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It's all about the greats . . . himself included

'I DID okay".

the maestro: Paul McStay, who spent his whole career at Celtic Park,  has returned home from Australia for the first time                                                in four years. Picture: SNS
the maestro: Paul McStay, who spent his whole career at Celtic Park, has returned home from Australia for the first time in four years. Picture: SNS

Paul McStay's modest assessment of his achievements as a footballer will likely not be shared by those fortunate enough to have watched him in action.

They did not call him The Maestro for nothing. A one-club man, McStay spent 16 years at Celtic Park as a graceful midfielder of some distinction. He made just short of 700 appearances, winning the title three times, the Scottish Cup four times and the League Cup once. His legacy includes being immortalised in song alongside legends such as Willie Maley, James McGrory and the Lisbon Lions.

He left his mark on the international front, too, winning 76 caps for Scotland and scoring nine goals. He featured in the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals, played and scored at Euro 92. He did somewhat better than okay.

McStay, however, is not one of those former players forever stuck in the past. He has created a new life for himself and his family in Sydney, Australia where he runs a football software company, Maestro Sports. He is evidently quietly proud of everything he achieved in football, and still keeps tabs on Celtic and Scotland's fortunes via satellite television and the internet, but it does not consume him the way it does many other ex-professionals. There are regular Celtic conventions and get-togethers throughout Australia where McStay would be welcomed like a king but he doesn't make a habit of going along. "I've been to one or two Celtic functions over there but not a lot," he revealed.

There are former players who deliberately take themselves out of the limelight, perhaps tired of Glasgow and its obsession with those who once pulled on a Celtic or Rangers shirt. It would be understandable if McStay had chosen that path, but moving to Australia was not a means of escaping, more a planned lifestyle choice.

"It wasn't a conscious decision to move out of Glasgow," he added. "My wife's brother met and married an Australian girl about 25 years ago so we'd been over a few times on holiday. We had a connection and decided to move over and give it a go.

"All of my mementoes are in a big box in the house but my life is really busy with the kids and everything else so I don't have time to sit and think about what went before. That was my career and I loved it. It's still very vivid in my mind but you move on."

McStay is back in Glasgow for the first time in four years, without his luggage at the time of writing after it was lost in transit along with another 150 bags. He has returned to take part in Sunday's Maestrio match at Celtic Park, a charity fundraiser featuring teams managed by McStay and Rio Ferdinand, the former Manchester United and England defender now with Queens Park Rangers.

These celebrity matches have become regular events, the traditional spectators out to watch former players trying to recreate old glories usually swollen by a throng of teenage girls hoping to catch a glimpse of the movie or music stars fulfilling childhood dreams of making it as a footballer. Any high-pitched screaming on Sunday will signal whenever heart-throbs like James McAvoy, Ralf Little or One Direction's Louis Tomlinson are within 10 metres of the ball. Tomlinson, to give him his place, has manfully returned after ending up on the wrong end of a thumping tackle in the Stilyan Petrov charity match last year that saw him stagger to the side of the pitch where he then proceeded to vomit up his lunch. Hopefully, on Sunday, the bold Louis won't, to paraphrase Neil Lennon, be bringing back the chunder.

To whet the appetite of the football fan, there is plenty of stellar, if faded, talent pencilled in to take part. Lubo Moravcik, John Hartson and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink will all be back in Celtic hoops, while Ferdinand's select includes everyone's favourite pantomime villain, Joey Barton, and Gianfranco Zola.

It is the prospect of facing a coterie of former Manchester United players, however, that has got McStay's blood flowing. "On the flight over I watched The Class of '92 film and that was an amazing hour-and-a-half," he added. "I think all of them apart from Mr Beckham will be out there on Sunday. For any young fans of football - not just Celtic fans - it should be a great experience. Gianfranco Zola will be strutting his stuff as well, Lubo Moravcik for Celtic . . . it's an occasion for people to be entertained. And there are a few movie stars as well which makes it all very interesting. I just hope a lot of people turn up to support these guys and the charities too."

What about McStay himself? He turns 50 next month and mocks himself for being a bit softer round the middle, but the Australian sunshine clearly agrees with him. Amid the ex-Premier League players, movie stars and pop singers, it could well be The Maestro who gets the biggest cheer on Sunday. "I played in Frank McAvennie's game about 12 years ago and just hobbled about. I also played in my old mucker Ronnie Coyle's game a few years back. There's plenty of young people, like my brother Willie, who can do all the running. I'll see if my legs can maybe give me five minutes. That'll be it."

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