Despite what I still like to consider my relatively young age, I think it’s fair to say I have a pretty decent knowledge of the club I’ve followed since before I can remember. The club? The mighty Glasgow Celtic, of course.
And as anyone with a ‘pretty decent knowledge’ of this great club would know, there are certain figures in it’s 128 year history that any Celtic fan worth their salt should know about. Before very recently, people who I thought fell into the ‘need to know about’ category for Hoops fans include the likes of Willie Maley, Jimmy McGrory, Jock Stein, Sean Fallon, Billy McNeill and, latterly, Fergus McCann. This is by no means an exhaustive list but, without doubt, all Celtic fans will know each of these names and, more than likely, have more than a passing appreciation for the contributions of each man to the history Glasgow’s Green and White.
There is a name missing from that list however that, to my eternal shame, I haven’t been familiar with over the years. The name? Neilly Mochan. So when I had the chance to review a newly-published biography of the man himself, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Credit: The Celtic Wiki
Celtic’s Smiler: The Neilly Mochan Story, is an excellently crafted and detailed look at the life of one of Celtic’s greatest and longest serving sons. This is the second publication about a major aspect of Celtic’s history from author Paul John Dykes, following 2013’s Quality Street Gang, which chronicled the rise of the fabled young Hoops side that rose out of the ashes of the great Lisbon Lions side of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Before reading this intricate and delicately crafted reflection on the life of ‘The Moch’, I’m ashamed to say I knew little else of the man other than the two goals he scored in the now legendary 1957 League Cup final victory in which Celtic beat Old Firm rivals Rangers 7-1 – a match still remembered to this day in the form of song ‘Oh Hamden in the Sun’. Here, I had a chance to delve into the backstory of the man affectionately known to his friends as ‘Smiler’ and gain a truer understanding of what made him one of the greatest servants in Celtic history.
Credit: Celtic Wiki
Using his unique and compelling style of writing, Dykes chronicles with great care the 40 year association Mochan had with Celtic which began in 1953, with him earning the rare distinction of having earned two pieces of silverware for the club before even playing a home game at Celtic Park. His start as a striker with a vicious left-foot shot, followed by spells as a trainer, kit man and sponge man saw him bear witness to some of the most memorable moments in the Hoops’ history. From the highs of the afore-mentioned 7-1 Old Firm win, the 9 consecutive league titles and two European Cup finals, to the harrowing lows of events such as the Ibrox and Shawfield disasters, Neilly was there for it all.
What makes this book nothing short of unmissable for any fan of the green and white persuasion is not necessarily, however, those events in themselves. They are well documented elsewhere. What Dykes has managed with this great biography is to leave you with a feeling that you have really managed to establish some sense of who Neilly Mochan was as a man. This was in no small part due to the numerous contributions from the men in the footballing world, and outside it, who knew him best. Without contributions from people such as his nephew James Butler and Celtic stars such as Kenny Dalglish and Davie Provan, we would have much less appreciation for the jovial disposition that led to him earning his ‘Smiler’ moniker. Anecdotes and tales from such valued sources, including a rather comical re-telling of a story involving Neilly, Jim Craig and a pair of Puma football boots, really help to capture the true nature of the man.
This feeling of deep appreciation for Smiler is only further reinforced by the accompanying DVD documentary available, which has interviews and footage of some of the key moments of Mochan’s Celtic career and is the perfect accompaniment to what is already an extremely satisfying biography.
If you’re a Celtic fan, or even if you have any interest in Scottish football in general, this book and DVD are an absolute must.
‘He knew the game and knew the situations that individuals were in before a match, and he treated us all differently. He used man-management and everybody spoke about him in glowing terms. We were a very confident team and a lot of that was down to him because he gave you a lift when you needed it. In the dressing room, Neilly Mochan was a great.”
Lisbon Lion, Bertie Auld
Credit: Celtic Wiki