• Tommy Burns
    Tommy Burns

    1992 - 1994 (Manager)

Killie FC

Tommy Burns

Tommy Burns was manager of Killie between 1992 & 1994. He was a Scotland international, winning eight caps between 1981 and 1988, while a Celtic player. He very sadly died in 2008, aged just 51.


ON the evening of St Andrews Day 1989, the long drawn-out saga concerning the change of directors at Kilmarnock FC finally came to an end.

Kilmarnock were struggling in the Second Division, but the new chairman of the club, Bobby Fleeting vowed that the new board would take the club back to where it belonged — the Premier Division. 

Manager Jim Fleeting and his assistants Jim McSherry and Frank Coulston were given a little more finance to work with, and on December 9, Kilmarnock shocked the world of Scottish football by signing Celtic legend Tommy Burns for a fee reported to be in the region of £50,000.

Jim Fleeting stated Tommy’s experience on the field would be invaluable, and that he would like him to use it at the club not only as a player, but also by having an input into the coaching and running of the team.

On December 16 — his 33rd birthday — Tommy Burns made his Kilmarnock debut in a league game at Methil against East Fife. It would be an unbelievable day of bizarre events for him and his new club.

It all began to go wrong when the Kilmarnock bus broke down at Coatbridge, and because of a blizzard and heavy snowfall in Ayrshire, its replacement was held up from reaching Coatbridge in time.

Some players used their own cars and taxis were hired to complete the journey to Fife, with the weather changing from snow to torrential monsoon-like rain en route. Eventually, Kilmarnock managed to get enough players to Methil for the game to kick off 13 minutes late.

There was a few hundred Killie fans who managed to battle their way to the game, but for all of the 915 crowd, the game was a nightmare to watch, with the chilly freezing wind and torrential rain persisting relentlessly.

After 79 minutes had been played, the referee abandoned the game due to the waterlogged state of the pitch, and also because several of the players were suffering badly from hypothermia in the wintry conditions. East Fife were leading 2-1 at the time.

The following Saturday, December 23, Tommy made his official debut alongside another new signing, John Sludden, and they helped Kilmarnock to a 3-0 home win over Arbroath — Willie Watters scoring all three goals — the first hat trick in a league game by a Kilmarnock player since January 1980.

Tommy went on to help Kilmarnock win promotion behind Brechin City in that 1989-90 season, and they also won the Ayrshire FA Challenge Cup.

A fifth place finish in the first division in 1990-91 followed, and in the 1991-92 season, hopes were high that promotion could be won. But after a 3-1 home defeat from Partick Thistle in early April 1992, manager Jim Fleeting was sacked, and Tommy Burns was asked to be caretaker manager.

In his first five games in charge, Kilmarnock won every one without losing a goal — the fifth game being a 4-0 win over Ayr United in the Ayrshire FA Challenge Cup final.

The supporters had voiced their support for him to get the job at each of the five games — the most vociferous being in the last two games, a 1-0 win at Hamilton and the Ayr drubbing. Needless to say, after the cup win, he was appointed.

Along with his assistant manager Billy Stark, Tommy led Kilmarnock to promotion (and another Ayrshire FA Challenge Cup win) in 1992-93, going up as runners-up to Raith Rovers.

Back in the Premier Division for the first time in 10 years, he helped Kilmarnock maintain that status in a memorable 1993-94 season, which also contained another Ayrshire FA Challenge Cup win.

He also was robbed of taking them to a Scottish FA Cup final in this season. After a 0-0 draw with Rangers in the semi-final, Kilmarnock went ahead in the replay, but a very contentious refereeing decision allowed Rangers an equaliser, and they eventually won 2-1.

In July 1994 however, he left the club to re-join Celtic as manager. It was, admittedly, a bitter parting, mainly due to the illegal and underhand way Celtic FC had lured him away.

It could have been done a lot more easily and respectably, but Fergus McCann, the then Celtic chairman, had little time for correct procedures, or clubs such as Kilmarnock.

Despite the acrimonious way he left, Tommy Burns was still held in the highest esteem by all true Kilmarnock supporters.

Alongside those who took part in the takeover saga, he was one of the leading and major contributors in a period of the club’s history that will forever be remembered.

He was an inspiring figure on and off the field, and carried on the great work his predecessor Jim Fleeting had started.

It was the infectious attitude and enthusiasm of Tommy that the supporters loved. He gave us back a passion and belief in our club.

Tommy Burns Factfile: 
1956: Born December 16 in Glasgow 
1975: Joins Celtic, having started his career with Maryhill Juniors 
1988: Influential member of Celtic side that wins Premier Division championship and Scottish Cup 
1989: December - agrees £50,000 move to Kilmarnock
1992: Handed the Kilmarnock manager's job on a caretaker basis 
1993: Guides Kilmarnock into the Premier Division
1994: Leads Kilmarnock to the Scottish Cup semi-finals 
1994: Leaves Kilmarnock on July 11 and is appointed Celtic manager by Fergus McCann the following day
1995: Signs Pierre van Hooijdonk. The Dutchman scores on his debut and then helps Celtic win Scottish Cup final
1996: Celtic lose just one game in the Premier Division but still fail to stop Rangers winning the title 
1997: January - Burns is fined and banned from the touchline for a year after trackside flare-up in an Old Firm derby. The ban is later cut on appeal
On May 2, Burns is released from his contract early by Celtic. Joins up with Kenny Dalglish as assistant at Newcastle
1998: Leaves St James' Park after the dismissal of Dalglish. Appointed manager of Reading
1999: Sacked by the Royals after a poor run of results
2000: Re-joins Dalglish at Parkhead. Takes over youth development officer role 
2002: March 13 - Burns is confirmed as Berti Vogts' assistant on a part-time basis. 
March 27 - Scotland suffer 5-0 thrashing at the hands of France in their first game
2004: October 13 - Scotland only draw 1-1 with Moldova
November 1 - Vogts resigns as Scotland manager but Burns' position as assistant remains unaffected
November 4 - Burns is appointed caretaker manager for the friendly against Sweden 
November 17 - With Burns in charge, Scotland are defeated 4-1 by Sweden
December 2 - Walter Smith is named as new Scotland manager, and keeps Burns as assistant manager
2005: June 1 - Gordon Strachan takes over as Celtic manager. Burns named first-team coach. 
2006: March 29 - Celtic announce Burns faces treatment for skin cancer 
May 16: Announces he has been given the all-clear by doctors after having two lumps removed from his leg. 
2007: January 18 - Eight days after Smith quits as Scotland manager, Burns resigns as assistant manager and commits himself to working full-time for Celtic.
2008: March 10 - Celtic announce Burns will begin receiving treatment for skin cancer again. 
May 15 - Celtic announce Burns has died at the age of 51.

May 17 - Killie host Falkirk (above) and have a minutes applause for Tommy Burns, almost 14 years after his departure from Rugby Park. 

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