Tommy Burns (footballer)

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Tommy Burns
Personal information
Full nameThomas Burns
Date of birth(1956-12-16)16 December 1956
Place of birth Glasgow, Scotland
Date of death 15 May 2008(2008-05-15) (aged 51)
Place of death Glasgow, Scotland
Playing position(s) Midfielder
Youth career
1970 Eastercraigs Boys Club
1970–1973 Celtic Boys Club
1973–1975 Celtic
Senior career*
1973–1989 Celtic 353 (52)
1973–1974Maryhill (loan)
1989–1994 Kilmarnock 151 (16)
National team
1976–1982 Scotland U21 5 (0)
1978 Scottish League XI [1] 1 (0)
1981–1988 Scotland 8 (0)
Teams managed
1992–1994 Kilmarnock
1994–1997 Celtic
1998–1999 Reading
2004 Scotland (caretaker)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Thomas Burns (16 December 1956 – 15 May 2008) was a Scottish professional football player and manager. He is best known for his long association with Celtic, where he was a player, manager and coach.


Usually a midfielder, Burns played for Celtic from 1975 to 1989 and won six Scottish league championships, five Scottish Cups, and the Scottish League Cup once. He was also a Scotland international, winning eight caps between 1981 and 1988.

He finished playing with Kilmarnock, where he also began his managerial career. He returned to Celtic as manager in 1994, and won the Scottish Cup in 1995 – the first trophy the club had won in six years. After being sacked by Celtic in 1997 he managed Reading from 1998 to 1999. Burns returned to Celtic in 2000, and held positions including assistant manager, head of youth development and first team coach. He was also assistant manager of Scotland from 2002 to 2007.

Burns died of melanoma on 15 May 2008, aged 51.

Early life

Burns was born in the Calton area of Glasgow, [2] where he was brought up with his two sisters. He was educated at St Mary's Roman Catholic School and at St Mungo's Academy. [3]

Playing career


Burns grew up supporting Celtic and began playing football with St.Mary's Boys Guild. He went on to play for Eastercraigs Boys Club and then Celtic Boys Club. After receiving offers to go to England to play professionally, he signed for Celtic in 1973, and was then farmed out to Maryhill Juniors in order to gain experience. [3]

Burns made his debut against Dundee United on 19 April 1975 under manager Jock Stein, [4] and by the end of the 1976–77 (which ended with Celtic as champions) had become a regular in the team. His best personal output was in 1983–84 with 13 goals from 55 appearances in all competitions, although Celtic finished as runners-up to Aberdeen in both the League and the Scottish Cup, and lost the League Cup final to Rangers.

Burns was a vital part of the side managed by Billy McNeill which won the league and cup double in 1987–88, the club's centenary season, [5] participating in 37 matches in the campaign. In total, he made 353 league appearances for Celtic over 15 years and scored 52 goals, won six Scottish League titles and four Scottish Cups. In December 1989, just prior to his 33rd birthday, he received a testimonial match against Ajax in which he threw his boots to the crowd at Celtic Park. [2] The club would later officially describe him as "a true Celtic legend" [5] while the player himself stated that he was merely "a supporter who got lucky". [2]


Immediately following his testimonial, Burns moved to third-tier Kilmarnock [4] for a fee of £50,000, [5] and in his first season in East Ayrshire helped the club achieve promotion. In 1990–91 'Killie' consolidated their status in the division with Burns playing a pivotal role (37 appearances, all as a starter, with 8 goals).

Management and coaching


Burns became player-manager of Kilmarnock in April 1992, replacing Jim Fleeting for the final few games of the season. In 1992–93, his first full campaign in charge, the Rugby Park club won promotion to the Scottish Premier Division [5] after a ten-year absence, with Burns also playing in 39 league fixtures during the season. He then featured in a dozen top-flight matches to help Kilmarnock avoid relegation, with his penultimate career appearance at the age of 37 being a 1–0 home win over Rangers which was also the last match prior to the stadium's redevelopment. [6]


Burns moved to become manager of Celtic (replacing Lou Macari) at the start of the 1994–95 season in acrimonious circumstances, as he was still under contract to Kilmarnock as both player and manager. Kilmarnock refused to release him from his contract [7] and the Scottish Football Association subsequently fined Celtic £100,000 for 'tapping', or speaking to Burns without obtaining his current club's permission. Kilmarnock were also permitted to retain his playing registration, effectively ending his professional career as a player.

At Celtic, his team grew a reputation for playing attractive and attacking football and they won the Scottish Cup in 1995; [8] [9] but Celtic proved unable to break the domination of Old Firm rivals Rangers. Burns signed players like Pierre Van Hooijdonk, Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete, and while the Celtic team lost just one game in the league during the 1995–96 season, they were unable to beat the Rangers team managed by Walter Smith. [4] Burns commented that "Andy Goram [the Rangers goalkeeper] broke my heart" would be on his tombstone. [10] After losing a Scottish Cup semi-final to Falkirk in 1997, Burns was sacked from Celtic by chairman Fergus McCann [4] and went on to work under former Celtic colleague Kenny Dalglish at Newcastle United as a coach.


On 25 March 1998, Burns was appointed manager of Reading, who were struggling in Division One in what was their final season at Elm Park before the relocation to Madejski Stadium and would eventually finish in last place. He had been approached about the Reading manager's job the previous summer, but rejected it in favour of a coaching role under Dalglish. [11]

Burns remained in this position until 16 September 1999, when he was dismissed following a poor sequence of results, after Reading's failure to win promotion from Division Two the previous year. [12] He left an impression on some of the club's personnel, including future club captain Graeme Murty [13] and youth coach Brendan Rodgers who later also managed Celtic. [14]

Celtic and Scotland

In 2000, Burns returned to Celtic as assistant manager during Kenny Dalglish's short-lived tenure as manager. That summer, Martin O'Neill took over as the club's manager and brought in his own coaching staff, but retained Burns and placed him in charge of youth development. Upon the arrival of Gordon Strachan as manager in 2005, Burns was appointed first team coach, a role he combined with his youth development post. He is credited with guiding several young players who became internationals, including Shaun Maloney Stephen McManus, Aiden McGeady and John Kennedy and for his input into the design of the club's Lennoxtown training centre which opened in 2007. [4] [2]

Burns was appointed assistant manager of the Scottish national team under Berti Vogts in 2002 and retained the position under Walter Smith. [4] In between, he managed Scotland for one match, a 4–1 friendly defeat to Sweden. [15]

On 18 January 2007, Burns announced through the Celtic website that he was severing all ties with the Scottish national team to concentrate on his role at the club. It was reported by The Scotsman newspaper that Burns had found out that he was not a potential candidate for the job of national team coach, which had become available after Walter Smith moved to Rangers. [16]

Illness and death

On 29 March 2006, Celtic confirmed Burns had begun treatment for melanoma skin cancer. [17] On 10 March 2008, Celtic announced that he was facing another skin cancer scare, and would be undergoing further treatment for the disease. [18] On 15 May 2008, Burns died at home. [19] [5]

Burns's funeral mass was celebrated at St Mary's, Abercromby Street (the church in whose hall was held the inaugural meeting of what was to become Celtic FC) in his native Calton on 20 May 2008 followed by interment at Linn Cemetery, Castlemilk.


Celtic manager Gordon Strachan was among those who paid tribute to Burns. A visibly emotional Strachan said "being Tommy's mate was the best part of joining Celtic" and that "There weren't many better than him as a footballer. But, as a person, he was top of the league when it comes to being a man." [20] Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said "If you define a Celtic man, it would certainly be Tommy Burns. He was a wonderful human being." [20] Club captain Stephen McManus said "He was courageous and he was probably as brave a man as you'll ever meet." [20]

Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist, who had worked with Burns in his role for the Scotland national team, said "I have met a lot of good people through football but Tam was the very best." [21] On 16 May, Rangers manager Walter Smith and McCoist arrived at Celtic Park to lay a wreath in memory of Burns, and then spent half an hour in the stadium, speaking with Celtic officials, then another half-hour outside speaking to fans. Smith and McCoist also served as pallbearers at Burns' funeral. [22]

Stadium memorial

In 2010, a bronze relief memorial plaque for Burns was unveiled at the main stand of Celtic Park, depicting his trademark 'clasped hands' goal celebration as a player, lifting the Scottish Cup as manager and working as a youth coach, also referencing his local church. [23]

Tommy Burns supper

The Heriot Watt and Edinburgh University Celtic Supporters Club (HWEUCSC), holds an annual charity dinner, the 'Tommy Burns Supper' - a parody of the traditional (Robert) Burns supper. The event was first held in 1987 and, becoming increasingly popular, was attended regularly by Burns as well as celebrities from sports and entertainment. [24] HWEUCSC retired the Supper after Burns died, but it was revived in 2017 and held at Celtic Park, in collaboration with the club. [25] It has since become an annual fixture once again, returning to its original home in Teviot Row House.

Career statistics

Club statistics

ClubDivisionSeasonLeagueCupLeague CupOther [N 1] Total
Celtic [26] Scottish Division One 1974–75 1000000010
Scottish Premier Division 1975–76 5000000050
1976–77 19130601 [N 2] 0291
1977–78 25331613 [N 3] 1 [N 3] 376
1978–79 293318000404
1979–80 14020003 [N 4] 1 [N 4] 191
1980–81 33452753 [N 5] 04811
1981–82 33920602 [N 6] 0439
1982–83 17710832 [N 7] 02810
1983–84 339531106 [N 8] 1 [N 8] 5513
1984–85 27761314 [N 9] 1 [N 9] 4010
1985–86 34530312 [N 10] 0426
1986–87 16000303 [N 11] 0220
1987–88 27251312 [N 12] 0374
1988–89 32253323 [N 13] 0437
1989–90 8000311 [N 14] 0121
Kilmarnock [27] Scottish Second Division 1989–90 223200000243
Scottish First Division 1990–91 37821204 [N 15] 1 [N 15] 4510
1991–92 41320101 [N 16] 0453
1992–93 39230322 [N 17] 1 [N 17] 475
Scottish Premier Division 1993–94 120100000130
Career total5046853137617426675104

    Managerial statistics

    As of 27 November 2013
    GWDLWin %
    Kilmarnock [28] [N 1] Flag of Scotland.svg April 1992July 1994109463132042.20
    Celtic [29] Flag of Scotland.svg July 1994May 1997140783923055.71
    Reading [30] Flag of England.svg March 1998September 199968201830029.41
      1. Matches in Ayrshire Cup included in source have been omitted








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