THE TITLE of Alan Stubbs' book says it all - 'How Football Saved My Life'.

It did, you know. In more ways than one.

Stubbs was signed for Celtic by then-manager Tommy Burns in July 1996 at a cost of £4million from Bolton Wanderers. He was Celtic's record signing at the time and the second-highest sale in Bolton's history. It was viewed as a real statement of intent by Celtic, who had snatched the central defender from English football with several clubs, including Arsenal, keen on his signature.

The deal even became subject of scrutiny from FIFA, who initially fined Celtic £41,000 and Stubbs £28,000 for the use of unlicensed agents during the transfer. The fines were later reduced to £22,000 and £18,000 respectively on appeal. That didn't bother Stubbs one bit.

Rangers held a domestic stranglehold on the championship in Scotland having won the last eight titles in a row. Stubbs knew he had walked into something big when he became locked in a domestic stranglehold of his own by a Celtic supporter when he walked out the glass doors minutes after signing for the club.

Stubbs said: "I was Celtic's record signing back then - so there was pressure on me straight away. I came out the glass doors at Celtic Park after signing the contract and a Celtic fan just grabbed me and put me in a headlock and pleaded with me. I'll never forget his words, he just said, 'Please don't let them win nine-in-a-row!'

"That was a little baptism of fire for me and I didn't really know what was going on. I knew how big Celtic as a club was but I just didn't realise what the club meant to the supporters. It quickly dawned upon me how special Celtic was as a football club. I was laughing at that incident with the supporter and I got a bit of a fright too.

"Where I am from in Liverpool, we were also brought up that way and we learn to appreciate everything. At that moment, I understood why the fan did what he did. I knew in an instant how passionate the Celtic supporters are about their club. I got the feeling at that moment that signing for Celtic was going to be a good thing for me and my career."

READ MORE: John Hughes talks Celtic, Tommy Burns, Pep Guardiola, Rod Stewart and scoring against Rangers - The Big Interview

That feeling was enhanced tenfold by the one man who played a pivotal role in Stubbs upping sticks from down south to ply his trade north of the border - Burns.

Stubbs revealed that he got emotional as his new boss showed him around the stadium and sold him a vision.

"Tommy Burns was an incredible man," said Stubbs. "The passion and love he had for the club shone through. He was showing me around and you only had to listen to the way he spoke about the history of the club and its supporters.

"It was sold on me straight away and it is hard to turn a man like Tommy down. He had a brilliant way about him. This was a guy I knew was going to look after me and, by the end of our conversation, I wanted to play for this man. It was a case of 'where do I sign?'

"Ultimately, further down the line, I got to know the real Tommy and it was just a privilege to say I knew this man and I played football for him.  I always judge someone by not what they've done but as a person. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. A first-class guy."

Stubbs was a comfortable passer of a ball and seen as an elegant defender who would become a vital cog in the defensive armoury if Celtic were to wrestle the title back from Rangers.

An injury-plagued campaign saw the Light Blues run-out double league and League Cup winners again and clinch the title by five points.

Most Celtic fans admitted that they had not seen the best of Stubbs but the big defender was convinced the gap with Rangers had narrowed so much that there was going to be an uprising in Glasgow's East End.

Stubbs said: "My first season was another step in the right direction for Celtic as we got close to Rangers. Those two years under Tommy where Celtic lost the title by four points and five points to Rangers were similar, in a way, to Steven Gerrard in his first two seasons as Rangers manager.

"In Gerrard's third season he got it right and won the league. I played for Tommy in the second of his campaigns and we were within striking distance of Rangers. That was all the evidence that we needed. We knew that summer when we came back that we were ready for a title tilt."

Celtic Way:

Burns paid the ultimate price after a Scottish Cup loss to Falkirk and he was replaced by Dutchman Wim Jansen and former Celtic midfielder Murdo MacLeod for the 1997-98 season.

Suddenly a raft of high-calibre players - Sweden international Henrik Larsson, Danish defender Marc Riper, Champions League winner Paul Lambert and Scotland international Craig Burley - arrived at the club and Stubbs knew then that the balance of power was shifting.

Celtic won the League Cup at Ibrox with a 3-0 dismantling of Dundee United to hand Stubbs his first-ever trophy.

Stubbs said: "I felt when Wim Jansen came in to replace Tommy was a real turning point. Henrik Larsson came in, Marc Rieper, Paul Lambert, Craig Burley... all of sudden the club started signing class players. At that time Rangers arguably had the best team in their history. They had a side that could challenge anybody in Europe. It was a real challenge for Celtic and the group of players we assembled seemed right up for it.

"Marc Rieper brought the best out in me and I really enjoyed playing alongside him. He gave me the freedom to be myself. He was a very good player, a real no-nonsense defender who was really efficient.

"The two of us loved defending and we were on it all season. I remember winning the League Cup at Ibrox against Dundee United and it was party-time from start to finish. You just got that feeling that this group of players were on the verge of achieving something special.

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"It was fun to play in that Celtic team but it was also a real pleasure. You play your best when you enjoy it more and that was certainly the case with that team. It was just an enjoyable time to be at the club."

Better days were to come for Stubbs and company. In November, the Liverpudlian scored a last-minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home against Rangers. It proved to be a pivotal goal in the league campaign.

The Hoops then triumphed on an emotional final day at Parkhead to clinch their first domestic title in a decade with a 2-0 win over St Johnstone to deny Walter Smith's Rangers the coveted 10-in-a-row. Stubbs and company would now enter into the folklore of history-making Celtic sides.

He said: "The amount of people that have come up to me and said that header in the last minute against Rangers was a history-defining goal is massive. For people to say that is a little bit surreal, to be honest. In terms of the magnitude of it and the whole 10-in-a-row thing and the history attached to that, it was a huge moment in the season.

Celtic Way:

"We walked off that pitch the way Rangers used to walk off the pitch against us in recent seasons. Our chests were puffed out that night and it felt like a victory and we sensed then that there was a power shift in the dynamic. The Rangers players were dejected and they felt as if they had lost the match. That must have been one of those moments when Rangers thought 'oh dear, we've got a real challenger on our hands here'.

"One of the biggest things about that season was the Celtic team's camaraderie off the park. We all stuck together and that was key to winning the league. It was a topsy-turvy season with Rangers leading the title race, then ourselves and it really did go to and fro. The season was a rollercoaster in terms of emotions. Our camaraderie and team spirit was a massive factor in it all. 

"Did we as a group of players have any doubts about that St Johnstone game? No. We just had to control our own emotions and the emotions of the fans. The best thing that happened to Celtic on the day that we won the league was Henrik scoring early. It just settled everybody in the stadium down. 

"At 1-0 you are still a little bit wary and then Harald Brattbakk had his crowning moment in a Celtic jersey. That was the moment that we knew we'd done it and we achieved what we had worked so hard for. I must admit that, while it was really enjoyable, when the final whistle blew on the last game of the season it was just sheer relief that we had got the job done."

Within 24 hours, Wim Jansen would sensationally quit the club and throw everything into utter turmoil ahead of the 1998-99 campaign.

After a long summer search, ex-Aston Villa coach and Czechoslavakia assistant Dr Jo Venglos was charged with the task of going head-to-head with a resurgent Rangers side who had recruited former Dutch national team and PSV manager Dick Advocaat.

It was a season that was to prove critical for Stubbs in more ways than one. 

Rangers went on to tie up the treble on Scottish Cup final day but Stubbs would then go on to win the most important battle of his life - the fight for survival.

A Rod Wallace goal sealed the domestic clean sweep at Hampden for Rangers in May 1999 against Celtic. Stubbs, still angered by the defeat, was randomly chosen for a routine drugs test. He ranks it as one of the best things to have ever happened to him.

Celtic Way:

The test results came back and showed that Stubbs was suffering from testicular cancer. His world was blown apart. Stubbs now talks refreshingly and candidly of that dark time in his life.

"I was bitterly disappointed to lose that Scottish Cup final but that turned out to be the least of my worries," Stubbs said. "I was chosen for the drugs test and never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would get a phone call three weeks later and that I was going to be diagnosed with testicular cancer.

"In the build-up to the game I had felt a slight discomfort in one of my testicles and, as most men do, I thought it was just a pain and that it would go away.

"It did go away - it was intermittent and it would give me discomfort every now and then. Luckily for me, the decision was taken out of my hands because I may have chosen to ignore it for the fear of potentially knowing what it was.

"From that point of view, I feel very fortunate that my name was chosen for the drug test, otherwise I may not have been around to enjoy my life today and doing what I have been doing for the last 20 odd years of my life. It really is a sliding doors moment in my life. I can't believe how lucky I have been. People look at me and say you had cancer that is unlucky. Far from it, I was a professional footballer and I was getting checked regularly all the time.

"If I wasn't then god knows what would have happened. My book is titled 'How Football Saved My Life' and that's very true. I must admit at the time that it was a shock. My mindset was 'OK, it happens' and I will not be the first or last person to have had that news broken to them on the end of a phone call or in a conversation with a doctor. I thought 'what can we do about it? Let's crack on'. All my trust was placed in the people that were treating me. My life was in their hands. I told them whatever they needed me to do I would do it."

Amazingly Stubbs not only defied the illness once, but twice after it returned in a more aggressive and serious form.

He revealed that once, after waking up after an operation, he feared that he would never kick a ball again as he thought he was paralysed from head to toe. As it turned out, it was just the pain relief and drugs taking effect.

He insists that during his rehabilitation and recovery from the disease Celtic proved to be a first-class club and, incredibly, the surgeon who operated on his cancerous tumour was retiring right after performing Stubbs' procedure.

Celtic Way:

"That comes back to me being lucky," he said. "I was getting regular check-ups after the first time and having scans every month. That is why both times it was caught so early.

"The second time was more alarming as it was more aggressive and serious and it made me really stand up and think about it. I really did think the second time: 'Shit, this is serious'.

"When they told me I had a tumour the specialist said 'I'm really sorry as we thought you were out of the woods'. He told me that he needed to speak to a couple of other specialists in terms of the procedure and asked me when I wanted to do it.

"I looked at him straight in the eye and I said 'today or tomorrow, you tell me'. He was so taken aback by that response and he told me that nobody had ever said that to him in his life as they usually wanted a few days to get their head around it and tell their families.

"I was looking at the guy who was going to potentially save my life and I said 'just do it now'. My life was most definitely in his hands then. At one time when I had the operation my body shut down.

"I woke up completely numb from head to toe and I never thought I'd kick a ball again. I thought I was paralysed after the operation but it was because I had so many painkillers in my body and my system to deal with the pain.

"They couldn't administer pain relief during the operation and there were problems with the epidural. My spine was too strong so I had an operation without pain relief. When I woke up I was in excruciating pain so I was given massive doses of morphine and painkillers to get it into my system as quickly as they could.

"Ironically, the surgeon told me that he was going to retire after this operation. He said that it was special for him that he got to operate on a famous footballer for his last procedure. I was joking with him that I didn't him to be remembered for his last operation being a mistake!

"Celtic acted like a big club and really stepped up to the plate and they were above and beyond unbelievable during all of this. They could not have done enough for myself and my family. The club really looked after Mandy and the children during that time.

"Celtic made sure that my wife had the right support and help whenever I was not at home. The staff around the ground, the supporters, were just absolutely incredible. It is something that I will always be appreciative of and grateful for until the day I die."

Stubbs' various battles against cancer meant that his appearances for Celtic were limited from then on.

The following season he featured 32 times and came on as a substitute in the 2-0 League Cup final win against Aberdeen under interim manager Kenny Dalglish.

READ MORE: Tosh McKinlay on Celtic under Tommy Burns, The Three Amigos and stopping the 10 - The Big Interview

Dalglish had taken over from former Liverpool team-mate John Barnes during the ill-fated 1999-2000 season during which Dick Advocaat's Rangers won the league and Scottish Cup double.

Stubbs featured less frequently in the treble-winning 2000-01 campaign under Martin O'Neill, making just eight appearances. One match, though, continues to live long in Stubbs memory.

A 5-2 win against Hibs at Easter Road in May 2001 signalled Stubbs' long return from his cancer woes and he scored the fourth goal for good measure, earning a rapturous reception from both sets of fans in the process.

Stubbs said: "That particular day was unbelievable. Martin O'Neill shouted me up to get ready - and I was nowhere near ready to play. Mentally I was, but I wasn't ready physically. My scar was still healing but I was desperate to play again. I was on the touchline and I was ready to go on and the whole of the stadium stood up and started applauding.

"I was holding back tears and I felt so emotionally choked at that. Everybody just rose out of their seats and clapped. I just thought 'wow this is for me, I'm only playing football'.

"In a way, it was wonderful to go back to Hibs as their manager and win the Scottish Cup in 2016 for those supporters after they had waited so long for it. It was my payback to the Hibs fans for what they did and gave to me that day. I guess it was my way of saying 'thank you' to them."

Stubbs insists that he can't pick any one highlight from his Celtic playing days as the honour lay in simply pulling on the famous jersey, which he did 139 times in total.

"I met so many fantastic people at the club and whenever I return to Celtic Park they all still remember you and what you did and that is a wonderful feeling," he said. "I loved playing in front of the Celtic supporters and Celtic Park is one of the best atmospheres I have experienced in my life.

"I met so many great people at Celtic - Tommy Burns is one of them, the Lisbon Lions, Davie Hay, Billy McNeill, the names roll off the tongue and they were all brilliant human beings.

"There is such a warmth and humility about all of these people that resonated with me because I came from a similar working-class background in Liverpool and that stood me in good stead at a club like Celtic.

"I loved playing for three clubs in my career - Bolton being the first, Celtic being the second and Everton my boyhood club being the third. The other clubs I really enjoyed playing for but I didn't love playing for them.

"It is an absolute pleasure and a privilege and overall a humbling experience to have played for Celtic. I am an Everton and Celtic fan now.

"One day I will be able to proudly say to my grandchildren I played for that club. Celtic will never leave me."