I was fortunate to be around when Bertie was playing,with my first match being in late 1967. As was mentioned earlier,his last appearance was when we beat Clyde 6-1,when all The Lions played-although actually Ronnie stripped for the game but didn’t play. I was at that one,and I was also at the Scottish Cup Final in 1972 when I saw him in the flesh for the last time as a late substitute for the already thrashed Hibs side that day.
It was hardly a fitting send off for a wonderful player,and though he went on to have a decent career in management,even that hardly did him justice. Where he absolutely DID do himself justice though was as an ambassador for our club,and I think we are all aware of his legendary status in that regard.
I only met him once,briefly,when he asked me to take a photograph of him and two girls with their camera. I told him it had a blue button,and I wisnae for touching it! A few years later though,I was fortunate enough to have a good few conversations with him by phone as we tried to organise a trip for him to visit a terminally ill Celtic supporter in the USA.
Get me,eh? Well,actually I was merely the go-between for this. A right good Celt-who has since become a very good friend,I am glad to say-had posted on CQN that his youngest son,barely 30yo,had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. This is fatal in all cases,and usually within two or three years. Worse,it destroys the motor functions of the body while leaving the brain largely untouched. The victim can only watch as his entire body-bar the brain-closes down,leaving him helpless. It is truly a most awful way to go.
He wondered if anyone knew if any of The Lisbon Lions might be willing to come over for a few days and simply cheer his son up with a few tales of yore. Even as I was reading it,I knew the answer-but I didn’t know Bertie at all! I should add,of course,that Bertie and Jinky were inseparable,and Jinky himself had not long left us as a result of this particular disease. Bertie had watched as his pal withered away,so would he be more likely to visit a fellow victim because of this,or less likely because of the memories it might bring back?
That was when my great pal THEBARCAMOLE phoned me,all the way from The Philippines. I miss him greatly,but I don’t miss the phone bills! Would Bertie be up for this,I asked. Of course he will,have you got RWE’s mail address? Well,TBM,Franny,phoned Bertie and then followed through with calls and mails to RWE,John. It was arranged that Bertie would travel with his pal Evan Williams and spend two or three weeks with everyone. With everyone in different time zones,I was nominated as the go-between due to working nights-which made me available for all parties concerned.
Sadly,the trip itself didn’t materialise as Bertie’s wife Liz fell ill,which meant that he couldn’t travel,but that actually worked out very well for everyone. Instead of a very costly and exhausting trip,Bertie just made regular phone calls! And if you’ve ever had a phone call from Bertie Auld,you will know that it’s just the very thing for keeping your spirits up,no matter how bad things are for you.
He truly was a legend on the park,but it might even be true that he was a bigger one off it. That’s not a bad epitaph to have,is it?
I can’t finish this without finally telling a story that the great man told me himself,about a time when he and Jinky were flying back home after a visit to see Alfredo di Stefano,I think. Jimmy was well into the later stages of MND by this time,but still fairly mobile,and during the flight asked Bertie if he could get past to go to the toilet.
“Nae bother,wee man.” “Erm,Bertie,you’ll need to come wi me,this bastert disease,my hands are shaking that much I need yer help.”
“Wotcha f…..g talking aboot?!!!” “I canny haud it,Bertie.” “Aw fuxake,awright!”
Well,for a mate,what do you do? Bertie did as requested,as I think we all would under the circumstances. Which is exactly what he tried to explain to the stewardess who unlocked the toilet door,having seen two people head in there moments earlier.
“Sorry,my mate has this disease,and his hands shake that bad that he needs help sometimes.”
“Naw,Bertie,I’m fine. It’s not that bad yet!”
I think Bertie will be surprised to see Jimmy upstairs,because he should be roasting in hell just for that,apparently! But I think Heaven might just be a livelier place for a while,and I think we all wish him well on his journey.
R I P Bertie Auld. A legend as a footballer and as a man.