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so farewell then...

allan stubbs

So farewell then Alan Stubbs. After six years at Celtic Park he leaves with two league winners medals, a league cup winners medal, two serious bouts of cancer and the best wishes of the majority of Celtic fans.

Some may feel that he should have stayed to fight the good fight with Celtic, rather than replace the 93 year old Gough, wear a blue shirt and listen to the insane rantings of Wattie and Erchie. But, with the best will in the world, we certainly didn't miss him too much last season and he's no spring chicken.

Stubbs was a big news signing in the summer of 1996. A player who had been linked with Man. Utd. and Spurs, among others, and an England hopeful into the bargain. Tommy Burns had landed a real catch.

3.5 million from Bolton saw him sign on the line, but no sooner was the ink dry than he got a taste of what to expect from the media pack up here.

The next day the papers were gleefully suggesting that Stubbs could be banned for life before kicking a ball for Celtic. His crime? Allegedly using a non Fifa registered agent.

In the end of course the story was a classic non-story; the agent was fined a nominal sum, no action was even threatened against Stubbs or Celtic, but that hadn't stopped the press from camping outside his door and attempting to upset him and his eight months pregnant wife.

Things weren't to improve quickly either. Stubbs had been signed to replace Yogi Hughes, who had performed far above expectations the previous season. TB figured that a repeat of that season wasn't very likely, and a more permanent solution was needed. Enter stage left Alan Stubbs.

Season 96-97 was anticipated like no other. 95-96 had seen Celtic play their best football for nearly a decade. We had only lost four games in all competitions, but worryingly three of those had been to the huns, who had not only given us our only league defeat but also put us out of both cups. Van Hooijdonk had been a revelation, Thom had done well (when fit) and Cadette had been signed at the tail end of the season. Add to that the close season signing of Di Canio and it was hard to see anyone foiling that attack ...as long as things went smoothly.

But of course this is Celtic in the 90s. 'Smoothly' wasn't in the vocabulary. Oh and just to add some spice to the mix, did I mention that the huns were going for 9 in a row?

Day 1 Pittodrie. We take the lead in the first half and threaten to overwhelm the Dons, but a mixture of poor finishing and bad luck keeps the score at 1-0. Midway into the second half Duncan Shearer gets between our central defenders, Stubbs tackles, the ref. gives a dubious penalty. Better yet he gets out his red card!

The Dons duly score, and then take the lead (Radio Scotland's commentator was so over come he actually said "Celtic's season is in tatters!", this is the first day of the season remember). The papers had a jolly time with that.

Come to think of it his first season couldn't have been much worse; the huns won the 9, we were duffed out of the league cup in disastrous fashion at Tynecastle, and beaten by the less than mighty Falkirk in the cup semi. Add to that his numerous injuries and some less than scintillating form (not helped by TBs increasingly eccentric tactics) and the only word that springs to mind is misery. Writ large.

That summer saw the perm breeze into Celtic Park. His main contribution to Celtic was some organisation. Under him we played a rigid 4-4-2. Stubbs was paired initially with Boyd, but in October Rieper arrived and the defence was as solid as it ever had been (faint praise I know).

Reiper's arrival allowed Stubbs a bit more breathing space, and he finally began to look like a player. His confidence in defence improved, and with that he began to pass the ball just like TB had promised. Accurate 40 - 50 yard passes were certainly not beyond him, and he even began to get the odd goal, most notably a last gasp equaliser against the huns at Celtic Park.

That goal proved to be crucial. In the end we won the league by two points, with an inferior goal difference, so if that goal hadn't gone in... It doesn't even bear thinking about.

On the day the league was finally clinched Stubbs gave a memorable on field interview. He commented that over the past few months the team had been called losers, and bottlers. Looking straight into the camera he said "But I'll tell what we are. We're champions", and he ran off to join the party.

The next season, under Dr Jo, was probably his best. Which in a way was surprising given the turmoil of the time. Not only did his defensive partner Reiper miss most of the season with the injury that would ultimately end his career, but he also lost most of the other defenders too! There can't have been too many defending champions who have had to call on two loan players to help them retain their crown, but we drafted in goalkeeper Tony Warner (goalie in the 5-1 game, nice one), and Scott Marshall (culprit in the 0-3 debacle). No surprise really that we failed to win anything. But Stubbs had established himself as a mainstay of the team.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about his time at Celtic is his low goal tally. It's surprising because he was very assured with the ball at his feet, as his goal at Ibrox that season proved. Rangers failed to properly clear a corner, it fell to Stubbs outside the box, and having had time to balance himself he easily swung the ball into the top corner.

For all that though, he could still come unstuck in defence, as we also saw in that game, letting the less than impressive Tomato head in the equaliser.

But the end of that season soon gave Stubbs bigger fish to fry than mere form. He was heading for serious tabloid pasting after the cup final. He collected his losers medal, before turning to the huns support and made a Gareth Hunt style hand gesture that suggested they should all go and have nice cup of coffee. Unfortunately this was all captured in glorious Technicolor and broadcast to the nation.

However, right after that he was required to give a urine sample and something wasn't quite right. At first the rumour was that one of the players had failed the test, but soon the truth emerged. Stubbs had testicular cancer. Meaningless hand gestures were quickly scrubbed from the tabloid agenda.

The silver lining to the not inconsiderable cloud of cancer was that he missed out on the Barnes fiasco. OFM's arrival coincided with Stubbs' return, and he slotted in quite nicely between Mjallby and Joos. But in late October came the news that nobody wanted; he'd had a relapse.

Celtic immediately offered him a one year extension to his contract to ease the pressure on him. It remained unsigned but was always available to him. His recovery this time was far quicker, allowing him to come back toward the end of the season and fight for a cup final spot.

He has said that once he heard Everton were in for him that was it, and that's fair enough. We can hardly rejoice at the likes of Neil Lennon getting the chance to play for the team he supported, and then criticise Stubbs for doing the exact came thing.

We wish him all the best with Everton, although that is tempered with our feelings for his new management team.

But most of all we all hope that the biggest health worries he faces in the future will be of a more mundane nature.

 

AB Murdoch