Tommy Coyne – A Celtic Player of Substance and Class

On this day in 1989 Celtic signed Tommy Coyne from Dundee. Here is Niall J’s personal  tribute to his boyhood Celtic hero…

Celtic during the 1990’s isn’t a period looked back on fondly by too many Celtic supporters. But for many of us it was the time we started watching Celtic and there were some standout performers even then.

A hero of mine

One of those was a hero of mine, Tommy Coyne. Tommy was born on 14 November 1962 and he was signed by Billy McNeill for Celtic from Dundee ion this day  in March 1989. At Dens he’d built up a reputation as one half of the ‘Cobra and Mongoose’ striking double act with Keith Wright. Tommy was the Cobra! And what a player he was.

In normal circumstances I think the signing would have been greatly welcomed. He had a good goalscoring record at Dundee after all, but the timing of the signing meant it was less appreciated than it could have been.

McAvennie was heading south

That week Celtic accepted a rather large transfer fee from West Ham for someone you could say had been a fan’s favourite. As Tommy came in the door Frank McAvennie was heading south. Rather unfortunate timing for the new Bhoy as it certainly made Tommy look like Macca’s replacement and although Billy McNeill said that wasn’t the case it certainly appeared that way.

Perhaps Billy was trying to disguise the intentions further when on Tommy’s debut at Tynecastle in a 1-0 victory, he was played wide left. Billy McNeill had advised it was a role he saw Tommy playing on occasion as needs must, but it was a strange one as he never played there again.

By the start of the next season 89/90 money was spent on another striker who was more likely seen as McAvennie’s replacement, and initially it looked like Tommy would have a strike partner to go to war with.

Dariusz Dziekanowski was signed from Legia Warsaw. On paper Tommy’s work rate and Jackie’s natural ability looked perfectly matched, however it didn’t pan out. Their first team debut was a 3-1 win at Tynecastle where Tommy scored a sensational hat-trick. Strangely however the pair never quite clicked.

In what was a poor season, things took a similar nosedive for Tommy Coyne, but it could have been so different.

Sliding doors moment

In a sliding doors moment, as Celtic took on Rangers at Ibrox on 4 November 1989, Joe Miller broke clean on Chris Woods in the Rangers goal. Woods managed to save Millers effort and Tommy had a glorious chance to give Celtic the lead.

In front of the Celtic fans Tommy hit the post. When you consider that a certain Judas striker scored the winning goal you can see why it was a sliding doors moment. Sometimes you need that bit of luck and it didn’t quite turn out as Tommy or Celtic would have wanted.

As a famous advertising campaign said however ‘Good things come to those who wait’ and Tommy only had to wait until February 1990.

What’s not to like?

Terrible weather and a Scottish Cup Tie at Parkhead, what’s not to like, especially when revenge is served.

This time Joe Miller was again the supplier, with a delivery across the face of goal and Tommy arrived to bundle the ball home. Even John ‘Deeds’ Brown’s attempts to dampen Tommy’s enthusiasm by throwing him to the ground didn’t matter.

Sweet dreams

Nothing was getting in the way of the Celtic striker’s celebrations as he ignored Brown and started the party. Remember the interview with Billy McNeill on Scotsport post-match and Terry Butcher kicking the door in mid-interview? That was that game. ‘Sweet dreams are made of these’ as Annie Lennox said.

From the highs, it was back to the lows for Tommy by the autumn of 1990. Billy McNeill no longer saw much of a role for Coyne, especially after the return of prodigal son Charlie Nicholas to Celtic.

I missed out on Charlie first time around and never quite saw that attraction in the player in his second spell, he always seemed someone who kept players like Tommy out the team, yet delivered only in flashes.

Opportunity for redemption

As Celtic got a draw at Ibrox Tommy was in the stiffs, and not even in the reserves first eleven, he found himself on the bench. He had been getting a fair bit of stick from the terraces and was also soon transfer listed.

The opportunity for redemption came in a midweek encounter with Motherwell. Celtic hadn’t been finding the net and it had become a source of real irritation to Billy McNeill. Tommy was back in the team and given a chance to show his worth.

Celtic won 2-1, Tommy scored both goals, and both superb finishes, and you know what-he wasn’t finished there. Tommy had taken his opportunity and now he wasn’t letting go. He ended the season as Celtic’s top scorer with 17 goals. Considering he’d missed a third of the season you can only stand back and admire the sheer determination of the man.

Tommy Coyne was my Jimmy McGrory

One of the big highlights was Aberdeen at home in January 1991. By now Tommy Coyne was my Jimmy McGrory. Even when Celtic struggled it always seemed to be Tommy Coyne who was everywhere. He worked his socks off and was now getting the goals his endeavour deserved.

Against Aberdeen Paul Elliot hit the post in the last minute and Tommy scored the rebound. It was a massive goal and the crowd exploded. A moment of joy in tough times. Not that I’d know of course. My Grandfather who had taken me to the game decided he wanted to get ahead of the crowds and we left the ground with five minutes to go.

I heard it right enough, as we were halfway to Dalmarnock station, but I didn’t see it until the highlights later that night. Couldn’t say a word either. I was too scared he wouldn’t take me next time. I took a vow of silence.

St Patrick’s Day massacre

Tommy was also instrumental in two massive Old Firm derby encounters, both in the St Patrick’s Day massacre and again in the Palm Sunday Humiliation. Tommy played a big part in both those games. He scored a wonderful header from a Paul McStay cross in the 3-0 league win and despite not scoring, for me he was man of the match in the 2-0 Scottish Cup win the week before.

In 1991 Celtic appointed the managerial rookie but top-class footballer Liam Brady to the role of manager. Brady arrived with his own ideas. He made some big signings in the likes of Stuart Slater, Andy Payton, Tony Cascarino and of course the return of a certain Frank McAvennie.

None of it really worked

The attacking intent from Brady was there but none of it really worked, in fact Andy Payton arrived with the least fanfare and was by far the most successful.

Tommy himself missed the majority of the 92/93 season unfortunately but it wasn’t the form of the new signings that caused that he was just unfortunate with injuries. He did score in the second coming of Frank McAvennie match against Airdrie at Broomfield but glimpses of Tommy were few and far between.

Tommy left Celtic in March 1993 and signed for Tranmere. Perhaps, as he was just getting into his groove as a Celtic player, he was let go too soon but it must be said when it came to player recruitment and sales there was a distinct lack of joined up thinking at Celtic at that time.

If that makes you happy, you celebrate

He then joined Motherwell in November the same year. He also scored against Celtic at Fir Park in 1994 in the Scottish Cup and received a bit of post-match criticism for his celebrations being perceived as excessive. Perhaps he should have walked solemnly back to the centre circle and begged forgiveness. He wasn’t employed by Celtic and he was paid to score goals. If that makes you happy, you celebrate. A winner in a Scottish Cup tie is bound to do that to you.

Celtic stopped the 10

Tommy Coyne Glasgow Celtic FC 20 July 1992. Photo Mary Evans Allstar Stewart Kendall 

Redemption however was only five years away. It was worth the wait. In March 1998 and Rangers going for 10 in a row Tommy put in a man of the match performance as Willie Falconer also an ex-Celt and Owen Coyle a huge Celtic fan scored the goals in a 2-1 win at Fir Park, so he played his part Celtic’s title win that season as Celtic stopped the 10. It doesn’t get better than playing your role in that particular part of Celtic’s history.

Tommy Coyne of the Celtic was this Bhoy’s hero and a player of substance and class in a time where not all could have been described as such.

Niall J

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