Everywhere on social media today, there are wonderful tributes to one of the great men in the history of Celtic, Tommy Burns.
That his passing still hurts, seven years after his death, says it all.
Tommy was everything to our club, the walking embodiment of what it was, and what it meant.
He understood the fans because he was one.
He understood our roots because he was born steeped in them.
The old aphorism says Tommy was a man who “bled green and white” and if that was possible for anyone to do then he would have done it.
Celtic fans loved Tommy Burns. They loved him because of what he gave to the club, and what he gave of himself.
When he was manager, he made sure that every player learned what it was like to spend time with the supporters.
He insisted on it, writing it into their contracts, making them attend functions and rallies and fan events.
Tommy Burns wanted them to feel the way about Celtic that he did, and if not that then at least to understand it better.
He believed passionately that this was the best football club in the world, that its fans were unique, that they were the elite of the global game, the most committed and capable of love of any supporters anywhere.
He would tell players that was special, that if they gave everything to Celtic then our supporters would give back more than they’d ever experienced in their careers or would ever experience again.
He knew that on a personal level, because he loved us and we loved him.
Yet few people truly appreciate what Tommy brought to Celtic Park, and how deep his commitment was.
We know his history, but it’s easy to overlook what that history doesn’t show and doesn’t say.
We know he was the epitome of a one-club footballer, that he played 350 plus games for the Celtic team, and only left when Celtic were no longer playing him regularly and he wanted to cut his teeth in the early stages of a management career.
He went to Rugby Park, to become player-coach, and then player-manager at Kilmarnock.
But history doesn’t tell us about the offers that came in during the 80’s to take Tommy somewhere else, where he’d have earned more money and upped his profile.
They don’t tell you that money was the furthest thing from his mind; that he once took a pay-cut so he could stay at Celtic Park.
His decision to continue playing at Parkhead, like that of Paul McStay, saw some suggest he lacked ambition and the will to go and prove himself on another stage, but like the aforementioned great, who’s own commitment was equally astounding, Tommy just loved the Celtic.
He came to manage Celtic, straight from Kilmarnock, and history records that, and it remembers his Scottish Cup win, and his eventual departure when tensions with Fergus were too high.
It also records that he went to Reading.
But a man like Tommy, with his love of the game and his knowledge and his vision – he was one of the first coaches from Britain to make a point of going abroad to study how the continental managers did it; now they all do – should have seen him work at more clubs and at higher levels.
Why didn’t he?
Because he came back to Celtic Park, that’s why.
He came back home, and when he was here he didn’t want to be anywhere else.
History will not remember the offers he got, and turned down, to continue at Parkhead.
He could have managed other clubs, being the top man, being the head of the family.
Tommy preferred being part of this one.
Tommy was loyal.
Tommy was staunch.
Tommy was Celtic through and through.
Even when he was sick, he stayed the course. He carried on his duties as long as he could.
He fought for his people in the meantime, making sure that young guys who’d served the club faithfully, like John Kennedy, were being looked after and readied for their own responsibilities.
He had such an impact on any number of our young kids; Aiden McGeady believes he owes Tommy everything, and doubtless there are many other players, players who didn’t scale the Irishman’s heights, who nevertheless have made their careers on the back of his knowledge and wisdom and kindness and guidance in every area of their lives.
Amongst his most noted statements, one that rings true to this day, was when he said, “When you pull on that jersey you’re not just playing for a football club; you’re playing for a people and a cause.”
Those people turned up in their thousands for his funeral, lining the streets to Celtic Park.
The love and respect he is still held in today, seven years on, is a testament to the man he was and the Celtic icon he became.
Alan Stubbs once said of him “When we lost a game he gave the impression he was personally responsible and owed the Celtic fans an apology.”
Those who remember his last game for Celtic, against Ajax, him running around the pitch for a half hour with tears streaming down his face, will recall their own sadness, their own sense of loss but also that sense of pride that this was a guy who “got it.”
And he did until the day he died.
God rest you, God bless you, Tommy.
We will never forget.