Benny Rooney

Born: May 3, 1943;

Died: July 28, 2023

Benny Rooney, who has died aged 80, was part of the fabric of Scottish football, a well-known, popular and highly regarded figure, one who made a significant contribution over more than 30 years as player, coach and manager.

It might be said he was almost born into the game as the son of Bob, well remembered as Celtic’s physio/trainer in Jock Stein’s era. He had played professionally with various clubs before being trainer under manager Bill Shankly at Workington Town and it was there aged 10 that Benny’s appetite for the game was whetted by joining in players’ training sessions.

Having started with Celtic without breaking into the first team, he went on to play a total of 439 games mostly in the top tier with Dundee United, St Johnstone and Partick Thistle. His playing career was most closely associated with the Perth club whom he captained, led to their first national cup final in the League Cup in 1969, to third place in the old First Division in 1971 and then into their first and memorable European campaign where teams of the calibre of Hamburg and Vasas Budapest were defeated. An effective and determined central defender, Benny was a natural leader and also chair of the Players’ Union.

After retiring from playing he managed Morton, Albion Rovers and Partick Thistle before coaching at Celtic with responsibility for youth development.

He particularly shone at Morton where he won promotion for the part-timers to the Premier Division for five seasons, enthusing Greenock supporters with the quality of play and gaining the respect of bigger rivals, especially Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen who always struggled at Cappielow. He also took the team to Scottish Cup and League Cup semi-finals and when interviewed about his managerial career stated, “The highlight was Morton, the time I had there was unbelievable ... we were a real team.” Earlier this year he was deservedly inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.

Bernard Rooney was born in Cambuslang, one of five children to Bob and Kate. Bob played for Clyde and Dunfermline before Leyton Orient and Workington Town. The family returned to Cambuslang when Benny was 12 when he began attending Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell, well known for producing footballers.

On his 16th birthday he signed provisionally for Celtic from Cambuslang Rangers for whom he continued playing. He was also farmed out to Petershill and loaned to Dumbarton where he made his senior debut as Celtic monitored his development as a striker

Although unable to make the first team with several Lisbon Lions already there, he struck lifelong family friendships with Billy McNeill and Mike Jackson who later was Benny’s assistant at Morton.

In 1963 he moved on a free transfer to Dundee United where he played 38 games before being signed for St Johnstone by Bobby Brown in 1966. Between his debut in December 1966 and final match in September 1973 he was virtually ever present, making almost 300 appearances. Initially still a centre forward, Brown made a career changing decision moving him back to central defence where he flourished.

Under Willie Ormond as manager with Benny as captain the Perth club made further progress, reaching the League Cup Final in 1969 where they lost 1-0 to Celtic after Benny’s last-minute shot was saved by Fallon. In 1971 an unprecedented third place in the league, ahead of Rangers, led to the memorable UEFA Cup campaign. Another highlight was playing in the Bernabeu against Real Madrid who wanted a warm-up game against British opposition before their upcoming 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against Chelsea. With 15 minutes left it was 1-1 but two late goals for Real clinched the result.

Following 89 games for Partick Thistle whom he captained to the new 1st Division Title, he joined Morton as player/manager but after six games hung up his boots to concentrate on managing. The club was not in good shape when he took over but he transformed its fortunes combining youth with experience on the pitch

to win the 1st Division title in 1978 and earn promotion to the Premier Division.

Given it was a 10-team league with the Old Firm unlikely to be relegated and a very strong Aberdeen and Dundee United, Benny did remarkably well to maintain top league status for five seasons with two being relegated annually, achieving a high of sixth in 1980.

After retiring from football he entered the licensed at the Queens Park Bar/Cafe in Glasgow’s south side.

On Hogmanay 1959 he and Marion Kelly, a hairdresser, met and began going out together. They wed on 10th February 1964, initially living in Dundee before making their home in Cambuslang. They enjoyed a long and happy marriage during which they had children Debbie and Kevin followed by grandchildren Joshua, Olivia and Aaron.

He is survived by his wife, children, sisters and Joshua and Olivia.