Charlie Mulgrew hopes his son can be Celtic hero like him as he tells Jr exactly what he needs to succeed

-Credit: (Image: SNS Group)
-Credit: (Image: SNS Group)

Driven Charlie Mulgrew had a huge hunger to be at the top. But pre-match meal times were amongst those when he could sense the anxiety.

Mulgrew’s resilience and ambition meant he didn’t want to be anywhere else but right at the top as a player. It’s why he was able to succeed, play for his country and star for his club in the Champions League. But beneath the surface there was a knot in the stomach. A churn of fear about the moments when it doesn’t go to plan and it’s likely he’s not alone.

Mulgrew dealt with it to reach the top and, offering a truthful insight, he said: “That’s the thing, you still want to be there. This is the crazy thing about it. You live your life and that is your passion. You want to be at the top end of it, playing for Celtic and these teams that want to win. It comes at a cost but it’s the greatest thing ever when you win. When you win it’s amazing but there is a lot of fear and pressure that goes into that.

“You live your life with everybody judging you and, if you lose, it’s a nightmare until the next game, then you can win and relax again. Did I used to panic before games? Of course. If you aren’t nervous before a game there’s something wrong with you. It’s human nature. I was never a spewer, no. If I’m spewing, I’m steaming! But I’m telling you it’s not spoken about enough. I’ll tell you what the tell-tale sign is. In the winter, you wake up in a hotel for an away game. Someone tells you, and this has happened to every football player, that the game is off.

“In the pre-match meal, the atmosphere goes from nobody saying a word to through the roof because all of a sudden there is a weight off your shoulder and the place is buzzing. It’s like, wow. You go in front of 60,000 fans who are demanding that you win and that are scrutinising every single thing you do. But it’s why you are a Celtic player, and why, when you win, you get that buzz. When you don’t... you get that other side of it. It doesn’t get spoken about enough in football but it’s hard. What I’m saying is that there is a lot of fear but there is nowhere else you would rather be.

“That’s true, because you wouldn’t. That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard. Anything worth having in life, it’s hard, but it’s still amazing. For example, getting beat off Rangers to lose the league on the last day is a complete low, and it’s horrendous.

“You’ve had all the nerves and the fear in the build-up and that has happened. To then win the double in the season there when Adam Idah scored in the last minute in the cup final, those are the highs that you live for and there are a lot of them at Celtic.”

Managers hunt character as well as well as ability but Mulgrew said: “Aye but it’s hard. You just don’t know, you don’t have a crystal ball. My wee boy has now gone full-time with Celtic and people ask me if he has a chance. Can you get inside his head? Because I don’t know what he’s thinking.

“I know what I was thinking. I know I had a lot of doubts and fears and a lot of resilience and, if I could give any young boy anything, it would be resilience. Can you go through the lows? Because there will be plenty of them.

“Some of them are really low. Some of them are as little as getting dropped from the 18s team or the 21s. You could be training with the first team, have a nightmare and then the next day you aren’t training with them.

“There are so many lows and it is about how you can bounce back from them. You could be released from Celtic like me, go to Wolves, get released, then go to Aberdeen, play well and get back to Celtic. All of a sudden you’re thinking: ‘Hold on a minute, how am I back here?’ It’s just mad and I suppose that is life as well. It’s who can get up from the downs and that is resilience for me.”

Mulgrew’s final full season at Dundee United was a final straw for the 38-year-old. He knew time was up. He said: “That was it. I still took time to think about it because I had an offer from Thistle and an offer from Hamilton and I told the managers the same thing, that I didn’t know if I had the motivation that was going to outweigh everything else.

“Before a game if I’m running out at Stirling Albion, no disrespect to Stirling Albion, I’m getting the same pressures. Even though you’ve played in the Champions League, you still want to win and don’t want to make a fool of yourself. You still have all these pressures.

“But then, does the benefit outweigh that feeling? And, in the end, it didn’t for me. If I regretted it then I would say I had made a bad decision and I probably would have gone into the game within a few months because I’m still fit, but I have never once missed it.”

Mulgrew has taken a post as Under-18s boss at Hamilton and wants his experiences to benefit the youngsters. He said: “It’s given me a huge motivation, though, to have a group of players that I can understand how they are feeling, and we can address that and say you know what? There’s nothing you can do.

“It’s there and there is no getting away from it but for me as a leader I just want to see you playing football the way you did in the school playground.

“I’ve got a strong passion for the coaching and management side that I want to pass experience, that knowledge and emotional intelligence on to players, and let them understand that I know what they are going through, and let them play with freedom within a structure and how I see the game.”

● Mulgrew spoke to promote William Hill, proud sponsors of all four SPFL league competitions.