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Football: Big Billy wouldn't play me against Rangers.. I was even axed from the reserve team; EXCLUSIVE THE ALFIE. CONN STORY Caesar's snub was inning f end.. it still affles me today CROSSING THE HATE DIVIDE PART TWO OF OUR GREAT SERIES.

Byline: By Neil Cameron

ALFIE CONN today reveals the agony of how his Celtic career ended after Billy McNeill refused to play him in Old Firm games.

The former Rangers star who had the courage to sign for Celtic battled his way into Hoops fans' hearts by helping the club to two league titles in three years and the Scottish Cup.

But when Jock Stein left Celtic and McNeill replaced him as manager, it was the beginning of the end of Conn's Parkhead love affair.

He was still a regular under the Lisbon Lions skipper but mysteriously lost his place when it came to facing Rangers and more often than not was dumped in the reserves.

The memory clearly still rankles with Conn as he looks back to the end of his days at Celtic Park.

He said: "When Big Jock left and Billy McNeill took over, things changed for me.

"I never played in a single Old Firm match when Billy was manager - not once against Rangers.

"I always seemed to get dropped for that game. I played the week before and the week after but never in the Old Firm match. Read into that what you will. Once when we played Rangers at Ibrox I was told to report to Parkhead where the Old Firm reserves were playing.

"Wee Frank Connor, who took the second string, was there and I was in the directors' room watching the racing on television.

"Frank came in and said, 'Alfie, I would never do this to a professional but you're not playing today.

" 'When I read out the team in the dressing room, you won't even be a sub. You have to watch the game then report back to me when it's finished'.

"But Frank let me put my jacket on and I went home. He covered for me.

"Now I don't know what was going on. Maybe I was out of favour with Billy but I always found it strange."

Even under Stein, Conn didn't face his old side as often as some might think. He said: "I played only three times against Rangers - once at Ibrox when we drew 2-2, another time at Parkhead when it ended 1-1 and the 1977 Scottish Cup Final when we won the Double thanks to Andy Lynch's penalty.

"In that game I hit the junction with a shot and I still get accused by Celtic fans of not trying to score.

"It's funny I can talk about all this now but for years I couldn't. I go to supporters' functions and while I won't get up and talk I will do question and answer sessions.

"It doesn't matter where I am, the first question is either, 'Why did you sign for us?' or 'Why did you sign for them?' Every single time."

Conn played in 13 Old Firm games for Rangers and his record reads four wins, eight defeats and one draw.

He scored three goals in those matches, one in the 1973 Scottish Cup Final win.

As a Rangers player he won the Cup-Winners' Cup, League Cup and Scottish Cup.

Two league titles and a Scottish Cup was his Celtic haul.

Conn left Celtic in 1980 and spent time in the States but it was an ankle injury more than anything else that brought what had been a wonderful career to an end.

He said: "When I was at Spurs I had an Achilles tendon problem that kept me out for nearly a year.

"I then had cartilage trouble and needed an injection on a Friday to play but my Achilles tore through. "I could never sit on my haunches after my cartilage operation.

"When I got my medical at Spurs, it wasn't the club doctor who examined me. He actually told me later that if he hadn't been on holiday I would never have signed."

It was a low-key end to one of the most controversial of all Celtic careers. But you will never hear Alfie Conn badmouth the club.

He said: "I still speak with John Clark now and again, whenever I need a shirt signed, and he is happy to oblige.

"Feelings have mellowed. I have a different relationship with Rangers supporters now because time passes and we get on with our lives.

"I have been to two or three Rangers functions and have got on well with the fans. It's a minority but there will always be some who will never change their opinion.

"You still get the odd one coming up but most folk are absolutely fine." Conn spent years in the pub trade in Glasgow where he was a familiar face in so-called Rangers shops.

Some, like the Captain's Rest close to Glasgow's West End, may not be a Rangers bar as such but have a lot of bluenose regulars.

But the Louden Tavern in Duke Street is a different story. It's more a Rangers shrine than a pub but the former Ibrox star who joined Celtic was a popular face behind the bar and rarely got bother.

That says so much about Conn's affable personality.

If he played today, he would be a millionaire. As he says, these days it takes one good contract or two good years at a big club and you're set for life.

Instead, he lives the quiet life with his wife, Sue, in Hamilton.

And while some of the Ibrox faithful will never find it in their hearts to forgive him, none can he was blessed with talent.

He will always be known as the Rangers hero who did the unthinkable and signed for Celtic.

But how would the man himself really like to be remembered?

He said: "That I wasn't a bad player ...and that my favourite team was Spurs."


NO ALF MEASURES: Billy McNeill combined with Danny McGrain to put the stoppers on Alfie Conn and even after the former Rangers ace joined Celtic, below, Caesar still put the Old Firm blockers on
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 21, 2006
Previous Article:Football: Reid's was an Old Firm drinking den; EXCLUSIVE THE ALFIE. CONN STORY.
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