From Dalglish to Tierney: Celtic departures that hurt fans the most

Fans are in a state of mourning as boyhood Celtic fan, Kieran Tierney finally completed his long speculated move to Arsenal. ‘One of our own’ has become the latest star to head out the Parkhead exit door. 

Unfortunately, in modern football’s financial landscape, Celtic cannot keep hold of its best players. Even for a supporter playing for the club he loves, the lure of big money and the opportunity to test himself against some of the world’s best players is too good an opportunity to turn down! 

In recent years, Celtic have lost a number of top players, including Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster, Virgil Van Dijk, Stuart Armstrong, and Moussa Dembele 

Although the majority of fans understand their reasons for wanting to move to England or another top league, it does not make it any easier. The case of Tierney will hurt more than most, because he is a die-hard Celtic fan. Losing him will be a huge blow to the club and to the supporters that hold him in such high regard. 

However, Tierney is not the first club icon that has left the club. Here are five other major departures that broke our hearts:  

Kenny Dalglish (1977)

In 1977, Celtic fans were stunned when the club’s star player, Kenny Dalglish was sold to Liverpool for £440,000 (a British transfer record). At the time, King Kenny was one of the finest players in world football. 

His departure was devastating for Celtic, as he was irreplaceable. Furthermore, many fans believed that the club did not do all it could to keep him, as Jock Stein is believed to have alerted his good friend, Bob Paisely to his availability. 

A year after moving to Liverpool, Dalglish scored the winning goal in the 1978 European Cup Final at Wembley. He went on to win two more European Cups during his time at Anfield, as the Merseysiders became the dominant force in English and European football.  

Having been champions of Europe in 1967, whilst remaining a top European side between 1966 and 1974 (coinciding with nine league titles in a row), Celtic’s last chance of reclaiming its former glories vanished the day Dalglish was sold. 

Charlie Nicholas (1983) 

In the early 1980s, the man that became known as ‘Champagne Charlie’ had emerged as Celtic’s new star striker.  

In season 1982-83 (his last at the club), he scored 48 goals and won the awards for Scottish PFA Player of the Year and Scottish Football Writers Player of the Year. During that season, he scored a superb winning goal against Ajax in the away leg of a European Cup tie.  

His goals had made him the darling of the Jungle. As the best Scottish player to emerge since Kenny Dalglish, Celtic had a real star on its hands that could have been the club’s talisman throughout the 80s. 

Inevitably, he attracted the attention of England’s biggest clubs. However, he was living the dream by playing for his boyhood heroes, therefore supporters hoped that he would stay loyal to Celtic. After months of speculation linking him with a move away, Nicholas was tempted by the bright lights of London and signed for Arsenal for £750,000 in the summer of 1983. 

Although he eventually returned to play for the club in 1990, Charlie Nicholas continues to break Celtic hearts’ through his often-derogatory comments about us in the media!  

John Collins (1996)

In the dark days of the early-mid 1990s, one of Celtic’s few beacons of light was John Collins. 

Collins was a supremely talented midfielder that had a cultured left foot. His creative influence, and two goals from free kicks at Ibrox, made him a hero of the Celtic faithful. Just like Tierney, Collins was a lifelong Celtic fan that supporters adored. It was assumed by many that he would remain at Celtic until the end of his career.  

However, the Bosman Ruling (1995) meant that out of contract players could now leave their clubs without them receiving a transfer fee. After protracted negotiations and speculation, Collins left Celtic to go to A.S Monaco for free. The club’s best player at the time had left and the club received nothing for him! 

At the time of his departure, Rangers had just won 8 league championships in succession. Celtic was desperate to stop them from equalling, or even surpassing Jock Stein’s record of 9 consecutive league titles. Collins’ leaving the club on a free transfer was a hammer blow to Celtic’s chances of stopping their big spending rival’s relentless march towards 9 in a row.

To this day, many fans still feel a sense of bitterness towards Collins for the manner that he left the club. This was apparent during his spell as Assistant Manager to Ronny Deila between 2014-16.

Henrik Larsson (2004)

Out of all of the people on this list to have left Celtic, ‘The King of Kings’ is the only one to have truly done right by the club. 

Throughout his Celtic career (1997-04), Larsson could have starred in any of the top leagues. Despite interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Manchester United, Henrik and his family was settled in Glasgow. Fortunately, he remained at the club far longer than lesser players of his ability tend to do. 

During his seven years at the club, he scored 174 goals. This made him Celtic’s third highest all-time goal scorer. Furthermore, he also won 4 league titles, 2 Scottish Cups, 2 League Cups, and scored twice in the UEFA Cup Final defeat to F.C Porto in 2003. 

When he signed his final contract, Larsson was very clear from the offset that it would be his last. As a man true to his word, he stayed for its duration until it expired in 2004. In his last competitive appearance in that year’s Scottish Cup Final, Larsson scored twice in an emotional send off before he left for Barcelona.

Despite the loyal service and dignity with which Larsson left Celtic, his departure was still very difficult for fans to take. Just like Dalglish in the 1970s, Larsson was a player that was truly irreplaceable.  

A year after leaving the club, Celtic threw away the league title on the final day of the season at Fir Park on the infamous Helicopter Sunday, as the team struggled without his goals and inspiration.

Brendan Rodgers (2019) 

Brendan Rodgers is the only non-player on this list to have broken the hearts of the Celtic family. 

Managing Celtic was supposedly a lifelong dream for Rodgers. In his 2017 autobiography, he talked at length about his love for the club. Fans believed that he was a real Celtic man! Or so we all thought…

After guiding Celtic to an invincible treble in his first season, Rodgers followed this up by winning a double-treble in his second. However, in the summer of 2018, all did not appear to be rosey behind the scenes. After the club failed to land a number of his main signing targets, including John McGinn from Hibs, he reportedly fell out with Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell. 

As the season progressed, Celtic despite its off-field problems had won the League Cup, was top of the league and on target for completing an historic treble-treble. However, with immortality at his fingertips, Rodgers stunned Celtic by leaving abruptly for Leicester City. 

Rodgers’ defection came at a crucial time in the season. He left the day before a difficult midweek fixture at Tynecastle and a Scottish Cup trip to Easter Road on the Saturday. Furthermore, despite being ahead in the league, the title race was far from over. 

His abrupt departure and total disregard for the club has angered many Celtic fans. Rodgers was a man that supposedly loved the club, but took his 30 pieces of silver, pulled out his blade and stuck it into the back of everyone connected with the club. 


Whilst Kieran Tierney’s departure to Arsenal is being greeted like a death in the family amongst some Celtic supporters, the club has a long history of losing its best players to clubs in England and the continent. 

In the past, there were around one or two major departures per decade, as shown by this list: Kenny Dalglish (1970s), Charlie Nicholas (1980s), John Collins (1990s) and Henrik Larsson (2000s). However, in the 2010s decade, there has been a far greater exodus of top players, as well as the departure of a successful manager. 

Although Celtic lost players previously to other clubs, it also retained many, including all of the Lisbon Lions (1960s), Danny McGrain (1970s/80s) and Paul McStay (1980s/90s). 

In days gone by however, the financial disparity between Scotland and the top European leagues was nowhere near what it is now. Although greats like Johnstone, McGrain and McStay remained loyal servants to the club, would we have been able to keep them if such an enormous financial gulf existed during their playing careers? It is possible (McStay turned down Juventus) but the temptation would have been far greater. 

One day, hopefully Celtic will be able to move to one of the big leagues (e.g. The English Premiership). This would enable us to compete on a level competitive and financial playing field and thus keep our best players. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be a realistic prospect in the foreseeable future; therefore the club will continue to lose them and supporters will experience that same kind of hurt that we are now experiencing with Tierney’s move to Arsenal.  

By Mark Nicholas

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