Chic Charnley lived out his boyhood dream... once. It could, and should, have been a whole lot more.

Charnley realised his lifelong ambition of pulling on the Celtic jersey but sadly this fairytale chapter of his career was not to have the Hollywood scripted ending. More's the pity.

Initially, Charnley thought he was the victim of a wind-up from former Partick Thistle boss John Lambie when he had to be dragged out of a boozer to be informed that all his football dreams were about to come true.

It was 1994 and it was the end of the season. Lou Macari's Celtic were heading to Old Trafford to play Manchester United in Mark Hughes's testimonial game. Macari - a former Celtic and Manchester United midfielder - wanted Charnley to turn out for the Hoops.

Cue the telephone call from Lambie.

"The way it transpired is that I was going down to the Manchester United v Celtic game anyway with my pals as a supporter," Charnley told The Celtic Way. "Then I got a phone call from John Lambie to say that Lou Macari wanted me to play for Celtic in the game as the season had finished.

"I was out with my pals in the pub and I thought Lambie was at the total wind-up! I told him that I was a bit worse for wear and he told me to go home and get some sleep as the game was the next evening.

"I phoned Lou Macari and told him that I would travel down to Manchester in the car with my mates, which I did. I met the Celtic players in the hotel and we travelled on the bus to the game."

The enormity of the occasion and the emotion of finally fulfilling his footballing destiny got to Charnley, who revealed that tears were blinding him the whole time.

It is totally understandable. The former Jags and Hibs midfielder had never hidden his allegiance to the green and white half of Glasgow and here he was about to take centre stage in the aptly nicknamed Theatre of Dreams.

"I actually started crying three times," he explained. "I cried on the bus as we pulled up to Old Trafford as the Celtic fans were banging the windows and singing my name. I just burst out greeting.

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"I cried during the warm-up with the Celtic players and the assistant coach Frank Connor had to console me. He asked me if I was alright. This was the moment I had waited for all my life so Frank asked me if I was ready for it because the tears were streaming down my face. You better believe I was ready for it.

"Then, during the game, I cried as well. I was fulfilling my dream. You would cry, wouldn't you?"

Charnley was a talent all right. He was a mercurial and gifted midfielder and is rated as one of the best players to never play for his country. His temperament, as he readily admits, held him back from taking his career to the very top levels of the game.

That said, he more than held his own in illustrious company in Manchester that night as Celtic put a star-studded Red Devils team to the sword. Charnley himself put on a show to set up a goal for Simon Donnelly and was involved in another as the Hoops swept United aside 3-1.

He even enjoyed a comedic moment with French superstar Eric Cantona, who tried and failed to catch him out with his showboating antics. The man from Marseille against the street baller from Possil? It was always going to be a no-contest, wasn't it?

"I set up two goals - one for Simon Donnelly and I had a hand in another for Willie Falconer," he said. "I played really well, there is footage of it somewhere. I was at all the testimonials as a Celtic fan and they were feisty affairs some of them. This one was no different, it was fairly competitive. It was just brilliant to play in it.

"There is a cracking photo of that moment with Cantona. I have it on a canvas. My son and mother also have copies of it. What happened was that he tried to stick the ball through my legs and nutmeg me at the dugout. I closed my legs and, needless to say, it didn't happen so I sprinted away laughing at him. Cantona is in the shot and I am decking myself as I have run off with the ball.

Celtic Way:

"I don't want to big myself up but I was never overawed by anybody that I played against. It just wasn't my style. Nothing fazed me on a football park in that sense."

Despite sharing a pitch with the likes of Cantona, a 45-times capped France international and five-time English top-flight champion, Charnley still rates one person above all the rest: the Maestro, Paul McStay.

"Yes, I played against big players in my career but I have to say Paul McStay was the best player I ever played against," Charnley added. "The way he played - he was strong, he was hard, he could pass and score goals. For me, he was the best opponent I ever played against and I include Paolo Di Canio, Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne in that statement. I was never worried about playing against those guys.

"If I was playing for a team like Celtic then I would have improved - and I don't mean any disrespect to the players I played with. Better players would have helped improve my game. I was always playing against better teams in my career but I always held my own.

"My temperament held me back, I know that for a fact. I grew up in Possil and, there, if anybody hit you, you hit them back. That is how it was. You just couldn't do that in the football park!"

With the high of running the show at Old Trafford fresh in his mind, surely an offer of a permanent deal at Celtic would be forthcoming from Macari?

Despite the Celtic boss singing his praises to the press in the aftermath of the match, Charnley's dreams were ultimately shattered.

"It was a bittersweet moment in the end," he explained. "I would have died happy to have played just one competitive game for Celtic if that is all it turned out to be. I am still unhappy with Lou Macari for what he did.

"He asked me after the game what my plans were for pre-season. Partick Thistle were going to Portugal and Celtic were heading to Canada. He did not ask me if I wanted to go to Canada with Celtic. He didn't say to me 'I want you to come with Celtic to Canada'. I went to Portugal with the Partick Thistle lads.

Celtic Way:

"Anybody who knew me would tell you that I would have jumped at the chance to go away with Celtic during that pre-season. I then got a phone call from a journalist who was in Canada and they told me that Lou Macari had said that if I wanted to be in Canada then I would have travelled to Canada. That totally destroyed me.

"That is the thing that soured everything about finally playing for Celtic. I was very hurt by that - I have been all over the world watching Celtic since I was five years of age and I still go to watch the team to this day - so for Lou Macari to say that about me was just wrong.

"I phoned him and I gave him both barrels and he tried to say it wasn't like that but I just hung the phone up. It still hurts."

He came so close to being a regular fixture with his boyhood idols on more than Macari's watch. Even club legend Billy McNeill almost took the plunge, as did Liam Brady, but it just was not to be.

"Celtic made a bid for me during Liam Brady's time as manager," he said. "It was a swap deal involving Rudi Vata and some money exchanging hands for Partick Thistle. The terms were agreed but somehow it all fell through at the last minute.

"There were also a couple of times that big Billy tried to sign me. The deals always came close but it never happened. I remember seeing Billy at a night once and I asked him outright why he never signed me for Celtic. His reply was priceless, he said "Chic, son, I like to sleep at night!' That is a brilliant answer."

It was a brilliant answer to a brilliant player who lived his Celtic dream - once. 

The wonderment remains of just how brilliant Chic Charnley could have been in his pomp and ceremony had he been signed for Celtic in his career. Sadly, that is one question that does not have an answer.