In my first four years at Celtic Park, I played under three captains: Billy McNeill, Kenny Dalglish, and Danny McGrain.
Billy McNeill retired in 1975, and took his rightful place among the pantheon of Scottish footballing greats. Such were his natural leadership qualities, I wasn’t surprised when he took his first tentative steps into management with Clyde, before sparking a resurgence at Aberdeen in 1977/78.
The captain’s armband was then handed on to a new type of hero in Kenny Dalglish. Kenny was an icon of the terraces and led us with style throughout the spectacular 1976/77 double-winning campaign. But he broke the hearts of a generation of Hoops’ supporters when he signed for Liverpool in a record-breaking transfer before we were able to build on our success the following season.
The entire squad felt the loss of Kenny just as badly as the fans did. We realised only too well that he was not the type of player that Celtic could replace. He had signed for the club ten years previously and developed under the unparalleled leadership of Jock Stein’s boot-room. By the time that he left Celtic Park, there was no doubt that he had been the sweetest fruit from the Quality Street vine. We sold Liverpool the finished article, and Celtic did not operate within the type of market that housed players of his quality. Even the £440,000 that the club received could never have bought another Kenny Dalglish (not that the parsimonious board would ever have dreamt of spending such a vast sum of cash on one player).
Jock decided to make Danny McGrain club captain as we entered the new season, and I don’t think there would have been many objections to that decision. We did have another ready-made leader in the shape of Pat Stanton, but I felt it was right that Danny should take over such an honourable position after his flawless service to the club. The international right-back’s leadership lasted just 11 matches however, as Celtic’s season unexpectedly derailed in disastrous fashion.
The influential Pat Stanton and mercurial Alfie Conn were both injured on the opening day of the new campaign in a scoreless draw against a Dundee United side who would soon be challenging for the league title. Pat would never recover from a seemingly routine cartilage operation and was eventually forced to retire from the game, which was such a loss to Celtic and Scottish football. Alfie was also out with knee trouble, which required surgery, and he was missing from action until the November of that year.
Both of these losses added to the impact of Kenny’s departure, but there was even worse news in store for Jock Stein, as Danny McGrain succumbed to a reoccurring ankle injury in a league game against Hibs on 1st October 1977.
Danny McGrain’s recovery was not as forthcoming as we had all hoped, but I was to benefit from my colleague’s misfortune. Jock Stein had made me temporary captain in Danny’s absence and, after a couple of months, he called me into his office. Jock explained to me that there were serious doubts about Danny’s future and that he may never play again. I was astonished at that news because Danny seemed like one of those invincible characters who could bounce back from almost anything. He had already recovered from a fractured skull and I thought if anyone could overcome this ankle injury then Danny could.
“I’m going to announce to the press that you’re officially the club captain Andy,” explained the gaffer. “I know things aren’t great around here at the moment, and I need an experienced head in the changing-room to keep the players focussed. You know what this football club demands and it’s important that the new boys know what’s expected of them.”
I felt privileged to be handed the honour of captaining this magnificent football club. This was the team that I had always supported and the sense of pride I felt in being asked to wear the captain’s armband is amongst the most satisfying moments of my life. That pride wasn’t simply reserved for myself but for my entire family, who had supported me throughout my career. As far as I was concerned, I had achieved everything I possibly could for Celtic. I had already won the league and scored in a Scottish Cup final against Rangers, and now I was being asked to captain Jock Stein’s team.
I was part of a sequence that read: McNeill, Dalglish, McGrain and Lynch (albeit, I was never in the same class as those other players). The magnitude of that responsibility was not lost on me, and I realised that I would be carrying on a bloodline of bonafide club legends to have worn the captain’s armband. I am eternally proud and humbled to be quoted among their ranks. Having overcome my own personal injury woes, my career had gone full circle, and I felt that this was the most satisfying reward anyone could ever have bestowed upon me.
A few times over the years it has been levied to me that I was given the Celtic captaincy by default due to the departure of Kenny Dalglish and the injury to Danny. But the way I view it is that virtually every captain gets the armband by default. Kenny was given the title when big Billy retired, and then Danny was the ideal recipient when Kenny left. I only got it because Danny was injured but I fulfilled the role with pride, and it certainly doesn’t make it any less of an achievement to me.
My only regret was that I was unable to captain the side to an honour, as Danny had sensationally returned to action (like Lazarus) for our historic 1979 league title win – when ten men won the league.
Andy Lynch’s autobiography, ‘Hoops, Stars & Stripes,’ is available to buy from The Penalty Spot, Sword Street, Glasgow.Listen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast