Celtic is one of the most successful clubs in Scotland. Many great players have played for this great club throughout its history. In this article, we have tried to put together a list of the greatest Celtic players ever.
Considering factors like longevity, impact on the club, success, skills, and consistency, here are the 10 greatest Celtic players ever.
10. Packie Bonner
Brave, athletic, and a superb shot-stopper, Packie joined Celtic in 1978 from Keadue Rovers and somewhat appropriately made his debut on St Patrick’s day 1979 in a 2-1 win at home to Motherwell.
His big break came in August 1980 when the popular Celtic ‘keeper Peter Latchford injured his hand and Bonner was thrown in at the deep end for Danny McGrain’s testimonial game against Manchester United at Parkhead. He gave an excellent performance in a 0-0 draw and from that day onwards he was to be the established Celtic number one.
Bonner went on to become a mainstay of the Celtic team throughout the 1980s and the early years of the 90s. He made 642 appearances for Celtic during his 20-year career with them and won 4 Scottish League titles and 3 Scottish Cup during that time.
9. Bobby Lennox
Celtic signed Lennox from Scottish Junior team Ardeer Recreation in 1961 at the age of 18, and he made his first team debut the following March. He went on to become Celtic’s second-highest goalscorer of all time with 273 goals in all competitions.
He won 11 League titles, 8 Scottish Cups, and 5 League Cup medals and was a member of the 1967 European Cup-winning Celtic team, known as the Lisbon Lions.
English legend Bobby Charlton was one of his greatest admirers boldly stating that if he had someone like Lennox playing beside him then he could have gone on forever and also rated Lennox as “one of the best strikers that I have ever seen”.
8. Patsy Gallacher
Patsy joined Celtic from Clydebank Juniors in 1911 and went on to spend 14 glorious years with the club. In 464 games in major competitions, Patsy scored 195 goals and stands as Celtic’s sixth-highest goalscorer behind Jimmy McGrory, Bobby Lennox, Henrik Larsson, Stevie Chalmers, and Jimmy Quinn.
One of the greatest Celtic players ever, Nicknamed ”Mighty Atom”, Patsy was the most wonderful of dribblers and his audacious talent saw him tease and terrorize defenders. He was an entertainer but his cheeky skills also had an end product, he was also capable of delivering a killer pass or hitting home an unstoppable shot.
With Celtic, Gallacher won 6 Scottish First Division Championships, 4 Scottish Cups, 4 Glasgow Cups, and 11 Glasgow Charity Cups.
7. Kenny Dalglish
Brought up in the shadow of Rangers’ Ibrox Park, Kenny was a Rangers supporter as a kid. Celtic manager Jock Stein sent Sean Fallon to see Dalglish and his parents at their home; on hearing that Fallon was at the door, Dalglish rushed upstairs to remove the Rangers posters from his bedroom walls.
Kenny Dalglish was signed by Celtic in May 1967 when the youngster signed a provisional contract with the club. In his first season, Dalglish would be loaned out to Cumbernauld United before returning to Celtic Park as a full-time professional in April 1968.
He won 4 League titles and 4 Cups with the club before leaving for Liverpool in 1977. Dalglish’s departure was unpopular with the Celtic fans, and when he returned in August 1978 to play in Stein’s testimonial, he was booed by a large contingent of Celtic supporters. However, it cannot be denied that he was among the greatest Celtic players ever.
6. Danny McGrain
McGrain is regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest players. He too, like Dalglish was a Rangers supporter while growing up. A Rangers’ scout is said to have visited his junior club to scout him, only to then turn around on hearing his surname in the mistaken belief that Danny McGrain was of Irish Catholic descent.
After being turned down by Rangers, Danny McGrain signed for Celtic on May 13th, 1967. At first, McGrain was regarded as a midfielder but was utilized in a variety of roles in the reserve side before becoming established as a right-back.
He spent 17 seasons with Celtic, winning the league 7 times and Cup 5 times. In May 1987, McGrain was given a free transfer by Celtic to Hamilton Academical. Without any doubt, he is one of the greatest Celtic players ever.
5. Paul McStay
McStay spent his entire playing career with Celtic after signing from Celtic Boys Club in 1981. He made his first team debut for Celtic on 23 January 1982 in a 4–0 win over Queen of the South in the Scottish Cup. A week later on 30 January, he made his first league appearance in a 3–1 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
A key man under Billy McNeill and then Davie Hay, the precocious youngster soon earned international recognition with Scotland and by the end of season 1985-86 – at the age of 21 – he had collected two league titles plus a Scottish Cup and a League Cup winners medals. He retired in 1997.
In 2002 he was voted a member of Celtic’s greatest ever team by the club’s fans. He is also a member of the Scotland Football Hall of Fame, which honours the best players to play in Scotland and is located in the Scottish Football Museum.
4. Henrik Larsson
Larsson was signed by Celtic manager Wim Jansen in July 1997 for a fee of £650,000. In his first season at Celtic, Larsson played the role of supporting forward alongside Darren Jackson, Simon Donnelly, and later Harald Brattbakk.
He was moved at the start of his second season to be the focal striker rather than the supporting forward. This led to him scoring 242 goals in 315 competitive Celtic matches. He broke domestic scoring records and was the talisman to take the club to the UEFA Cup final in 2003, where they lost 3-2 to Porto in extra-time with Larsson scoring both goals for Celtic.
During his seven years of stay with Celtic, he won the Scottish Premier League 4 times and the Scottish Cup twice. One of the greatest Celtic players ever, Larsson is very much loved and cherished by the Celtic fans.
3. Billy McNeill
An undoubted Celtic great, Billy McNeill, was the captain of the Lisbon Lions, the team that won the European Cup in 1967. He was signed by Celtic from the nearby junior team, Blantyre Victoria, in 1957 as a defender.
As captain, he won 9 Scottish League Championships, 7 Scottish Cups, and 6 Scottish League Cups, as well as the European Cup final. He had the honour of being the first British player to lift the European Cup. He was voted the greatest-ever captain of Celtic by the club’s fans in 2002.
Billy McNeill retired as a player in 1975 after over 800 appearances for Celtic. During his career, he won 29 caps for Scotland. The following quote from Jock Stein sums up Billy McNeill’s importance to the Celtic sides of the era perfectly:
“What makes a great player? He’s the one who brings out the best in others. When I am saying that I’m talking about Billy McNeill.”
2. Jimmy Johnstone
Voted Celtic’s greatest player in a 2002 poll, Jimmy Johnstone was a player like few others in football have ever been. He could ease past the defenders, leaving them petrified.
Johnstone was one of the “Lisbon Lions”, the team that won the then-European Cup for Celtic in 1967. In an early round tie against Nantes, Johnstone’s trickery on the wing saw him dubbed “The Flying Flea” by the French press, whilst his performances throughout the season saw him finish third in the European Footballer of the Year award. He is easily one of the greatest Celtic players ever.
He scored 129 goals for Celtic in 515 appearances over 14 years with the club. Apart from the European Cup in 1967, he also won 9 League titles and 4 Cups.
1. Jimmy McGrory
When it comes to arguments over who is the greatest Celt of them all the name at the top of many people’s list is the incomparable Jimmy McGrory.
McGrory is Celtic’s top scorer of all time, with 469 goals in 448 games and holds their record for the most goals in a season, with 57 League and Scottish Cup goals from 39 games, in season 1926–27.
In the summer of 1928, he turned down an offer from Arsenal to become the highest-paid footballer in Britain because he could not bear to leave Parkhead. However, Celtic board were banking on McGrory’s departure as a way of boosting the club’s bank account and so riled were they by his refusal of Arsenal’s offer that they reduced his wage from £9 to £8 from the beginning of the season, that was less than his teammates, for the rest of his career. When he later discovered this dreed, McGrory simply said:
“Well it was worth it just to pull on those Green and White Hoops.” and “McGrory of Arsenal just never sounded as good as McGrory of Celtic”
Money meant nothing to McGrory. Scoring goals for Celtic meant everything. He was the very personification of the true spirit of the club he adored. He eventually retired from the game in 1937 having spent 15 great years with Celtic.
Players who nearly missed out – Charlie Tully, Jimmy Quinn, Scott Brown, etc.
Checkout: Greatest Celtic Managers Ever