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Jonathan Burns remembers the impact the loss of his father had on his city

THERE was never any doubt about who "Tommy" was.

Jonathan, Michael and Jenna Burns at Celtic Park after the death of their father. Picture: SNS
Jonathan, Michael and Jenna Burns at Celtic Park after the death of their father. Picture: SNS

The letter was delivered to the Burns family home despite the sender not putting an address on the envelope. The handwriting simply said "My Pal Tommy" but it didn't need any detective work from the postie. At the time, four-and-a-half years ago, Tommy Burns' name was on everyone's lips in Glasgow. Much of the city felt like they'd lost a pal when he passed away.

Jonathan Burns is a credit to his dad. The 21-year-old was at Celtic's Lennoxtown training ground the other day for a publicity event to promote a cancer research charity. It evolved into a warm and touching reminiscence on the events of May 20, 2008, when parts of Glasgow came to a standstill for his father's funeral. Thousands stood at Parkhead and outside St Mary's Church in Calton. Newspapers and the television news showed Walter Smith and Ally McCoist as pallbearers, their friend's coffin resting on their shoulders. It was seen, all too briefly, as a moment when common decency and respect transcended football divisions.

It left Jonathan Burns with the confusing sensation of being able to derive some pleasure amid the day's profound personal grief. "The funeral was a great day for Glasgow in many respects," he said. "Sometimes things are hostile because of the rivalry and it's always been like that. It probably always will be. But to have that day, when everybody was together, was great from the family's point of view. It was something that will live long in my memory as well. Of course it was a horrible day for us.

"When you look back, it was the most surreal thing. You are sitting in the funeral car and looking out of the windows and there are thousands and thousands of people lining the streets and throwing scarves at the car. It's one of those days you look back on and almost wish you had a camera to record it all, so that you could say 'this is what it was like'. It was an incredible memory, even for such a bad day which no one wants to go through.

"Everyone made a lot of Walter and Ally carrying the coffin, but for football people like them there was nothing to think about. Dad was their friend and that's the way it was. From the outside they were two massive Rangers people carrying a Celtic legend's coffin. For us it was just dad's friends carrying his coffin. That was it.

"The family definitely took strength from it all. In the days leading up to the funeral the support was just unbelievable. The house was just never empty, even through the night. It was always full. We received a card from someone with no address on the front, all that was written on it was, 'My Pal Tommy.' It had nothing but a first class stamp and yet it still made its way through our door. Things like that give you strength, even now."

Jonathan has the endless satisfaction of knowing how much his dad was loved. He recently read an interview with Brendan Rodgers in which the Liverpool manager said it was Tommy Burns, not Jose Mourinho, who should be known as "the special one". Rodgers worked under both of them. "You find yourself thinking, 'that's the manager of Liverpool talking'.

"We will never forget the esteem people seem to hold him in. Obviously the fans of Celtic love him because he was a Celtic man and everybody knew that. But his qualities as a person made him respected by everybody in Scottish football. We are very aware that everybody who gives money through the charity and things like that, be they Rangers, Motherwell, Kilmarnock or any team, are united by their respect for him."

Burns, aged only 51, was lost to skin cancer. Celtic announced on Thursday that the "Text for Tommy " campaign had raised £150,000 for cancer research through mobile phone donations and a contribution from the Tommy Burns Skin Cancer Trust. The money was given to the Beatson Pebble Appeal to help it reach a £10m target for the construction of a research centre in Garscube, Glasgow. "Anything that my dad's name is attached to makes you want to do the best for him. It's a name, particularly in Scottish football, which breeds real respect. So we just try to maintain that with anything we do, particularly through the charity."

Jonathan inherited his dad's love of football. When the pair of them watched a game on television Tommy would relentlessly hit the pause button and, pointing to the players' positions, tell his boy what was right and wrong about the shape. "He was an absolute pest . . ."

The Burns coaching legacy lives on. Jonathan has been working with the Celtic youth academy for two-and-a-half years having previously done community coaching for the club. "I work with ages from 12 all the way down to eight. I would love the opportunity to go and coach in the game but, like any career in football, you need a hell of a lot of luck."

He shares his dad's commitment to attacking play. Burns won only a Scottish Cup in his spell in charge of Celtic, from 1994 to 1997, but with players such as Paolo di Canio, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Jorge Cadete they were capable of performing with great style and expression. "I think that's the philosophy at Celtic anyway, isn't it? Get the ball and attack. Pass and move. When you come into Celtic as a coach it's something you are reminded of time and time again. You try to be the free-flowing, attacking team. For the money that was spent, that team my dad built was the sort we might never see again."

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