TOMMY BURNS FEATURE
Amid a storm of controversy, Celtic FC’s new manager TOMMY BURNS is earning himself the reputation of a miracle- worker and folk hero.
He shares the secret of his success with Philip Dorward.
efore Tommy Burns took up the gauntlet as leader of Celtic Football Club, he was just another football manager — however devoted. In the following three months, he has grabbed front page headlines and become a local hero respected across Scottish football’s divides.
To the outside world, Burns‘s life appears to revolve around Celtic FC. It doesn’t. He has hold of something far more powerful, something which many of us can only dream about — and we’re not talking his annual salary. rumoured to be about £150,000. The man has faith. ‘I live my life by my faith,’ he exalts conﬁdently. ‘The most important thing in my life is to save my soul. Every day I wake up and say my prayers to live this day as best I can. Everything I have achieved in this life is because of God: I am just an instrument living my life wherever I am taken.’
While the media feeds on the antics of many football players on and off the pitch, Burns’s wholesome image remains stubbornly intact. He is adored by fans and inspires his players.
The 38-year-old has lived and breathed Celtic FC since boyhood. He attended St Mary’s Parish Church in Glasgow’s east end, where the original Celtic football team was founded. His childhood ambition was to play for the club. That he achieved with aplomb and he emerged as a mainstay of the successful 19805 Celtic side. By the time he left the team as a player in 1989, he had played more than 400 games for Celtic and won every domestic honour in the Scottish game.
The watershed year for Burns and the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic was 1989. Rangers had just won their second successive Premier League Championship under Graeme Souness and Celtic won the Scottish Cup final with Burns in the side. Since then, Rangers have gone on to win every Premier League, three League Cups and two Scottish Cups. Celtic have won nothing since Burns departed as a player.
The redhead left to become player/manager of Kilmarnock FC, relegated to the Second Division shortly before. In his first season, Burns returned the team to the First Division and within two years, the team was back in the Premier League for the first time in a decade. Last April, Burns steered the Kilmarnock towards the Scottish Cup semi-final against Rangers at Hampden Park. Only after a replay and one of the most controversial goals of the season did Rangers win. Burns was hailed a hero by Killie fans.
Five months later, the same Kilmarnock supporters returned to Hampden, the temporary home of Celtic while their home ground Parkhead is redeve10ped. Burns was no longer a saint, but labelled Judas by a core of unforgiving fans. During the summer he had resigned from his job at Kilmarnock FC and returned home to Celtic, known affectionately as Paradise by its fans. Hisjob was to help restore the club’s pride after years of bitter boardroom fighting.
Burns has managed to calm Celtic’s in- ﬁghting. but his move has sparked a bitter feud between his club and Kilmarnock FC, who are demanding compensation for its former manager’s departure. Celtic has flatly refused. Despite all the wrangling, Burns has remained calm and provided the club with its most succesful team since 1989. His religion gives him the courage to keep going, despite the pitfalls of football.
HIS immense theological strength is partly
‘People don’t have to ask me twice about success because I’ll no’ be slow in telling them: it’s no’ come from Thomas Burns but from Jesus.’
rooted in his membership of Opus Dei. an international group of lay people and priests within the Roman Catholic Church which claims to uphold high standards of morality and Catholicism. Burns does not concern himself with the politics behind the organisation. For him, it means something different.
‘It’s the whole theme of living every day in the workplace and praying to God in everything you do,’ he says. ‘If you sit down and write a letter but can’t be bothered, then sit down and make it the best letter you can give. If you have to go to training but don’t care, then prepare yourself, go and train and then offer it up. It’s all a matter of doing something with your life. I go to mass at 8am every day. then say my rosary at 8.30am for
twenty minutes. I leave, then I come to work and go about it in the best frame of mind.’
It would be all too easy to dismiss Burns as a religious fanatic, but he isn’t, choosing to talk about his faith only when asked. He would seem, from his modest demeanour a ‘good’ man who offers his life up as best he can for his family, his work and his friends. As manager of Celtic, Burns has thousands of new found friends. He does not boast to them: he says he justs wants to get on with his job. If he does it well and it makes people happy, so be it.
‘I have no heroes, no aspirations to be like anyone else, I just want to be the best I can be.’
‘l’mjust Thomas Burns and I try to be the best example I can to my children, family and anybody else who wants to look at me as an example,’ he says. ‘I have no heroes, no aspirations to be like anyone else, Ijust want to be the best I can be.
‘I’m no different from anybody else. I cry, laugh, watch Coronation Street, the fitba’, go to my bed and then wake up. I would rather I could walk about freely with my family but what can you do? I’m fortunate enough to have achieved the dreams of a million people, to play for Celtic. Now I’m lucky enough to be manager, but it’s a bloody hard job and there’s a huge responsibility on me to provide success here.’
Football is all about success. Today it is the most important thing — it begets money, which then provides players, stadia, etc. There is no doubt Celtic are at the beginning of a new era. All Burns is interested in is getting his team challenging for honours again.
If Burns is the carpenter crafting a winning side, Celtic’s chief executive Fergus McCann plays the club’s god: he raises money for players and the capital necessary to develop Parkhead into a 65,000 seat stadium — Britain’s largest club ground. But for Burns, there is more to life than football. He strives for success in all areas of his life and his greatest prize is honesty.
‘The most important thing is my family and my religion,’ he explains. ‘I believe my greatest 1
success would be as a good father to my children, a good husband to my wife, a good son to my mother. brother to my sisters, uncle to my nephews and nieces. People don’t have to ask me twice about success because I’ll no’ be slow in telling them: it’s no’ come from Thomas Burns but from Jesus.’ C]
The List 21 October—3 November 1994 1