Celtic's win at Aberdeen the team travelled to sun soaked Georgia
(not the US state but the former Soviet republic that was in a
complete state) to play Dinamo Batumi in the Cup Winners Cup.
The social climate of the place was such that the phrase 'war
torn' featured in almost every newspaper piece prior to the game.
Fans were advised by the Foreign Office not to travel due to safety
concerns. Chic Young was being encouraged by the fans to travel
for the same reason. And so it was that we all missed the opportunity
to see Celtic's first away victory in Europe for nine years -
and that was against Shamrock Rovers. The last decent away win
was 13 years previously in Amsterdam.
here's one of these occasions that really makes you feel the SFA
doesn't like Celtic very much. We played Batumi on the Thursday,
UEFA having split the tournaments up in order to maximise TV revenue;
the UEFA cup would be played on Tuesday, Champions League on Wednesday
and Cup Winners Cup on Thursday. Clearly the clubs playing in
the Cup Winners Cup could be at disadvantage given that their
fixture would only be two days away from the next league card.
The journey back wasn't exactly a shuttle trip from London, the
players only returning to Glasgow in the small hours of Saturday
morning having been on the move for most of the previous day,
yet Celtic were obliged to play a game against Motherwell. The
club had asked for, and been refused, a delay of 24 hours in order
to recover from the journey.
everything, it all started off quite nicely. The fact that it
was the first league game in the new stadium gave everyone a lift
and O'Donnell scored a cracking goal, but by the last 20 minutes
it was obvious that the players were dead on their feet. They
conceded an equaliser and wound up hanging on for a point. Now,
of course, it's standard for teams playing on a Thursday to have
their games delayed to the Sunday, but this only came in to being
after it had cost us a number of points. When it came to another
team (any team, not necessarily Rangers) being hampered by these
circumstances the league rules were immediately altered. Infuriating
to say the least, although nothing compared to what lurked just
over the horizon.
we had slain the beast from Raith in the League Cup the draw had
paired us with Rangers at Celtic Park. What a chance this was.
Not only could we knock them out the cup and therefore have a
great chance of the trophy, we could also make them fear Celtic
Park again. The feeling was that we could certainly do it.
lead up to the game, however, was anything but smooth. Basically,
John Collins had decided that this was his last season in Scotland
and given that the Bosman rule had just come into force the English
clubs were hovering, hoping that Celtic would cash in on the player
while they still could. Whilst the player himself seemed to be
playing well through it all the fans' perception of him plummeted.
If he was leaving we just hoped he'd go with more than one winners
medal. Tuesday seemed like a good way to ensure that.
the event a lot hinged on the man in the middle - Jim McCluskey.
Already a hate figure amongst the Celtic Park faithful thanks
to his lenient (to say the least) treatment of Hurlock in the
early part of the decade he was about to cement his reputation
as a less than fair referee.
game started well from our point of view. McStay was clearly charged
up for it and we had the most of the play. Midway through the
first half the Maestro picked up the ball and twisted away from
Gasciogne who gave chase. First he gave a tug on McStay's shirt
before forcing his left arm over the Celtic player's shoulder
and elbowing him in the face. The referee immediately blew the
whistle, awarded the free kick to Celtic and approached the Englishman.
But rather than show a red card (the rule book punishment for
such an infraction) he let him off with a quick word in the ear.
player who did wind up in the ref's book was Charlie Miller. He
also managed to commit another 5 to 10 fouls during the remainder
of the game but remained on the park. McCoist, too, got himself
involved in an incident that had nothing to do with him (even
running some 25 yards to get amongst it and attempting to head
butt a Celtic player). No punishment. Can you guess which three
huns combined to score the only goal of the game?
if that wasn't bad enough Goram had one of those nights where
nothing was going to get past him. With any other keeper on the
park McStay would have had a hat trick. To round off a thoroughly
terrible evening Andreas Thom injured himself making a rash tackle
and had to be stretchered off. It was hard to take, especially
just as we were beginning to look like a team again. Final score,
1:0 to Rangers.
the next league game the Collins saga really blew up. Middlesborough
were the most interested team (it would have been a real blow
to the ego if he'd gone there) but they were keeping their powder
dry for now. Tommy Burns, on the other hand, was not so patient.
Infuriated by what he considered to be a media campaign orchestrated
by Collins' agent he dropped him for the trip to Hearts. Tynecastle
hadn't exactly been a happy hunting ground for us in recent seasons
( then again where had?) but we seemed to be making life especially
difficult for ourselves with Collins dropped and Pierre and Thom
out injured. In place of these players came Brian McLaughlin,
Chris Hay and Andy Walker.
game again illustrated how far we had come since the previous
season as we took Hearts to bits. We were two ahead within 10
minutes, both goals coming from an unlikely source in the tiny
shape of wee Brian McLaughlin. First he mopped up after the keeper
had failed to hold a McStay shot from the edge of the box and
then scored a real beauty. Gathering the ball at the halfway line
he ran straight through the Hearts defence, even nutmegging Dave
McPherson before clipping the ball over the goalie. In the second
half Walker added another two and real gubbing had been handed
out. Literally as well, as Peter Grant was sent off for throwing
a punch instead of a point.
the game TB gave an interview to Gerry McNee explaining his position
on the John Collins situation; typically it was full of passion
for the club and a complete disbelief that someone could want
to play elsewhere.
second round of our European tie with Dinamo Batumi was an enjoyable
experience. Four goals were slotted past the Georgians as we went
through 7:2 on aggregate, with the stars of the show being Simon
Donnelly (who scored a fabulous long range effort) and Brian McLaughlin
(who set up Thom for the opening two goals). It set us up nicely
for the weekend when we had the chance for revenge on Rangers
at Celtic Park.
this time we had no complaints as we meekly went down 2:0. Hell,
we even let Alec Clelland score. Gasbag scored the second.
about that result quickly evaporated after the draw for the next
round of the Cup Winners Cup. We were drawn against Paris Saint
Germain, at that time one the form teams in Europe. In the previous
two seasons they had reached the semi final of both the UEFA Cup
and the Champions League. They had lost two of their top players
(Ginola we've already discussed and George Weah who joined AC
Milan), but they were still a formidable outfit.
the Scottish game was getting a lot of coverage, not just thanks
to the Sky deal. The arrival of Gasbag across the way had turned
the spotlight to the perceived sectarian divide in Glasgow (can't
be too much of a divide really; Celtic had supporters from all
faiths and colours. Rangers... well what can you say?). Channel
4's take on the matter was a documentary called 'Football, Faith
and Flutes'. It wasn't really designed to alter anyone's preconceived
ideas about Glasgow and its residents who watch either of the
big two. The Celtic fan featured was such a committed supporter
that he watched the games on Sky in his local pub and spouted
out absurdities like 'I'm Catholic, I have to hate Protestants,'
while the featured hun had a home made tattoo on his inside lip
and simply regurgitated things he'd obviously heard in his local
lodge. Cutting edge journalism it wasn't.
managerial response to the Rangers defeat was positive at least;
Jackie McNamara Jnr. was bought from Dunfermline for £650,000,
a fabulous piece of business. He immediately slotted in a right
back and looked as though he'd been a Celtic player for years.
In particular he struck up a great partnership with Simon Donnelly,
who had been playing on the right hand side of midfield now that
Thom and Pierre had taken the front two positions. Jackie made
his debut at Brockville (oh the glamour of the top division),
but he wasn't the star of the show on the night. That honour went
to John Hughes, returning for the first time to the ground where
he made his name. Typically he scored the only goal of the game
to win a hard fought three points.
following Saturday we finally won a Glasgow derby, although it
was only against Thistle and it wasn't exactly an entirely convincing
2:1 win. Pierre scored the first after neat play from Donnelly
and Collins wrapped up the game with a nice free-kick, although
Thistle did cause some tension by scoring just before the end.
Truth be told it could have been pretty grim if Thistle's new
Liverpudlian forward Rod McDonald hadn't been the worst finisher
since Jim Melrose. Twice he was left with only the goalie to beat,
twice the wee boys of Barrowfield had a nice shiny ball to play
(who had already been 'outed' as a Celtic supporter in the press
when it was revealed that King Kenny had been his hero as a kid
so naturally he preferred Celtic) would go on to book his own
place in football history that season when Thistle took on Rangers
at Firhill; as the players made their way into the dressing room
Rod, as was his wont, crossed himself as he left the pitch. So
far so normal, happens in most countries week in week out. However,
a hun in the crowd saw this and went mental (so far so normal)
complaining to a policeman. And here's where it gets really wacky.
The Policeman actually takes this loony seriously and goes to
the referee's room with this complaint. The referee then calls
McDonald into the dressing room and awards him a yellow card!
Not only that but in the second half Rod fouls Gasbag, gets a
second yellow and hence a red, to the confusion of everyone in
the crowd (except the Neanderthal who started the whole thing).
Now whenever there was an incident of some kind at a football
game in Scotland that wasn't too nice, crowd trouble that kind
of thing, the pundits would bemoan the fact that this event would
be broadcast all over the world and bring shame on to the game.
Ordinarily of course they are talking complete cobblers, (do the
good people of Lima really care if there was a fight at Pitoddrie?)
but you'd better believe that the world's press was most interested
in the backwards wee country at the northern end of Europe where
the refs book you for crossing yourself and the national association
sides with the ref. That did catch the eye of the footballing
world. Couldn't make it up could you? Of course it goes without
saying that when Rod was dismissed the game was tied 1:1 and Rangers
ran out 2:1 winners against the ten Thistle men who were sure
to keep their superstitions and rituals well to themselves from
then on. The MIB on that shameful occasion was Jim McGilvray.
He retired shortly afterwards on the pretext that SFA regulations
were cramping his style, but later admitted to the Scottish Sun
that Gasbag should indeed have been sent from the field that afternoon
but he didn't want to be the first to do it and thereby 'start
a riot'. Celtic's paranoia right enough!
at Celtic Park we were about to royally shoot ourselves in the
foot against Hibs. We murdered them. A team has rarely been so
outplayed. They barely touched the ball. Except, of course, on
the two occasions when they scored (they had a grand total of
three shots during the entire game). It was galling. Celtic's
football couldn't be faulted but rather than play a final pass
we seemed to prefer making another pretty passing pattern.
Rangers sitting on top of the league and PSG looming large on
the horizon we had to start getting a bit more clinical.