Mark Wilson was born on the 5th of June, 1984. Only weeks earlier, Celtic lost the Scottish Cup Final 2-1 to Aberdeen, and one of the men who played for the Dons that day was just as recognisable then as he is now, with his fiery red hair. I’m fairly sure that when baby Mark was born, neither of his parents knew he would play for the club he would grow up supporting.
In January 2006, Mark Wilson was signed by the man with the fiery red hair I mentioned previously, Gordon Strachan, the manager of Celtic at that time. Mark had spent the first six years of his career with Dundee United, where he gradually began to feature more and more for the first team, and developed into the full back we have all enjoyed watching race up and down the wings at Celtic Park for several years.
Signed for a fee reported to be somewhere around the half a million pound mark, the then twenty one year old Bhoy was coming home to Glasgow, and coming home to Paradise, after Celtic beat several other clubs to his signature. He made his debut only weeks later, in a 3-3 draw with, ironically, his previous club Dundee United, at Celtic Park.
He made his third appearance for the Hoops only weeks later, as Celtic took all three points away from Ibrox thanks to a single goal from Polish striker, Maciej Zurawski. He also started the next weekend’s match, as Celtic won 8-1 away at Dunfermlime, setting the then SPL record for the biggest victory, a match many will remember for a rare goal from current Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. Despite being played on both sides of the field in the full back role, Mark was even at this early stage, beginning to prove just how talented and reliable a player he really was. He worked tirelessly, continually haring up and down the wings from defence to attack to defence again.
By the end of his first season, Celtic had won both the League Cup and the Scottish Premier League title, and the future was looking bright for the young man. However, despite continued success for the club with SPL and Scottish Cup success during the following year, the next season was to be littered with injuries for Mark, as he broke his foot and later had to undergo knee surgery.
At the start of the next season, Mark Wilson was slowly becoming one of the “old timers” at Celtic Park, as inspirational figures such as John Hartson and Neil Lennon, the stalwarts of the club Wilson joined a couple of years previously, had ended their respective times with Celtic. On the 29th August, 2007, Mark played in one of the most memorable ties in the club’s recent history, as Celtic won their first penalty shoot out in European competition, and the Hoops defeated Spartak Moscow 4-3 on penalties after drawing the match itself 1-1.
As the years passed, Celtic signed right backs such as Andreas Hinkel and Cha Du Ri. Partially due to Mark’s repeated injuries, Hinkel quickly cemented his place as the “first choice” right back under Gordon Strachan. In fact, it is debatable that an anterior cruciate ligament injury to Andreas, sustained early last season, was a major factor that helped Mark Wilson to keep his place at the club. With Cha Du Ri featuring regularly as new manager Neil Lennon’s right back of choice, Wilson kept working hard in training hoping to have his chance once more. This chance would come at the turn of the year, as South Korean Cha Du Ri (as well as midfielder Ki) headed to the Asian Cup.
The first “big game” he featured in was the famous 2-0 win at Ibrox on the 2nd January, 2011. As a member of a bit part side, widely considered underdogs, he was integral in defence as Celtic kept the home side out and Georgios Samaras popped up twice to send both the Celtic supporters in attendance, and those around the world, absolutely wild. With his return to the squad came the return of his usual reliability and hard work, but it also brought something unexpected, goals.
Mark had scored eight times in his time at Dundee United, but in five years had never once scored for Celtic. And so, on a cold night at Pittodrie, with Celtic leading ten men Aberdeen 1-0 thanks to an early goal from Gary Hooper, up stepped Mark Wilson to head the second home with roughly twenty minutes remaining in the tie. As the support celebrated the goal, many were surprised to see that it was in fact Mark Wilson who had scored. The match itself ended 3-0 to Celtic.
A little over a month later, Mark scored what will most likely be regarded as the most important goal of his footballing career for ever more. Celtic were set to face rivals Rangers in a Scottish Cup replay, after a valiant performance at Ibrox by a ten man Celtic side only weeks earlier had earned them a draw, despite twice going behind in the tie. Mark played in the first match, and would score the vital goal in the replay.
On the 3rd of March, 2011, amidst a truly electric atmosphere at Celtic Park, nothing could separate the sides in the first half. However, only minutes into the second half, a cross ball fell invitingly towards Mark Wilson, who hammered it towards goal. He couldn’t have hit it any sweeter no matter how many times he tried. However, a valiant block from Sasa Papac on the line stopped the ball from ending up in the Rangers net.
In fact, the shot was so sweetly struck that it knocked Papac unconcious. As Papac lay on the floor, with the player most likely “seeing stars”, the ball bounced back Wilson’s way. This time, Mark scuffed it, but fortunately, this caused the ball to hit the ground and bounce over the helpless Rangers goalkeeper, Allan McGregor, into the net. This match will sadly forever be known by some as the “Shame Game”, despite the fact that neither Celtic fans, nor Celtic players, nor Celtic staff did antything wrong. Three Rangers players were sent off, in a match where Rangers only had one shot, yet committed a staggering twenty three fouls.
Thanks partly to Mark Wilson’s goal, and to his performances throughout the course of the tournament, Celtic would go on to win their 35th Scottish Cup as they defeated Motherwell 3-0 in the final at a rainy Hampden Park.
And so, after helping Celtic to win several pieces of silverware, including a historic SPL title this season, Mark Wilson was handed the captain’s armband last week for his final appearance in a Celtic jersey. Midway through the second half, Mark was substituted, and given a standing ovation by the Celtic supporters. Neil Lennon, someone who played alongside Wilson in his early days in the Hoops, later described him as a “tremendous servant” to the club.
However, Mark Wilson will not just be remembered for his football. He is, and will continue to be, loved by the Celtic support because of his sheer likeability. He has always worked hard on the field, and conducted himself impeccably off of it. The quiet Glasgow Bhoy who grew into a man with the club he loved has lived through something so many of us have dreamed of doing. He has done things the vast majority of us will never have the chance to do, and he has worn his heart on his sleeve as he has done them.
He’s played in Europe’s premier competition, made an appearance for his national team, won silverware, won medals, and scored against Rangers. He has known the feeling of victory at Ibrox, and of clutching victory from the jaws of defeat. He is just as likely to go to watch Celtic in the future from the stands as the rest of us, because both himself, and his family, are lifelong Celtic supporters.
Yes, injuries may have hampered his progress at times, and inevitably frustrated him as an individual, but I’m certain if he was asked whether he would do it all again if given the chance he would jump at the idea. At the age of twenty seven, he still has a good while left in his footballing career, and we wish him all the best for the future. However, I’m sure he will always have a special place in his heart for his time at Celtic Football Club, and the Celtic fans will always have a special place in their heart for him. Thank you Mark, thank you.