Celtic FC is one of the biggest and most followed clubs in Britain. The Scottish club has a rich history and many great players have contributed to that. In this article, let us have a look at the greatest Celtic XI of all time.
Based on legacy, dedication, impact, success, longevity, fans and critics’ opinions, here are the greatest Celtic XI of all time.
GK – Packie Bonner
It was quite a difficult choice to pick one of Ronnie Simpson or Packie Bonner. Simpson was a member of the Lisbon Lions while Bonner served his whole career for the Hoops. Ultimately Packie Bonner’s longevity gave him the edge over equally brilliant Ronnie Simpson in this greatest Celtic XI of all time.
Sean Fallon introduced goalkeeper Sean Bonner to Glasgow for a trial, and he impressed Jock Stein, becoming his last signing for Celtic in 1978. Bonner made his debut on St Patrick’s Day 1979, becoming a key player for Celtic throughout the 1980s and early 90s.
He played 642 times, making 483 league appearances, and won four League Championship medals, three Scottish Cup winners’ medals, and a League Cup winners’ medal. His last appearance was in the 1995 Scottish Cup final. After the final, Bonner became player-coach and left the club in 1998.
RB – Danny McGrain
With no disrespect to Alec McNair, Danny McGrain is our first-choice Right-back. A great stalwart in the Celtic sides of the ’70s, he was a truly world-class player. McGrain signed for Celtic in May 1967 and became one of the so-called ‘Quality Street Gang’.
McGrain, initially a midfielder, transitioned to right-back roles before becoming a world-class player. He played 659 competitive games for Celtic between 1970 and 1987, winning seven League Championships, five Scottish Cups, and two Scottish League Cups. Commentators from the 1970s praised him as the best in his position. McGrain also played in the 1974 and 1982 World Cups for Scotland.
His 62 caps have earned him a place in the Scotland national football team roll of honour and he was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest Celtic XI of all time.
CB – Billy McNeill
Unarguably the greatest Celtic Captain and defender ever, Billy McNeil’s inclusion was a very easy decision to make. He is best known for captaining Celtic to their European Cup triumph in May 1967 and he later went on to manage the club on two occasions.
He was signed by Celtic from the nearby junior team, Blantyre Victoria, in 1957 as a defender. McNeill was the perfect leader and came up with more than a few famous goals including the winning goal in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final to end a seven-year trophy drought. His statue outside Celtic Park holding aloft the European Cup is a fitting reward.
As captain, he won nine Scottish League Championships, seven Scottish Cups, and six 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 retired as a player in 1975 after over 800 appearances for Celtic. During his career, he won 29 caps for Scotland.
LB – Tommy Gemmell
A member of the Lisbon Lions, Tommy Gemmell is immortalised by scoring the equalising goal in the ultimate final as Celtic lifted the European Cup in 1967. He also bagged one in the 1970 European Cup final, making him one of only two British footballers to have scored in two European Cup finals
Signed from Coltness United in 1961, he excelled as a left-sided fullback and had powerful shooting ability. Gemmell made 418 appearances for Celtic and scored 63 goals. His ability was recognised outside of Scotland as well. In their Xmas poll of 1967, France Football magazine ranked Tommy as the sixth-best player in Europe. In 1970, a poll of sports journalists in Hungary & Brazil voted him as the best right-back in the world.
After spending 10 years with the club, Gemmell was transferred to Nottingham Forest in 1971. He also had a successful career with Nottingham Forest. Tommy Gemmell also played for Miami Toros and Dundee. He was capped 18 times for Scotland between 1966 and 1971.
CDM – Paul McStay
Paul McStay signed for Celtic aged seventeen and made his senior Celtic debut in a 4-0 home Scottish Cup win over Queen of the South on January 21st 1982. Part of a great Celtic dynasty – his Great Uncle Jimmy and Willie were both Hoops greats while brothers Willie and Raymond also played for the club – Paul seemed almost destined to write his name into Celtic folklore.
McStay was appointed club captain in 1990, a position he retained until his retirement following the 1996–97 season. In his time with the club, Celtic won the League title three times, the Scottish Cup 4 times and the League Cup once. Although the second half of McStay’s career coincided with a time when Celtic were in turmoil and were overshadowed by rivals Rangers, in 2002 he was voted a member of Celtic’s greatest-ever team by the club’s fans.
Unquestionably one of the finest, most talented and most respected Celtic players ever. He is also a member of the Scotland Football Hall of Fame, which deserves him a place among the greatest Celtic XI of all time.
CM – Charlie Tully
Charlie Tully needs no introduction. This Celtic legend is known worldwide for their effortless aptitude to slide past the opposition players as if the ball was magnetically connected to his feet. With his extraordinary football talent and a rare abundance of skill, Tully was the darling of the Hoops fans for over a decade and his cheeky approach to football has made him one of the best-loved Celtic icons of all time.
Charlie Tully moved to Parkhead in June 1948 from Belfast Celtic, where he was idolized. His magical skills and ‘Cheeky’ personality lifted the club and helped Celtic to start winning honours again. Tully was considered the first ‘Celebrity’ footballer, playing 319 matches for Celtic and scoring 47 goals over 11 years.
On his game, Tully would relentlessly tease the opposition with his outrageous ability and his ball skills would bamboozle opposing defenders and thrill the crowd. In a League Cup match at Parkhead in September 1948 Tully’s skill simply savaged the feared Rangers rearguard whose brute force was simply no match for an on-song Charlie.
CM – Bobby Murdoch
Murdoch was one of the Lisbon Lions, the Celtic team who won the European Cup in 1967. Murdoch signed for Celtic in August 1959 as a £3-a-week part-timer while working as a sheet metal worker. He gained experience playing for junior side Cambuslang Rangers before joining the Parkhead club permanently in 1961 and made his First Team debut against Hearts on 11th August 1962.
During his time at Celtic, he won eight Scottish League titles, four Scottish Cups and five League Cups, as well as the 1967 European Cup Final winners’ medal. Murdoch’s shot was deflected by Stevie Chalmers to score Celtic’s winning goal. Murdoch also played in the 1970 European Cup Final, when Celtic lost 2–1 to Feyenoord. In total, he made over 500 appearances for Celtic and scored approximately 100 goals.
Formed a rock-solid partnership with Bertie Auld in midfield that proved even more watertight than the catenaccio of Inter. Plagued by injuries in his career, his importance to Celtic was highlighted by Jock Stein’s response to the question of when Celtic might next win the European Cup: “When Bobby Murdoch is fit”. He is one of the greatest Celtic XI of all time.
RM – Jimmy Johnstone
“Jinky” was one of the finest dribblers ever to pull on a football strip. His trickery decimated Inter’s defence – one of the best back fours the game has seen – in the famous 1967 cup final. Jinky was the player that all neutrals identified with as they marvelled at his unique dribbling skills. His bravery was as impressive as his skill creating so many memories of stirring performances and famous victories.
Jimmy Johnstone joined Celtic in 1961 and initially struggled until Jock Stein arrived, which transformed the club and Jimmy. Under Stein, Celtic became one of Europe’s most respected teams, with Johnstone playing a crucial role. Initially, out of favour, Johnstone won the Stein’s heart and by the 1965/66 season, he was an essential part of the Celtic team, scoring nine goals and 32 league appearances.
He was part of the “Lisbon Lions” team that won the European Cup in 1967. Johnstone’s wing trickery earned him the nickname “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 finished third in the European Footballer of the Year award. He scored 129 goals in 515 appearances, making him one of the greatest Celtic XI players of all time.
LM – Bobby Lennox
Lennox was a left-winger with an eye for goal, managing more than one in two for Celtic, a record most strikers can only dream of. Lennox’s main asset was his exceptional pace, and his ability to accelerate faster than anyone else enabled him to beat defenders giving him the advantage to take a pop at goal, which he took much advantage of.
Ably assisted by Jinky, he scored in abundance and his record is almost without compare, scoring 273 league goals in 571 appearances for Celtic, making him the second-highest-ever scorer for the club. He won 5 League Cup Medals, 8 Super Cup Medals, and 11 League Medals. He was also a member of the Celtic team that won the European Cup back in 1967. Among his fans were the great Bobby Charlton and Alfredo Di Stefano.
There are so many high points to his time at Celtic but winning the European Cup is the highlight despite him not scoring in that match. Regardless, he along with his colleagues bombarded the opposition goals with shot after shot which rang the alarm bells for Inter Milan and helped Celtic to force the winning goal.
ST – Henrik Larsson
Larsson is a Celtic legend, playing a central part in the revitalisation of the club as it once again dominated Scottish football having been in the doldrums for much of the previous 15 years. He broke domestic scoring records and was the talisman to take the club to the UEFA Cup final in 2003. He was a truly world-class player.
Henrik Larsson, signed from Feyenoord for £650,000, joined Celtic F.C. in 1997. Despite a poor start, he scored 18 goals and became Celtic’s top scorer for the season. In November 1997, he won his first medal for the club with a 3–0 win over Dundee United, giving Celtic the Scottish League Cup. In the final match of the season, he scored the opener in a 2–0 win against St Johnstone, clinching the championship for Celtic.
He won four Scottish Premier League titles, two Scottish League Cups, and two Scottish Cups, and received the European Golden Boot in 2001. Larsson scored 242 goals in 315 competitive matches, earning him the nickname ‘The King of Kings’.
ST – 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 James Edward McGrory. He 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.
Even though he was only 5 ft 6ins, he was renowned for his prowess and ability from headers. His trademark was an almost horizontal, bullet header, which he performed and scored regularly from and which earned him his nicknames, of the “Human Torpedo” and the “Mermaid”
After being signed by Celtic’s first manager Willie Maley, McGrory was loaned to Clydebank for a season, scoring 13 goals in 30 games for the Bankies. He then returned to Celtic Park, where he would proceed to become the club’s record marksman.
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. It latterly turned out that the 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 (£10,0000 transfer) that they secretly paid him less than his teammates for the rest of his career. When he later discovered this dastardly deed McGrory simply said:
“Well, it was worth it just to pull on those Green and White Hoops.” Money meant nothing to McGrory. Scoring goals for Celtic meant everything.
Here’s the team in full.