BY Ian Dunn | May 17 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

9 opinion column

‘I’m not a Celtic fan, but I recognise the saintly when I see it, and it’s there in Tommy Burns’

Ian Dunn reflects on the life and biography of Celtic legend Tommy Burns who died in 2008, aged 51.

There was a story in the papers last weekend I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

Just an aside, a couple of paragraphs in an interview with Gordon Strachan, the former Scotland and Celtic manager.

He was talking about Tommy Burns, who had been his assistant manager at Celtic, and who died at the age of 51 from skin cancer.

“I saw him at 4pm and he died at 3am. I spoke to the players when we got together at 10am the day after. Scott Brown said, ‘Can I speak to you?’ His sister was dying of cancer at that time. Only 23.

Broonie said, ‘When did Tommy die?’ ‘About three in the morning. Why?’ ‘Well, my sister got flowers at 10 this morning wishing her good luck: keep your chin up, from Tommy Burns.’

That’s a hell of a thing. A man at his end facing his maker and he still finds the time, the energy, the love, to do that for someone he barely knows. That is just remarkable.

Starved of goodness

I’m not a Celtic fan. I’m just a touch too young to remember Tommy Burns as a player. When he was a manager I recall a sense from the papers and the call-ins that, of course, he was a good guy, but too naïve, too nice, really, to cut it in football.

But more than a decade after he passed, when the goals and trophies have dimmed in memory, people still talk about Tommy Burns.

Maybe because most of us now are starved of goodness, when we encounter it, it shines through the years, inspiring us.

When I read the story described above I resolved to be better, more loving, more concerned for others.

Since the passing of Jean Vanier last week, there has been a raft of articles talking about him as a living saint.

This is very possibly true, he was a remarkable man who achieved an incredible amount and lived a life devoted to others to a remarkable extent. But sometimes saints are less obvious.

It seems pretty strange to use the term saint to refer to a former professional footballer. It doesn’t compute somehow, but perhaps that says more about me.

True Holiness

I may not know much but I recognise the saintly when I see it, and it’s there in that story. The more you read about Tommy Burns, the more label seems to fit.

“It does not embarrass me to discuss my Faith in public because I’m not doing so to impress anyone or to have people think of me as what would be called a goody-goody,” he wrote in his autobiography.

“I turn to God at every opportunity because I am not different from anybody else and because I accept that I am sufficiently frail to need His help and guidance more than most.”

This led him, he explained, to ‘go to Mass and take Holy Communion every morning,’ before going to Celtic Park or to return to the church later in the day ‘just to sit there for ten minutes and ask for God’s help.’

Indeed, he dedicated his autobiography to two women—his wife Rosemary ‘who was the making of Tommy Burns,’ and to ‘Our Blessed Lady,’ for ‘carrying me through all the hard times and keeping my feet on the ground on the many great times.’ It’s a dedication he simply signs as ‘your servant.’

For all their flaws we can find saints in unexpected places. That true holiness, the people who truly inspire us towards good, are out there.

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