Jackie McNamara on the men who managed him at Celtic: Part 1 - Tommy Burns

By John McGinley

September 15, 2020

Here at 67 Hail Hail, we are fortunate enough to have Celtic legend Jackie McNamara on board as a contributor this season.

As well as getting his thoughts on a variety of current topics at the club, many of our exclusive chats will also revolve around his career at Celtic from the mid-1990s into the 2000s.

Along the way, he was managed by a variety of different characters and personalities, from those who typify the greatness of the Bhoys to others that the job didn’t quite work out for.

Over the next seven days or so we’ll be providing his thoughts on each of his former bosses and uncovering a few golden stories along the way – there are the genius team talks of Martin O’Neill and the curious case of a John Barnes pre-season investigation to get to grips with, amongst other topics.

First up, of course, we chatted to Jackie about his time with Tommy Burns, who signed him from Dunfermline way back in 1995.

It was a dream come true.

Celtic legend Tommy Burns / (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

As you’d expect, McNamara had nothing but good things to say about his former boss, who he describes as a very focused individual who demanded the best from his players.

The former full-back said: “It was fantastic. Tommy was first and foremost a great man, he lived and breathed the club, everyone knows that.

“For me coming in 1995, they’d just won the Scottish Cup in May and there was a good feeling there.

“Tommy, every day, he emphasised you had to be at your best. Every passing drill had to be the best, if there was a misplaced pass or a bad touch he would go crazy. His demands were spot on.

“And it was intense, there was a lot of pressure on him at that time trying to stop Rangers’ dominance but I absolutely loved working with him.”

Jackie McNamara in his early days at Celtic / (Photo by Allsport UK)

Burns would assemble a team of quality footballers who played with a crowd-pleasing swashbuckling style and by the time McNamara arrived they were in a place to legitimately compete with Rangers across the course of a league season.

Pierre van Hooijdonk, Paul McStay and John Collins were all first-team heroes at the time as a slumbering Bhoys team was reawakened by Burns and given new hope following the 1995 Scottish Cup success.

Throughout the 1995/96 campaign, they would only lose one game in the league but still miss out on glory.

McNamara recalls: “I loved the football that we played in my first season with him. It was probably the most enjoyable in terms of the football we played. To not win anything that season was incredible.

“I came in the start of October and I wasn’t in a losing side and we still came up just short.”

Burns was a figure of immense character who managed to find the perfect balance as a manager of good humour, high standards and exceptional relationships with his players.

Celtic legend Tommy Burns / (Photo by Allsport UK)

He also had the ability to be a training ground enforcer if need be and we put to McNamara if the legend had a ‘switch’ that Celtic stars could get on the wrong side of.

He said: “Oh yeah, oh yeah. In a good way, I think he was fair. He had a fantastic sense of humour as well.

“He loved training. He’d keep training, training and training, he wouldn’t blow the whistle.

Laughing and recalling his former manager fondly, McNamara tells us of a time that sums up what Burns was like on the training pitch: “When we put the floodlights in at Barrowfield we joked that this was the gaffer putting them in so we could train all night as well.

“On the first training session I crossed the ball and I was admiring my cross. I ran into the floodlights and went falling down the hill. I burst my eye open and I came up looking for sympathy and the gaffer said, ‘What are you limping for?'”

Tommy Burns on the touchline as Celtic manager / (Photo by Wright/Donnely/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

Ultimately Burns would never enjoy league success as a manager but his spell as Bhoys boss was absolutely vital in terms of raising standards at the club.

He laid the groundwork for Wim Jansen to stop ten-in-a-row in 1998.

McNamara explains: “He was crucial to the club changing at that time. He brought the feeling back to the club. He brought the fans back with a style of football that everyone wanted to see. You couldn’t get seats, you couldn’t get tickets back then and it started to grow and grow.

“That was the biggest disappointment that we never won the league under the gaffer. I was delighted when he came back later on. He still had the same appetite, desire and love for the club.”

The qualities McNamara discusses define Burns as a Celtic legend and his contribution to the club will live on down the decades despite his sad passing in 2008.

His is a Celtic story to celebrate always.

Join us later in the week when we’ll hear more from Jackie on Wim Jansen, Dr Jo Venglos, John Barnes and Martin O’Neill.