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  • Where are they now? Tony Shepherd

    Where are they now? Tony Shepherd

    By: Mark Henderson on 14 Jun, 2013 15:34

  • OVER the past 12 months, the Celtic View tracked down some of the club´s unsung heroes to look back on their career highlights and discover what happened to them after exiting Paradise.
     
    So interesting were these stories that, during the summer, we will be reproducing these interviews on the official website. Next up is former Celtic midfielder, Tony Shepherd.
     
    Tony Shepherd made a valuable contribution to the Celtic sides of the 1980s but now he´s part of more important team – a team that saves lives.
     
    A product of the club´s youth system, the midfielder made the breakthrough into the top-team in 1985 following an impressive debut display against Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup.
     
    Despite being highly regarded at Celtic Park, he never managed to hold down a regular spot in the side with talents such as Paul McStay, Murdo MacLeod and Tommy Burns ahead of him in the pecking order.
     
    Eventually, after making 38 appearances, Shepherd decided to exit his beloved Hoops in 1989 in search of first-team football, and he went on to forge a career with a number of clubs in England, Scotland, Ireland and Cyrpus before hanging up his boots around 10 years later.
     
    It was then that Shepherd undertook a complete career change, joining the Fire Service, where he continues to work at present as Watch Commander in Easterhouse.
     
    He may not be playing football in front of thousands of supporters anymore but it´s a job which gives him enormous satisfaction, as he explained in an exclusive interview.
     
    You broke into the first-team around the same time as several of your team-mates from the club´s youth set-up. How talented was that youth team?
    Things are very different now, but the way the system worked back then was that basically you would be signed on a an S-form and the club were allowed to sign so many of them, and it was only in the last couple of seasons of your school you were invited in to play with the boys´ club. The side that I played in had the likes of Derek Whyte, Stevie Kean, Peter Grant, Owen Archdeacon and myself – a whole raft of guys that all got in about the first-team.
     
    You made your debut in a 2-1 win over Queen’s Park in the Scottish Cup, playing a part in both goals. Do you remember that game vividly?
    I remember getting a phone call at the house on the Friday night from Davie Hay saying I was going to be playing. There were no mobile phones in those days! The strange thing about it is that we were losing 1-0 that day but I remember playing reasonably well and obviously helping make the two goals as we came back. But there were a few other things about that game. There was a guy called Mark Smith who played for Queen’s Park, and later on he signed for Celtic and we became best of mates. We are still best of mates to this day and we were best man at each other´s wedding.
     
    Having broke into the full Celtic side, what did you feel was your most productive period at the club?
    I broke in 1985 and in ´86 and ´87 I played quite regularly. I started about 15-odd games and also had the same number from the bench. But in terms of starting, I had that spell in ´86 and ´87 where I tried to make the position my own but there were some hard, hard guys to try and put out such as Paul McStay, who for me was one of the greatest players the club has ever had. I watched the team as a supporter, played for the club and then continued as a supporter afterwards, and I think Paul could have lived in any of those teams. It was just fantastic to have been part of that squad. That squad evolved over about six years and the nucleus of it had been there for the best part of that. There were only two subs at that time as well, so the competition at that time was even more fierce at that time in terms of getting a place in that 13. But I have nothing but good memories. Obviously being part of the double-winning side in 1988 was fantastic as well. You get immersed in things as a player as you are so focused on your own performance and that of the team, so sometimes don´t see things from the supporters´ angle and ´88 was very important because it was the club´s centenary year.
     
    What was the highlight from your Celtic career? 
    There were so many. Obviously there was my debut. I played in the Scottish Cup final and also played over in Russia in front of something like 112,000 people in the stadium which was fantastic. I also got to play against teams like Red Star Belgrade who had some great talents like Prosinecki and Stojkovic. It was a fantastic level of football to be associated with.
     
    How much of a wrench was it to leave Celtic?
    It was a hell of a wrench as it wasn’t as if I was forced out the door. I was offered a contract. I think Billy McNeill was frustrated as he had seen me before he had left and Davie Hay had came in and I recognised myself that I´d had a few injuries and, although they had cleared up, I wasn’t attaining the same performance levels as I would have liked. This was frustrating for me as much as Billy. But leaving was a wrench as it´s the club that you love. My daughter was recently over in Amsterdam to see the Ajax game and I have an association with quite lot of the supporters´ clubs in places like Wishaw.  I still take part in golf outings and things like that, so I am still hugely affiliated to the club as a supporter. When I left in 1989 I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the dark cloud that was coming in the ´90s so maybe in essence it was maybe not a bad thing to look on from afar as it would have probably been even more painful to have been on the playing staff and seeing the club´s demise. It was just lucky we had players like Paul McStay who managed to carry the club through that.
     
    Where did you go after departing Paradise?
    I went to Bristol City and then went to Carlisle and played two seasons there and made around 100 appearances. I came back up to Motherwell and played there for two seasons. They had just won the Scottish Cup and had a really good squad. The likes of Phil O´Donnell were there at the time. They were a really good team and competed well in the league, and I really enjoyed my time there. After that, I had spells in Ireland and Cyprus, before Murdo MacLeod signed me for Partick Thistle and then I was down at Ayr United with Simon Stainrod and Gordon Dalziel. It was disappointing to leave Celtic, your one and only love, but there comes a time where you want to be playing first-team football. Once you have had a taste of that, it´s the only place to be.
     
    After you hung up your boots in the late 1990s, why did you decide to start a career with the fire service?
    I always remember Alan Hansen saying that when you leave football, you never think the phone will stop ringing for all these things for you do. And I don´t think the phone rang once! You live such a privileged life and you suddenly think, ´My God, what am I going to do´. Doing something like a PE teacher or going into the Fire Service had always appealed to me because of the team aspect and I always fancied the humanitarian side of things as well, helping people and being involved in the community. So I applied and fortunately managed to get in. That´s 14 years from when I retired from the football. It´s been fantastic. At the moment, I am the Watch Commander in Easterhouse.
     
    How much of a change was it going from being a footballer to working in the Fire Service?
    Absolutely huge, but there are a lot of similarities in the team ethic thing.  Rather than going into a season you are going to an incident. In a club you are looking for a successful three points and we are looking to a successful end to an incident. People´s lives and properties are at stake and we are looking to save them. You don´t want these things to happen but when they do and you are able to help and make that interjection, it´s a great feeling. Although it´s different from football, it´s a similar sort of buzz.
     
    How important is it for you have that feeling of doing something for the wider community?
    It´s hard to describe. I think you would have to have done both. I know guys that have done both and you have similar feeling. When you go out on a football pitch, you are not only in it for yourselves but also for the team and supporters, and this time you are doing it for the community. It´s very satisfying when we are able to help save people´s lives and properties.
     
    Do you still keep in touch with any of your former team-mates?
    As I said, I´m still friendly with Mark Smith and I´m still taking money off him at the golf! I still see some guys from my Motherwell days.  From Celtic, I used to keep in contact with Anton Rogan for a while but time moves on. I played in a Legends’ game that Kenny´s wife, Marina, had organised a few years ago. Frank was there, along with guys like Derek Whyte and Joe Miller. So it was good to have a catch-up. But you really need some sort of celebration or something you were involved to come around but it´s always great to see everybody and catch-up.
     
    You mentioned that you are involved in the events of the local Celtic Supporters´ Clubs – do you still manage to get along to any games?
    I´m not a great exponent of watching. I was coaching for quite a number of years with the SFA, Gretna and at Motherwell, when Chris McCart, who is now head of Youth at Celtic, had the same role there. Shortly before I went to Easterhouse, I was working in fire safety which was quite trying in terms of your time commitments, so I let the coaching go. I struggle to go and watch football as deep down you still feel like you want to be involved in some capacity. To go as a supporter there is something missing for me. I don´t know why. But I still follow the club and attend a lot of functions, take part in golf days and take part in fundraising events for local associations in the Wishaw and Motherwell areas
     
    Next time we speak to a Celtic wing-wizard of the early 1960s - Frank Brogan.

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