If ever a man was destined to wear the treasured hoops it was surely Paul McStay.
Born brother to Willie and Raymond McStay, both former Celts themselves, and picked up by Celtic at an early age, it seemed that road to Celtic park awaited Paul since birth.
McStay had a wide range of passing at his disposal, as well as an eye for the spectacular. At times it would seem as if he was guiding the ball around the park. On the field he was a model pro, never one to wind up the opposition or discredit Celtic in anyway. Off it he was a quiet man who loved to spend time with his family.
A young McStay burst onto the scenes in 1982, scoring on his debut, as Celtic swept aside Aberdeen. From then on it was clear that a special player had arrived in Scottish game.
Soon Celtic’s centenary year had arrived, everyone from the fans to the chairman knew the significance of the forthcoming season, and Mcstay and his team mates were determined to deliver.
The hoops battled hard all season and eventually lifted both the league and Scottish cup. A league titled which was sealed at Ibrox with Mcstay orchestrating the win and claiming a goal for himself.
Therefore when the time came for a new Celtic captain to fill the void left by the departing Roy Aitken, there was only ever one choice…”The Maestro”.
McStay took on the role with the class and pride that was expected of him by the board and most importantly the fans.
As the financial situation deteriorated at Parkhead and the gap between board and fans expanded, it was Mcstay that was the constant figure at the club, in a time when the sands seemed to be forever shifting under Celtic’s feet.
During the 1990’s Celtic were unable to match Rangers financial might that new owner David Murray had accrued. Many first team players had to be sold to balance the books and some left as they could see no way back for Celtic as Rangers began a period of dominance that would lead to them matching Celtic’s original record of 9 league championships in a row.
However McStay rejected various clubs attempts to sign him, and remained loyal to Celtic in the most difficult of times. Although silverware was scarce throughout the 90’s it was fitting that McStay could at least lift a trophy as captain, which he most certainly deserved. The Celts triumphed in the Scottish cup final of 1995 and Paul was their to lift the Cup and the spirits of the fans.
As season 1996/97 drew to a close the time came for Paul to hang up his boots and wave goodbye to the fans for a final time. The following season Celtic were the champions once again, the club had broken free from the strangle hold Rangers had enforced for the previous decade, and the fans had a new group of heroes.
However without McStay would this have been possible?
He was the man who on the field retained Celtic’s dignity, in the way he played and lead the team. Without his calming influence on the game and pure ability Celtic would surely have fallen from grace even further and negotiations off the pitch which secured the clubs future may have been longer, more difficult or non existent. The man gave the fans something to cling to in a time of great desertion, he was the symbol of all things Celtic, and weathered the storm on the field throughout the 90’s.
For all this and more McStay truly deserves his place amongst the Celtic greats. He was a light for the club in a time of darkness and insparation to fans and team mates alike.
To him Celtic was everything, and to us he was everything Celtic.