Silent Assassin sheds light on glorious career

Donal Scully

IN his playing days they called David Hay the 'Silent Assassin'. To fans his strength in the tackle easily explained the 'assassin' part but if they assumed the 'silent' was because of his quiet off-field demeanour they were wrong.

'It was Tommy Docherty who gave me the nickname when I played under him for Scotland. By that stage I had false teeth and I'd take them out for training sessions so I wouldn't speak much. Anyway the name stuck,' said Hay, speaking at his Kowloon hotel this week.

Hay is here as a guest of the Hong Kong branch of the Glasgow Celtic Supporters Club with whom he has been attending various social functions in the past week.

A former player and manager of the famous Glasgow club, Hay has no reservations about being back at his beloved Celtic in the capacity of chief scout. It's a role in which he feels he can contribute to the building of a new dynasty at Parkhead.

'I'm just delighted to be back at Celtic at the start of what I hope is the club's resurrection,' said Hay.

For Celtic have been through a turbulent time this decade, failing on the pitch, warring with themselves off it and falling further than ever behind fierce city rivals Rangers who are on a seven-in-a-row league title streak.

But recent events suggest the tide may turn and the men in hoops - the first British side to lift the European Cup in 1967 - are on the verge of kicking off a bright new era.

Only last weekend Celtic ended a six-year trophy famine by beating Airdrie 1-0 in the Scottish Cup final. The scenes at the end of a poor game were so emotion-packed it was clearly more than just another Cup win. It took a full 30 minutes to collect the trophy and complete a lap of honour in which players allowed front-row fans to touch the precious silverware.

'It was a tense occasion for us all,' said Hay who watched from the stands. 'Winning meant so much. We scored a quick goal and thought that would be it. From the players' point of view, I think the longer the game progressed without another goal the more they started thinking 'Please, God, don't let us lose'. That was how the tension came through. 'I hope that win is the trigger for more trophies. Psychologically, it's a boost. If we get the players we need in the summer we will be able to sustain a challenge in the league next season. Last season we simply drew too may games and the reason was we didn't score enough goals. We're looking overseas to sign Marc Degryse and Dimitri Radchenko and I'm sure they will be Celtic players soon.' Hay took an affirmative tone about the transfers of Belgian Degryse from Anderlecht and Russian Radchenko from Spain's Racing Santander because of Scottish press reports suggesting new chairman Fergus McCann and team manager Tommy Burns had clashed over money for the deals.

'I think the press make a big deal about boardroom trouble. You have differences of opinion at any club. It happened when I was manager, too. But the press tend to play it up, especially in Glasgow where they're under pressure to have Celtic or Rangers stories every day. Our fans back home are uptight about these stories because they seem designed to take away from the Cup glory.' He also said press stories about the transfer of midfield star John Collins to Middlesbrough were jumping the gun.

'There has been an offer made but if he's going to move it would have to be for a lot more than the GBP2 million in the papers.' In his new role of chief scout Hay has been involved with some changes at the club.

'We're re-structuring our youth policy. We've put former Celtic players in key positions to coach the youngsters. And I have set up coaching centres in Ireland.' It's no surprise that Hay should value youth policy because he himself was a product of the youth team - one of the celebrated crop of talent known as the Quality Street Gang whose members included Danny McGrain, Lou Macari and Kenny Dalglish.

His six-year spell as a first-team player (1969-74) covered five of their British-record nine successive championships and two Scottish Cups as well as the disappointment of the 1970 European Cup Final loss to Feyenoord.

Hay broke into the Celtic team on a regular basis as a right back in 1969 and later switched to midfield.

After a superb World Cup in 1974 in which he emerged as the best Scotland player things went off the boil.

He joined Chelsea but injuries kept him out of half the games in his five years there and a detached retina brought his career to a premature end.

After that it was back to Scotland and Motherwell as assistant manager. In his first season as manager proper (1981-82) Hay took Motherwell up to the Premier Division. Then he quit Motherwell for a job in the US which didn't materialise.

In 1983 he was offered the Celtic job to succeed Parkhead legend Billy McNeill.

In his four seasons Hay won one League title and one FA Cup. He also lost in one Cup and two League Cups, one of which - a 1986 reverse to Rangers - caused Hay to make an outburst about anti-Celtic refereeing bias and led him to say: 'If it were up to me our application to join the English league would be made tomorrow.' Looking back at that statement last week, Hay was more conciliatory.

'I always used to feel the referees were against us. But what I said was a heat-of-the-moment thing. As I've got older I've accepted the decisions more. It's easier for me now.' Since leaving the Parkhead hot seat in 1987 Hay has managed in Norway, where he took Lillestrom to the championship, and had assistant roles at Watford and Swindon.

But it was only after last year's boardroom overthrow that Hay was invited back by new manager Burns for his third incarnation at Celtic.

'In my scouting role I don't see that many Celtic games. I tend to be away looking at players in places such as Holland, Belgium and Spain.' Hay could take special pride in the Cup Final outcome because the lone goal was scored by one of his European scouting discoveries, Pierre Van Hooijdonk, who was signed from Dutch club NEC Breda in January and struck up an instant rapport with the Celtic fans.

'Pierre told me the name of Celtic immediately attracted him even though he didn't know much about the club's history. He didn't realise how passionate the fans are either. But he learned that better than ever on Saturday. Once players feel that passion they give a little bit extra for the team.' With a new board at the helm, a modern stadium two-thirds the way to completion and the richest ever share issue by a British club, there are plenty of reasons for fans to feel optimistic of once again challenging Rangers over a full season.

And there's also the incentive to preserve Celtic's record, nine-in-a-row sequence of league titles.

'I've heard it said it's bad for the game that Rangers win seven in a row but if it was us winning them I know I wouldn't think it was bad. It's up to Celtic and other teams to bridge the gap with Rangers. I think the supporters are more conscious of nine-in-a-row than we are. We just want to win the title. We can't keep worrying about what Rangers do - if they sign Gazza or whatever - we must worry about what we do ourselves.' Hay has worked with some of the Scottish game's giants, none greater than Celtic's most successful manager the late Jock Stein.

'Jock was simply the best. I learned from him how to get the best out of players. He had big new ideas in training which involved a lot more work with the ball than was common at the time. He also put much more detail into training.' Then there was teammate Jimmy Johnstone, the flame-haired, pint-sized winger, known as 'Jinky' for his mazy dribbles.

'He was the best player I ever played with. As I used to play right back I was right behind him and he was great because he was always available - always wanted the ball.' And, of course, The Doc, Tommy Docherty, who gave Hay his first cap as manager of Scotland as well as his 'Silent Assassin' tag. The Doc has also been in town the past week at the same time as Hay, giving after-dinner speeches in the territory.

'I'm going to see his speech on Monday. He's first-class entertainment.'