BY Peter Diamond | September 28 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Faithful through and through: the extraordinary Faith of Celtic great Bobby Lennox

Peter Diamond speaks to Celtic legend Bobby Lennox about his deep Faith and his love of Our Lady

If a 75-year-old man who had been a practising Catholic all his life were to tell you that he didn’t pray to God, you might be forgiven for questioning his Faith. Furthermore, if he were to tell you that he had a deep and lasting love for two women throughout his life, you would maybe go on to judge his character.

But for former Celtic striker and Lisbon Lion Bobby Lennox, there is no contradiction.

Married to his soul-mate Kathryn for 51 years, Mr Lennox has another woman in his life: Mary, the mother of God, who has shaped his Catholic Faith during his life in a little town by-the-sea: Saltcoats in Ayrshire.

Having made the Sacraments of Baptism, Communion, Confirmation and Marriage all within St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, it is the love of the Immaculate Mary who Bobby turns to when he prays.

Raised in a Catholic household with two older brothers Andrew and Eric, Bobby was initially a very shy and awkward young boy, traits that became more prominent following a rejection by the primary school football team, St Mary’s Saltcoats.

“I was supposed to play with the primary school team and I was in the class below the rest of the boys but on the day of the game they forgot to come and get me, so I was left in school, in my own class and never made the game,” Bobby said.

“It really affected me and put me off and I never ever played for the school team after that. They would ask me to play and I would make up excuses so I didn’t have to.”

This phase would pass when he later went to St Michael’s College in Kilwinning and then played for St John’s amateurs in Stevenston, before pulling on a shirt for the parish team Star of the Sea (St Mary’s).

“Looking at the teams I played with in my early days, you’d never have guessed I was Catholic,” Bobby joked. “It’s all the saints, isn’t it?”

A formation in Faith and football was a key component of Bobby’s life and he can remember being escorted to Mass each week by his mother and father.

“It was a very Catholic household. We [Bobby and his brothers] got our Faith from our parents and they were a positive influence in nurturing us and taking us to 10 o’clock Mass every Sunday. They were good Catholics. My Dad was a bookie and my Mum was a housewife as everyone was back then and it was just a good normal Catholic upbringing.”

The good Catholic and down-to-earth attitude is something that oozes from Bobby Lennox’s character. He adores his family and remains a very humble, dignified and ordinary man, with an extraordinary story.

Keeping with the traditions that he and his wife Kathryn hold, they have stayed in Saltcoats all their years and raised their children Gary, Gillian and Jeff the same way they were.

Bobby said: “It’s important to bring a family up in the right way. Once they’re a certain age they can go and do what they like but my children were certainly raised with the same values and morals as myself and Kathryn were. It’s important that children learn the right things from their parents.

“When Kathryn and myself were getting married Big Jock [Stein] said to me that the club would prefer if we moved to nearer Glasgow but I said I was going nowhere and they never pushed me after that. After all Saltcoats is the metropolis—I still love it.”

Bobby secured his fate after being spotted by a Celtic scout when he was playing for Ardeer Rec Juniors, a time when he was working as a box maker in ICI, the biggest factory at the time in Ayrshire.

Little did he know that the factory box-maker would turn into a football penalty-box maestro, being included in the Greatest Ever Celtic Team, scoring 301 goals. He is currently second in the clubs leading goalscorers tally.

Bobby played for Celtic until he was 38—having a brief spell at Houston Hurricane in USA for one-season in between two stints with the Glasgow side—where he made friends for life being part of the first British and last Scottish side to win the European Cup.

On May 25 1967 while in Lisbon, Portugal, Bobby recalls how the team went to Mass to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi.

“The day we won the European cup we were all at Mass in Lisbon. It was a holiday of obligation and wee John Clark had a pal that was a priest who was over for the game so he said Mass in one of the hotel rooms for us all.

“It obviously worked out for us that day, although I bet the Italians would have gone as well,” Bobby joked.

“Maybe it was the fact Sir Robert Kelly and the directors went on pilgrimage to Fatima when we were over there?”

Going to Mass with his teammates was not something that was reserved for special occasions either.

Bobby said: “Jock would make the Catholics go to Mass. If we were down training at Seamill Hydro on a Sunday or it was a Holiday of Obligation there would be a chap at the door and told we were going to Mass.

“It would usually be Neil Mochan, an assistant coach of Jock’s that would organise us—just the Catholics obviously.”

Humble as ever Bobby couldn’t pick the most pious player in his playing squad, but cited a few contenders. “Stevie Chalmers or John Clark were gentlemen,” he said. “They all were, though, to be fair to them, but Sean Fallon would maybe eclipse them, he was very pious.”

Of the great team that won the European cup, seven were Catholics and four were not, and Bobby joked that lunch on a Friday would be quite the sight.

“Ronnie Simpson, Big Tam [Gemmell], Bertie [Auld], and Willie Wallace were not Catholics but none of those things ever affected the dressing room. Faith isn’t a thing that you talk about too much if you’re from the west of Scotland.

“On a Friday at one point there were seven fish and four steaks served up and that always got the banter going.”

Bobby has been to visit the shrine to Our Lady in Lourdes twice and when I mention the place his face lights up and he starts singing the ‘Ave’ chorus of Immaculate Mary. Although he hasn’t visited for nearly 60 years, it is perhaps where his love for Our Lady first came to fruition.

“I went to Lourdes when I was 15 and 17 with my mum, my aunts and Galloway Diocese. I enjoyed it when I was there singing the hymns with my mam and my aunties. That was the first time I’d ever been on a plane.

“The second time I went I had just signed a [schoolboy form] for Celtic and Billy McNeil and a few others from the team gave me some money to bring back medals and keepsakes for them and their families.

“I always wore an Immaculate Mary medal around my neck every time I played and I used to put my hand on it just before the game would kick off.

“I never crossed myself but I would always touch it before the game, it was kind of comforting.”

Bobby is devoted to his wife Kathryn and says marrying her eclipsed anything in his footballing career. The pair met when she was 16 and Bobby was still playing junior football.

“The highlight of my life was being fortunate enough to meet and then marry Kathryn, she’s a wonderful person,” Bobby says.

Kathryn wasn’t raised as Catholic but embraced the Faith when she married Bobby and he admits her Faith is remarkable.

“She’s a better Catholic than me now, she really is, she’s great for her Faith and she’s a wonderful person.”

Because of his strong affection for Our Lady and his life-long affiliation with St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, Saltcoats, Bobby has a unique Faith, which he revealed while showing me a keyring with a Mary medallion and telling me about the keepsakes on the dashboard of his car.

“I’ll tell you what my Faith is. Believe it or not I don’t pray to God, I pray to Our Lady all the time, she’s my mentor.

“If I worry about anything I pray to Our Lady, it’s simple enough. Pray to Our Lady if you’ve got a problem,” Bobby said.

“In my Faith life everything has been about St Mary’s Star of the Sea in Saltcoats, she’s my favourite,” he adds.

When he tells me that he doesn’t think he’ll ever return to Lourdes again because ‘all of our prayers have been answered,’ I laugh.

However when he removes a prayer card of Our Lady from his wallet and written on it are the words ‘If you knew how much I loved you, you’d cry for joy,’ I can’t help but think he just might be right.


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