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By ESPN Staff
May 15, 2008

Burns was Celtic through and through

Tommy Burns, who has died at the age of 51, was a committed Celtic man.

He spent more than 20 years with the club over three separate spells, firstly as a player, then as manager, and most recently as a trusted member of Gordon Strachan's coaching staff.

The Glaswegian was a football man who possessed a deft 'human touch', Rangers captain Barry Ferguson once said after benefiting from sage advice from Burns.

It was the personable nature which ensured Burns had admirers and many friends on both sides of the Old Firm divide, and throughout Scottish football.

Burns had until shortly before his death been working as Celtic's head of youth development, as well as maintaining a role on Gordon Strachan's first-team coaching staff.

He also held a part-time role as Scotland assistant manager from March 2002 until January 2007, working under managers Berti Vogts and Walter Smith, sharing the lows and highs experienced by the Tartan Army.

Burns dearly wanted to succeed Smith, who quit to rejoin Rangers, but was overlooked by Scottish Football Association head-hunters and abandoned his national team role when it became clear he was not a candidate for the top job.

He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2006, and appeared to have beaten the disease. Celtic announced in March of this year that Burns was again being treated, and he could not win his final battle.

He will be sorely missed by the football fraternity.

Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist knew Burns for 25 years and described him recently as 'an absolute gentleman'.

'You would never hear anybody in football say a bad word about Tommy Burns,' said McCoist. 'To have been involved in football for so long, that's quite an accolade.'

Burns was, said McCoist, 'a very good friend' of himself and of Smith.

As a creative midfielder, Burns won eight caps for Scotland, seven of which came from 1981 to 1983.

Cap number eight came five years later, as substitute against England in a Rous Cup clash at Wembley, with Burns receiving recognition for his role in Celtic's league and cup double in their centenary season.

He had joined Celtic as 16-year-old in 1973 and made his first-team debut two years later.

For the next 14 years he was a first-team regular, notching up more than 350 league appearances before reaching the end of his Hoops career.

Burns made a farewell appearance in a friendly against Ajax, before joining Kilmarnock.

Facing the Dutch giants in his final match was an emotional experience.

'I wanted to go out with a smile on my face and not a tear in my eye,' said Burns. 'So I got all of my crying out of the way during the warm-up.

'I ran about the pitch for 20 minutes with tears running down my cheeks because I knew I would never wear a Celtic jersey again.'

The switch to Rugby Park was a good one for Burns.

Hugely popular with supporters, in 1992 he became the club's player-manager and promotion to the Premier League arrived in his first season.

He was named Celtic boss in 1994, an appointment which cost the Parkhead club a £100,000 fine when they were judged to have made an illegal approach.

Burns lasted three years in the Celtic hotseat, but could not depose Rangers as they completed their run of nine consecutive championships.

His finest moment came at the end of his first campaign, when Celtic beat Airdrie in the Scottish Cup final.

In the following season, 1995-96, Burns' exciting team lost just one league match but were still pipped to the title by Rangers, and a year later the manager was out of a job after being dismissed by Fergus McCann.

Burns had spells on the coaching staff at Newcastle and as manager of Reading, but did not last long in England and returned to Celtic in 2000, shortly before Martin O'Neill's arrival from Leicester.

O'Neill put Burns in charge of the Celtic youth set-up, and he helped bring through the likes of Shaun Maloney, Stephen McManus and Aiden McGeady.

The first cancer scare came at a time Burns was combining his Scotland and Celtic duties.

Ferguson, the captain of Rangers and of Scotland, was quick to offer his support.

'I've known Tommy for years and I know what a great guy he is,' Ferguson said.

Ferguson recalled how Burns, despite being a Celtic man, had been eager to help him out of a worrying trough in form.

'We were in the Scotland camp, and Tommy knew that I hadn't been enjoying the best of seasons because of Rangers' results and the injury problems I'd been having with my ankle,' Ferguson said.

'Tommy came to me and said, `You're a good player - too good a player not to get through this spell'.

'You have to appreciate that kind of human touch.'

Burns loved Celtic and the Old Firm games, but lamented the sectarianism which often marred such occasions.

'I think the saddest thing about the Old Firm rivalry is the people who have lost their lives after these games in the past, for such stupid reasons,' he once said.

'This is football. I remember Jock Stein always said that: it's just a game. To think that people can go out with hatred in their heart and take away people's sons or brothers or fathers is just beyond belief. That's the way I think about it now: it's only a game.

'Educate the kids to integrate with one another and not pay any attention to who's a Catholic and who's a Protestant, and any of that rubbish.

'Just go out there, support your team, make good friends and get on with your lives.'