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10-11 peter grant

Peter Grant: A Faithful Servant of God

Former Celtic player Peter Grant tells Richard Purden how his Catholic upbringing helped him through the highs and lows of being a leading figure at the Glasgow club during some of its most difficult years, and the abiding influence of now legendary player-turned-manager, Tommy Burns.

As a popular player for Celtic, turning out for the club during a remarkable 15-year stint between 1982 and 1997, Peter Grant’s natural enthusiasm, passion and heart ensured he would become one of the most memorable figures of that footballing era.

Bellshill-born Grant, who currently manages Alloa Athletic, was a

defensive midfielder whose career with the Parkhead side overlapped its centenary year in 1988. He went on to play for Bournemouth, Reading and Norwich City, before going into coaching, eventually becoming an assistant Scotland coach.

Faith-filled upbringing

However, less well celebrated than his footballing achievements is the central role Catholicism played in his formation as a sporting great.

The Faith was very much part of his Lanarkshire upbringing and later helped him tackled the highs and lows of his life, on and off field, by nurturing his spiritual being while encouraging him to strive to excel.

Upholding the principles of the Faith was a task he took as seriously as he would later in helping Celtic to victory. He said: “I thought it was my duty as a young man and as an altar boy for five years at primary school.

“I used to love going to Mass and listening to the priest for some reason. I don’t know why, maybe it was one of these things where you felt at peace, it is hard to describe as a youngster.

“When I go to Mass now, one of the biggest disappointments is that there are no youngsters there. When I was going it was full of young people.

“I think what summed it up when talking about Celtic was my first game which was against Rangers at Ibrox (April 1984).

Natural progression

“I was at Mass when the club called and couldn’t get hold of me, I was due to play in a reserve game that afternoon but I didn’t realise I was going to be playing against Rangers that day, I was only 18.”

Grant, now 54, views his journey of Faith as ‘a natural progression in our lives and religion.’

Recalling his childhood, he said: “We would do our Novenas on a Tuesday and I had a statue of Our Lady in the bedroom. I would light a candle which my mother had brought us up to do and we said our prayers before we went to bed at night.”

His Faith continued to burgeon in his teenage years, and today remains an essential part of his everyday life.

He said: “I never shoved it down anyone else’s throat, but I kept going to Mass and didn’t need my parents to take me.

“It’s the least I can do when you look at the suffering Our Lord went through for us. Sometimes I look at my crucifix or my medals and I remember that. I would go daily to Mass or as much as I possibly could, it was probably a little bit harder in later years because more chapels are closed now for safety reasons (out with Mass) but back then it was a place I could go and sit for a couple of hours, light candles and say prayers every day.

Peace in tough times

“I would find peace in tough times with no interruptions and was silent in respect to the Lord’s house.

“I loved the tranquillity to think and clear my head whether young or old. I just felt the Lord, angels and saints were protecting me and I’ve been fortunate in my life when good things have happened.

“When not so good things have happened I’ve had prayer and my Faith to lean on. There are times when I questioned my Faith but it has always stood by me, I’m very fortunate and proud to have my wife and the boys. Yes, there have been twists and turns but I’m a very happy man.”

Tommy Burns’ legacy

As a player, Grant enjoyed an unforgettable connection with his team-mate, Tommy Burns. The late Celtic player and manager is sadly missed since his passing in 2008 but his legacy helped to strengthen the Catholic beliefs and foundations that first breathed life into Celtic.

Grant said: “I was 16 and a player at the boys club, there were players like Owen Archdeacon and Paul McStay, who was a little bit older.

“I seemed to hit it off as a young man with both Tommy and Danny McGrain who were unbelievable with me.

“I don’t know what it was with myself and Tommy, I was a Motherwell boy from Chapelhall, and Tommy was a Glasgow boy. I just followed him as a professional and we found our paths were very similar.

“I loved him to bits, he was a special, special man and team-mate.”

He added: “Probably our most difficult time was when Tommy became manager of Celtic because we stopped speaking to each other as often. He laughs: “Obviously, it was different because Tommy’s the manager, but we would holiday together with Rosemary and Lorraine and would talk daily.”

Passion for Celtic

That friendship continues to inspire Grant for whom, as the Bob Dylan song suggests, ‘Death Is Not The End’. Grant continued: “We were very fortunate in life, we never had much in terms of finance but we were so rich because we had our Faith. We didn’t know that side of each other’s lives (at first) but just got on very well.”

Their shared passion for Celtic had its positives and negatives, too. He said: “Tommy came out with a comment once where he spoke of his unbelievable love for Celtic but added that he didn’t enjoy it. I understood that completely because it meant too much to us in that respect, there was a lot of suffering.

“I was part of a team that went nine years without winning the title and that was a very tough time, we went six years without a trophy. When you see the pictures of me in tears, it wasn’t enjoyment, it was relief.”

The way Grant talks about Celtic sounds like a vocation or calling. He put Celtic first at the cost of his own health and well-being, battling on when all hope seemed lost. A lesser player or someone without the club at heart might have thrown in the towel.

‘Blessed’ to be signed

He said: “Since I signed for Celtic I was blessed, people say to me ‘would you not rather have won three trebles or won the league during the nine?’ and I say ‘no, not at all’.

“I was fortunate during my time to pull on that jersey; the way I look upon it is: that’s what the Lord has mapped out for you. Yes, I wanted to win more games and trophies but that was the making of me as a character. People say I was mentally strong, I never perceived myself like that but to the outside world you have to have character to play for Celtic.

“It’s not necessarily ability, you can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have character and the mentality it’s hard to survive, especially in Glasgow with Celtic and Rangers. They used to call me ‘The Janitor’ because I was first in and last out. I knew that one day it would all come to an end but I wanted it to last forever. In those days you could sign a new contract in the summer and be sold the next day! I gave it my best every day because I wanted to be there the next day!”

The six years between 1989 and 1995 are often cited by veteran supporters when challenged by young fans who take winning for granted. Against the odds, due to injury, Grant played in the 1995 Scottish Cup Final against Airdrie helping to break the trophy drought then overshadowing Celtic. The game would come to be known as ‘The Peter Grant Final.’

The Injury

He recalled: “I knew it was a bad one (the injury), we were told by a surgeon it would take six weeks (to heal) and the final was in two. I was distraught because I had missed the Scottish Cup final due to a broken foot and also the Raith Rovers game due to suspension. I began to think it just wasn’t meant to be. You start to question things, thinking ‘why me?’. I thought ‘I’ve got to play, I just can’t accept this.’”

Grant began to train on his own, becoming more determined that he was going to make the final. “I tried everything,” he said, “prayers, Holy water and different oils, etc. I said to Tommy on the Tuesday ‘I think I’m going to be fit for this, he said ‘are you kidding me?’

“On the Thursday I nearly burst a hole in my lip, biting it during training because the pain was so bad. Tommy asked me: ‘what are you thinking?’ and I told him I was fit and ready to play. I managed to get through the game and, with about five minutes to go, the leg went. I was in agony for nine or ten weeks after that. I couldn’t even lift it but I was so desperate just to play, it meant too much.”

‘Just let me go like this, Lord’

Asked what motivated him to take such a massive risk as a professional footballer, Grant again turns to his religion by way of explanation. He said: “My concern was that I was going to let my teammates down.

“I was blessed, in that my leg went in the last five minutes of the game and not the first five. I remember looking at Paul (McStay); we had been through it all together and it wasn’t easy, you could see the emotion on our faces. When I looked at the support you could have taken me to Heaven then and there, I thought ‘just let me go like this, Lord.’

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