A former senior figure at Celtic FC’s feeder team played a key role in ensuring that Tommy Burns was appointed manager of the Parkhead side, further undermining claims that the two clubs were separate entities. It has emerged that Burns spoke of how Frank Cairney, who headed Celtic Boys Club...
A former senior figure at Celtic FC’s feeder team played a key role in ensuring that Tommy Burns was appointed manager of the Parkhead side, further undermining claims that the two clubs were separate entities.
It has emerged that Burns spoke of how Frank Cairney, who headed Celtic Boys Club, which has been riven by allegations of systemic sexual abuse, was “instrumental” in him landing his dream job when he was appointed in 1994. Cairney was pictured welcoming Burns to Parkhead in Celtic View, Celtic FC’s official magazine, after Burns replaced Lou Macari as manager.
Legal action against Celtic FC began last week in connection with “insidious” sexual abuse at the boys’ club. The latest revelations appear to contradict Celtic’s position that its feeder club was an “entirely separate” organisation. On July 20, 1994, the club magazine dedicated its back page to the relationship between Burns and Cairney, lauding the latter as “one of the great unsung heroes of the Celtic story”.
The magazine said: “It is because of the support given to him by the former Celtic Boys Club president that Burns is now firmly installed in the manager’s chair at Parkhead. Burns said: ‘Frank was instrumental in me coming here as manager and over the last fortnight has been a fantastic help and a true friend.’ ”
Burns said that Cairney had brought him to the boys’ club as a teenager and had been his confidant and mentor ever since, adding: “He’s given 30 years of his adult life championing the Celtic cause.”
Cairney resigned as general manager of the boys’ club in 1991 immediately after leading 20 teenagers on a tour to New Jersey.
However, the Celtic View confirmed that he was present at Parkhead when news of Burns’s appointment was announced three years later. It made no distinction between the boys’ club and the senior team, stating: “Frank was brought into the Celtic set-up by [the manager] Jock Stein and [the chief scout] John Higgins in 1970. He was entrusted to set up the system which would help the under-16s on to the next step of the ladder. That system has paid off with one of those raw recruits becoming the man in charge of the club.”
A year earlier the magazine published a letter from a family thanking Cairney for organising a tour of the stadium and arranging for them to meet the first-team player Charlie Nicholas.
Cairney replaced Jim Torbett, the founder of the boys’ club, who was jailed for two years in 1998 and for six years in November 2018 for sex attacks against boys who had been in his care.
In January the Crown Office confirmed that Cairney had been charged and was involved in a “live solemn case”. The Times understands that the charges relate to the alleged sexual abuse of young people and that Cairney, of Uddingston, South Lanarkshire, will appear in court within months.
Burns played for the boys’ club in 1970-73 and frequently attended club functions and prize-givings when he went on to play for the senior club and served as manager. He died of skin cancer, aged 51, in 2008.
Last week Thompsons Solicitors lodged papers on behalf of one client who is seeking damages from Celtic FC. The firm, which represents 25 individuals who claim they were molested at Celtic Boys Club over three decades, says that it represents the largest child-abuse scandal in British football. The first test case will be heard at the Court of Session in the coming months.
Celtic FC has said it is very sorry that the abuse took place, but continues to insist its feeder club was a separate entity. It did not respond to a request for comment.