Saturday interview: Which of Alan Sneddon's goalies cross-dressed on a plane and who wore his wife's corset during games?

Alan Sneddon on Euro nights with Celtic, fights for clean kit and regulation balls at Hibs and the myth he played with only one eye. He didn’t miss anything, not Jock Stein’s looming size 10s or Bertie Auld’s ever-present Lisbon medal, and now he works for charity to “give something back”.

Saturday, 26th September 2020, 1:06 pm
Alan Sneddon won league titles in the same season with both Celtic and Hibs. Picture: John Devlin
Alan Sneddon won league titles in the same season with both Celtic and Hibs. Picture: John Devlin

Goalkeepers, that mad breed, make quiet and long-suffering heroes of the full-backs who work closest with them. These men must be able to read the custodians’ moods, which possibly isn’t that difficult when they can hear the rants the clearest, and they’re invariably the ones who, when distribution goes awry, are tossed the occasional grenade. But I’m glad to say that Alan Sneddon isn’t so quiet today as he remembers - with affection - his four goalies at Hibernian.

Fancy a quiz? Okay, the quirksome quartet, in order, were Jim McArthur, Alan Rough, Andy Goram and John Burridge. Who among them was the cross-dressing keeper?

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Sneddon: “We were on our way to play Videoton of Hungary in the Uefa Cup when Andy disappeared up the aisle of the plane and behind the wee curtain. Next thing he was pushing the drinks trolley in full stewardess gear, skirt, high heels and even some lipstick, swinging his hips as he went.

“Andy was always doing stuff like that but was obviously a great keeper. There were a few guys during my time at Easter Road who would encourage you to think, ‘We’ve got the makings of a team here’, only for them to be sold. John Collins, Gordon Durie, Brian Rice and Craig Paterson were others.

“But one thing about Andy: you didn’t dare chip him. If you tried it in training he’d go absolutely spare. He’d grab the ball, boot it for miles and roar at you: ‘Don’t you dare make a fool out of me.’”

Who was nicknamed “Bimbo”? “Jim McArthur was the disco king. You knew he was heading uptown when, getting dressed, he pulled his underpants high. I think that was to hide his belly. But what a distributor of the ball, one of the best.”

Who wore their wife’s corsets? “Budgie, being an older guy, needed to feel locked and tight. To keep his reflexes sharp, he got his wife to throw things at him. Without warning, an orange would go flying across the room as he was sat watching TV. Everyone remembers his warm-ups before games when he’d walk along the goalline on his hands and swing from the crossbar. He tootled around on this wee moped, the biggest eccentric I ever met in football.”

Alan Sneddon in action for Hibs.

During Hibs’ 1980s, Sneddon amassed 372 appearances. Four goalies, also four managers. It was a decade for the club which began with lower-tier football and almost ended in Wallace Mercer’s takeover. Not a classic era in Hibee history by any means and few who were part of it staked a claim to legendhood, but Snoddy was a solid servant and his stories are good ones.

The excuse for talking to him, social-distancing in Strathclyde Country Park near his Motherwell home, is tomorrow’s intriguing Celtic-Hibs encounter - Sneddon’s first club versus the one the 62-year-old served longest. But really he’d make an interesting subject at any time given his life post-football, a bit different from the norm.

He helps those in less fortunate situations than the one he enjoyed as a footballer and right now that’s at Scottish Autism. “I was privileged as a player and could take my health and fitness for granted,” he says, “and even the simplest things you can do for these folk bring pleasure. There’s one lad, 21, who just loves being out running in the fresh air. When I see the delight on his face I don’t think of this job as work.”

It was at Hibs, when footballers had plenty of spare time on their hands, that he decided to wanted to “give something back”. At the Coatbridge-based Disport he organised five-a-side football for the disabled and coached a Special Olympics contender who suffered from cerebral palsy and was profoundly deaf. Seven years at Scottish Autism, he began with able-bodied sufferers and is currently helping set up a new centre in Maryhill, Glasgow for those needing greater support. “It’s humbling, keeps my feet on the ground and makes me appreciate my career.”

Alan Sneddon won the 1990 Tennent's Sixes with Hibs, the team including Andy Goram, Mickey Weir, Pat McGinlay and Paul Kane.

At Hibs he was Snoddy, at Celtic Snoopy. But what about the other nicknames which tended to follow him round the harsh environment of Scottish football - surely it wasn’t true that he only had one functioning eye? He laughs. “I got called Popeye and Cyclops. Some wise guy in the crowd would always shout: ‘Watch your blind side!’ But it’s a myth. I have a condition which causes my right eye to droop, but that’s all. I can see perfectly well out of it - my left one, too!” Generously, he says the taunts never bothered him - “because if I was getting them someone else was having a break. I don’t know: maybe some of my performances weren’t good enough to persuade fans that the rumour wasn’t true!”

Sneddon grew up a Rangers fan, in the Light Blues stronghold of Larkhall, but as a boy the fierceness of the Old Firm rivalry was a bar to him visiting Ibrox. “My father didn’t want me exposed to the bigotry and bile so we went weekabout to Motherwell and Hamilton.” In 1977 aged 19 Jock Stein signed him for Celtic.

“I was on an engineering apprenticeship with a local firm, the kind of place where the new kid would be told: ‘Fetch me a tin of tartan paint’ and “Go for a long stand.’ We all fell for those gags. But to be fair to the older guys, who were all big Rangers fans, they were thrilled when I made my Celtic debut. It was against Dundee in the Scottish Cup, a 7-1 win and I managed to lay on a couple of goals for George McCluskey. I was absolutely shattered afterwards and the next day had to call in to the factory sick.”

Sneddon got his chance because of an injury to Danny McGrain. He thinks he must have looked like a “country bumpkin” standing open-mouthed in the dressing-room in the presence of Lisbon Lion Bobby Lennox and “names I knew from the TV” like Tommy Burns, Roy Aitken, Johannes Edvaldsson and Alfie Conn.

Alan Sneddon playing in Celtic's 1980 Scottish Cup final win over Rangers.

How did he get on with Big Jock? “He was good to me, although I was still bollocked. Lemon [Lennox] told me he’d mellowed since his car accident but I’m not sure I’d like to have known him before. There was a 4-1 defeat at Easter Road. Big Tony Higgins, blind as a bat, had one of those games. I don’t think Tony ever knew what he was going to do next so how could I? I was head down in the dressing-room having been shown up for my immaturity when the big size tens presented themselves. ‘As for you, Sneddon,’ said Jock, ‘you’ve been reading your own press.’ Thankfully he got distracted when Ronnie Glavin turned up, having been sat in the stand: ‘And as for you, Glavin, you really must be shite because you can’t get in this team.’”

Sneddon smiles as he remembers Johnny Doyle the “wind-up merchant”, dangling the big crucifix he always wore in the face of the Larkhall recruit. “I was at Hibs when I heard on the car radio that Doyley had been electrocuted. Terrible … ” Our man’s Old Firm debut was the 1978 League Cup final attempting to mark Davie Cooper, Rangers winning 2-1. He has fonder memories of the 1980 Scottish Cup final, Celtic triumphing, though not the riot afterwards. And his only goal as a Celt came at Ibrox, a diving header sparking a late comeback from two-nil down. “Afterwards a Celtic director said to me: ‘You’re a legend now.’ That seemed over-the-top as we’d only managed a draw, but I suppose he meant that my goal had ‘christened’ the Copland Road Stand which was officially opened that day.”

There was a story that back in Larkhall his windows got smashed. “Another myth,” he says.

The clashes of Glasgow’s Big Two were games like no other, blood-curdling roars at vital moments and a sinister drone the rest of the time. “Once at Parkhead as Rangers were about to take a corner I heard this shout: ‘Snider, Snider!’ That was my nickname as a kid and in a sea of faces I spotted a pal from home. Then it was: ‘Get it right up you, ya big fenian b*****d!’”

Regular readers might know that the Saturday Interview collects Scots who played in the old, ultra-commie Albania and here’s Sneddon on the 1979 European Cup trip to Partizan Tirana: “It was like stepping back in time when we got off the plane with lines of clapped-out army trucks and farm folk in the fields with their hoes. The soup served in our hotel was yellow with a layer of grease on top - that went right back. But at our training sessions there were 10,000 locals and they threw flowers at us. Then, as we were leaving, a couple of guys who wanted to escape offered to carry our bags all the way back to Glasgow.”

With Celtic, by then managed by Billy McNeill, one-nil down from the away leg, Sneddon sparked Parkhead groans by heading past Peter Latchford. “From the Jungle I got ‘Sneddon the Proddy’ and ‘Get back to Larkhall’. But we won the tie.” The next round produced a much-happier Euro memory, the 2-0 victory over a star-studded Real Madrid ranking as his best in the Hoops. “I was up against Laurie Cunningham who went off like a rocket but, knowing I was inexperienced at that level, kept saying: ‘You’re doing well.’” Fortunate not to be behind at the interval Celtic roared into the second half, Sneddon creating both goals, the second with a fabulous cross for Doyle to net with a crashing header.

Nine months later, though, Sneddon with his distinctive moustache - “What look was I after - German porn-star maybe? … ” - was making his Hibs debut at Stark’s Park in the old First Division, the £60,000 signing more or less meeting his new team-mates on the pitch and promptly giving away a penalty. This was the brusque way of transfers back then, having been virtually ordered to make the switch.

Never mind, Hibs were a big club almost certain to become second-tier champs. They did and he collected a medal. And surely he was due one from Celtic, too, for his contribution to the first half of their title-winning season, confirming him as a pub-quiz question? “I never got it. First time back at Parkhead for Hibs, I walked into the home dressing-room by mistake and the lads were wondering why. But if Celtic weren’t going to give me a medal then I wasn’t going to grovel. It was disappointing but c’est la vie.”

Mention of his first Hibee manager brings another chuckle. Bertie Auld was another Lisbon Lion who liked to remind his charges of his achievement. “He wore his shirt open with his tie over his shoulders so he could show off his winners’ medal. [Assistant] John Lambie started wearing his losers’ medal [St Johnstone, 1970 League Cup final] like that for a laugh.

“Bertie had a great sense of humour but sometimes he was nasty. I can see him standing on the roof of the home dugout with that medal, supervising training. Tuesday was the day for ‘The Coffin’. Sprint 100 yards, jog the rest, then 200 and so on, until we were sprinting right round the pitch, then all the way back down to 100. But Bertie always accused one of us of cutting corners and we’d have to start all over again. Derek Rodier got a hard time. He was a university lad, polite and mild-mannered. At half-time at Ibrox Derek said: ‘There’s this guy who’s been shouting at me non-stop: ‘You’re doin’ nothin’ ya wee poof!’ He hadn’t dared look round but it was Bertie.”

At Hibs there was a foreign jaunt to rival Tirana: Port-au-Prince in Haiti as part of a pre-season tour. “The journey from the airport was by open-backed truck, past all these tin huts with prostitutes on most corners. Our hotel was a dump. [Chairman] Tom Hart wasn’t happy so he told his son Alan: ‘Find us one that’s Hibs class.’ We played the Haiti national team on a pitch that was half-grass, half-gravel. That was a sweltering hot day but during the second match against them the monsoons came. We were basically playing in a lake and I thought: ‘This has to be abandoned.’ Then the ball got stuck in some mud, two of their guys started laying into Gordon Rae which was the wrong thing to do, and this massive fight broke out.

Bertie called us off.”

On the same trek Hibs played San Jose Earthquakes where George Best continued his wanderings after Easter Road. “I missed George at Hibs but we’re actually in Trainspotting 2 together. There’s a clip in the movie of me playing for Celtic and being turned in and out by him. That was almost an honour!”

After Auld came Pat Stanton: “I felt sorry for him because his hands were tied. There were lots of cutbacks. The training kit went unwashed and when balls burst Pat had to get cheapo ones from the club shop. But the kids he had to play all went on to have good careers.” Another Hibee great, John Blackley, steered the club to the 1985 League Cup final, Sneddon & Co seeing off both halves of the Old Firm along the way. “Because of the way I left Celtic I always enjoyed trying to beat them and once or twice we did.” He had less success against Hearts, though, with his first Edinburgh derby being the start of John Robertson’s reign of Tynie terror. “Robbo was a pain in the arse and some player,” he says. At least he recorded one victory against the capital rivals, a game remembered for Steve Archibald’s goal. And after Sneddon hung up his boots this pair would team up in management for brief stints at East Fife, his last club, and Airdrie.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what happened to the final question in the keeper quiz? It’s been saved until the end in the hope you’ve finished your breakfast. Alan Rough, you see, was the toley goalie ...

“Roughie was the most laid-back character I ever met - nothing fazed him - though there was the time when we were in the communal bath and he was in the loo next to it. One of us - can’t remember who - thought it would be a great idea to grab the cold hose, drop it over the door and turn it on. There was a scream from the cubicle then silence. What was Roughie doing? We soon found out. He burst open the door and threw his ‘business’ into the bath. Everyone scattered.”

Amid the slings and arrows and other hurled objects of his service to Hibs, Alan Sneddon saw it all. With both eyes.

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