late diving header. This was bittersweet for Burns though, as although his club had won more silverware, he had a less than impressive game and was hooked shortly after 65 mins for Brian McClair.
The 1985/86 season did not begin auspiciously for Burns. Manager Davie Hay had decided to try Tam at left back, and did so for a large period of the season - naturally Burns gave his all in this new position, but midfield was where he belonged. In the later part of the season Burns would move back into his preferred position and this coincided with the Bhoys going on an exceptional run of form that would see them fight for the league until the very last day- that day came at Love Street when Celtic sensationally pumped St. Mirren 5-0, elsewhere it was league leaders Hearts' capitulation to Dundee by a 2 goal margin to 0 that subsequently handed Celtic the title on the most dramatic of days!
The 1986/87 season was pretty much a write-off for TB although it started of brightly enough with in startling form, form of which gained speculation that could have handed Burns a recall for the Scottish National team. Celtic met Dynamo Kiev in European competition on a night that would shape Tommy's season - during the match, Tommy was subject to a savage tackle by Kiev's Zavarov, causing the midfielder to be stretched off with a horrendous injury that would later keep him out of action for over 6 months. Burns' injury was on the list of many negatives for Celtic that season, one which saw the Hoops end trophyless - and David Hay paying the ultimate price for this with his sacking.
Season 1987/88 is an iconic one for Celtic. This was our Centenary season! 100 years as a Football Club. Big changes were afoot for the club. The board had issued an SOS to none other than "Ceaser" Billy McNeill - who returned to his beloved home as manager following a stint in charge of Manchester City and Aston Villa. Brian McClair, Murdo McLeod, *that dirty fat judas * who's name shall not be written*, and Alan McInally were all to leave Celtic, with Davie Provan retiring due to ill health. Alongside this group, a true world class great for Celtic, and a player whom Burns had always classed as one of his favourite ever players, Danny McGrain would be given a free transfer from the club. The 36 year old would go on to play for Hamilton before retiring. With this core group of players leaving, Burns - who had been a tempestuous young player in McNeill's first spell as manager would become one of the elder statesmen of the squad in his 2nd spell. Celtic needed success this season on all fronts, especially wanting League success. The Hoops started off in scintillating form, but would be dumped out of the European Cup by a Borussia Dortmund team that included recently sold Murdo McLeod, then a League Cup exit to Aberdeen. Celtic remained strong though, and under the guidance of "Ceasar" summoned the spirit of the Lisbon Lions and roared to League success with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Dundee as the Celts delivered the supporters a centenary birthday present with the League Trophy! Only weeks later Celtic were to complete the double with a late 2-1 win over Dundee Utd - Frank McAvennie scoring an exceptional double with only 30 seconds remaining in the match. McAvennie had earlier equalised after the grandson of one Patsy Gallagher (Kevin) had opened the scoring in the match for United. A dream return for Ceaser and a dream season for Celtic and Burns had happened. Players celebrated as fans that day, none more so than Tommy - who during an interview on the park gained fought back emotions to give powerful speech proclaiming the Celtic fans as the lifeblood of the club.
Before the end of the centenary season, Tommy was to achieve one of his other boyhood ambitions - to play for Scotland against the "Auld Enemy" - England. Tommy and co would travel behind enemy lines to Wembley where they would face the White Swine on home turf in the Rous Cup. Unfortunately though, a Peter Beardsley goal would see Tommy and the boys in blue sent up the road with a loss.
The 1988/89 season was to be Tommy's last season as a Celtic player. Rangers had begun their "revolution" under new owner David Murray (we all know now these days how the dirty cheating * operated!) who had spent millions under new manager Graeme Souness, whilst Celtic had lost experienced players such as Roy Aitken, Mick McCarthy, Frank McAvennie and Mark McGhee. Rangers were running away with the league, and celebrated their ill gotten gains in a season which they dominated and Tommy Burns of Celtic struggled to maintain a first team place. Celtic had lost out to a team who appeared to have been given a blank cheque, but Tommy was to end the season and indeed his Celtic playing career on a high - as the Hoops managed to triumph against Rangers 1-0 in the Scottish Cup final!
Tommy was to make his final appearance at Celtic Park in an emotional friendly game against Ajax of Amsterdam. Tommy struggled massively to reign in the tears from his eyes during the warm up session as the fans wildly chanted his name for TB's years of service at the club - it was hitting home that he would never grace this stadium and pitch in front of these magical supporters again as a professional for Celtic. Tommy was to start the game for Celtic, and remained on the pitch until the second half, when he was substituted to a standing ovation from the crowd. As he left the park, Tommy went over to the crowd in the famous "Jungle" and, in another one of those iconic Celtic memories, tossed his boots into the crowd. It was at this moment that a lifelong association with Celtic, a 14 year career with so many highs and lows had ended, as Tommy headed for Ayrshire having signed a contract with Kilmarnock.