Tribute to Celtic legend who hailed from Fife

Celtic footballer Willie Fernie in 1961.
Celtic footballer Willie Fernie in 1961.

TRIBUTE has been paid to Celtic legend, Willie Fernie, who died last Friday, reports MIKE DELANEY.

His nephew, also Willie Fernie, said he believed his uncle was the “greatest player ever to come out of Fife.”

Willie Junior, who lives in Leslie, added that his relative had died from complications arising from Alzheimers in a hospital in Glasgow, the city in which his uncle had lived since leaving his native Kinglassie to sign for Celtic.

He died on his 83rd birthday and had been pre-deceased by his wife, Audrey, last year.

Willie Fernie shared some of the highest points in the Parkhead club’s post-Second World War history, including the ‘Hampden in the sun’ win over Rangers and the European Cup triumph and also played for Scotland, appearing in two World Cup Finals.

Born in Kinglassie in 1928, he signed for Celtic in 1949 from amateur football and went on to score 74 goals in 317 appearances.

He played in the 1953 Coronation Cup Final victory over Hibernian, the League and Scottish Cup double winning team of the following year and the famous 7-1 victory against Rangers in the League Cup Final of 1957, in which scored one of the goals from the penalty spot.

Fernie was capped 12 times for Scotland and was part of the national squad which travelled to the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, appearing in the tournament again when it was held in Sweden four years later in what proved t be the swansong of his international career.

He joined Middlesbrough - where he was a team-mate of then striker Brian Clough - for £17,500 in 1958, but returned to Celtic less than two years later.

He moved to St Mirren in 1961 and helped them reach the following year’s Scottish Cup Final, although Rangers won 2-0.

Fernie finished his playing career with short spells at Alloa Athletic and Fraserburgh and in Northern Ireland with Bangor and Coleraine.

In 1967 he was appointed Celtic reserve team coach and was by Jock Stein’s side when ‘Lisbon Lions’ defeated Internazionale of Milan 2-1 to become the first British club to take the continent’s top prize.

In 1973 he became Kilmarnock manager, leading a team which had been in the doldrums back to the old Division One in 1973-74 and then, after reconstruction, to promotion to the new Premier Division the following year.

But the part-time team went straight back down and, after a poor start to the 1976-77 season, he was sacked and later took up a job in the taxi trade.

Contemporaries recall him being a crowd-pleasing, skilful dribbler, but also a tireless runner.

His nephew, Willie, is 46 and wasn’t old enough to see his uncle play, but heard more than enough from his father, Andrew, to believe that he was “some player.”

He added: “From what I hear he was a brilliant player - the best footballer to come out of Fife.

“I wind the Rangers’ boys up about him being better than Jim Baxter, but I have heard people say that my uncle was world-class.”