Harry Hood, the hotelier and hitman who did it all
BELIEVE it or not, Harry Hood is now 70. Can this really be so? Is it really 40-plus years since this deft, graceful striker of many a Celtic attack was weaving past players and dinking in goals in the era of Jock Stein? Hood himself, sharing a coffee with me, is amazed by the passage of years.
The last Celtic player to score a hat-trick against Rangers – by way of nice poetic relevance, in a League Cup semi-final in 1973 – he has also faced his battles. Hood recently endured eight months of chemotherapy for colon cancer but is back on his feet. He remains a shrewd, thoughtful man, traits he displayed in his football.
The adventurous Hood’s career between 1962 and 1977 is worth rich recall. Starting at Clyde, he was a hit for a while at Sunderland in the mid-1960s, before injury and a managerial fall-out put the brakes on him at 22. It was just one of many unusual interludes in his life.
“I made my debut for Clyde against Rangers at Ibrox in 1962 – I had just turned 18,” he says. “The Rangers team that day was full of guys like Baxter, Millar, Brand, Wilson, Henderson, but I played pretty well. I remember Baxter lost the rag with me and ended up booting the ball into the crowd.
“I was top goalscorer at Clyde and in 1964 I signed for Sunderland. George Hardwick was the manager, and I was on a decent scoring run with a guy named Nicky Sharkey, but then I got injured, had a double-hernia operation, and then Hardwick left and Ian McColl became the new manager. Then it all went downhill.”
One thing you find with Hood: he speaks in straight, sometimes damning sentences, which is why, back in the mid-1970s, some of the broadcasters sought him out for punditry.
“I thought Ian McColl was a coward,” he said. “A lot of the Sunderland players at that time were getting away with murder, drinking sessions in the afternoons, and the like. McColl dropped me and I knew I had to get away. So I went back to Clyde [in 1966] even though it meant a return to part-time football, and a step down. I just wanted to enjoy football again.”
Hood at 23 was already thinking about a business career side by side with his football. In 1966-67 he and Clyde finished third in Scotland’s top division, at a time when the Scottish game was varied and lush with indigenous talent. And Stein and Celtic were poised, at long last, to claim him.
“Clyde actually held on to me for another two years and I didn’t force it – I didn’t get to join Celtic until 1969. I was close to 26 by then and I had plans for myself, not just in football. I wanted to own a hotel, I wanted a business life outside the game.”
From today’s perspective, it is hard to believe how this fine Celtic striker led his life while also being a top footballer. In 1971, Hood fulfilled his ambition by purchasing the Sherwood Manor hotel in Uddingston. He would pull pints, serve meals and play games for Celtic, within hours of each other.
“When I got to Celtic, even though it was a big move for me, I knew I wanted something else, a business, something for the future. So I explored the pub/ hotel trade. I started going into the old Beechwood Hotel, owned by Kenny Dalglish’s father-in-law, and did all the menial tasks I could: working in the kitchen, being a porter, stuff like that. I just wanted to see how it was done, learn a few things.
“At Celtic we’d finish training at 12, and while the other guys went off to play snooker or whatever, I went off to work in hotels, to see what it was about. I did that maybe two or three times a week.
“I had family and my kids to look out for. I’d be behind the bar on a Thursday night, or doing shifts on a Friday afternoon after training. Then I’d babysit the Friday night before a game while my wife went out and did a shift. That’s how we did it. The day I took over the Sherwood Manor, my wife and I stayed in the hotel that Friday night, just for security. The next day I scored a hat-trick against Motherwell.”
Some were taken aback by Hood’s business nose back then, aged just 26. Over the years he built up a chain of west of Scotland pubs and hotels, a family empire he commands to this day. Back in the 1970s not the least to be dumbfounded by it all was Desmond White, the Celtic chairman.
“At Celtic I was on good money in those days,” Hood recalls. “It was about £50 a week, and higher with bonuses. A joiner would be earning, say, £14 or £15 a week. I never earned less than £12,000 a year at Celtic. It was a lot of money back then.
“I had my first pub at 25 and my first hotel cost me £12,000 to buy. Desmond White came up to me one day and said, ‘Hi Harry, how is the pub doing?’ I said, ‘aye, it’s going well.’ He said to me, ‘good turnover, is it?’ I said, ‘yes, it is’ and I told him the figure. He said, ‘Harry, you’re making as much money from your hotel as you are from football.’ I said, ‘I am, yes.’ Desmond paused and said, ‘well done, Harry’.”
Celtic fans knew of Hood’s off-field acumen. But it was his on-field artistry which they both loved and grew frustrated with. In and out of Celtic teams under Stein, who believed Hood to be an occasional slacker, he scored 123 goals in 312 appearances between 1969 and 1976.
“I would be in the team, then out of it again. In 1971 I was the top scorer in Scotland, but I was mercurial I suppose. I was one of these guys that was pretty good at drifting off people, and linking up, and making space. I think it was Bobby Murdoch who once said of me: ‘Harry Hood can make 100 spaces in a game.’
“A very interesting thing happened to me at Celtic. The year I finished top goalscorer my mother and father had died within weeks of each other. I missed about five or six weeks, and it was a pretty bad time. Prior to my parents’ death I was playing well, but I wasn’t scoring many goals. The ball kept going wide, or hitting the post.
“Jock Stein said to me, ‘Harry, you’re playing great, but you’re not scoring enough. If you can’t start scoring I’ll need to drop you.’ Then both my parents died, and I can’t explain this, but all of a sudden the goals started going in. If the ball hit the post, it then went in, or it would scramble over the line. I suddenly went on a run of games when I started banging them in.”
Circumstances soon changed. Stein suffered his dreadful car crash in 1975 and, Hood spent most of the time on the Celtic bench under Sean Fallon. In 1976 he left Celtic to go and play for San Antonio Thunder.
“Sean, just like Stein, thought I took my foot off the pedal – they didn’t like that aspect of my game. I was 32. I could have had another couple of years at Celtic, but I went to America. Guys like Bobby Moore, Bob McNab, Bobby Clark and others had gone out there. I had my time in America, then came back to Motherwell, then Queen of the South – big mistake – and then retirement from the game.”
Over the next three decades Hood made his wealth on his lifelong dream. And all the while he kept his wits about him. “The pub business was changing. The smaller pubs, the drinking pub, was going out of fashion. Nowadays, you have to do food, and do it well. So I’ve tried to adapt and change. I keep a passing interest in football – no more than that. I had my time.”
JUST NO STOPPING HIM: Celtic striker Harry Hood wheels off in celebration after finding the net against Rangers in 1973.