As John Collins exits stage left we recall the day when he unleashed his new Predators on an unsuspecting Celtic-fan-free Ibrox.
Season 1993-94 was skittering to a close and we would be glad to see the back of it. Following a home win against St. Johnstone (the Perth side and Raith Rovers were the only two sides who lost both their visits to Fortress Parkhead) we were to visit Ibrox. Well, some of us were. Celtic fans were actually banned from Ibrox by David Murray and for the first time in 102 years the Glasgow derby would be watched by only one set of fans.
The cause of this exclusion was an apparently unpaid bill of £7,000 from Celtic’s visit the previous October for alleged damage to the stadium. The club were refusing to pay the bill on the grounds that the police hadn’t reported any acts of vandalism from the Broomloan stand during that game. So where did this damage come from? Celtic felt they were being asked to give away money for nothing.
Under the league rules there was no requirement to provide space for away supporters. It was at the home side’s discretion to allow them in. Interestingly, this loophole was going to be closed in the close season, so it was Murray’s last chance to pull this one. Celtic offered to put certain safeguards in place: tickets would only be sold to individuals who provided their home address; a cover charge of £1 would be levied per ticket to cover any repairs; Celtic would provide and pay for stewards for the Broomloan; independent inspections of the stand would occur before and after the game to assess any damage; Celtic would pay for all and any damage done during the course of the game with any funds left over being donated to charity; action would be taken against any individual found to have damaged the stadium. It all sounded pretty reasonable. But Rangers said no.
Given that they were going for a second consecutive treble, and were miles ahead of us in the league, and could in fact clinch the league if they won the game, a cynic might suggest that they wanted to really unnerve us, give us an almighty hammering, and win the league in front of an audience comprised entirely of Billy Boys. Lions and the Christians, appeared to be what they had in mind (but go easy on the references to ancient Rome).
Our team line up suggested that we were certainly on a damage limitation exercise. A five man defence said it all. In midfield Collins was the main man – McStay had played his last game of the season, he was out with a hernia – while up front Simon Donnelly and Paul Byrne would just have to do their best. Prior to the game two plucky Celts flew over the stadium in a light plane trailing a banner reading ‘Hail hail the Celts are here’. My how the bears laughed.
The first half didn’t quite go as the home support might have hoped. With five at the back Celtic were uncharacteristically tight, and up front Donnelly was giving Gough a surprisingly torrid time.
Indeed it was this battle which brought the breakthrough. Gough fouled Donnelly on the edge of the box with half an hour gone. Collins stepped up, wearing his new boots – the Predator, the latest thing, which could, apparently, allow for better control, and provide more bend on the ball. And Collins duly proved that the advertising was not all bullshit as he curled an incredible shot over the wall and into the top corner. It was the first goal in competitive professional football to be scored with the Predator boot and Ibrox was outraged.
The press reported that the goal was greeted with silence. Rubbish. The Sons of William were going ballistic. To paraphrase David Bennie, it sounded like 44,000 vampires trapped inside St.Peter’s Square at daybreak – with the Pope hosing them down with holy water.
Although Rangers eventually drew level, thanks to an outrageously deflected shot, we had definitely won a moral victory.
The remainder of the season consisted of two 1:1 draws. The first was notable as the last game ever played at the old Celtic Park while the latter was utterly forgettable. We failed to qualify for Europe for the second season running, but unlike the previous year there was to be no early Christmas present from the European governing body in the shape of a parachute into the UEFA Cup because of a civil war.
Happily Rangers were foiled in their bid for consecutive trebles by Dundee United in the cup final. Yes folks, in the dark days of the Nineties these were our crumbs of comfort.
The season finished with Frank McAvennie and Pat Bonner released, and a young Irish goalie called Shay Given being allowed to leave because Macari felt he was too small to be a top class ‘keeper.
We finished our season with a 3:1 win in a friendly against English double winners Manchester United. Simon Donnelly scored twice, and Chic Charnley was a guest player in the Celtic side. That same night Fergus McCann bumped into a flame-haired former Celtic midfield player who was in charge of another Scottish Premier Division side. He was considered the next great thing in club management. The rest, as they say…