The passing of Joe McBride has been a very sad occassion, not only to his family and friends but also to the word-wide Celtic support, whose complimentary comments on the various blogs have been a tribute to Joe’s ability, affability and humility.
When I heard that he had suffered a stroke last week, I travelled up to Glasgow to visit him in the Royal Infirmary. By that time, he was in a coma but I got the opportunity to sit alongside his bed, hold his hand and reminisce about old times, the occasional squeeze suggesting that he might have been taking my comments on board.
Joe had left St Gerard’s Senior Secondary School in Govan just before I arrived there in the summer of 1955. Frankly, I soon got to the stage when I was sick of the sound of his name. Every time I thought I was doing well for the various school teams, one of the teachers would say “oh, you’ll need to do well to be as good as that boy Joe McBride”. So, it came as a real surprise, then, when in the summer of 1965, five months after I had joined Celtic, I met him when he came in from Motherwell and was immediately taken by his charm and friendliness.
After leaving school, Joe had gone through the youth and junior ranks (Kilmarnock Amateurs, Shettleston Town, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy) before signing for Kilmarnock in time for the 1956/57 season. Over the following nine seasons, he was fairly peripatetic, being with five different clubs but showing his goal-scoring ability in each of them;-
Kilmarnock 1956-59 57 games 24 goals
Wolves (Res) 1959-60 12 games 12 goals
Luton Town Feb-Nov 1960 25 games 9 goals
Partick Thistle 1960-62 71 games 40 goals
Motherwell 1962 65 88 games 51 goals
That is a very impressive tally by any standard but with all due respect to those clubs, they did not have the quality of the ‘support’ player that Celtic had at that time, colleagues all over the pitch who could supply the suitable passes for a striker to do his work. It should have come as no surprise, therefore, that as soon as Joe ran out with the Celtic strip on his shoulders, the goals started to rain in, 86 in total in 94 matches over the following years. That gave Joe an average of a goal every 1.09 matches, certainly behind Jimmy McGrory’s phenomenal record of a goal every 0.9 matches but ahead of striking luminaries like Steve Chalmers ( 1.7), Bobby Lennox (1.8) or Henrik Larsson (1.3).
Joe’s fabulous run at Celtic Park came to an end with a serious knee injury. He played his final match of the 1966/67 season on Christmas Eve, yet still finished top scorer in Division One with 33 goals. His injury was a serious one and a proper diagnosis of its extent was difficult. In fact, his operation did not go ahead until 10th March 1967, so you can just imagine Joe’s frustration as the team of which he had been an essential component picked up one trophy after another.
I was always full of admiration for the way Joe handled what must have been a bitterly disappointing period in his career. He was a popular member of the dressing-room and the boys all had a great deal of sympathy for his position. His knee operation was performed in Killearn Hospital, some 20-odd miles from Glasgow, yet each and every player made the trip out there to see him. To miss out on Lisbon must have been very wounding yet Joe never complained and in the years since I have never heard him express any bitterness about not participating in Celtic’s biggest-ever moment, especially as he knew, as we all did, that his name would have been the first one on the team sheet.
He did come back after the injury and did reasonably well but Jock Stein eventually made the decision to release him and Joe went on his travels once more and just as before, knocked in the goals for his clubs;-
Hibs 1968-70 67 matches 58 goals
Dunfermline 1970-71 20 matches 8 goals
Clyde 1971-72 12 matches 5 goals
The years after his retirement were not all good ones. Joe opened a pub in the East End of Glasgow and, as he frankly admitted ‘became my own best customer for a while’. Thankfully, he overcame that and became teetotal, quite a difficult circumstance among a group of colleagues who all liked a drink at social functions but he stuck to it and earned our respect even more.
Joe was supported all through these moments by his wife Margaret, daughter Julie and son Joseph. Unfortunately, he lost Margaret a number of years ago but his children and grandchildren have been there for him as he tried to cope with the bad moments. Naturally, they will miss ‘Dad’ and ‘Grandpa’ more than anyone else and I would like to extend my sincere condolences to them on their loss.
The death of Joe McBride has prompted a whole series of articles and comments about his life and career, most of them more fulsome than my own offering here. However, in spite of all Joe’s achievement s in the game, the biggest tribute I can pay him is one which nowadays might seem a little trite or old-fashioned. Joe McBride was a thoroughly nice man.
May he rest in peace.