Following defeat to Rangers in the 1992 Ne'erday fixture things
just got worse in the next game. The less said about a 2:1 home
defeat to a less than mighty Hearts side the better. Suffice to
say that Celtic only scored in the last minute. It was desperate.
The league race was over as far as Celtic were concerned. In fact,
as things stood it was going to be a struggle to qualify for Europe
unless things turned around, and fast.
did start to improve somewhat after that. Two points were picked
up at McDairmid with a solid 4:2 win, and although another point
was dropped in a truly terrible 0:0 at Fir Park, January finished
with a league win at Dunfermline. Passage to the 4th round of
the cup with Coyne and Creaney both scoring hattricks in a 6:0
win over Montrose.
afterwards Liam Brady made his most astute move in the transfer
market, trading Cascarino for former Motherwell captain Tom Boyd.
This proved to be the most telling contribution that Brady would
make in his time at Celtic Park. On his departure Cascarino made
the memorable statement that Celtic played too much football to
suit his style of play!
next two home games saw Celtic chalk up back-to-back league victories
for the first time in three months, the footballing giants of
Falkirk and Airdrie being the victims. But these two victories
sparked off a winning sequence that defied all the odds. Celtic
proceeded to win the next 12 games; better than that, they did
it with a style of play that delighted the eye of even the hardest
Road, Tyncastle and Ibrox were all visited, and on each occasion
Celtic left with maximum points. The stars of this show were Boyd
- who not only brought some much needed stability to the defence
but also provided a real attacking threat with his overlapping
runs down the wing - and, Collins, who was benefiting most from
the arrival of Boyd, which allowed him to concentrate his talents
more on attacking the opposition goal rather than defending his
own. Gerry Creaney, too, had come into a rich vein of form, scoring
freely, while Nicholas was the outstanding forward in the league
throughout the season. Most of all there was McStay. The Maestro
was playing some of the best football of his career, for both
club and country. He had recovered from his pre-season knee injury
and returned better than ever. Even his goal touch had returned.
Without him Celtic wouldn't have been playing anywhere near the
level they achieved, and Scotland certainly wouldn't have qualified
for Euro '92.
the team playing so well hopes were high that the season might
be salvaged with the lifting of the Scottish Cup. This would provide
not only some much needed silverware and an excuse for a celebration,
but also a passport to Europe. Montrose, Morton and Dundee United
had all been beaten on the way to the semi-final, where the luck
of the draw saw the Old Firm paired together prior to the final
for the third year running. It being a semi final Hampden was
the venue, which was a bit of a nightmare because in 1992 the
national stadium was still only two thirds covered, with very
few seats and, just to make matters worse, part of the west terracing
(the Rangers end) was being renovated. Actually this last fact
was the cause of some laughter because it was thought that with
Hampden being a geographically even split, they would get fewer
tickets. But the SFA had other ideas. Rather than upset that nice
Mr. Murray, they promptly reduced our allocation by awarding Rangers
the entire North Enclosure. Favouritism? You decide.
the 2:0 Ibrox victory fresh in the mind hopes were high that this
might be the night we turned the corner. But...
The day of the game was the most miserable Spring day imaginable,
with driving rain and a howling gale. Every Celtic fan with a
ticket knew they were destined to be soaked to the skin. Nice
mood to go to the match in isn't it? Once the game itself started
it became clear that a non football factor would dictate the pattern
of play. The wind was howling straight down the pitch towards
the Rangers end. Whatever team was attacking that end could launch
an attack with great ease; the opposition were going to struggle
to even cross the halfway line.
5 minutes it appeared as though Celtic had a crucial break. Robertson
of Rangers was red carded for a crude tackle on Joe Mille. With
85 minutes to play in hard conditions the game now appeared to
be in our favour, but playing against the wind Celtic were finding
it difficult get anywhere near their opponents' goal. Pat Bonner
was not being threatened much, but with the wind behind them,
long-range shots from the Rangers midfield players and forwards
were a constant danger.
five minutes to go until half time things looked fine. The teams
would go in 0:0 and with the wind at their backs in the second
half the fans were confident that Celtic would be too powerful
for their old adversaries. But then, in one of those moments of
comic cuts defending that blighted this particular decade, Brian
O'Neil collected the ball just in front of his back four. He dwelt
on it too long and was robbed of possession. Rangers took off
down the right, crossed it , and with Celtic short on cover McCoist
(him again) shot into the corner of the net. Disaster.
second half developed into a carbon copy of the first. The team
shooting with the wind were camped in the opposition half, and
the chances were coming. Both McStay and Nicholas hit the woodwork.
Galloway, possessor of a fierce shot in clement conditions, was
firing them in from all distances, and with the wind behind him
he was constantly forcing Goram to make save after save. Yet nothing
would go in.
the dying minutes of the tie, as Celtic frantically pushed everything
forward, the ball broke to Collins in the box. He had a clear
shot at the goal. Suddenly, Brown appeared and clearly scythed
the Celtic man down, making no contact whatsoever with the ball.
The referee waved play on. Having already sent a Rangers player
off he clearly wasn't about to award a penalty against them. In
that moment the cup slipped away.
sense of anger, injustice and frustration can still be felt by
those unlucky enough to have been in the Celtic end that night.
And, if truth be told, Liam Brady was never the same again. That
night seemed to send a message to him; It doesn't matter how good
your team plays, you will not beat Rangers.
had that door to Europe slammed firmly shut, getting second place
in the league was now the only option. But in the aftermath of
the cup exit Celtic's away form stuttered badly. Points were dropped
at Airdrie (the other cup finalists), and St. Mirren, a team who
had already been relegated by the time Celtic visited. The game
at Love Street was actually memorable for two things. Firstly,
the St. Mirren goal was scored by John Hewitt, who had joined
the Buds from Celtic during the season. In his three years at
Parkhead he hadnt scored a single goal. The player himself was
probably scarcely aware of the irony, nor indeed that it was yet
another nip on the nuts from lady luck. Even more astonishing
was the source of Celtic's equaliser, none other than that goal
machine Tom Boyd!
With the dropping of these points Celtic had allowed Hearts a
chance to grab second spot so it all came down the last day of
the season. A home game against Hibs certainly shouldn't have
been insurmountable. But true to the nature of the times Celtic
contrived not only to lose 2:1, but also to give them a goal of
start thanks to an own goal. The tormenting consolation goal came
in the last minute.
one game seemed to sum up the nature of the club under Brady.
When there was no pressure and nothing to play for Celtic could
play football to beat allcomers. Add some pressure and a tangible
prize and the legs turned to jelly. To add to the misery of the
day it looked as though the fans were on the verge of losing our
best player and captain. The five year contract signed by McStay
in the heady days of December '87 was on the verge of expiring.
The club had made him an offer, but he wanted to get Euro '92
out of the way before making his mind up.
No trophies for the third season in a row, failure to qualify
for Europe again and struggling to keep quality players. It promised
to be a long summer.