Celtic's Tony Watt - from cheeky wee laddie to Barca buster

THE teenager who fired Celtic's winning goal against the mighty Barcelona was always a class act, according to his former youth football coach.

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Tony Watt has risen to Parkhead super-stardom
Tony Watt has risen to Parkhead super-stardom

Tony Watt's sensational strike at Celtic Park on Wednesday night propelled the 18-year-old instantly onto the world stage.

While Celtic fans already had an idea what he was capable of, the rest of the football world now knows the Coatbridge boy's name.

Martin Holmes coached Tony from under-8 to under-14 level at Dunbeth Boys Club in the lad's home town and to this day keeps in touch with the star and his family.

And as he watched his former pupil net against Barca in the Champions League game, he remembered fondly the skill of the "cheeky wee laddie" who stood out as a striker for Dunbeth.

Martin, 43, said: "Myself and John Devlin coached Tony for years and he was always years ahead of his age in terms of skill.

"I remember we used to have a boys versus parents game every year and part of that was the keepie uppie contest.

"Most of the boys would manage four or five keepie uppies, but Tony would still be going at 50 or more and we'd eventually have to stop him. He won it every year.

"He was a cheeky wee laddie and very likeable. He was happy-go-lucky and just loved his football."

While Martin saw something special in the young Watt, he didn't know for sure if he'd make it into the professional game.

He said: "Tony obviously had the skill, but I'd never look at a player and say 'he's a cert to make it to the top'- you just never know, but I think what he had over everyone else was the heart.

"He lived and breathed football - I watched the Barcelona game in the pub but I left at the final whistle so I could go home and listen to Tony's post-match interview on the telly in peace.

"I had goosebumps and a lump in my throat when he scored. It was a surreal moment.

"I'm a Celtic fan so it was amazing enough to see them win the game, but for the winning goal to be scored by a product of Dunbeth Boys Club was just unbelievable.

"It reminded me of a brilliant goal he scored for his St Andrew's school team in a schools cup final at Airdrie United's stadium.

"I'm incredibly proud of Tony and so pleased for him and his family."

Martin is a coach, treasurer and secretary at Dunbeth BC and his home is adorned with club memorabilia. That includes the Lanarkshire YMCA League Champions cup for 2005/ 2006 - the first trophy that a young Tony had a hand in winning.

Martin remember's Tony's dad Paul being at all of his son's matches and describes the youngster as clever and level-headed. But he admits Watt was never the best at training.

Martin said: "I know that Neil Lennon has had him in his office once or twice to give him a wee gee up about training.

"It was the same when he was at Dunbeth. He looked a little bored at times - that might have been because he was so good!

"Tony can take his career as far as he wants, it's up to him.

"He has already been involved with Scotland under-21s and he'll no doubt get a full cap when the time is right."

Watt left Dunbeth to play for amateur side Whifflet Athletic before moving into the pro ranks with Airdrie United.

He impressed in a short spell there before making a £100,000 move to his boyhood heroes Celtic in January, 2011.

Michael McKenna, head teacher at St Andrew's High, said: "Tony Watt is one of life's great enthusiasts with a real passion for football.

"He was always convinced he would be a professional footballer and in school had to be gently persuaded to think of anything else. It was really difficult to get annoyed at Tony, as he always had a huge grin and a witty response.

"The school community at St Andrew's High is very proud of what he has already achieved."

Watt's former boss at Airdrie, Jimmy Boyle, revealed how a news- paper advert for Aidrie United stars set Tony Watt on the path to his stunning Celtic debut - which saw him score a double against Motherwell last season.

Boyle revealed how decided to put an advert in a paper inviting kids to come along to a trial and received about 30 applications.

He said even at a bounce game, Tony stood out straight away at the age of 15.

Another former coach, Mark Mullen, saw something in the new Celtic sensation to sign him for Whifflet in 2006. Three years of scoring goals with Whifflet in the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Youth League earned Watt his move to Airdrie in 2009.

But bizarrely the youngster wasn't convinced of his ability despite scoring 73 goals in his last season with Whifflet. When Mark told him he would play for Scotland one day, Watt laughed.

Mark said Tony came to them when he was 13 and that he knew he right away the lad had the potential to be a great player.

stef.lach@heraldandtimes.co.uk

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