Celtic have always been remembered for their terrific players going forward, but we’ve had our fair share terrific defensive players over the years. In goals we’ve had Johnny Thompson to Ronnie Simpson to Artur Boruc. At centre back we’ve had McNeill, Aitken, Mjallby, James Kelly as heroes. And at left back there was Lee Naylor. Now at right back, In my readings of Celtic in the past and listening to people talking etc, there’s only ever been one right back who everyone agreed was a good right back. Daniel Fergus McGrain, due to him, every time anyone asks Celtic’s best ever right back, he wins at a canter.
But what about those who didn’t compare to Danny McGrain? But weren’t bad players in any shape or form? McNamara was a great wee player, as was Andy Hinkel and now we’re being teased with the excellent attributes of both Lustig and Adam Matthews. But what about Paul Telfer?
I don’t think there’s one player I’ve previously mentioned that I would drop for Paul Telfer, don’t get me wrong there. However, Paul Telfer is a man who was dealt with a pretty crappy stick when he was at Celtic. In May 2005, if you had went to your work on the Monday morning after Black Sunday (if you made your work) you’d have laughed sarcastically if your pal said to you ‘Don’t worry, in 3 years time you’ll have won 3 in a row, a league cup, a scottish cup and twice qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League.’
However that did happen. And Paul Telfer was instrumental in a lot of that.
We knew what we were getting with Telfer, a no-thrills honest hard working right back. There’s a lot of Celtic fans who are selective in their memories when they remember Paul Telfer. Well remember this. For two years Paul Telfer was always up against two players down his side, it might never have looked like that, but that was because of how good a player Paul Telfer actually was. Nakamura would drift from right to left and back again, leaving Telfer exposed on numerous occasions. He was never a world beater Telfer, he was never going to dribble past 3 players and drill a cross right onto the centre forwards head. He was never going to catch Ivan Sproule for pace. He played the game in his head.
League Cup Final 2006. The Jinky Cup Final. 93 Minutes gone. Celtic are 2-0 up and the game is over, its party time in the stands and Celtic and Dunfermline are playing out the last minute of stoppage time. Wrong. Paul Telfer goes bombing up the right wing, like he’d done all game and all season. He fires the ball onto the path of Dion Dublin who slots home. 3-0 sounds better than 2 right? People always said Gordon Strachan’s Celtic never knew when they were beaten, hence all the last minute equalisers and winners. That 93rd minute run from Telfer epitomised everything good about that never say die spirit Celtic seemed to have in those days.
His finest hour(and a half) in a Celtic strip was no doubt the Manchester United game at Celtic Park. Ronaldo and Giggs swapped wings continuously throughout the game because neither could get the better of Telfer (or Lee Naylor). Ronaldo was having a storming season, there wasn’t many defenders he didn’t get the better of that season. Paul Telfer is one of them. Telfer used his years of experience and played the game a step ahead of Ronaldo and Giggs. If Ronaldo or Giggs did get by Telfer, it was because he knew they were running into a dead end and let them go. He was about 35 at the time and played like a player in his prime.
A very limited footballer was Paul Telfer, but not a limited football brain. He knew he was never going to be a world beater, but if any Celtic player deserves credit for making football enjoyable again after that day in May 2005 then Paul Telfer played his part in that process.
The highest compliment you could pay Paul Telfer is to ask Shunsuke Nakamura, one of our finest ever players, which player he enjoyed playing in front of.