When you think of Scottish born players representing Ireland your mind will likely turn to the likes of Ray Houghton, James McCarthy and Aidan McGeady. However, what you may not know is that the first Scot to play for Ireland was, in fact, a Lisbon Lion. His name was Charlie Gallagher.
Born in Glasgow in 1940, Charlie was the son of two Irish parents who had emigrated to Glasgow from Donegal. The connection to Donegal was never broken and it was only strengthened throughout his childhood. During his formative years as a child, Charlie’s family would return to Gweedore in Donegal every summer and it was here that his love for Ireland and his Irish identity would truly take root and flourish. These regular trips to his motherland continued well into his playing days with Celtic.
The Gorbals boy began his career with Yoker Athletic and after just a single season with them he was signed by Celtic in 1959, at only 18 years old. Charlie started his Celtic career on the right-wing and his style of play was described as relaxed and laid-back. Diminutive in stature, he seemed to shy away from the more aggressive and physical side of the game, however, hidden beneath his laid-back surface he possessed a football brain which was unparalleled and coupled with tremendous passing range and a thunderous shot, this made up for his lack of pace and aggression.
Throughout much of his early Celtic career Charlie suffered through peaks and troughs in his form and could never find a settled spot in the team, being in and out of the team under Jimmy McGrory and being shuffled around on the pitch when he did play. This all changed when Jock Stein was appointed Celtic manager in March 1965. Initially not impressed by Gallagher, Stein gave Charlie a settled position in the centre of a two-man midfield, which also played to his technical proficiency on the ball. Although Charlie had a more settled role under Stein he was unlucky that he had to fight with the fantastic Bertie Auld for a place in the starting XI every week.
Despite the challenges Charlie would go on to play a pivotal role delivering the success that evaded Celtic for so long, taking the corner that Billy McNeill scored from in the 1965 Scottish Cup final victory over Dunfermline. It was the club’s first trophy after a 7-year drought. This proved to be the catalyst as Celtic would go on to win their first league title since 1954 the following season and qualify for the European Cup.
Charlie played twice en route to that historic final in 1967, once in the return leg in Glasgow against Nantes and also against Vojvodina in the quarter-final where he once again provided the set-piece from which McNeill again scored the winner in the 90th minute. Even though he played no part in Lisbon, his place in Celtic history is secure, despite being a bit-part player for the club. Charlie would play 171 times and scored 32 goals for Celtic in a career that took him from 1959 to 1970. He retired in 1973 having spent 3 seasons with Dumbarton.
While Charlie and Celtic’s fortunes were beginning to pick up in the late 60s, Ireland in comparison were floundering and the FAI showed a distinct lack of ambition after a near miss in the qualifying campaign for the 1966 World Cup in which they had gotten to a play-off against Spain and sold the team out. The match was to be held at a neutral venue with the FAI favouring Manchester or London as the location which would guarantee a large Irish crowd. However, the Spanish authorities wanted to negate what would be a partisan atmosphere and offered the FAI full gate receipts to have the venue moved to Paris. Ireland lost the play-off 1-0, with an estimated 30,000 Spaniards at the match in the Parc des Princes, and suffered 22 more years in the doldrums of international football.
Sligoman Sean Fallon, Jock Stein’s assistant, informed Charlie that he was called up in 1967 for the matches away against Turkey and back in Dalymount Park in Dublin versus Czechoslovakia in the qualification phase for the 1968 European Championship. His selection was possible because FIFA had relaxed their rules the year before, resulting in the ‘Granny rule’ being born. The Irish squad featured some players of considerable pedigree. Veteran Manchester United fullback Noel Cantwell, Johnny Giles who was entering his prime with Leeds United and fellow debutant Joe Kinnear. Charlie made his Ireland bow in Ankara against Turkey in a match that ended 2-1 to the Turks and spoke about the venomous atmosphere before and during the match saying,
“There was no crowd control, they [Turks] were spitting on you, doing everything to put you off. That was a very difficult game.”
Charlie’s second and final cap for Ireland came against a strong Czechoslovakia team in Dublin whose style of play he compared with Jock Stein’s Celtic. Ireland lost 2-0 but Charlie described his immense pride of representing his country and his family;
“It was nice to play for your country, and I am very proud to have played twice.”
Charlie Gallagher holds a special place in history for a player who was totally committed to the cause and put the team ahead of himself. He showed his class and came up clutch when Celtic needed him most and arguably without him, there would be no Lisbon Lions. To be recognised for his efforts and play for Ireland – the country that he loved so much – is the deserved reward for all his dedication.