(relax, we win this time).
the 80s Celtic had acquired a kind of tradition. Fans knew it
as the October of Despair - a time when seemingly simple home
fixtures became nightmarishly tough, and heavy defeats away from
home were not uncommon. Defeats such as 4:1 and 4:2 at Pittodrie
and 3:0 to an incredibly bad Rangers team in 1985 were the order
of the day. McNeill had managed to avoid the October form slump
in 1987, but ever since then it had definitely been 'Avert your
Brady, you may recall, was hit particularly badly during this
most awful of months. During his first season October involved
fixtures against Neuchatel Xamax and a 4:3 defeat at Brockville.
Tommy Burns was about to get his first managerial taste of a Celtic
Motherwell at Fir Park Celtic hammered their way into a first
half lead thanks to Andy Walker. Recalled to the international
squad, the striker strolled through the home defence to score
a goal worthy of somebody preparing to play at a level way above
the SPL. Unfortunately Mike Galloway dropped us back into the
watery depths with an own goal in the dying minutes.
visited Hampden a week later. With exception of a fine Gordon
Marshall save and a Phil O'Donnell effort which clattered off
a post it was a complete waste of time. In fact it was even worse
that the 1990 Cup final played at the same venue between the same
games were poor fare indeed for Hoops fans, but they were matches
redolent with soccer of the finest quality compared to what came
next. Back-to-back defeats against Hearts at Tynecastle (0:1)
and Falkirk at Hampden (0:2) sent us tumbling down the league
in a veritable tailspin. Hearts were actually suffering a run
of poor form themselves (this had started round about 1954 and
has continued almost uninterrupted to the present day) so it was
something of a surprise to neutrals that they were able to dish
out Celtic's first defeat of the season - although to veterans
of many a Celtic October it wasn't exactly a seismic shock. All
the usual ingredients for a grand day out at Swinecastle in the
mid 90s were present that day: a midden with a pitch in the middle,
no cover from the incessant rain and pishy wet cushions to sit
on. Whiling away the time making religious icons in the shape
of crosses out of the cushions and waving them threateningly at
the Gorgie Gargoyles the way Peter Cushing used to do to Christopher
Lee in all those Hammer movies (admittedly with similar effects)
did nothing to prevent the inevitable freak goal.
the Bairns, the Blunts squandered chance after gilt-edged chance
provided by Collins and Nicholas while the Sieve continued their
extended run as the rear end of a pantomime horse. This defeat
also signalled the end of Lee Martin's Celtic career after he
suffered a broken leg during the game. He was never the greatest
of players, but our already wafer thin squad was now stretched
even further. Barry Smith was drafted in to cover.
came in the shape of the League Cup semi-final. Rangers had been
eliminated from the competition by Falkirk, so the cup was certainly
up for grabs. The semi-final between Celtic and Aberdeen was basically
seen as the match that would to all intents decide the eventual
winners, given that in the final they would play First Division
Celtic's league games were being played at Hampden it was felt
that we would have an advantage if the tie was played at the National
Midden, so Ibrox was the venue. Tommy Burns sprang a surprise
with his team selection when he drafted in Paul Byrne on the right
wing for the first time. It worked well. For the first time in
weeks we had a threat in the opposition penalty box. But for all
his efforts Byrne and his team mates couldn't conjure up a goal.
tension inside the ground was quite incredible and, unfortunately,
the desperation of the fans was clearly being transmitted to the
players on the pitch. After 90 minutes the score was still 0:0,
although we did suffer a serious scare in the last minute as a
deflected Aberdeen effort trundled inches past the post. It remained
goalless through the first period of extra time as well. Naturally,
during the second period everyone started to consider penalties
- without any great relish it has to be said.
Then Celtic were awarded a free kick on the right of the Aberdeen
box. The ball was curled in and Brian O'Neil flicked it off his
head and into the corner of the net. The Celtic fans went wild.
Aberdeen didn't have anything left to try and get back into the
game, and after only four months in the job Tommy Burns was now
one game away from relieving the five year trophy drought. It
was a much needed boost for everybody and the euphoria lasted
all of... four days.
Sunday after the Aberdeen game Rangers came visiting Hampden.
After their marvellously bad start to the season they had settled
into a winning pattern, helped by the fact that Brian Laudrup
was revelling in the opportunity to play football in a country
where he was possibly the only man who could run very fast and
control a football at the same time. OK, fair's fair he was an
extremely good player, and we certainly wouldn't have turned him
down. But you could say that his failure while with the likes
of Munich, Fiorentina, Milan and Ajax, not to mention his anonymity
while playing in European competition for Rangers, suggested some
problems with top flight football.
approached the game with supreme confidence and that should have
been an alarm bell in itself. Of the last six league meetings
between the teams Celtic had only lost once and Collins had scored
in the last four. The way we had played them off their own pitch
in August suggested we might have their number again this time.
played their new starlet Charlie Miller, rumoured to have been
a Celtic fan in his youth. After 20 minutes it was he who created
the first goal, winning possession from the Celtic defence and
playing in Hately who smashed the ball past Marshall. The
game had been fairly even until that point, although the Hoops
looked pretty uncomfortable at the back, especially Smith, who
was up against Laudrup.
minutes after falling behind we equalised thanks to a superb curling
shot from Paul Byrne. Celtic had the momentum now and Rangers
looked like they might be about to crack. At least, that's how
it seemed for the frantic three minutes which followed the goal.
However, before we had time to say, 'I think we can do them',
the ball was fed to Laudrup. He left Smith for dead and played
it to the near post where Hately charged in to score. It all had
a dreadful air of inevitability about it.
didn't improve much in the second half. A cross from the right
was met perfectly by Walker, but his header landed on top on the
crossbar and went behind. From the resultant goal kick Hately
flicked the ball on and Laudrup sped away from the Celtic defence,
rounded Marshall and rolled it in to secure the points.
the next match TB ventured back into the transfer market, this
time securing the signature of Hearts left back and former Celtic
Boys Club player Tosh McKinlay. He wasn't the most exciting player
in the world, but with the loss of Lee Martin we were badly exposed
at the back. McKinlay also had the advantage of being naturally
left footed, and capable of delivering a fantastic cross. If only
we had someone to take advantage of such a thing.
McKinlay's debut came at Tannadice, where Collins twice gave Celtic
a lead which they were unable to hold. The tangerines had been
peeled open in the first half but the home side introduced Jerron
Nixon in the second and, as at Hampden in the corresponding home
fixture, he bedazzled the Sieve to set up the second equaliser.
the League Cup final approaching we appeared to be in the grip
of a terrible paralysing fear. Our next game, at Hampden against
Thistle was shocking, even by the low standards we had set ourselves
in recent years, 0:0 in a stultifying spectacle of anti-football.
To add to the general confusion, the manager's decision making
process was becoming ever stranger and difficult to fathom. During
the game against Thistle young forward John O'Neill came on a
second half substitute. He hadn't appeared in the first team before,
he didn't really ever feature again, and this was on the eve of
a cup final!
was mounting, and every one of the players knew that the fans
expected the trophy.