Glasgow born outside left Adam McLean played junior football for Whiteinch Oaklea Juveniles in 1912, Broomhill YMCA in 1913, Anderston Benburb in 1914 and Anderston Thornbank in 1915 before he signed for Glasgow Celtic in January 1917, making his Scottish League debut on the 20th of that month in a 1-1 draw at Dumbarton. He was still a teenager at this point and he was introduced slowly to the first team, with just a handful of matches in his first season.
Making himself a regular first team starter, the stocky, strong and wonderful dribbler McLean went on to terrorise defenders with his rampaging and mazy runs. McLean was a much loved traditional tricky winger whose abundance of skill made him a great Celtic Park favourite. He was also a superb crosser of the ball and time after time McLean’s runs and crosses provided the ammunition for the great Jimmy McGrory to fire home another goal. McGrory’s achievements were in part due to the quality of those around him, with Adam McLean being a chief contributor to McGrory’s phenomenal success. McLean was not however just a supplier of goals as he was more than capable of cutting in off his wing and riffling the ball into the net.
McLean was to be a mainstay in the first team squad for much of the 1920’s and a bulwark in the side which helped to build a foundation for the club that led to some great silverware. McLean was capped four times by his country between October 1925, when he scored on his debut in a 3-0 win over Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff, and April 1927, when he was part of Scotland’s team beaten 2-1 in front of 111,000 at Hampden Park, and played 408 matches for Celtic, scoring 138 goals for The Bhoys. He won three Scottish League Championships in 1919, 1922 and 1926, and three Scottish Cups in 1923, 1925 and 1927, before he was transferred to Sunderland in the summer of 1928, a reluctant move by McLean stemming from a dispute over contract terms. He also played 3 times for The Scottish League between October 1923, when he made his debut in a 1-0 win over The Irish League in Belfast, and March 1928, when they were heavily defeated by The Football League at Ibrox.
He made his Football League debut against Blackburn Rovers in August 1928, scoring in a 3-1 victory and missed only 2 matches as Sunderland finished 4th in his first season, however his appearances became less frequent and after 16 goals in 70 appearances for The Wearsiders he returned up north to play for Aberdeen in 1930 where he ended up playing a major part in putting an end to the Aberdeen ‘match-fixing’ scandal of 1931 when he refused to take part and blew the whistle on the racket. He scored 26 goals in 85 appearances for The Dons in a three season spell at Pittodrie and finished his playing career at Partick Thistle, who he joined in 1933.
He later enjoyed stints in coaching football in Norway (1939) and then late on in his career he became the assistant manager at Partick Thistle (1962).