Paul Elliott's Celtic career can best be summed up in four words - right man, wrong time.

Elliott featured for only two seasons however the club and its supporters left an indelible mark on him.

Celtic boss Billy McNeill shelled out £650,000 for the Englishman's services in 1989 as the pair were reunited after Elliott had worked under McNeill during a managerial stint at Aston Villa in season 1986/87.

The then 25-year-old arrived with a big reputation from the glitz and glamour of Italy's Serie A which at that time could lay claim to being the best and strongest league in European football.

Sadly for Elliott, his time in Glasgow coincided with a rampant Rangers sweeping all before them and Celtic enduring one of the most barren spells in their history.

The Graeme Souness spending revolution had really kicked in and the Light Blues would grab a domestic stranglehold and dominate the Scottish game for the next decade.

Elliott revealed how a former Rangers player Mark Walters and McNeill were both instrumental figures in persuading him to move sign on the dotted line and make the move from Pisa to Paradise.

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Elliott quickly grasped with the help of McNeill that Celtic was more than just a football club. For the Celtic supporters, it was a way of life and culture.

Elliott said: "I've known Mark Walters since I was 15 and we grew up playing football together. We played for England at various youth levels and I got to know him very well.

"I remember when he was at different junctures in his own career and he potentially could have gone to Watford and I said, 'Wally, don't go there mate'.

"Shortly after that Graeme Souness at Rangers came in for him and I told him, 'That's the right move!' I told him playing for Souness would be a magnificent career move for him 

"I knew of Celtic and I also knew of Rangers in terms of size and the magnitude of club.I was still in Italy and Mark was at Rangers and doing very well. Rumours were circulating in Glasgow that Celtic wanted to sign me.

"Mark rang me up and said I'm gonna tell you the same thing you told me big man and that is to get yourself to Glasgow.

"Mark was there when I was at Aston Villa with Big Billy McNeill as well so there was a real crossover. Here was I about to work with Billy again at Celtic and I knew I would be facing Mark at Rangers as an opponent.

"Mark told me that the Celtic fans would love me up in Glasgow. He said that Glasgow as a city was like New York as it didn't sleep and it ate, slept and breathed football.

"It is an utterly intoxicating place and it is just football, football, football.

"He also told me the values of the Scottish people were great - their honesty, their integrity and their humour were second to none. He wasn't wrong as all those things were important to me.

"That's how Mark sold me on the move to Celtic. It was everything I expected Mark had said and more. Playing for Big Billy again helped me along in my game as he was a top centre-back and we just enjoyed a wonderful working and personal relationship.

"They say in football go where you are wanted and I felt wanted and loved by Celtic.

"Big Billy instilled it into me that playing for Celtic was a way of life. It was not a football club, it was an institution.

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"This was a club full of kindness and full of people that were self-sacrificing and big Billy had all those characteristics as a player for the team, as a captain, as a manager and above all else as a human being.

"I have come out of football and the more I travelled and having played for some big clubs it always comes back to Celtic somewhere.

"There is always some inexplicable alignment somewhere with Scotland, Glasgow or Celtic.

"It is crazy and it is beautiful. That exemplifies the cultural way of life that is Celtic.

"Celtic were in a real transitional period. They won the double in 1987/88 their Centenary Year but that just spurred Rangers on to spend big money under Souness.

"Rangers were buying top players and on the back of Celtic's success came the massive investment and a decade of dominance. 

"They bought some top English internationals and I can still rhyme off the Rangers team from back then. That would have been an outstanding team in any division in England let alone Scotland. You could see why they dominated.

"None of that mattered to me though as I had the opportunity of playing for a massive club like Celtic. I am still talking about my experiences 30 years after I played for the club and speaking about it so positively and affectionately."

In fact, Elliott felt that he had found a spiritual football home in Glasgow.

Fighting Racism

Despite the bigotry and religious divide that engulfed the two city clubs, Elliott was fighting a bigger battle. The scourge of racism.

It had followed and dogged him throughout his whole career from his humble beginnings at Charlton Athletic to Luton Town to Aston Villa and with Pisa.

There was no respite but Elliott found a voice in Glasgow and with the help of PFA Scotland, he became a source for good. Elliott is now a tireless campaigner and became in his own words 'a change agent.

He is now the Chairman of the FA Inclusion Advisory Board which fights racism and injustice in football and he has been awarded the MBE and CBE for his dedication to the cause. He is never happier when he is educating people about the harmful effects of racism in sport.

Yet those first steps were taken as a Celtic player when he felt comfortable to speak openly about the racism that he and his friend Mark Walters had received in Scotland as well as the abuse he had to put up with all along.

Elliott had seen it all from Millwall's old notorious ground 'The Den' and Chelsea's Stamford Bridge in the late 1970s and 1980s. By the time Elliott arrived at Celtic, he was ready to call it out.

Elliott said: "The reality of the racist abuse was that it was not a football thing. It was a societal thing. There was always going to be a natural crossover and what was going on in the roots of community and society was going to dovetail over.

"That was evident years before I played for Celtic, I sensed it at Charlton Athletic my very first club as a 16-year-old kid. I remember playing against Chelsea and Millwall.

"The Den which was Millwall's famous stadium was totally white and anybody who was a black player got as you would say in Scotland 'absolute pelters'. I have been on the receiving end of that as a teenager and I was at Chelsea in the ugliest days of racism at Stamford Bridge.

"I received the abuse from the National Front as they were called back then which is now the British National Party. There was no legislation back then so these were people actively singing: 'There ain't no black in the union jack'... and openly throwing bananas.

"I witnessed it in the English First Division, the Second Division and then went I went abroad to play with Pisa in Italy, I dealt with racism there too.

"By the time I came to Celtic, I was well used to it by then. I had a better understanding of it as that had been my football journey up until that point.

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"What really changed at Celtic was the fact that I was a more mature player. I hoped that I had the strength of character and resilience and critically I knew if I could provide excellence on the field then it would give me the platform to do something about it off the field.

"It was in Scotland and during my time at Celtic that I spoke openly about racism alongside Tony Higgins of PFA Scotland and we both went public on the issue as we felt that it needed to be addressed.

"I loved the country and I loved the people and I loved Celtic as a club but racism wasn't right. It was against my human rights and I wanted to work in a racism-free environment like everybody else and I shouldn't have to put up with it.

"There was a change in people's attitude and behaviours but I remember being at Tynecastle and goodness me, what a place that was to play football.

"It was a very intimidating atmosphere and I thought I would need to take out life insurance but I don't think I would have got covered for that!

"I grew up in this environment and played in it and my mum and dad are the first West Indian Windrush generation. This experience of racism has been central in all of my evolution.

"Coming to Celtic was just another environment on my football journey where I was experiencing racism but the difference is I still enjoyed my time in Scotland.

"I loved my football and I enjoyed being a professional footballer.

"I love my job now. I am the Chairman of FA Inclusion Advisory Board and that's all about equality, diversion and inclusion.

"I am a change agent and nothing gives me greater pleasure than using my platform to educate people on racism and injustice.

"The power of football to lead on issues like taking the knee is absolutely wonderful, isn't it? I take people on the journey now and for me to influence that in some way and to transfer my experience and knowledge from on the field to off the field is great."

Celtic Way:

Unlikely friends

Elliott recalls a time when he defied McNeill's orders and partied with Rangers players in Victoria's nightclub hours after Celtic had lost to their rivals 2-1 in the 1990 League Cup final with his friend Walters on the scoresheet.

The centre-back netted twice against Rangers but ended up on the losing side both times.

He readily admits that he revelled in the derby occasions.

Elliott joked that never tires of telling people how he successfully shackled the likes of Diego Armando Maradona, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit to name but a few during his time in Italy.

Elliott said: "I played in Italy against the likes of Diego Maradona, Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit. I saw myself as a big-game player and I loved the big game occasion.

"I have met a lot of talented footballers in my time but they could not cope with the burden of expectation playing in a big city. Glasgow is a small city but it is a big city football-wise.

"With Celtic and Rangers just three miles away from each other that day to day intensity and pressure is quite something. I can understand why some players cannot perform in that environment but I could as I had done it before in England and Italy.

"I understood what it meant to the supporters. Footballers play for different reasons - they play for their manager, their family, their children, their teammates but I also played for the Celtic supporters.

"They showed me so much love, gratitude and generosity of spirit from day one and I loved that and I knew exactly what I meant to them.

"Derek Whyte once told me that the Celtic supporters would not go to work for a week if they got beat against Rangers. I was like 'Are you sure?'

"He told me that winning against Rangers meant that much to them.

"I always had that extra motivation because I knew what it meant to the Celtic supporters and that is when I fully understood the Celtic culture and way of life and the impact that it had on the fans.

"I scored in the Skol Cup final when we lost 2-1 to Rangers in 1990, it was a diving header and my back has never been the same since.

"The Celtic fans asked me why I didn't just use my left foot and I told them my attempt would have ended up in Sauchiehall Street otherwise!

"It was brilliant and I loved those games and I loved scoring in them even though we got beat.

"I have played in some big games but Celtic v Rangers matches are as big as they come in terms of the global game. I thrived in that atmosphere.

"I even partied with the Rangers boys after that League Cup final defeat.

"I defied big Billy's orders and he told us not to go out and he said go home and relax.

"I got home and I was bored looking at the four walls so I decided to go out and I went to Victoria's nightclub.

"All the Rangers guys were there and to be fair they were great with me.

"I knew most of them because I had played with them down south.

"I grew up with Trevor Steven playing for England youth, Goughie I knew, I played against Terry Butcher when he played for Ipswich, Terry Hurlock when he played for Millwall and obviously Mark.

"There was a piano bar and they were all drinking and I went in there and it was something like a western when the bad guys walk into the saloon and all the people are singing, dancing and drinking and everybody stops what they are doing.

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"They all just looked and then gave me a spontaneous round of applause and they respected the fact that I had gone out and wasn't going to sit in my home and moan.

"I knew all of the Rangers players very well and we had beers and champagne and we didn't actually talk about football. I saw them as colleagues and I understood the mindset in Glasgow but they were human beings first and foremost.

"It was just friends together having a drink and I am still good mates with Coisty (Ally McCoist) and Mark Hateley and all of the Rangers boys.

"Sometimes in a way through things like that I always felt as if I was educating people.

"I remember when Gianluca Vialli came to Chelsea and he couldn't understand why you had a players lounge where players from the opposition would have a beer.

"Vialli said that was a no-no in Italy as it was criminal. Win, lose or draw in Italy you were always on the bus and never mixing with players from the opposite sides.

"I thought that was funny as it summed up two vastly different football cultures."

Celtic Way:


Elliott though was a trailblazer in every sense of the word.

One accolade stands out amongst all others despite finishing fifth and third in the Scottish Premier Division table and winning no silverware with Celtic.

He was voted the Scottish Professional Footballers' Associaton (SPFA) Player of the year in season 1990/91. It remains one of the proudest achievements of Elliott's career. 

Elliott said: "That was one of the proudest moments in my career. Ultimately you have support from the Celtic fans and I won all their individual player of the year awards and that appreciation and validation are great.

"To actually get the player of the year award from your peers and fellow players for a Celtic team that was in transition means a lot to me. The considerations and opinions of your fellow professionally players are the most important.

"It is more important than the media or the supporters. To be the first black player to win that award set a big benchmark. We are talking over 30 years ago and I am still honoured and proud that I was voted the player of the year by my fellow pros".

Perhaps the measure of the esteem that Elliott was held in during his time at Celtic was when he was carried shoulder-high from the field during Packie Bonner's testimonial match against the Republic of Ireland.

The crowd chanted 'Elliott Must Stay' throughout the match but he left in the summer of 1991 after clinching a £1.25 million deal to Chelsea.

He may have left Glasgow but both the club and the city have never left him.

Elliott said: "I felt for Packie during that game as I did not want to take anything away from him as it was his event but the Celtic fans carried me shoulder-high from the field.

"The Celtic supporters were pleading with me to stay and they were really sad to see me go. I was genuinely sad to be leaving the club.

"The timing was right for me though. I desperately wanted to win trophies at Celtic but it just wasn't to be.

"I would like to feel that I impacted in a positive way to the Celtic supporters, to the players, to the club, to the media and other clubs as well.

"I still have many friends in Scotland and I will never forget my time at Celtic. It was challenging, unbelievably rewarding and educational. Glasgow is a brilliant place and it still holds a lot of affection in my heart.

"There are very few clubs where I felt just as happy off the field as I did on the field. Celtic was one of them as it fitted into my way of life.

"Italians are very much the same they have great memories of players who have made an impact at clubs. I feel like that with Celtic there is a strong, emotional, powerful memory of myself there.

"If you do not do it clubs like Celtic or Rangers or Manchester United or AC Milan can be unforgiving places. There is an expression in football 'show us yer medals' and I understand that.

"Medals and trophies sit in a drawer. Your experiences are in your bloodstream and your DNA and your behaviour and in everything you do. That is most important to me.

"You could go to the last part of the earth in Timbuktu and you would find somebody wearing a Celtic shirt. It never leaves you.

"I would do it all over again given the chance.  You feel such a sense of belonging in Glasgow and you just feel at ease.

"I speak about Celtic with nothing but love and affection. It reaches your heart and it stays there."

Few players have impacted a club the way Paul Elliott did at Celtic.

He was as elegant a footballer on the pitch as he is eloquent off it.

Paul Elliott's Celtic legacy remains intact.