The Dark Days Revisited: Liam Brady Pt 1. A Short Honeymoon Then The Nightmare In Neuchâtel

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Having covered season’s 1989-1990 and 1990-1991 in the last two articles it’s now time to look at the Liam Brady era.

Liam Brady took over Celtic on June the 19th 1991.

He was appointed a week after the dismissal of previous manager and club legend Billy McNeill. Cesar’s sacking had been unpopular with some especially with the anti-board sentiment beginning to gather momentum. But the reality was league form had been poor for 3 consecutive seasons and Billy’s sacking would have likely come sooner if it hadn’t been for strong but progressively worsening Scottish Cup runs.

Though his budget paled into insignificance compared to cross town rival Graeme Souness at Rangers throughout his second tenure in charge it still was significantly better than every other Scottish club at the time save Aberdeen. It also couldn’t excuse the many duds signed by Billy post the centenary year with Martin Hayes being a complete waste of 600K (not an insignificant sum at the time) as well as others including John Hewitt, Steve McCahill, and Ian Andrews similarly disappearing without trace after costing the club six figure fees.

The likes of Andy Walker, Billy Stark, Joe Miller and Chris Morris had contributed little after the high of the centenary year; Jackie Dziekanowski had faded away after an initially exploding onto the scene; his countryman Dariusz Wdowczyk had proven to be more miss than hit and Charlie Nicholas was a shadow of the player who had left the club 7 years previously.

John Collins and Paul Elliot were consistent class but that was about it.

All in all it just hadn’t been good enough with the previous season’s Scottish cup semi-final capitulation to Motherwell seeing the team booed from the pitch at the national stadium.

Boardroom unrest or not, change seemed inevitable.

Enter Liam Brady.

Brady’s appointment was peculiar for Celtic in the sense he had no previous ties to the club as a player, something which had never happened before. He was also the first Celtic manager since Willie Maley at the end of the 19th century to have come into the job possessing no previous management experience.

On the surface it appeared a somewhat bold and ambitious appointment as it drew obvious parallels to the since departed Graeme Souness’s appointed at Ibrox 5 years previously.

Brady like Souness had been a top class player plying his trade in both England and Italy where he had acquired two back to back Serie A winners medals with Juventus. He’d even played for Sampdoria for two season, leaving in the summer of 1984 just as Souness was coming through the door at the Genoa based club.

But that’s pretty much where the comparisons end.

Souness had been head hunted by the then Rangers chairman David Holmes. Such head hunting did not occur at Celtic in regards to Brady. Instead the position was advertised with worthy candidates being encouraged to sell themselves to the club. Such an unusual approach was the brainchild of former Celtic chief executive Terry Cassidy.

Cassidy swept into the newly created chief executive role at Celtic Park in December 1990. His short time at the club remains mostly forgotten. It was swallowed up into history by the turmoil which would usurp the club as the old board desperately held onto power through Celtic’s darkest times in the then seasons ahead. He was, to say the least, a no-nonsense figure with an impressive CV of turning previously loss making businesses into success stories as was the case with his tenure at the Irish Times before joining the club.

Cassidy’s principal task was to set the wheels in motion for the club’s new stadium.

He stated he wanted it to the be ‘the stadium in Scotland’ ie: better than Ibrox.

Having worked previously in Glasgow at the Herald and Evening Times he was adept at influencing the media and was always good at offsetting something bad off the pitch by revealing something good was coming off it even if in actuality there wasn’t.

Amongst Celtic fans he had become unpopular after departing ex manager Billy McNeill had accused him of being a “thoroughly unpleasant, untrustworthy, overbearing, offensive individual.”

However behind the scenes he was also known to be equally as no holds barred with the Celtic board.

We’ll get back to that bit in the next article.

He also introduced the occasional video club magazine ‘The Celtic Collection’ hosted by Paul Cooney.

This gave a behind the scenes look at the club – who can forget Tommy Craig’s behind the goals passing and keepie uppie drill with the youth players from the previous season? –  and rare access to interviews with Cassidy himself.

Little did we know at the time that it was actually Cassidy who set in motion the wheels for what would eventually bring down the old board. Whilst looking into the club’s running he discovered there was no actual long term business plan in place. As a result he quickly advised the club’s chief lender The Bank of Scotland to cease any proposed increases on the overdraft facilities. The board members were enraged upon discovering this and Terry Cassidy was never asked to join the board itself as a result and the seeds were sown almost immediately for his departure which would occur around 18 months later.

However in the summer of 91′ he unveiled Liam Brady as the new club manager after deciding he was the standout applicant.

Brady was furnished with a handsome budget.

No sooner was he in the door that he broke the club’s previous transfer record by blowing a cool £1.1 million to prize Republic of Ireland internationalist Tony Cascarino from Aston Villa. Brady had previously been Cascarino’s agent and clearly saw something in him over and above the evidence of his paltry 12 goals in 50 games for Villa. Soon after he dropped a cool £1 million on Scotland internationalist and Liverpool defender Gary Gillespie who had just turned 31. Then another £1 million went out the door on Middlesborough’s grizzled central defender Tony Mowbray. And just when you thought the previously unparalleled Celtic spending spree was over the transfer record fee was broken again, indeed it was smashed when £1.5 million was spent on alleged ‘wing wizard’ Stuart Slater from West Ham. When you throw in the captures of goalkeeper Gordon Marshall and Albanian internationalist Rudi Vata soon after Celtic blew £5 million in the transfer window that summer.

An incredible sum by a Scottish club outwith Govan for that time.

However the investment would ultimately prove to be poor and would hamstring the club for seasons to come.

Celtic actually started the season in spectacular fashion, emerging as victors from a 4-3 goal-fest at Tannadice against Dundee Utd.

That was soon followed by an away thumping of Dunfermline Athletic and a home 4-1 dismantling of Falkirk.

I remember the game against Falkirk well.

On a sunny day Celtic played a lovely passing game and Gillespie looked a class act at the back. That wouldn’t last long. Over the next two weeks Celtic got a rude awakening. Defeated 1-0 at Aberdeen, who would go onto have a season long hangover from the previous term’s last day title loss at Ibrox, and then beaten 2-0 at home to Rangers in the first Old Firm derby of the season.

With the sun beating down on Paradise and 007 himself Sean Connery in the stands (back when he was still a Celtic fan) we nearly got off to a dream start as Tommy Coyne raced through on goal. He was upended by Peter Huistra on the edge of the box and the Dutchman should have seen red as the last man but Jim McLuskey – still clearly smarting from revelations that the Celtic Supporters Association had paid a PI to keep tabs on him in the lead up to the previous season’s League Cup final – predictably decided otherwise and merely brandished a yellow instead.

Soon after Mark Hateley rounded Pat Bonner to put the light blues ahead and then added a second early in the second half.

And that was that.

As I walked back to my Nana’s house in Riddrie with my father and uncle in tow on that sweltering day it dawned on us that the Brady revolution was merely a false dawn and that Tony Cascarino was a flop.

Celtic lost 3 out of their next 18 league games, drawing 7 in the process.

The title challenge was effectively put to bed before Christmas but believe it or not some of the football wasn’t that bad.

We put Hearts (having their best season since the 85/86 campaign culminated in final day heart break.) to the sword 3-1 at home and Tony Cascarino did the unthinkable and actually scored for us after coming on as a sub. I can still see the ball trundling into the net now as his attempt to miss an open goal by striking it with his heel back across despairing Jambos keeper Henry Smith ended in failure. Tony topped that off by going on to punch Craig Levein on the jaw in the box while helping to defend a set-piece which led to a sending off and gifting Hearts a penalty and all this in the space of 7 minutes to.

Thankfully for once Packie Bonner’s life long tactic of always diving to his right at spot kicks paid off and he was able to save John Robertson’s penalty and spare big Tony’s blushes.

Cascarino’s second goal came the following week at Airdrie where he showed genuine skill to turn and score from the edge of the box. He went on to set-up strike partner Tommy Coyne with a long range pass from not far outside his own box and then in his pièce de résistance of what was easily his best ever turn for the club he clattered into an unsuspecting police woman by the side of the pitch which resulted in her taking the club to court for damages due to alleged injuries she suffered in the incident.

By the time the court case came about it was 5 years later, Fergus was in charge and was taking no nonsense.

The damages claim got kicked into touch pretty quickly.

During this period we also: beat our bogey team of the time Motherwell 2-0 at Firk Park; hammered Dundee Utd 4-1 at home; put 5 past St.Mirren at Love Street ; put St.Johnstone to the sword 4-0 at Celtic Park ; got a 1-1 draw at Ibrox where that man again Cascarino popped up to steal in on a loose Nigel Spackman pass-back and equalise in front of the Broomloan stand before embracing the crowd and with the orange ball out due to the snow we put 4 past St.Mirren in mid-December.

That last one is an enduring memory for me.

A blizzard occurred in the second half of what had been a rather frustrating 0-0 game up until that point. The white pitch and orange ball of all colours seemed to encourage Celtic to get the ball down and play and McStay and Collins had a great time and we hit 4 goals in 13 second half mins. Paul Lambert actually scored his first goal for Celtic that day though he was wearing a Buddies strip.

The novelty of snow and an orange ball wasn’t lost on me as a young kid that afternoon and with Christmas less than a fortnight away, the new scoreboards providing the much needed razzmatazz that the old stadium had been crying out for and the seventeen thousand hardy souls who turned up for that game (though I could have sworn it was significantly more) belting out ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ to the small band of Saints fans throughout that second half spell all seemed right with the world.

The reality was that at Celtic Football Club at least it was pretty much as far from it as you can get.

By then we had already departed the League Cup at the quarter final stage in early October, losing on penalties to Airdrie at the the old Broomfield Park ground. The same ground where Tony scored, set one up and then clattered a female police officer into early retirement.

And now we get to our return to Europe. A memory that most Celtic supporters will long since have drowned out.

The reality was that at that time Celtic fans expected to be eliminated from Europe early.

The competitions included a far smaller pool of teams back then so your chances of getting someone good early and therefore being eliminated before the festive season was far higher. Indeed Celtic hadn’t kicked a ball in Europe after New Year in any given season since 1980 when we were eliminated by Real Madrid at the quarter final stage of the European Cup.

Since then it had by and large been bog-standard performances which had put paid to Celtic’s continental progress with the glaring exception being the 84/85 campaign when Rapid Vienna and their shenanigans (not helped by a drunken tosser lobbing a bottle from the jungle) had cost us our place in that season’s Cup Winners Cup quarter final. But the 91′ UEFA Cup campaign actually got off a pretty decent start as Celtic dismissed Belgium’s F.C. Germinal Ekeren (since defunct) by 3-1 on aggregate with Mike Galloway netting a howitzer over in Ekeren. From there we next met the unknown quantity of Switzerland’s Neuchetal Xamax.

Guided by the then equally unheralded Roy Hodgson expectations were high we could beat them though any such pretensions were shattered as we were massacred by a then record European defeat for the club of 5-1.

Hossam Hassan did all the damage that night.

The Egyptian internationalist goal machine ran amok as he hit us for 4 whilst his twin brother Ibrahim kept it tight at the back.

3-0 down at half time it could have been more as Celtic completely collapsed and Liam Brady looked on completely gobsmacked pitch side.

Tommy Coyne set-up Brian O’Neil to make it 4-1 ( a scoreline we could have conceivably recovered from in the home leg) but Hassan popped up to net a rebound late on after Packie’s grip deserted him and it ended 5-1. Game over.

And the tie effectively.

There was actually a bizarre optimism for the home leg such is the way of things supporting Celtic.

Indeed if Celtic had had their finishing boots on that night they may have come close to pulling it off but 1-0 was all we could muster with Joe Miller scoring 6 mins into the second half on an early November evening. Even then the crowd still seemed to fully expect us to go onto net another 3.

Alas it wasn’t to be.

Hossan Hassam went onto score only 3 other goals in total that season for Xamax and departed with his brother in the summer.

I really wish he had done that the summer before.

A myth has prevailed around Xamax in the years since that they were in fact a team of mugs who should never have stood a chance against us. This is in fact nonsense. They had in fact been the champions of Switzerland in 1987 and 88′ and had finished 3rd, a mere 4 points from the top of their domestic league the season before we met them and would go onto lose out on their domestic title as runner’s up by a mere 2 points that season.

They also defeated Real Madrid 1-0 in the home leg of the next round all be it they were cuffed 4-0 away in the second leg at the Bernabeu.

Even with that though the tie was an unmitigated disaster for Brady and he never truly recovered from it.

The Christmas / New Year period of 1991/1992 was a sore one for Celtic.

Beaten 3-1 at home by Rangers on New Year’s day it was that bad even John Brown scored and then losing 2-1 at home to second placed Hearts 3 days later. The season was more or less done for with Celtic sitting mid table, degraded in Europe and eliminated by Airdrie in the League Cup.

Just as well then that the club embarked on a quite incredible 16 game unbeaten run, winning 13 and drawing 3 between January and May.

It was the type of league form not seen since the centenary season and the undoubted highlight was a 2-0 thumping of champions elect Rangers at Ibrox. This was my first visit to Ibrox. My dad made sure we were there nice and early such was his way. Alas it’s a trait that hasn’t been passed on.

I must admit I was impressed by the stadium. The plush all seater venue was night and day compared to the old terrace laden Celtic Park, even more so when it wasn’t full of Rangers fans. I still remember as I looked out over a sea of empty seats while my dad purchased the pies down in the concourse the short stout steward I got talking to insisting he was in actual fact a Celtic fan and only worked there because it paid better than Parkhead.

Who knows maybe he was telling the truth? Though more likely he was trying to launch a pre-emptive strike against the torrent of abuse that he was expecting to be heading in his direction in the succeeding 90 mins. I remember assuring him it was okay that he was a Rangers fan. I wouldn’t tell anyone.

The match itself was pretty glorious from a Celtic perspective.

Even with a beret wearing, badge covered standard away fan lunatic sitting beside us insisting everyone sit down for the entire game the joy was unbridled. Joe Miller gave David Robertson an absolute roasting all day and Charlie Nicholas scored an absolute peach to put us in front with a long range volley in the first half. Gerry Creaney rifled in a second early in the second and that was all she wrote. A wonderful baptism in our greatest rivals own home for me as Celtic secured their first victory there for 4 years.

As we sat in the car en-route home the post game phone in was chock-a-block with talk of a Celtic revival.

Unfortunately it was short lived as a 10 man Rangers exacted pretty speedy revenge via a 1-0 win over us at Hampden only 10 days later and went on to win the treble.

Celtic’s unbeaten league run also came to an end at the worst possible time. Succumbing 2-1 at home to Hibs on the final game of the season and surrendering second place to Hearts when only a point was required.

It actually put a black eye on what had otherwise been a much improved domestic league season for the Hoops.

The football was pretty good by and large. Brady’s teams liked to pass and to attack. Celtic scored 88 times, beaten only by Rangers in the goals for column and lost only 8 times over a mammoth 44 game term. The football under Brady had been pleasing on the eye rather like Brady as a player itself.

All it lacked really was steel and class at the back.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened if Paul Elliot had stuck around for that season. He’d departed for Chelsea in the summer. I still remember his tears during a 5-1 hammering of Dunfermline Athletic at the tail end of the previous campaign as the crowd begged him stay. Believe me Paul the water works were mutual. Instead we had Mowbray who was solid, unspectacular and often injured at the back and Gillespie who was more or less finished and injury prone himself.

As for Tony Cascarino … well he didn’t last long. Until January 1992 to be exact.

He departed with a scoring record of 4 goals from 24 games.

Pretty pathetic when you consider the then enormous fee we paid for him.

His signing more than anything else came to sum up the Brady era.

The following quote from Cascarino’s autobiography sums up his time at Celtic pretty honestly:

“At the end of October we travelled to Switzerland to play Neuchatel in the second round of the UEFA cup. It was one of those awful nights when anything that can go wrong does go wrong; and when I wasn’t giving the ball away, I was tripping over myself.  Liam pulled me off early in the second half. We were hammered 5-1 and the fans had a real go as we walked from the pitch. Liam was incensed in the dressing room. His team had played shamefully. His first managerial signing was making a mockery of him.

‘What the **** is going on, Tony? You were a disaster! I’ve never seen you play so badly!’

‘Yeah, I dunno … I just … I was just crap.'”

No arguments here Tony.

His departure to Chelsea did see the arrival of Scotland internationalist Tom Boyd though as part of a swap deal and he would prove to be an excellent long term servant to the club. So all’s well that ends well. I suppose.

Anyway next time in our ‘The Dark Day’s’ series we’ll take a look at the second season and the eventual demise of the short lived Brady era.

Bet you can’t wait.

Paul Cassidy needs a good days drinking after remembering the disaster in Switzerland …

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  • Peterbrady says:

    Good stuff Paul I can still feel the pain of those dark days but we have Ange now and the neverending comedy of sevco come on pool and Jürgen put sevco to the sword and humiliation HAIL! HAIL!

  • Martin says:

    I’m glad these articles are being revisited. This is an overall excellent article capturing the emotions of the time. It is marred only by two words. “Last man”… Argh, how I’d make saying that a crime. Not a rule, never was a rule and although in the context that absolutely was a red card, by saying “last man” the point is ruined.

    The whole “dark days” series is great though. I’m so impressed you manage to remember how the fan base felt with such clarity. Those were real dark days indeed, punctuated by hope and sunlight on our faces, only to see it was the boot getting ready to stamp on us again. Late 80s until 2000 were (97/98 excepted, maybe even Dr Jo’s season) hugely grim. We were in real trouble on and off the pitch, the turnaround and dominance is unbelievable. This series of articles does show the foundations for it though.

  • jrm63 says:

    Brady said he was going to play football on the deck. He then signed Cascarino! And then he did play football on the deck. WTF? Of course he failed

  • Up the Republic says:

    Smashing article Paul. Brought back memories good and bad. Don’t agree with you about two Poles though. Both of them were quality.

  • Pat Morrissey says:

    And another thing … that awful away strip, sponsored by Peoples, with the blue Ford logo. Absolutely the worst ever.

  • Captain Swing says:

    Ah, the memories. Mostly bad ones. To be fair, Liam Brady’s Celtic teams inspired me personally – but only to pick a university in the south of England over one in Scotland. So I spent 3 years watching George Graham’s “boring Arsenal” instead (in fact Cascarino was playing for the opposing Chelsea team on my first visit to Highbury, although Paul Elliott had been mangled two weeks earlier never to play again and on seeing my hoops on the Clock End all the Arsenal fans were “asking after” Charlie Nicholas as if he was a relative), therefore making me the only member of the entire Celtic fanbase who thought Ian Wright was an inspired signing in 1999….. (he wasn’t, he was well past his brilliant best by then and his legs had well and truly gone…it was like watching your granddad having a kickabout compared to him at his peak).

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