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don't look back in anger celtic in the 90s
season 94-95: part 4

(relax, we win this time).

November 27th 1994 was the date of Celtic's first major cup final for four years. The club had lost the last two cup finals they had been in, but the opponents in those games had been Rangers and Aberdeen. This time the team standing between the Hoops and some much-needed silverware was Raith Rovers, the same Raith Rovers beaten four times in the Premier League the season before.

It should have been a no-contest. But ever since Celtic had won the semi-final the players had a petrified look about them. League points had been carelessly thrown away all over the place and amongst the supporters there grew an air of serious desperation.

The final was at Ibrox - which helped nobody's heart condition - and of course Tommy Burns chose that particular game to completely rearrange his defensive formation in order to accommodate the return to the first team of centre half Tony Mowbray.

What was left of the shredded nerves of those Celtic fans that could see the big screen between the Copeland and Govan stands were jangled still more by the fact that it went on the blink seconds after kick off. Having displayed the teams it should have shown the score, but before it got to that it flashed up a few odd pre-programmed messages and settled for a few brief seconds on the words 'Cup Winners Raith Rovers'. As omens go this was a bad one, and our worst fears were about to be realised in the most horrific, nightmarish fashion.

Mowbray was fortunate to be on the park after only a few minutes, having committed a late, reckless... well it was a full-blooded Mowbray tackle so you get the picture. The referee let him off with a yellow card.

There certainly didn't seem to be too many nerves about the Raith Rovers players, who tore into their Hooped counterparts straight from the kickoff. It looked as if a crazed scientist from Fife had managed to clone that wee demented blue thing from the Muppet show and let eleven of them loose to contest the League Cup final. Having seen the pressure and weight of expectation of a long-suffering support take its toll visibly on the strained faces of the Celtic team they were clearly aware that this just could end up being their day.

Fifteen minutes gone and Raith won a corner. Celtic had seven defenders while Rovers had three forwards. The kind of odds which favour a clearance of some kind, you would have thought. When the kick came in Stevie Crawford found himself unmarked. Happily for us the ball landed behind him; unhappily for us he had enough time to control the ball, turn, and pick his spot behind Marshall. All completely unchallenged.

But this was where the real trouble started. McStay and Collins grabbed hold of the game and proceeded to play some superb football, creating chance after chance, which Walker, Nicholas and Donnelly proceeded to miss. There were enough chances created to win a dozen league cups. At that point in time, one would have been quite enough to keep us happy.

We finally equalised after half an hour when Walker headed in a Boyd cross from six yards.

The second half was simply astonishing. Celtic took up residence inside the Raith penalty box, but no one seemed capable of scoring. Finally, with just six minutes left on the clock, Walker hit a shot that came off the post and fell to Charlie Nicholas who shot into the net. It looked as though our luck had finally changed but it was the mother of all false dawns.

Three minutes later Jason Dair was allowed to meander up the pitch with the ball at his feet, from the halfway line to just outside the box. From there he hit a speculative shot that should have been simple enough for Marshall to gather. Instead he spilled it to feet of former Ranger Gordon Dalziel who nudged it over the line.

Mere words are inadequate to describe the subsequent feeling. It was as though we were destined never to win anything ever again. Extra time came and went with our players looking more terrified with every passing minute. Their worst nightmares becoming a reality with every passing second. We didn't even manage a decent effort on target.

The prelude to the tragi-comic opera that was the penalty shoot-out was the toss. Raith won it (that sinking feeling again) and elected to take the first kick. All ten of the regulation penalties were converted -although Mike Galloway had a serious scare when his just squirmed past Thompson in the Raith goal. Our first 'sudden death' kicker was McStay. He placed his kick to the keeper's right. It was saved and the cup was well and truly lost.

Nobody blamed McStay. He had been our best player after all, but plenty of people lined up to point the finger at Marshall. Not only had he spilled Dair's shot, but he hadn't gotten anywhere near any of the Raith penalties. Add to that the fact that many fans didn't like him anyway, for a variety of reasons, and you had all the making of a perfect whipping boy.

Completely exonerated from any blame were the men who really cost us the cup - the forward line so incapable of scoring, who passed up chance after chance, and the manager who decided to completely change his formation for a cup final. They got off scot-free.

Celtic fans weren't difficult to spot after that game. They were the ones wearing the funeral parlour expressions, and probably dabbing the odd tear away. It was a bleak time.

The press of course had a field day, questioning the ability of everyone at Celtic Park, and generally sinking the boot in with gusto. But if they required evidence that Celtic were on the way back they only had to venture down London Road and look at the new stadium emerging there. The old terracings had been flattened during the summer, and in the autumn of 1994 as work began on the first stage of the new Celtic Park - the building of the North Stand.

Prior to any building work 25,000 tonnes of grout was injected along 100,000 meters of tunnels to secure the ground, which was riddled with old mine workings. 900 concrete piles provided the foundation on to which 2,900 tonnes of steel and 10,000 tonnes of precast concrete terraces would be placed. The aim was to provide a 26,500 seat stand in time for the start of 1994-95.

One of the more unusual costs was 10,000 to the council. Because the new stand would over hang Janefield cemetery certain graves no longer had free air space 'from the centre of the earth to the sky'.

Naturally the press did their best to find fault with this impressive construction. The most popular newspaper article on the subject mentioned that from the top of the new structure you could see right across Glasgow. In fact, you could see right across to Ibrox! (The place that looks like a giant version of the Munster's House, complete with bats and ghouls flying around the spires). This was reported as if it were some sort of architectural gaffe or engineering blunder rather than a geographical fact.

It mattered not. Fergus was making good on his promises. He had given his manager money, he was overseeing the building of what would become, for a while, the biggest football stadium in Britain and he was about to embark on the eagerly anticipated share issue.

The hacks were wringing their hands over that one. Fergus had said he hoped to raise around 10m from it. Luminaries such as Dr Michael Kelly were advising fans to invest in the National Lottery rather than buy Celtic shares on the basis that you stood a better chance of getting a return. And in that one statement he beautifully underlined the reason we got rid of him and his kind in the first place.

AB Murdoch

Thanks to Dave Ross for the stadium technical information.

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