The Celtic legends who deserved more international caps

By Euan Davidson

March 28, 2021

With the international break ongoing, there’s Celtic intrigue around the world.

From Kristoffer Ajer and Mohamed Elyounoussi for Norway to Taylor, Christie and McGregor for Scotland. Conor Hazard, as I write this, is in goals for Northern Ireland against the USA. Shane Duffy is out with Ireland, Nir Bitton is with the Israel squad, and Edouard is leading the line for France’s U21s.

What about the Celtic greats who didn’t get to represent their country on a regular basis? Those who, for whatever reason, missed out on international glory? There are Bhoys heroes who, mystifyingly, haven’t caught the glances of FA selectors across the world.

Shamefully, for the SFA, a lot of those names are homegrown.

So let’s take a look at the Celtic men who didn’t get enough caps for their country.

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Jimmy McGrory, bona fide Celtic legend

There are prolific strikers, and then there’s Jimmy McGrory. His name is still sung around Celtic Park on match days, and it’s not hard to see why. During his career, he scored a reported 408 goals in as many games. One goal a game, at least.

Ridiculous.

In a career mostly spent with Celtic, the St Roch’s product was incredible for Celtic. 18 trophy wins, including three league titles in the pre-WW2 era, marked him out as one the world’s premier marksmen. At the time, however, Scotland and England might’ve been the finest sides in the world, but they were no fans of the new-fangled World Cup.

Instead, the SFA and the English FA kept things local. There were disputes with FIFA over playing nations with whom Britain had just been at war [BBC], and so Scotland didn’t make their World Cup bow until well after McGrory retired. The world missed out.

Furthermore, McGrory had fantastic competition. His main foe for Scotland caps was Newcastle United legend Hughie Gallagher, who made 20 appearances for Scotland, scoring 24 goals.

McGrory, meanwhile, ended his playing career with just 7 caps, despite scoring 6 goals. What a huge, huge shame.

The Lisbon Lions including John Clark celebrate their 20th anniversary (Photo by Staff/Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

The Lisbon Lions

You’d have thought that arguably Scotland’s most celebrated footballer ever might’ve won more than 29 caps over 11 years. Alas, Cesar played less than 30 times for the national team.

Yes, he may have won the European Cup with Celtic, but Cesar managed less than half the caps of Kenny Miller. In fact, you can throw the Lisbon Lions in general in this category. Jimmy Johnstone, the world-renowned Lord of the Wing, only made 23 Scotland appearances. Perhaps even more shockingly, Bertie Auld won a grand total of three. THREE.

Bobby Lennox only did slightly better with 10 caps. Ronnie Simpson won just 5, Jim Craig was a one-cap wonder, Willie Wallace lined up 7 times. Stevie Chalmers won just 5 caps, scoring 3 goals. Bobby Murdoch’s 12 and Tommy Gemmell’s 18 look princely in comparison.

You can draw your own conclusions here. How an All-Scottish European Cup winning side managed such paltry appearance numbers for the Tartan Army is just absolutely criminal. Who knows what they could’ve achieved together on the international stage?

Chris Sutton scoring for Celtic back in 2004. / (Photo by Chris Furlong/Getty Images)

Chris Sutton

Yes, the England team of the 90s and early 00s were certainly blessed with striking talents. Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Emile Heskey and others were well worth their caps.

That said, it’s disgraceful that Chris Sutton only won a single cap. There are mitigating circumstances, however. Incredibly prolific alongside Alan Shearer at Blackburn Rovers, Sutton got called up to play Cameroon in November 1997.

He only got 11 minutes on the pitch, and he subsequently fell out with Glenn Hoddle [Independent], which to be honest, is a perfectly acceptable thing to do [Guardian].

Sutton was left out the 1998 World Cup squad and never got called up again. Amusingly, you can hear him discuss his England story sitting next to the manager that scorned him, thanks to BT Sport.

Joos Valgaeren: underrated / (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Joos Valgaeren

Often forgotten in the context of the great Seville team, Valgaeren served Celtic with distinction over a five year spell at the club.

Signed by Martin O’Neill as part of his heroic rebuild in 2000, the little-heralded Belgian signed from Roda JC and, overall, was quiet but enormously effective in Celtic colours. Part of both the treble-winning team and crucial to the UEFA Cup run of 02-03, Valgaeren was an efficient defender, robust in the challenge and with a useful range of passing.

Yet, even when Belgium were not a good side, Joos couldn’t get more than 19 caps. Injuries played their part, granted, with Valgaeren being ruled out of the 2002 World Cup, but he did make Euro 2000, taking on Larsson’s Sweden, Turkey and a fantastic Italy side.

Still, remember this wasn’t the Belgium team of today. They made Euro 2000 by virtue of being co-hosts, and they were particularly weak at the back. How Joos only got under 20 caps is still a bit of a mystery, especially in the pre-Kompany and Vertonghen era.

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