We’ve never had it so good. Literally.
Not since the 60’s and 70’s anyway.
Even then we could never have envisioned that our greatest rivals would fall off the face off a cliff, become resurrected in some shape or form and then have their travails on and off the pitch play out like a an American courtroom drama with strong comedic undertones for nearly 5 years as one clown after another pitched up in the Ibrox boardroom.
Football wise we have gone an incredible run of unbeaten games domestically, have hoovered up the League Cup and a 6th consecutive League Championship. We are 90 mins away from a treble and have a top manager at the helm who has committed himself for the long haul. The brand of football is vibrant and exciting. To boot the club are also back in amongst Europe’s elite. It’s a great time to be a Tim.
To be honest by and large that’s been the case for the past 17 years, since Martin O’Neill stepped through the door on a balmy summer’s day in 2000 Celtic have secured 12 League Championships, 6 Scottish Cups and 5 League Cups.
23 trophies in 17 seasons, that could soon be 24.
Not bad. Pretty incredible really.
Added to that there’s been 9 Champions League Group appearances, making the last 16 on three separate occasions and of course a 2003 UEFA Cup Final appearance that few will ever forget. I myself was lucky enough to be there. Yet at the moment what with turnover at record levels, a top class manager at the helm and with a young, hungry and dominant team on the park sweeping all before them it just feels like it can’t get much better.
Already pretty much every Celtic fan looks forward to next season with relish.
Now who would have thought that 12 months ago after several seasons of almost continuous downsizing?
Not me that’s for sure.
Success is great. And like every other Celtic fan I’m enjoying it. But what frames that enjoyment even more for me is the trials and tribulations that I like many others had to endure as a Celtic fan in the past.
Because it wasn’t always like this.
In fact it used to be about as far away from this as you could get to support Celtic.
So I’ve decided to pen some articles which remind us of a time less serene.
Of times when it was rarely exhilarating, often exasperating and sometimes traumatising to support the men in green and white hoops.
For me it all started almost 27 years ago to the day.
The 12th of May 1990 to be exact.
Scottish Cup finals took place earlier back then. On a gloriously sunny day Celtic ran out at Hampden Park before over 60,000 against the same team we’ll also meet in a fortnights time, Aberdeen. The Dons rather like now were the second best team in the country. Unlike now they had a team full of stars.
In goal they had the then recently capped Dutch internationalist keeper Theo Snelders and outfield they had an array of established Scottish internationalists ranging from Stewart McKimmie, Alex McLeish, Jim Bett, Brian Ivine, Bobby Connor and one of our own former idols Charlie Nicholas.
Indeed between them there was 176 Scotland caps.
And up beside Nicholas was Hans Gillhaus who played 9 times for Holland at the same time that Gullit and Van Basten were in the Dutch national team.
Needless to say he was pretty good.
I mean a forward line of Nicholas and Gillhaus. Aberdeen fans can only fantasise about having quality like that up front now.
Indeed they can only fantasise about the £1 million plus in transfer fees they paid in total for the two back then.
As for Celtic the line-up wasn’t too shabby either.
Certainly not our strongest but also far from our poorest.
No, that would be achieved only a few short years later.
The 1990 line-up for Celtic included Packie Bonner who would go onto star in that summer’s Italia 90′ World Cup for the Republic of Ireland, two Polish internationalists in Dariusz Wdowczyk and Dariusz Dziekanowski aka ‘Shuggie’ and ‘Jackie’ who amassed 114 caps between them for their country as well as ex Aberdeen stars Billy Stark, Joe Miller (our then record signing), the legendary Anton Rogan and of course the ever present maestro Paul McStay.
It also included one of my favourite ever Celtic players in Paul Elliot.
Elliot was a terrific player. Commanding, dominant and dangerous in the air at both ends, cool on the ball and an excellent tackler. The tragedy is that he never played in a better Celtic side. One that was worthy of his abilities.
Anyway it was all set-up to be a classic encounter.
Whilst Rangers had just secured their second consecutive league title, Aberdeen had already claimed the League Cup via beating them the previous October by 2 goals to 1 in extra time. We’d fallen to them 1-0 in the semi-final and they’d also finished runners-up in the league all be it a distant second.
Celtic on the other hand were attempting to apply a pretty large band-aid to what had been an absolutely shambolic season.
We had finished 5th from 10 and only 4 points ahead of second bottom St.Mirren in an awful league campaign.
Indeed we were only above 7th placed Hibernian on goal difference.
This might sound like we were in serious relegation trouble but we did sit quite comfortably 10 points above relegated Dundee back when there only was one relegation place, no play-offs and there was only 2 points for a win.
There were only really two highlights occurred that season; the incredible 5-4 Cup Winners Cup second leg win over Partizan Belgrade which still led to our elimination on the away goals rule and an always satisfying 1-0 win over Rangers at Celtic Park in the Scottish fourth round, which had been our solitary Old Firm victory of that term.
Believe it or not Celtic only scored 37 league goals over the whole league campaign encompassing 36 matches.
That was joint sixth from ten.
Safe to say the brand of football deployed that season most definitely had not been the Glasgow Celtic way.
But that day at Hampden really was a beautiful one, and Celtic were attempting to win their third consecutive Scottish Cup.
I sat with my father in the old ramshackle main stand.
It was my first experience of the legendary Hampden and to be honest the place was quite underwhelming. Indeed it made Celtic Park look like the San Siro at the time. The old press box looked like it was literally sliding off of the roof of the main stand and quite possibly was.
The toilets were generally so bad that most folk elected to use the walls outside instead.
A far less traumatic experience.
But all that mattered little as I took my seat with the huge magazine style match-day programme and a barely edible pie.
Alas the game was dire. A turgid and uneventful 120 mins of goalless football which took us to penalties for the first time in Scottish Cup final history.
The shootout proved to be far more eventful than the game.
Indeed it was the very drama of the shootout which finally tuned me as an 8 year old into football.
My father had been taking me to Celtic Park for years but I had by and large shown little interest. I have vague memories of the Championship wining trophy being lifted in 1988. But it all changed that day in May and very acutely when the penalty shoot-out commenced.
Something just clicked.
A sudden awareness of how much this all meant to everyone and for the first time to me.
All the sounds, sights and smells suddenly became very real and even more important.
Everyone held their breath as kick after kick was taken.
Charlie Nicholas, who would go onto rejoin us that summer converted his coolly which was like a dagger into the heart for many even if he did refuse to celebrate and the shootout entered sudden death which was another first for Scottish football.
There we collapsed.
Shuggie had already blasted his into orbit during the initial 5 but it was Anton Rogan, pretty much a serial villain amongst Celtic fans at that time due to generally poor performances, who had his kick saved by Snelders. Brian Irvine then stepped up to dispatch for Aberdeen and the Dons triumphed 9-8.
The drama really was incredible.
Unforgettable for me at least as you can tell by me writing this article.
As we exited the stadium the air was full of animosity. Most of it directed at Mr Rogan. Some also at Packie Bonner. Packie had decided to stick rigidly to the tactic of diving only to his right for pretty much every Aberdeen penalty clearly playing the law of averages game. Aberdeen concocted a quite brilliant plan where they would place all of their penalties to Packie’s left. It worked a charm. Rogan’s penalty wasn’t actually that bad. About as close to the post as you can get. Theo Snelders decided to go left probably after noticing how much his opposite number had been avoiding it and it came up trumps.
For Anton his place as the poster boy for Celtic fans frustrations had been confirmed. He never did recover.
For Celtic this would be their last Scottish Cup final for 5 years and pretty much heralded in the dark times.
Well the previous two seasons really had on the whole done that it’s just that Scottish Cup final runs had covered it up.
The defeat also confirmed that for the first time since 1962 Celtic would not be playing in a European football competition the following season. This was of course the era of the now defunct Cup Winners Cup which took precedence over the UEFA Cup which Aberdeen had already qualified for via their league placing. Therefore UEFA Cup participation went to 4th placed Dundee Utd who’d finished a mere 1 point above us.
One bloody point. A bad day all round.
For me though it was the beginning.
In fairness the general national excitement of the time about the forthcoming Italia 90′ tournament helped too, and from that day forth my attention was 100% on the full 90 mins of every game and more importantly all things Celtic.
Little did I know of course that the next 5 years would be some of the lowest times in Celtic’s history.
But that my friends is another story.
Paul Cassidy is a Celtic fan and blogger, and this is the first of a multi-part look back at how our club fared in the dark years … and how we got out of them.