Martin O’Neill is always good for a Celtic story or two. From the magic of the 2000/01 rebuild to the heat of Seville, his anecdotes about that time at Celtic are always worth listening to.
O’Neill is the latest guest on Graham Spiers’ Press Box podcast and spoke for over an hour to the veteran journalist about his career and time in Scottish football.
It’s well worth consuming, with some enlightening behind-the-scenes details given on his managerial reign at Celtic Park.
Before all of that though he was a player.
Speaking to Spiers on Press Box, O’Neill recalls a time when Celtic actually scouted him as a player in the 1970s, before his big move from Distillery to Nottingham Forest.
He also talked about meeting Jock Stein years later – two iconic former Celtic managers together decades before O’Neill would land in the dugout at Celtic Park.
O’Neill said: “I met Jock Stein in Northern Ireland when he was over as a guest to open a football pitch. I stayed about 20 miles outside of Belfast at the time. I was playing for Nottingham Forest and we’d had a bit of success so it had to be between 1978 and 1981.
“It was one of those summers I was back home and I heard about him going, so I went up to see. I got a chance to speak to him and was obviously in awe of the great, great man.
“He was exceptionally nice to me, I must admit. Because when I was playing at Distillery, Celtic sent a scout over to watch me play. I was wretched on the day and they never came back again.
“When I mentioned this, he rather nicely said, ‘Oh no that’s not true, it’s just that Nottingham Forest seemed to get in there first.’
“I didn’t want to disavow him of that by saying that there was a four-month gap between the two events, but he was very pleasant. When the Celtic scout came, I was wretched.”
That would’ve been a thing, wouldn’t it? What a thought it is to think of O’Neill playing for Celtic in the 1970s. No doubt he would have won his fair share of trophies at the club throughout his career, just as he did at Forest.
Ultimately he would go on to taste European Cup glory under Brian Clough, so it didn’t work out too badly for him.
The paths of Stein and O’Neill would cross again in 1981 when Northern Ireland faced Scotland in a World Cup qualifier. The 0-0 result ensured both countries would go on to play in the 1982 tournament.
They embraced at full-time, which you can see in a video below that I managed to unearth in 2016!
Two legendary Celtic managers, Jock Stein and Martin O'Neill, embrace after a Scotland vs N. Ireland international match in 1981. pic.twitter.com/8OaLctKmyh
— The Grand Auld Podcast (@GrandAuldPod) December 16, 2016