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Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 09:46 UK

Celtic the hub of Burns' career

By Mark Woods

Celtic's Tommy Burns
Burns became a Celtic legend

For all that Tommy Burns accomplished in a variety of roles in a distinguished life in football, he will forever be associated with the club where he began, and ultimately ended, his career.

And there will be huge sadness at Celtic for a man who served as player, coach and manager for more than 20 years before succumbing to cancer at the age of 51.

The Glaswegian's personable nature ensured he won friends on both sides of the Old Firm divide and elsewhere.

Burns had, until shortly before his death, been working as Celtic's head of youth development, as well as maintaining a role on Gordon Strachan's first-team coaching staff.

He also held a part-time role as Scotland assistant manager from March 2002 until January 2007, working under managers Berti Vogts and Walter Smith, sharing the lows and highs experienced by the Tartan Army.


Burns was in the running to succeed Smith, who quit to rejoin Rangers, but was overlooked by Scottish Football Association head-hunters and abandoned his national team role when it became clear he was not a candidate for the top job.

He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and appeared to have beaten the disease. But Celtic announced in March of this year that Burns was again being treated - and he could not win his final battle.

Survived by his wife of 28 years, Rosemary, and his four children, he will be sorely missed by the football fraternity.

As a creative midfielder, Burns won eight caps for Scotland, seven of which came from 1981 to 1983.

Cap number eight came five years later, as substitute against England in a Rous Cup clash at Wembley, with Burns receiving recognition for his role in Celtic's league and cup double in their centenary season.

He had initially joined Celtic as 16-year-old in 1973 and made his first-team debut two years later.

For the next 14 years he was a first-team regular, notching up more than 350 league appearances before reaching the end of his Hoops career.

Burns made a farewell appearance in a friendly against Ajax before joining Kilmarnock. Facing the Dutch giants in his final match was an emotional experience.

"I wanted to go out with a smile on my face and not a tear in my eye," said Burns. "So I got all of my crying out of the way during the warm-up.

"I ran about the pitch for 20 minutes with tears running down my cheeks because I knew I would never wear a Celtic jersey again."

Tommy Burns at Celtic
Tommy Burns won eight Scotland caps with Celtic

The switch to Rugby Park was a good one for Burns. Hugely popular with supporters, in 1992 he became the club's player-manager and promotion to the Premier League arrived in his first season.

He was named Celtic boss in 1994, an appointment that cost the Parkhead club a 100,000 fine when they were judged to have made an illegal approach.

Burns lasted three years in the Celtic hotseat but could not depose Rangers as they completed their run of nine consecutive championships.

Arguably, his finest moment came at the end of his first campaign, when Celtic beat Airdrie in the Scottish Cup final.

In the following season, 1995-96, Burns' exciting team lost just one league match but were still pipped to the title by Rangers, and a year later the manager was out of a job after being dismissed by Fergus McCann.

Burns had spells on the coaching staff at Newcastle and as manager of Reading but did not last long in England and returned to Celtic in 2000, shortly before Martin O'Neill's arrival from Leicester.

O'Neill put Burns in charge of the Celtic youth set-up and he helped bring through the likes of Shaun Maloney, Stephen McManus and Aiden McGeady.

The first cancer scare came at a time Burns was combining his Scotland and Celtic duties.

Barry Ferguson, the captain of Rangers and of Scotland, was quick to offer his support at the time.

"We were in the Scotland camp and Tommy knew that I hadn't been enjoying the best of seasons because of Rangers' results and the injury problems I'd been having with my ankle," Ferguson said.

"Tommy came to me and said, 'You're a good player - too good a player not to get through this spell'. You have to appreciate that kind of human touch."

One which will not be quickly forgotten, at Celtic Park and elsewhere.

see also
Tommy Burns - A life in pictures
15 May 08 |  Scotland
Rangers abandon bus parade plan
15 May 08 |  Rangers

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