IT seems faintly ridiculous now given the huge contribution which he subsequently made to Celtic both as a player and then assistant manager to his close friend Tommy Burns.

But when Billy Stark was signed from Aberdeen back in 1987 the news was greeted with distinct coolness, if not downright dismay, by many of their supporters.

There could be no doubting the cultured midfielder’s ability – he had helped the Pittodrie club to win two Premier League titles, two Scottish Cups and one League Cup in the four preceding years.

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But at the age of 30 the widespread feeling at the time was that his best days as a player were firmly behind him, that his powers were beginning to diminish.

Having just lost Mo Johnston, Brian McClair, Alan McInally and Murdo MacLeod, some occupants of The Jungle were far from impressed.

Stark would, however, more than justify Billy McNeill’s faith in him and prove an invaluable servant for Celtic in that centenary season and beyond.

Like Ronnie Simpson and Pat Stanton before him and Lubomir Moravcik since, he showed that age is no barrier to doing well in the East End of Glasgow.

It is fair to say the £1.3 million acquisition of Jonny Hayes from Aberdeen last week has also been rather underwhelming for many Celtic supporters.

They are hoping to see Brendan Rodgers bring in expensive and glamorous foreign imports who can help them make an even greater impact in the Champions League in the new season and possibly even reach the knockout stages this summer.

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Hayes, who turns 30 at the start of next month, is certainly an outstanding professional who Rodgers knows well having worked with him at Reading at the start of his coaching career.

But will the Republic of Ireland internationalist really make much of a difference to them domestically never mind in Europe? A fair few remain to be convinced.

Stark, who has just been appointed manager at ambitious Lowland League club East Kilbride, has no doubt the winger will win them around just as he himself did following his own move from Aberdeen to Celtic 30 years ago.

“I suppose there is a comparison there with Jonny Hayes and myself,” he said. “He has played with Aberdeen, who have been Celtic’s biggest rivals, for the last few seasons and has now moved to Parkhead.

“It is a real double whammy for Aberdeen. They haven’t only lost one of their best players, he has joined their main opponents. I certainly don’t have any doubts Jonny will do well at Celtic.

“The grumbling there has been about his signing, about him ‘only’ costing around £1 million, happened with me to an extent. You are termed ‘a bargain buy’. But I was able to overcome any scepticism there was early on, play a part in the team doing well and enjoy success.

“I am sure Jonny will do the same. We are different types of players obviously. He is a bit quicker than I was. But his whole package is good. He is a real out-and-out winger because he takes people on, he can score, he can finish, but he works hard for the team as well.

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“That is what will have interested Brendan I am sure. Everyone has to work hard for the team under him. He also likes wide players. They play a big part in his teams. I think Jonny will maybe surprise quite a few folk.”

Stark certainly did. In fact, he made an instant impression. He scored the only goal of the first Old Firm game of the season against reigning Scottish champions Rangers at Celtic Park in August. That was a result which would prove the catalyst for an outstanding campaign.

McNeill’s men would go on complete an historic and glorious Premier League and Scottish Cup double in the 1987/88 campaign.

It was Stark’s deflected shot from a Joe Miller corner which Frank McAvennie would turn into the net from a few yards to seal a famous 2-1 win over Dundee United in the last minute of the cup final in May.

The player had worked under Sir Alex Ferguson at both St. Mirren and Aberdeen and flourished under his expert guidance. However, he found working under McNeill, who had just returned for his second spell as manager at Celtic, to be every bit as enjoyable.

“Fergie and big Billy were quite similar in that they were both great personalities,” he said. “They had a confidence as a result of the success they had had. For all that Fergie could be hard on his players, and he was on a weekly basis, he loved a laugh. Big Billy did as well. There were parallels there.”

Stark felt that McNeill managed to defuse the

“The age thing could have been a problem,” he said. “Big Billy dealt with it very cleverly. He handled my signing well,” he said. “He was getting a deal for Andy Walker tied up around about the same time. Andy was a young up-and-coming goalscorer. He put that out first. I joined on the back of that.

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“I was well-known in Scottish football and would hope that I had a reasonable reputation. But I could sense the slight negativity there was about signing a player of my age. Billy very kindly said that he wished he had signed me in his first spell at the club.”

Stark added: “I certainly felt the need to do well. You get that at any club of course, but it was magnified because it was a high-profile club. I wouldn’t say I was taking a step up because Aberdeen had dominated. But there was pressure, there were expectations.

“Fortunately, we managed to have a successful season – after a poor start. My first game at Celtic Park was against Arsenal in a pre-season friendly. We lost 5-1. But the following week we went down to Greenock and beat Morton 4-0 in our first league game I managed to score. That got me up and running. I am sure Jonny won’t look back once he gets playing and scores a goal or two.”