Saturday, 17 May 2008

Tommy Burns RIP

It has taken me a couple of days to get around to writing this. When a death is reported in the media, we often here various levels of humbug and downright lies about what a wonderful person they were and how tragic it is that they were taken so young. The media will never say, "They were a bad bastard and good riddance to them".

However, in the case of Tommy Burns, all the tributes are justified. Throughout his time with Celtic, Kilmarnock and Scotland , Tommy Burns conducted himself with a dignity and humility that was motivated by his sincere Christian beliefs.

I remember him joining Killie when the club was in the Second Division - he made his debut on an infamous night at Methil against East Fife, when the team bus broke down and the match was eventually abandoned due to the sub-zero temperature. Very few players would have been willing to make such a step down in the world while they still had something left to offer on the pitch, as TB did. Billy McNeill admitted later that he would not have allowed TB to leave Celtic, had he realised how long TB would be able to maintain his level of performance.

Another memory from that season is of a match at Rugby Park against East Fife. A wee fat bloke had been given the task of marking TB and had made the mistake of taking a kick at him. TB took the pìss out of this guy, jogging with the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, with the lardbucket trailing in his wake.

Killie's record in derby matches against Ayr United was phenomenal with Tommy in the team. Having spent so many years playing in Old Firm matches for Celtic, TB knew how important it was to the fans to win a derby. As well as helping the team to win matches, TB bagged a few goals against Ayr, including two 35 yard screamers. Interviewed after one of them, TB admitted that he had not seen the ball hit the net, owing to his short-sightedness.

As manager, TB led Killie to the Scottish Premier Division (as it was then) and kept Killie there. One of the most momentous achievements was beating Rangers 2-1 at Ibrox early in the season; this being Killie's first league win there for 33 years and Ranger' first home defeat in a long, long time.

In that same season, Killie took Rangers to a replay in the Scottish Cup semi-final: Killie led by a Tom Black goal well into the second half until one of the most infamous moments in Scottish football history. A cross from the right, with Mark Hateley closing in from the far side looked a goal all the way. Hateley's header struck the crossbar, bounced down, struck Ray Montgomerie and was clutched by Bobby Geddes. Referee Les Mottram awarded a goal: Monty furiously denied that the ball had crossed the goal line. Technology eventually proved conclusively that Geoff Hurst's second goal in the 1966 World Cup Final never crossed the line: if Killie were important enough, I am 99% sure that it would also establish that Killie were robbed of a place in the Cup Final that season.

I felt as hurt and angry as any Killie fan when TB left to become manager of Celtic in 1994. I appreciate why he did it, though. He was a Celtic man through and through. TB claimed that he would not have left Killie for any club other than Celtic, and I believed him.

Not many footballers appear on Songs of Praise - TB did, though, when they were recording a show in Kilmarnock. His faith was genuine and this will have helped to sustain him during his battle with cancer, as well as providing the reassurance that death is not the end.

Tommy Burns 1956-2008, RIP.

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