Dateline: summer 1992. Celtic have now gone three full seasons
without a trophy, we have an ever increasing overdraft, the most
unpopular living chief executive of any company that ever existed
(Robert Maxwell had died the previous November) and our club captain
and best player had seen out his contract and was placed on the
transfer list. "Happy Days Are Here Again" was not a
popular choice on the juke boxes of Celtic minded pubs.
those who took an interest in Scotland there was at least Euro
'92 to look forward to. Scotland had finally managed to qualify
for the finals of this tournament - no mean feet given that until
1996 only 8 teams qualified for each final tournament. Of course
Scotland's luck being what it is they got drawn in a group with
the then European Champions (Holland) and the reigning World Champions
(Germany). The other team in the group was the remnants of the
splintered USSR, calling itself the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent
States as opposed to the insurance company).
squad selection had raised a few eyebrows. Since being dumped
out of the World Cup in 1990 interest in the national squad had
fallen away badly, attendances were down, and many established
players had announced that they no longer wanted to be selected
(Bett, Judas and Gough - spot the club connection?). Indeed un-established
players went as far as to say that if they weren't first choice
they didn't even want considered (David Robertson - that club
the aftermath of all this Paul McStay was chosen as captain and
players who had previously never even considered winning a cap
were now being selected, such as Brian Irvine. In spite of all
this Scotland soon found themselves in with a great chance of
qualifying. So guess what happened? All those players who had
stuck two fingers up to Roxburgh now had no small amount of egg
on their faces. To his eternal discredit Roxburgh allowed Gough
to return, and even gave him the captaincy. As if that wasn't
bad enough he chose to take, as his strikers, McCoist (fair enough,
he'd always said he was happy to play from Scotland, although
that was probably just to annoy Souness), Durie and Duncan Ferguson!
Meanwhile at Celtic we had Tommy Coyne, Gerry Creaney and Charlie
all scoring 20+ and not even being considered (Although, in fairness
Charlie did his cause no good by becoming one of the first choice
or no choice brigade). Even more galling was the omission of John
Collins. It wasn't as if we were snowed under with left- sided
midfielders, a fact curiously admitted by Roxburgh after he'd
announced his squad.
Jock Stein once said the Scotland didn't mind losing "..if
we go down fighting, and we down in the right way." Which
was basically the script for the first two games. Against Holland
we not only withstood a team containing the Milan trio of Gullit,
Van Basten and Rijkard, we give them a few scares too. But 15
minutes from the end we gave Gullit time to pick a cross and Bergkamp
scored. Stars for Scotland that day were Gough and McStay.
Maestro had taken his club form to the championships and was a
stand out in every game. No mean feat given that he was up against
the likes of Rijkard. Against Germany McStay put team mates one-on-one
with Illgner three times in the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately
the team mates in question were Dave McPherson and the most over
rated player to ever kick a ball, Gary McAllister. After missing
the last of these chances Scotland almost immediately went 1:0
down, eventually losing 2:0, the second being a ridiculously deflected
cross that crept in at the back post.
So we were out with one game still to play and, typically, we
won it 3:0. McStay capped a fine tournament with a typical 25
yard daisy cutter, McClair broke the habit of the lifetime and
got an international goal, and the most over rated player to ever
kick a ball scored a penalty at the end. This last goal meant
that the CIS now had an inferior goal difference to Germany who
qualified in second spot.
All that was left to do was have a good laugh as England flounced
out against Sweden, and imagine what sort of team Celtic would
have had if McStay had decided to leave.
Happily, he stayed. He got a few offers to go abroad (Wenger tried
to sign him for Monaco) and at least one from England (Souness
at Liverpool) but maybe not the volume that he'd hoped for. Added
to that the fact that he'd just become a father, and it's not
hard to see why staying put didn't seem such a bad idea. Unfortunately
his was the only signature gathered during the close season.
held on to the maestro, and given the standard of football that
the previous season had provided, optimism was high that Brady
could build a solid, entertaining team around the core of Mowbray,
Boyd, McStay, and Collins. Up front was still something of a concern
though; Creaney was a dangerous forward when the mood struck him,
but the mood often didn't. Charlie had been magnificent the previous
season, but clearly he wasn't a long term option, and Coyne, despite
an impressive scoring record, seemed to be having difficulty convincing
Brady that he could do the job.
the board room front things were as settled as always. Rumours
that the previous season's shirt sponsor - Peoples car dealer
Brian Gilda - was about to be wheeled into the boardroom could
barely have been wider of the mark. Not only did he not appear
in the boardroom, but his logo wasn't even going to appear on
the shirts anymore. In fact no logo would. The board couldn't
find a sponsor willing to pay the amount they wanted, and so we
had a season of unpolluted hoops. The press attempted to stir
this up, but were oblivious to the fact that for once the fans
were pleased with the boards incompetence. Shirt sales went through
the roof. It was a move of unintentional marketing genius.
domestic season kicked off at Tynecastle, and certainly gave us
a taste of things to come. It was a truly hopeless game. Utter
rubbish from start to finish. Fittingly it was settled with a
risible o.g. from Levein. However two valuable points had been
taken from a notoriously difficult venue.
The next game was even trickier; Pittodrie, where Brady had first
been made aware of exactly how much work he had to do the previous
season. This game had some added spice given the identity of the
Dons number 4 ; Roy Aitken, a bear in sheep's clothing. It was
a typically robust encounter that ended 1:1. A creditable point
gained, although we had many chances to take both. But the funniest
aspect was watching Aitken go into tackles with the Aberdeen fans
roaring him on, and the Celtic fans bellowing their disapproval.
Changed days indeed.
three points out of four from a seriously tricky start to the
league campaign. Indeed, of our first 6 league fixtures only two
were at home. The Celtic View was beside itself with rage. It
went front page with a comparison of our first four games, and
Rangers' first four, making itself look even more parochial and
ridiculous than usual. The impossible dream.
first home fixture was a diabolical 1:1 draw with one of the worst,
most irritating and generally despised teams ever to grace the
Scottish league. Tommy McLean's Motherwell were negative, cynical
and boring. And that was their good points. And always, ALWAYS,
they managed to get points from us.
During this game the pattern for the season was established. This
was the season of the lost lead. By the time November rolled around
we had contrived to throw away the lead no less than 9 times.
And so it was that after Mowbray had given us the lead Cooper's
only decent cross of the game caused utter panic in the sieve
and gifted a thoroughly undeserved goal to the Steal Men.
was at this point that Celtic Park's revolving door swung into
over drive. Out went Chris Morris and Derek Whyte, in came Andy
Payton, Rudi Vata, and £1.5m man Stuart Slater. The departure
of both Morris and Whyte was somewhat curious given that the defence
towards the end of the previous season had had a very settled
look about it, and there were certainly worse back fours than
Morris, Mowbray, Whyte and Boyd. Such as McNally, Mowbray, Gillespie
and Boyd. In other words we appeared to trade down.
for the arrivals; Vata had been touted for weeks in the View thanks
to the MI6 aspect to the story (Vata and six of his international
team mates defected after a European championship game in Paris
the previous March), and the fact that he would be the first Albanian
to play in British football. Payton had been linked with us for
quite a while - Big Billy was rumoured to have made an offer but
he chose to join Middlesborough instead. But the big one was Slater.
Slater had been built up in the press as a Maestro mark II. McStay
should have sued. Slater became emblematic for all the things
that were wrong with Celtic. The player that had promised so much
at West Ham failed to deliver on every level at Celtic Park.
the day that Vata, Payton and Slater arrived Brady confidently
told the assembled hacks "This is my Celtic team". He
would have plenty of occasions, over the coming months, to eat
those badly chosen words.
wins over both Dundee teams at Celtic Park set us up nicely for
the first Old Firm game at Ibrox. Despite having drawn two games
we found ourselves at the top of the league thanks to surprise
result when Rangers went to Dens Park, Billy Dodds scored a hattrick
as Dundee triumphed 4-3. At Ibrox the game was played in a "traditional"
manner. Which is to say that it closely resembled the days when
village teams 60 strong would compete in an organised fight over
part of a pig and call it football. The first half ended goalless
thanks to the far side linesman, who incorrectly flagged Trevor
Steven as he swept the ball into the net. The signs weren't good,
we hadn't really settled, and the forward line of Creaney and
Payton wasn't clicking, but the second half started well. McStay
and Collins got a hold in the middle, and soon we were in the
lead. McNally progressed down the right, unchallenged for about
30 yards, his attempted cross looped of Brown and landed at the
feet and Creaney, who the took shot perfectly. But as has been
said previously this was the season of the lost lead. Right after
we scored McNally picked up a knock and had to leave the field.
His replacement was the less than robust Brian O'Neil. Unfamiliar
at right back he allowed Huistra to get to the bye line and cross
for the original Kebab King, Durrant, to score.
thrown away one point against a group of huns, we decide to repeat
the trick the following week against Airdrie (the real thing bigotry
wise). So bad were we in this game, we actually needed the refs
help again. This time the man with the whistle missed the Maestro
clearing the ball off the line with his hand in the last minute.
Hilariously enough Airdrie's chief thug Sammy Conn actually got
sent off for protesting too loudly to the ref about not giving
the dropped point meant that we dropped from first spot to fourth!
Unhappily this was a league position that we would have to become
accustomed to in the following months and years.