May 3rd 1998 – the day we had been waiting ten years for – the title was finally coming home to Parkhead, all outlets offering betting in UK agreed. The day before, Rangers had lost 1-0 at home to Kilmarnock meaning that all Celtic had to do was beat Dunfermline at East End Park. The fans turned up in huge numbers and surely the title would be won right?
The title run-in had been overshadowed by a dispute between manager Wim Jansen and chairman Fergus McCann, with the news breaking that Jansen had a ‘break’ in his contract, which Jansen had not denied. This off-field dispute seemed to affect the club on the pitch, as Celtic stuttered in the run-in, the week before this game drawing 0-0 with doomed to relegation Hibs. Rangers had also stuttered, losing 1-0 at Aberdeen. So Celtic had a one point lead with two games left, before Rangers’ defeat gave us the chance of going four points ahead.
The team selected included the tough center- back partnership of Rieper and Stubbs, the goalscoring midfielder Craig Burley, with Henrik Larsson supported by Simon Donnelly up front. The Celtic fans outnumbered the Dunfermline fans hugely, with large sections of Celtic fans in the Dunfermline ends of the ground.
Celtic obviously didn’t want to let this large support down, and began the game at a ferocious pace, hunting down the ball at every opportunity, the first chance coming when Donnelly robbed a Pars defender, but hit his shot right into the arms of goalie Ian Westwater. Celtic’s next chance was a Henrik Larsson free-kick, which deflected just past the post, but it wasn’t long before the breakthrough arrived.
In the 35th minute, Simon Donnelly ran on to a great pass from Larsson to hammer the ball past Westwater. Cue scenes of mayhem as the fans celebrated the goal that would surely send the title home. Celtic almost increased our lead before half-time, Larsson having a shot saved, but as the half-time whistle went, the score remained 1-0 and Celtic were 45 minutes away from the title.
The second half started as a replica of first, Celtic in control. O’Donnell and Donnelly both coming close before Larsson hit the post. Celtic were then denied what looked like a stonewall penalty when Ireland barged Larsson off the ball in the box – but the ref didn’t give it. That decision was to prove costly as with 7 minutes remaining Dunfermline equalised. A free kick was flighted into the box and sub Craig Faulconbridge’s header looped over Jonathan Gould and into the net, to send the Pars fans wild.
However, there was still time for Celtic yet, and we came very close to winning the game in a frantic finale. Morten Weighorst had a shot cleared, and from the resulting corner his header was parried by Westwater and then cleared off the line by McCulloch.
The final whistle then blew, and the fans were devastated. Celtic had blown the chance to win the title. However, a look at the table showed that Celtic were still in control of our destiny. With one game to go, Celtic were two points ahead, but with the chance to win the title anything could happen. Would Celtic win the league at home to St. Johsntone? Find out next week when ‘On This Day’ returns with it’s next installment – ‘Smell The Glove’!