Born: June 10, 1938; Died: July 11, 2012,
JOE McBride, who has died aged 74 following a stroke, was a Celtic legend who, but for injury, might have been up there with Jimmy Johnstone, Henrik Larsson, Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy McGrory, Jock Stein and Billy McNeill in the front rank of the magnificent men of Parkhead.
McGrory rated him the best Celtic centre forward he had seen. Stein, who made him his first signing as Celtic manager, said: "When he couldn't think what else to do with the ball – he stuck it in the net."
McBride wasn't an outrageously talented player: he couldn't dribble like Johnstone, head the ball like McNeill, or pass like Bobby Murdoch. What he could do, he did as well as anyone who has ever played the game – he put the ball in the net, frequently.
He played more than 400 senior games between his debut for Kilmarnock in 1957 and his farewell for Clyde in 1972. In those 15 years he scored more than 250 goals – which is better than the "par" figure for a top striker of a goal every other game. But he played a lot of games for mid-table or lower table clubs. The test of McBride's greatness is his strike rate when in a good team – and few were better than the Celtic team he graced between 1965 and 1968.
McBride wore the number nine shorts 94 times, scoring 86 goals – that's 0.9 goals per game. Only McGrory, Scotland's greatest goal scorer, who scored at a rate of 1.06 goals per game (gpg) for Celtic, stands above him. McBride's strike rate is superior to Dalglish's Celtic tally of 0.57 gpg and Larsson's 0.72 gpg; he is not out of place in such company.
One could say Celtic were in his blood. He was born on the day the club won the Empire Exhibition Trophy, but as a schoolboy at St Gerard's Secondary he was missed by the Celtic scouting network. He joined Kilmarnock Amateurs, then a breeding ground for the Rugby Park club, and after a toughening-up regime with Shettleston and Rob Roy in the Central League juniors, he joined Kilmarnock in May, 1956.
By Christmas Day, 1957, he had hit the net 31 times for the Reserves that season, so he was handed his debut against Dundee, at Dens Park, that afternoon. He proceeded to score 41 times in 74 Kilmarnock appearances, before, after a farewell goal in a 2-0 Ayrshire derby win over Ayr United, he was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers for £12,500, in November, 1959.
Like quite a few Scots exports, McBride didn't hit the heights at Molyneux; he was sold on to Luton Town, before returning north to Partick Thistle. He rediscovered his goal-scoring touch at Firhill, but quickly moved on to Motherwell in November, 1962.
He kept scoring: 34 in his first full season and he won Scottish League honours. Then, in March, 1965, Stein paid £22,000 to take him to Parkhead.
Like any fan on the park, he simply loved it with his boyhood heroes. He was scoring for fun, picking up League and Cup-winner's medals and in the two autumn home internationals of 1967, he won his two Scotland caps.
However, on Christmas Eve, 1967, he sustained a severe knee injury and was out of the game for a year – during which time, he was a pleased, if helpless spectator, as his club-mates earned immortality as the Lisbon Lions.
McBride's role, and his goals, helped Celtic get there. He was awarded a European Cup Winner's medal, while the 36 times he had struck prior to that Aberdeen injury meant he was Scotland's top-scorer that season, but injury cost him much. He would surely have played in Lisbon, had he been fit.
He battled back from the injury which was so bad the surgeon who carried out his knee surgery reported that some of the flakes of bone he removed from under his knee cap were cancerous. Had he not removed them, McBride would surely have lost a leg.
The goals still came, but the unsentimental Stein decided he was not the player he had been and off-loaded him to Hibs, replacing Colin Stein following his big-money move to Rangers. He continued to score at Easter Road, later on at Dunfermline and Clyde, but that extra spark he had found from wearing the Hoops had gone, the injuries were taking their toll and he retired in 1972.
McBride went into the licensed trade with some success, but became, as he admitted: "My own best customer."
He fought and won his battle with the bottle, earning greater respect by so doing. He later returned to Celtic Park as one of the honoured and feted band of club legends who met and greeted the club's corporate guests on match days.
He was always an honoured guest at functions for supporters, where his natural sense of humour could shine; while the McBride footballing genes were carried into a second generation by his son, Joe Junior, who played for Hibs, Dundee, Everton and Scotland Under-21s.
Goal-scoring in football is, on paper, a simple art: the goal-scorer has to place the ball, between eight and nine inches in diameter, into an area, approximately eight feet by 24 feet, and guarded by a goalkeeper who will be between six feet and six feet three inches tall.
It seems easy when written like that, but it is an art which few have truly mastered and are able to do with regularity. Joe McBride had that magical gift, even if it was too often blighted by injuries. He is one of those players of whom one can ask: "What if?"
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