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The Maestro - Paul McStay

5th April 1997, Starks Park, Kirkaldy.

A groin strain, just 10 minutes after kick off meant that it was all over. McStay limped over the white line slowly up towards the dug outs. Not many people there that day would know, or want to believe that they were witnessing Paul McStay on a football pitch for the very last time. It proved to be a very quiet and unassuming ending for what was 15 years of sheer class.


For those of us lucky enough, for those 15 years, we got to watch and marvel at the peerless midfielder, the maestro - Paul McStay.

Effortless, that's how it seemed when you watched him play. McStay would glide past opponents like they weren't there. Passing – unbelievable, he had vision and range that's hard to imagine unless you saw him. Tackling? More of a pick pocket in that regard. He would leave opponents wondering what had just happened to the ball at their feet. By then McStay would be 2 yards away, head up, looking for a killer pass. Goals - well timed, mostly in the hour of need. Nearly all of them were things of great beauty, forever burned into the memory. For a certain generation, Paul McStay was worth the entrance money alone. Towards the end of his career he was actually the only player on the park worth watching at all! It may come as a shock to some people but there have been barren seasons when Celtic didn't win anything. Crazy to imagine, I know right? Football had started to change by then. So had Celtic, a massive evolution was just around the corner. As the Paul McStay era came to an end, so the modern era began.


Football changes fast sometimes, and Paul McStay lived through the biggest transition of them all. When you consider that he made his debut in '82 alongside the likes of McGarvey, McGrain and McCluskey in a Cup tie against Queen of the South. The most exotic signing that day was a man by the name of Pat Bonnar, from far off Donegal. The rest were all Scots. The Kelly's and the Whites still ran the books and the numbers back then. As they ran our club into the ground in their final few seasons, Paul McStay was one of the very few shining lights. The last of the old school, like most players, he came through the ranks from his schooldays . By the time he limped off against Raith, all that had changed. The very next season Henrik Larsson was in the team, and within 18 months, wee Lubo had arrived. A very quick transition into the modern era when you look back, and all thanks to Fergus.


Sometimes as a Celtic fan, you just sit back and think how truly blessed you have been to see some of the best talent in the world play here. Some only for a few seasons, the likes of Tom Rogic, wee Lubo etc. Some we watched for a while longer, Henrik, Danny McGrain, the list is extensive. Celtic had to modernise, because football has entered a new era where legends are few and far between. Players call the shots and money is everything. It wasn't always that way. McStay could have gone to Italy, probably should have. He never, and for that, we are eternally grateful. For 15 years, Paul McStay pulled the strings for Celtic, and he was untouchable.

 

Rudolph Nureyev was a ballet dancer, he would pirouette on his big toe, as graceful as a swan. Sometimes dressed as a swan. Paul McStay would do the same, only wearing a Celtic strip with a ball at his feet, on a ploughed field in January, and leave many an agricultural defender, from Ibrox to Pittodrie, spinning on their arses. That move was a trademark of his.


McStay came through the ranks with the Cannonball Kid. When the Kid became Champagne Charlie, he soon flounced off in a pair of leather trousers and a mulletperm for the bright lights of mediocrity.


McStay was different, his business was at Celtic. It was in his blood.


100 years after Celtic were founded we had our Centenary season. This was another transitional season. An absolutely massive one, the pressure as that campaign loomed was utterly huge, because it was the Centenary.

Not only that but Danny Bhoy, Provan, wee Murdo, Brian McClair, Rambo..... all gone!


Big Billy McNeil came back to lead the way. In stepped Billy Stark and Chrissy Morris, big McCarthy was there, Anton Rogan. We had Macca and Mark McGhee. Tommy Burns was still there, Big Roy....and so.... was Paul McStay.


That year Paul McStay played the season of seasons.

We were a force of nature. We played for 90 minutes, we scored in 90 minutes, nearly ever other game it seemed! Driven, onwards by the man in the middle. Paul McStay. A team of heroes, a team of winners, they played and fought and sometimes scrapped and harried and chased. The played on and on into injury time. And won....the double! His finest hour, and they will talk about it in another hundred years. They will look back at things like THIS (by



Henrik 7)


The Maestro.


Paul McStay


He pulled the strings.



15 seasons, 678 games, 72 goals, 3 league titles. 4 Scottish Cups and a League Cup. 76 caps and 9 international goals.


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