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Ex-Celtic player still remembers every teammate’s name 60 years on – despite seven-year dementia battle

AN EX-CELTIC player still remembers every one of his teammates’ names 60 years on, despite an ongoing seven-year battle with dementia.

John McNamee joined Celtic in 1960 and featured for the first team for three years until his departure for Hibs in 1963.

Now 82, McNamee has battled with dementia for seven years, leaving him unable to speak much and with poor memory.

Despite his condition though, the brave former defender can still remarkably recall all the names that turned out alongside him in the 1962/63 season.

Celtic squad of 1962/63.
John McNamee (back row, second from left) with the Celtic squad of 1962/63.

McNamee from Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire signed for Celtic in 1960 from Bellshill Athletic, turning down Manchester United and Nottingham Forest in the process to join the Hoops.

The no-nonsense Scot would go on to make a name for himself as a tough-tackling hulk of a centre-back, and would play 27 league games for Celtic, scoring two goals in the process.

He then joined Hibs as one of the first signings of legendary manager Jock Stein, who would soon go the other way to begin his storied stint at Celtic Park.

McNamee would go on to join clubs including Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers before retiring at Workington AFC in 1976 in a career that lasted 16 years.

Now in a care home, McNamee is visited by his son John McNamee Jr, who brings photos of his dad’s playing days with him – which to his amazement, his dad always recognises.

An ageing, black and white photo shows McNamee lined up alongside his teammates in a squad photo ahead of the 1962/63 season.

John McNamee in his playing days.

John Jr shared the picture to Facebook on Saturday with the caption: “Dad’s Celtic team. He still recognises every one of them despite his dementia.”

The post has since been liked by over 350 people and has received dozens of comments from users left touched by McNamee’s memories of his playing days.

One user wrote: “John, dementia is an awful thing, my father had it (Alan Anderson of Hearts) and they would have definitely played against each other.

“I’m sure they would have had some great games back then too and may have marked each other at corners – wishing yourself and family the very best.”

Another wrote: “John, what year was this? My dad, Stevie Chalmers, also in the picture, sadly suffered from dementia for a few years before he died in 2019.

“I wonder how many others in the pic have/had dementia? Such a horrible disease. Old pics didn’t seem to stimulate my dad as much as music…particularly Celtic songs.”

John replied: “I think 62 or 63. Dad is in care now and I take some photos each visit.

“Always gets a good reaction. I know the care home plays songs too. My dad remembers your dad fondly. I guess all Celtic fans will do.”

Another said: “Four European Cup winners in that squad, these are the players I started watching as a youngster.”

A third replied: “Gents lovely comments and memories [regarding] this illness. You can see it brings old foes together – brilliant. Thanks.”

Another commented: “The best number five I ever saw and I’m 73, absolutely fearless and [could] header a ball. Some would struggle to kick it that far.”

A fifth said: “A cruel disease John. Heard a story your dad warmed up at Ibrox at the Fairs Cup tie, wearing hoops.”

John McNamee.

Speaking today John Jr said: ” I bring photos of the old days at Celtic and Newcastle and Hibs on my visits.

“He recognises his old team mates no problem but struggles to remember people on more recent photos.

“He has been diagnosed with dementia for around seven years. To be honest his vocabulary only stretches to names now, he says very little now.

“Dad is a strange case, football was never his love, he was just good at it and got spotted, but he never set out to be a player.

“It just happened for him after being spotted playing with his friends in a local team.

“Dad remembers the 1963 Cup Final vs Rangers. Over 120,000 there. Said it was like playing with someone whistling loud in his ear.”

In a recent post by BBC Sport a Newcastle United fan named McNamee as the toughest player to ever play for the Magpies, saying: “The most fearsome player I ever saw in a black-and-white shirt was John McNamee.

“Never afraid of anyone and always willing to put himself in the thick of things. The only player to frighten Leeds’ Gary Sprake, even before he took the pitch.”

Legendary Manchester United manager and famous hothead Sir Alex Ferguson also named McNamee as one of the most terrifying players he faced in his autobiography.

Ferguson – a centre-forward in his playing days – came up against McNamee in a reserve game between St Johnstone and Celtic, where the pair had to be pulled apart amid a fiery confrontation.

Ferguson said: “It was probably unwise to become warlike with him but we had to be dragged apart by team-mates.

“John threatened to kill me and, heartened by the proximity of so many players and the referee, I told him I would be around at the end.

” I thought no more about it until as I was combing my hair after being in the bath one of the ground staff told me somebody was waiting for me.

“Assuming it was a friend I stuck my head round the door. I nearly fainted when I saw McNamee standing there.

“Now I wasn’t a coward by any means but this was a monster and a little common sense was in order.

“So I went back to combing my hair and waited for the noise of the Celtic coach pulling out.”

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