In the late 1960s/early 70s, Celtic had some of the best young footballers in Europe, including Kenny Dalglish, Lou Macari, Brian McLaughlin, Danny McGrain, George Connelly, Paul Wilson, Davie Hay, Vic Davidson and George Connelly.
The ‘Quality Street Gang’ as they became known were gradually integrated into the remaining Lisbon Lions squad. This team could have dominated Scottish football for another ten to fifteen years, whilst remaining consistent challengers for further European Cup glory.
As a collective group of players they could have been the 1970s equivalent of Manchester United’s Class of ’92.
Departures and Injuries
Unfortunately it was not meant to be, as a number of the gang stopped playing for the club in the coming years.
The first player to leave was striker, Lou Macari who joined Manchester United for more money. The following year, Davie Hay also left following a pay dispute to join Chelsea. Unlike the Lisbon Lions before them, Celtic’s best players were now being lured to England, as the club was not able/willing to match the money on offer south of the border.
Brian McLaughlin was another supremely talented player that could have gone on to have a great career with the club. Unfortunately, he suffered a career ending injury following a brutal on-field assault from an opposing Airdrie player!
Celtic’s ‘Lost Legend’
George Connelly was one of the most gifted players to ever play for Celtic. He was equally adept at playing as sweeper or in midfield and was dubbed ‘Scotland’s Franz Beckenbauer’. Connelly first made his mark in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final against Rangers when he dispossessed John Greig and rounded the keeper to score in a 4-0 victory. By the early 70s he was becoming a real star. His career peaked in 1973 when he was crowned Scottish Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, he struggled with the pressures of fame and suffered from personal and mental health problems. Tragically, he quit playing football at the age of just 26! He is known as Celtic’s ‘Lost Legend’ as he could have gone on to be one of the all time greats alongside the likes of McGrory, Johnstone, Dalglish, and Larsson.
The Loss of a King
By the mid-late 1970s, Celtic had stagnated and declined. It was not the dominant force in Scottish football that it had been a few years previously, and was no longer a major European force.
Most of the Lisbon Lions had by now retired from playing, and the aforementioned Quality Street members were no longer with the club. Furthermore, Jock Stein suffered a near fatal car accident in 1975. This had a huge impact on the club, as he was never the same afterwards!
However, any lingering hopes that Celtic had of getting back to where it once belonged were dashed when Kenny Dalglish was sold to Liverpool in 1977 for a then British record fee of £440,000.
King Kenny’s departure to Anfield was a bitter pill for Celtic fans to swallow! It was the final nail in the coffin for the club’s hopes of rejoining the elite of European football.
During his time at Liverpool, Dalglish emerged as the best player in the English game. He played a pivotal role in helping them to win three more European Cups, including the 1978 final when he scored the winning goal just a year after leaving Celtic.
A decade of what might have been!
For Celtic, the 1970s is very much a decade of unfulfilment in terms of what might have been! It was an era that featured many outstanding talents, yet the club could not repeat the success that it had achieved in 1967 with arguably an even stronger group of players.
Had the Quality Street Gang all stayed with Celtic, they would have become the eventual successors to the Lions. By the late 70s/early 80s, they would all have been in their prime and reached a level of maturity as a squad. They could even have achieved similar success to that enjoyed by both Liverpool and Nottingham Forest by winning multiple European Cups in this era.
The collective loss of Macari, Hay, Connelly and Dalglish throughout the decade led to Celtic’s decline as a major European force to which it has never recovered!
By Mark Nicholas