THERE had been times when manager Billy McNeill was unable to disguise

his annoyance when he heard it suggested that Frank McAvennie was

growing restless. The striker, we were all led to believe, would be

staying at Parkhead. The player himself had made it known he wanted to

remain with Celtic.

All, however, was not sweetness and light. McNeill, forced by

McAvennie's outburst after having been left out of the team which won

1-0 at Tynecastle on Saturday, has opened up. A sorry tale is revealed.

McAvennie, it transpires, is not merely restless. He already may have

packed his bags. Apparently he has worn a track in the carpet leading to

McNeill's office where, the manager said, the player has been an almost

weekly visitor in search of a move.

''I've had four written transfer requests from him since August,''

revealed McNeill. It transpires now that the player could be given his

wish, and his former club, West Ham, are anxious to buy him back. They

are likely to encounter stiff opposition from others such as Arsenal.

Naturally, Celtic's supporters, who have had to endure the departures

of splendid players such as Charlie Nicholas, Maurice Johnston and Brian

McClair in recent times, will be distraught. There even may be anger.

However, if McAvennie, who was bought from West Ham a couple of

seasons ago, is determined to pursue the ball elsewhere, there is little

the Parkhead club can do about it other than demand a suitable transfer

fee, as the striker is under contract until the end of next season.

Even if McNeill and the player were unwilling before now to admit

there were difficulties, it has been obvious that a degree of unrest

existed. McAvennie has another life in the south which he has been

unable to resist, but even so, he gave everything for Celtic's cause as

soon as he heard a referee's whistle. The manager admits to being a fan

of his abilities, and obviously will make every effort to solve any

problems the player may have.

Nevertheless, a man can take only so much, and McNeill's revelations

suggest he has put up with more than most. According to the manager, his

player, who said he was ill, did not turn up for work last Monday and

was included in the reserve team for a game against Motherwell after

having completed a light training session on Tuesday.

An ankle injury was reported on Wednesday and McAvennie had treatment,

but he failed to show for an afternoon session, as he had been

instructed to do. On Thursday he said he was ill, and after having

spoken to the doctor, McNeill decided not to risk the player on


This is McNeill's account of the background to McAvennie' public

announcement that he was fit, physically and mentally, to play against


McNeill suspects moves behind the scenes designed to clear the way for

McAvennie to leave Parkhead, but naturally enough, neither the player

nor his agent, Bill McMurdo, would associate themselves with such


Whatever the outcome of this distasteful business, the real losers

will be those who follow Celtic faithfully. They are tired of hearing

players pledge themselves to the cause. It is time more professional

footballers kept their word.

Of course, they are entitled to earn as much as they can from the

game, but some are becoming like mercenaries. If every one of them

turned to mammon the game would be up very quickly. It is a game of high

finance, but also one of loyalty.

The advent of the agent

is something most managers dislike, but perhaps if directors had not

been so willing for so many years to hoodwink unsuspecting young talents

into signing away the best years of their lives for little reward,

football might not now be dealing with smooth-talkers.

The arrival of agents also might be a sad reflection on the

footballer's ability to think for himself, but whether or not any of us

like it, they have become part of the big-time game.