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Soft-hearted but hard as nails – tributes paid to Celtic great John Hughes

The front page of the funeral service for John Hughes (Steve Welsh/PA)
The front page of the funeral service for John Hughes (Steve Welsh/PA)

Celtic players past and present have paid their respects at the funeral of one of the club’s great goalscorers John ‘Yogi’ Hughes.

Manager Ange Postecoglou and his first-team squad attended a service at St Mary’s Church in the Calton area of Glasgow, whose church hall was the birthplace of Celtic Football Club.

The funeral cortege later made the short journey to Celtic Park where supporters paid tribute to Hughes, who died earlier this month at the age of 79 after a short illness.

John Hughes Funeral
Supporters gathered to pay tribute (Steve Welsh/PA)

Hughes scored 189 goals in 416 games for Celtic from 1959 to 1971, winning a European Cup winners’ medal in 1967 and playing in the 1970 final after netting in the semi-final victory over Leeds at Hampden.

Former team-mate Jim Craig recalled his first encounter with Hughes in 1958 in a Scottish Schools Cup match with the powerful forward representing St Patrick’s High School of Coatbridge.

Defender Craig, who came from Govan, said: “This giant came off the bus, four or five inches taller than any of us with a build to match.

“Once the game began he took control of the play from the centre-forward position and scored all of the St Pat’s goals in a 6-0 victory.

Jim Craig
Jim Craig arrives at the church (Steve Welsh/PA)

“Fortunately I was right-back that day and used my intelligence to keep well out of the road while this big guy rampaged through the middle.

“Seven years later I joined him at Celtic Park where John, by then better known as Yogi Bear, was firmly established in the team.

“He was even bigger and stronger by then yet, most surprisingly for someone of that build, he had a superb first touch and a great ability to go past opponents using that touch and speed.

“The result was an excellent return of goals, many of which were in crucial games. Even more remarkably, many of those were scored from the outside-left position rather than centre-forward.

John Hughes Funeral
Tributes were left at Celtic Park (Steve Welsh/PA)

“Through all those years John was a real presence in the dressing room, getting on with everyone and contributing greatly to the excellent atmosphere amongst the squads of those years.

“John Hughes was undoubtedly a Celtic great but, more importantly, a thoroughly nice man.”

One of his four children, also called John, paid tribute.

He said: “We remember a giant of a man – fun-loving, terrifying, abrasive, generous, hilarious, soft-hearted but hard as nails, with iron will, stubborn single-mindedness and focus, and gritty determination necessary in all those who make it to the top.

“He was a handsome, charismatic, fearless bear of a man, and he was our idol whose affection we sought out at every opportunity.”

Speaking later, Postecoglou said: “It was a fitting tribute to one of the legends of this football club.

Ange Postecoglou
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou attending the funeral service (Steve Welsh/PA)

“Everyone spoke really well, particularly his youngest son, because it’s not just about the footballer, it’s about the man as well. That’s the bit sometimes we forget. When they talk about him as a father and grandfather and great-grandfather, you understand it’s not just the footballer that you revere and acknowledge, it’s the man.

“He was Celtic through and through. It’s important we are there, the current group, because we stand on their shoulders.

“Whatever lofty heights we reach, we wouldn’t be able to do it without the likes of John.”