Memory Lane – Charlie Nic
Charlie Nicholas at his best was a goal-scoring sensation whose goals and style made him the darling of the Celtic support in the early days.
For those of us like myself, who remember Charlie breaking through, there is no doubt this is true, however it seems another life time ago.
Charlie was, one of our own, a Celtic fan who came through the youth ranks and finally fulfilled a dream by signing professional terms in June 1979.
Even before Charlie signed his professional contact, his talent was such, that most of us had heard about this young bhoy, from Maryhill, who was scoring goals for fun, for the youth team.
At the close of the 1979/80 season Charlie was on the bench several times after excellent reviews in a successful Celtic reserve side under Frank Connor. However, he never made a first team appearance, that season.
His first team debut came in Aug 1980, he came on as a substitute in a 3-0 league victory over Kilmarnock, hitting the post twice.
His first goals came against Stirling Albion a week later in the League Cup, and he then went on an unbelievable scoring streak, scoring 13 goals in his first 12 Celtic games between August and October, remember he was still only 18, no wonder he was loved.
Seldom has a player made such an immediate impact in Scottish football than Charlie Nicholas and all sorts of nicknames were given to him.
I think it was Jimmy Sanderson who nicknamed him ‘The Cannonball Kid, other names were Charles De Goal, Charlie Bubbles and the one that would stick more than others, Champagne Charlie.
In that debut season1980/81 Charlie scored 28 goals, it should be noted though that Frank McGarvey scored 29 goals, as Celtic romped home to the title. A highlight of the season, for me, was the 3-1 win over Rangers at Parkhead with Charlie scoring twice, a game I recall well, I was in the Front Stand that day, Rangers fans used to get a bit of the front stand back then, sections FS6 and 7, I think, that day I was right at the segregation part, all the goals were scored at the East End, Celtic ,unusually, were shooting into that end, in the second half. Celtic were 1 down at half time and if I didn’t know it before hand, I certainly found out in that first half, how vile some Rangers fans could be, however that just made the second half all the sweeter, with Charlie scoring 2 and then big Roy scoring near the end to make it 3, he ran, celebrating, towards the very same Rangers fans and that made it even more joyous for us.
Charlie also scored the winner at Ibrox in a 1-0 win in April, a result which all but gave us the league title that day.
Charlie started in the side in 1981/82 but lost his place in September to George McCluskey, a man who served Celtic well and never says a bad word about the club. The bad winter weather meant that Celtic did not play much in December and by January Celtic arranged a friendly against Morton at Cappielow, where Charlie suffered a serious leg fracture and with that Charlie’s season was over. It had been a total contrast to his first season as a Celt.
Charlie came back with a bang, the following season, he was majestic and when he scored 48 goals, he became the most wanted talent in Britain. During that season 82/83, some memorable goals, were a magnificent strike against Ajax in Amsterdam, a last minute winner in the 1982 League Cup semi-final second leg at Tannadice and in the final he helped inspire Celtic to a 2-1 win over Rangers at Hampden when the scoreline did not truly reflect Celtic’s superiority on the day.
That’s was a day all of us who attended, will never forgot, because we were in the uncovered terracing and the rain was torrential the whole game, we also missed some amount of sitters that day.
On New Years day 1983 Nicholas scored another spectacular effort at Ibrox in a memorable 2-1 win which gave Celtic their first new year win at Ibrox, incredibly, since the days of Jimmy McGrory.
BMCUW has previously highlighted how this season fell apart and somehow or another, we managed to blow the league.
Charlie was now into the last year of his contract and as the weeks past it became obvious that he would depart although he refused to confirm or deny this in the media.
Celtic had a dreadful April when they lost two league games, which ultimately cost them their title, and also a Scottish Cup semi-final to Aberdeen and the Celtic fans now felt that that the circus following Charlie was affecting the morale of the team.
The last game of the season was on 14 May 1983 and the title could have gone to Celtic, Aberdeen or Dundee United that day. Celtic were 2 down at Ibrox, but inspired by a fabulous walk on at half time, we came back and won 4.2 with Charlie netting 2 penalties. but Dundee United won at Dens Park to win the league.
Charlie went on to win both the Scottish footballer of the year and the Scottish PFA player of the year shortly after.
Charlie left and had the choice of Liverpool, who were Europe’s finest side, Manchester United or Arsenal. He surprised mostly everyone by going to Highbury, until it became clear that living in London and earning a higher wage far outstripped any footballing decision to be made.
He received a reported £100,000 signing on fee and a £2,000-a-week contract (massive money for the time) He also had the most glamorous nightclubs in the country on his doorstep.
In August 1984 he played for Arsenal in a friendly at Parkhead and was roundly booed by the Celtic fans in the Jungle who clearly had still not forgiven him for his ‘betrayal’ in leaving a year earlier.
I did meet Charlie in 1984, along with a good few of the Scotland squad, I knew John Wark, a little, but enough for him to let us join their company.
The likes of Wark, Albiston, Strachan ( who I didn’t want introduced to, as he had just had big Roy sent off, in the cup final and yes, even McLeish, were great company, Strachan was truly laugh a minute stuff. I think you can all guess the two who were ignorant and thought that they were better than the rest, Yip, Nicholas and Judas, well Mo, as he was then, he hadn’t changed his name to Judas yet.
It was a sign of things to come.
In January 1988 – with just a League Cup winners medal to his name, Nicholas left Arsenal.
Now, at what should have been the peak years of his career, there were no longer any number of top clubs interested in him. Instead he moved to Aberdeen in a £400,000 move. His form with the Dons was good and he helped them to Scottish Cup glory in May 1990 when they defeated Celtic on penalties. Just a couple of months later he was back at Parkhead.
He was welcomed by a Celtic support who hoped he could help a Celtic team that was, by Celtic standards, mediocre. His vision and touch was still there, but he lacked the speed, hunger and the youthful confidence of the younger Charlie. He did have a new found maturity and with his natural ability, it was significant enough to still make him a reasonable performer.
When Tommy Burns arrived as manager in 1994 his days were numbered.
Celtic released him in May 1995, and he moved on for the last time from Celtic. He was long past his best at this point in fairness to the coaching team, and he was ageing.
In his complete Celtic career Charlie Nicholas scored 125 goals in 249 appearances, and is fondly remembered as a player. Sadly, it will not be as one of the legends for which there was an inkling at one point that he could reach that level.
In recent years Charlie Nicholas has gone on to carve out a very successful media career as a co-commentator, pundit and newspaper columnist.
However,he dropped a faux pas on national television when he and Jim White were heard to make derogatory remarks against the ‘Fields of Athenry’ song in a TV studio, which was heard being played over the loudspeaker at Celtic Park before a big European game. So much for Charlie the Celtic man.
His criticism of Celtic, as a pundit, at certain points has seemed to be vindictive on occasions
Charlie insists that he remains and always will be a Celtic fan but ultimately he will be remembered for his premature departure in 1983 from which his career never truly recovered and for developing a certain bitterness against Celtic.
In my eyes he’s gone from almost hero to nearly zero.
Once again, thank you to the wonderful Celtic Wiki.