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don't look back in anger celtic in the 90s
season 93-94: part 1

If you have a sofa - hide behind it now, because here comes season 93-94. The year of bucket seats in the Jungle, Lou Macari and, of course, Wayne 'Bertie' Biggins. And if those three haven't got you reaching for the pills then read on...

After two barren seasons manager Brady finally put his finger on the problem. It wasn't that he'd signed a bunch of expensive duds (Cascarino, Gillespie, Slater et al), or that, tactically, even wet paper bags proved hazardous. No, it was his backroom staff. So he replaced the lot.

Bobby Lennox was retired peacefully - as was Benny Rooney - while Mick Martin went off to do a bit of booze smuggling (allegedly). In their places came Tom McAdam and Frank Connor. Installed as assistant manager was the man AC Milan fans called La Squala - the shark - Joe Jordan, fresh from a brief spell away from football as manager of Hearts.

On the player front we were moving and shaking as well. The vast bulk of Steve Fulton was sold off to Bolton, where Bruce Rioch took one look at his new midfielder and was so impressed that Fulton played the grand total of one game before being stuck on the first train home.

Joe Miller also left, back to Aberdeen. It was staggering to think of how his career had stalled, and it certainly wasn't all his fault. His signing had been one of major features of the Centenary year; we'd fought off the likes Manchester United to sign him, he was a major young talent, and his signing appeared to mark a new era for the club. He was one of the few signings we'd made that we didn't have to make through absolute necessity. But it all went so wrong. For a start Big Billy insisted on playing him on the wing. The logic appeared to be "he's small, of course he's a winger". But he never played there for Aberdeen. He'd always been played through the middle, but after Celtic he never got to play there again. Even Aberdeen stuck him out on the wing on his return. The ultimate low for him at Celtic was being brought on as a sub by McNeill during a League Cup semi-final, and then being promptly hauled off again. The high was obviously scoring the only goal in the 1989 final against the huns.

Staying put in the summer of 1993 was John Collins. He'd originally refused to sign another contract, but, faced with a surprising lack of other offers he stayed.

There were two new arrivals. Pat McGinaly signed for 400,000 from Hibs. The fee was decided by tribunal and Hibs were not amused by the valuation. The other new signing was a little known player from Ireland called Paul Byrne. The previous season he'd won all three Player of the Year awards in the League of Ireland.

A bizarre feature of the squad was the number of goalies we had, which amounted to five in total. Bonner, Marshall, Stewart Kerr (so far so familiar), Shay Given and Brad Friedel. Guess which two we would release by the end of the season?

Meanwhile, in the boardroom things continued much as they had ever done (consistent was the one thing the board were). The group attempting to oust the board - the so called 'Rebels' - had been gearing up during the summer. Indeed Fergus McCann was so confident of taking over he even asked the club for permission to visit Celtic Park with an architect to get some measurements for the new stadium! His request was refused, so they simply started measuring Janefield street.

In response to the accusations McCann and friends levelled at the club and the directors (Michael Kelly, for example, was accused of being 'evasive' - who would have thought it?) Chairman Kevin Kelly issued a memorable statement in which he slated the Rebels for 'reheating this cold kale at a time that can only be disruptive to the team.' No we didn't have a clue what kale was either, which just added to the allround confusion.

Oh, and of course there was the small matter of an organised boycott. Season ticker holders were urged not to renew their books (they didn't), and pay at the gate fans were urged not to turn up (they did, but probably regretted it).

To raise spirits the board hired a mascot called 'Vince the Parrot', veteran of the diabolical 'Jungle's Last Stand' fancy dress competition. It was a typical board solution. The problem was that the team and the stadium were seriously sub standard; the solution? Hire a man in a parrot costume. Stands to reason really when you stop and think about it doesn't it?.

Across the city the huns had been flashing some of the cash they had raked in during their Champions League run. For the record breaking sum of 2 million Duncan Ferguson had been prized away from Tannadice. This would see Rangers disappear off into the sunset leaving the rest of Scottish football eating dust - according to the papers anyway. Gosh, that does sound familiar.

There was a major sartorial change that close season, and those cheeky pranksters in the Umbro design department had done it again. Out went the tasteful, sponsorship- free hoops, and in came a tacky, wide, QPR style horror show, with double glazing sponsorship splattered all over it. Too awful for words.

A pre-season tour of Italy could barely have gone worse. Two games and two stuffings; 3:0 to Atalanta and 3:1 to Napoli. Our home pre-season 'glamour' tie was a 1:1 against Sheffield Wednesday (I did warn you this was going to be painful reading).

Basically the signs were there that this was going to be a real hummer of a season, and, as it turned out the signs were not wrong.

We kicked off for real at that home of total football Fir Park, although when I say we kicked off it would be more realistic to say that Motherwell kicked off at 3:00, and we kicked off at 3:40. With 30 minutes to go we were 2:0 down and not showing any signs of recovery. Then we won a corner. Motherwell couldn't clear their lines and a crisp shot from, of all people, Stuart Slater found the corner of the net. Of all the Celtic players only Pat Bonner would have had longer odds against him. We drew level quickly at the start of the second half when McAvennie pounced after another badly defended corner. But we couldn't grab the win.

More than that, we also lost Gerry Creaney, our only regular forward the young side of 30, with a hamstring injury. Now Celtic's forward line consisted of McAvennie and Nicholas (aged 31 and 33), which would have been quite a partnership in 1983, but in 1993 was never likely to strike fear into any defence. So it proved, in all too depressing Technicolor.

Our next two league fixtures were both at home, and both were draws. The first was a dire 1:1 with Hibs, notable for two reasons; it was the first league game played before the cheaply seated Jungle, and for the reaction of the crowd to the Hibs equaliser; for the first time fans began to chant for Brady's head.

The next game was against the mighty Glasgow Huns FC, and their new highly priced striker. It was a real shame actually; having cost all that money the boy couldn't even - pardon the pun - buy a goal. This game was another eyesore from start to finish. 0:0 flattered both teams. The highlight was young Duncan through one -on -one with Bonner, slicing the ball wildly past with the huns in complete frenzy at the thought of him breaking his duck in Paradise.

Having had as mediocre a start as we could have imagined the team then threw us one of those sugar coated pills that helped to sow irrational seeds of optimism. We travelled to Arbroath and won 9:1 - Our biggest win for 21 years. This was followed by our first league win of the season, defeating Thistle 1:0 at Firhill. At the same time Rangers were losing 2:1 at Ibrox to Kilmarnock (led by Tommy Burns). The irrational seeds of optimism had sprouted shoots of hope. These were quickly seen to, though, by the cruel scythe of harsh reality.


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