THE affection that Johannes Edvaldsson, the former Celtic and Motherwell player who has passed away at the age of 70 following a short illness, had for Scotland was summed up by his younger brother Atli back in 2003.
The then manager of Iceland was in Glasgow for a Euro 2004 qualifier at Hampden and was asked by a gaggle of newspaper reporters about his elder sibling and his long association with the host nation.
“Johannes has lived here for 25 years now,” he said ahead of the Group 5 match. “His heart has a kilt on it.”
Celtic pay tribute to former player Johannes Edvaldsson after his sad passing
The love that Edvaldsson, who was given the nickname “Shuggie” during the five seasons that he spent at Parkhead, had for this country was certainly reciprocated by its inhabitants.
Celtic have had more skilful and celebrated foreign imports over the years. But few overseas footballers have matched his commitment to their cause before or since. The fans embraced him because of it.
His will to win was never more important than in the famous Scottish title decider against Rangers at Parkhead on Monday, May 21, 1979, when “10 Men Won The League”.
When Johnny Doyle was sent off for aiming a kick at Alex MacDonald six minutes into the second-half things looked ominous for Billy McNeill’s men. They were trailing 1-0 at the time and needed to win outright to be sure of lifting the Premier Division trophy.
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Edvaldsson’s power and work rate helped the home team to come storming back and triumph 4-2 despite their numerical disadvantage.
Murdo MacLeod, who sewed up that victory with a last-minute strike, yesterday recalled the important contribution that his fellow midfielder made to a result that Celtic supporters sing about to this day.
“I think all of the boys had a good game that night,” he said. “We all had to put in a good shift. When you are playing against the likes of Derek Johnstone you know it is going to be tough. But Shuggie certainly played very well that night. That was one of the highlights of his Celtic career.”
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It was by no means the only one. Edvaldsson, the son of a former Estonian international goalkeeper who had started his career with Valur in his native Iceland before spending spells with Cape Town City in South Africa, Metz in France and Holbaek B&I in Denmark, made an early impression after arriving at Celtic in 1975.
He was mainly used as an attacking midfielder during his debut campaign. But he was versatile and was also deployed up front as a striker and at the back as a centre half thereafter. He played in virtually every outfield position.
The arrival of Pat Stanton and emergence of Aitken in 1976 limited his first team appearances in his second term. However, he still featured regularly as Jock Stein’s side completed a Premier Division and Scottish Cup double. He was, as was very often the case in Old Firm encounters, immense in the 1-0 final triumph over Rangers.
As well as being a formidable competitor, Edvaldsson possessed an outgoing nature and warm personality which endeared him greatly to colleagues. MacLeod found that out quickly when he joined Celtic from Dumbarton in 1978.
“He was a great character around the place,” he said. “Coming from Iceland and joining such a big club can’t have been easy for him. But the Celtic fans really took to him, which was great for him. If the supporters get behind you it makes it so much easier for you to succeed. And they really liked him.”
Edvaldsson’s sense of humour and easygoing manner made him a difficult individual to dislike. Even a notorious taskmaster like Stein had a soft spot for his signing. He somehow managed to put the ball into his own net from 35 yards out in one game. When his manager hauled him up about it at half-time, he shrugged and said: “Aye, but it was some goal boss.”
Following a disagreement with McNeill he moved on, much to the disappointment of Celtic supporters, in 1980 after making 188 appearances and scoring 36 goals. He played for Tulsa Roughnecks in the United States for a season and Hannover ’96 in Germany for a campaign.
Jock Wallace, who had been a huge admirer of Edvaldsson during his time in charge of Rangers, brought him back to Scotland in 1982 after he had been appointed Motherwell manager. He spent two years at Fir Park. He was always given a rapturous reception when he returned to Parkhead.
The 34-times capped Icelandic internationalist returned to Scotland after he retired from playing following a stint with Prottur in his homeland and went into the hospitality industry. He had a pub in Bridgeton and for a while he ran the Poolewe Hotel in the Wester Ross village in the Highlands.
MacLeod, who has recently been trying to get the members of the team that won the Premier Division in 1979 back together for a reunion, had lost touch with Edvaldsson over the years and was upset when he learned of his death on Sunday.
“It is very sad news,” he said. “Shuggie was a very good player. He was strong in his challenges and could play anywhere. He played up front sometimes and at centre back as well as in midfield. He was always in and around the team.
“He was the kind of player that you wanted in your team because you knew he was going to fight for you. Every time he went out with the hoops on he would give his all.”