CELTIC'S star-struck striker Frank McAvennie yesterday became the most

expensive footballer to leave Scotland when he achieved his desire to

return to the bright lights of London. He signed for West Ham United for


It is a deal which earned the Scottish club, who signed him for

#725,000 from the team which now has bought him back, a remarkable

#525,000 profit inside 18 months -- the kind of private enterprise which

surely would bring a glow to the hearts of most wheelers and dealers in

these Thatcherite times.

Such a notion was quickly dispelled, however, by Celtic manager Billy

McNeill, who was involved in the buying of McAvennie, as well as his

sale. ''I know people will say that this is good business, but I feel

only a sense of frustration. I honestly believe the player is a much

better footballer now than when we brought him here. I wanted to keep

him in Glasgow, but now that he is going, we will have to get along

without him.''

McNeill readily admitted that he had hoped to keep the 29-year-old

striker until the end of the season at least. ''I wanted him to go in

the quiet of the close season after all the targets had been aimed at.

But we will get along without him. There certainly is no sense of relief

here that the business is over, rather, as I say, frustration.''

The Celtic manager has taken some criticism for disguising the

consistently expressed dissatisfaction of the player, who had not long

returned to Scotland before he was beating a path to the manager's door

requesting a transfer back to London. McNeill still believes he was

right to do so.

''I felt it was in his, and the club's interests to protect him from

himself, and I believe that sometimes it is a manager's duty to do


Celtic will spend the money on new acquisitions, but to suggest that a

quick replacement will be found is optimistic to say the least. ''The

fact that the London clubs were willing to pay so much for McAvennie

surely is an indication of how difficult it would be to replace him,''

said McNeill. ''But Celtic fans can be assured that the money will be

used to boost the squad, not necessarily in the forward line.''

He also pointed out that the club recently had spent #500,000 in

bringing Dundee striker Tommy Coyne to Parkhead. ''It is a pity, of

course, that he is ineligible for the Scottish Cup.''

Celtic are not so badly off, despite these problems, in that Mark

McGhee and Andy walker are still on hand for the Scottish Cup and league

tests to come, but there is no doubt that there is great disappointment

in the Parkhead corridors that a man who had been plucked from the south

to fill the gap left by Maurice Johnston and Brian McClair -- and who

had done so with some style -- has been so eager to head back south,

even if that is the patch from where his glamorous girl friend comes.

If his decision was disappointing to Celtic, it is positively

devastating for Arsenal who, even as English league-leaders and based in

Frank's adopted idyll, London, could not persuade the one-time St Mirren

striker to opt for Highbury rather than Upton Park, where the locals

desperately are trying to beat off relegation to the second division.

McAvennie spent considerable time over the last couple of days

discussing his future with both teams, but eventually chose his former

haunt where he certainly was a most popular figure.

He returned to Glasgow last night, but is expected to make his second

debut (as it were) for West Ham against Aston Villa at Villa Park on

Saturday. ''Our supporters will be delighted,'' said Upton Park

secretary Tom Finn.

Celtic supporters will have mixed feelings, but in the end, they will

probably accept that a wayward wanderer like McAvennie only can be a

fleeting asset at the best of times.

Originally, he left St Mirren to join Lyall's side for #340,000 in

June 1985. Inspired by McAvennie's partnership with Tony Cottee which

produced 53 goals, West Ham finished third in the table in 1986. His

West Ham form earned him the first of five Scotland caps -- but he has

not figured in the international set-up for more than a year. Lyall sold

him to Celtic

-- West Ham showed their need of an

on-form striker last night when they

went down 3-1 to Norwich City in an

English Cup quarter-final replay This season, McAvennie has scored 17

goals despite missing five weeks with a broken arm. He played his last

game against Hearts in the controversial Scottish Cup game at Parkhead

The future of another Celtic player, Chris Morris, also is not clear.

The full back, who has benefited enormously from his #100,000 move from

Sheffield Wednesday, is not certain to re-sign when his contract is

completed at the end of the season, despite his public denials earlier

this month. Manager McNeill would say only that the player has been

offered a contract that would keep him at Parkhead for a long time.