Goldilocks and the Three Bears

In this season’s NTV trip down Amnesia Lane, AB Murdoch takes a look back at the club’s Centenary season, thirty years on.

In part 6 (NTV 256) he looks back on a quiet afternoon in Kinning Park and some dodgy defending in the league…

88 title mcavennie fight

The weekend of October 17th 1987 was a bizarre one, the London stock exchange suffered a bad crash after years of growth paid for with the selling off of formerly nationalised industries such as British Gas and weather forecaster Michael Fish told the country they didn’t need to worry about the weather coming in because it wouldn’t amount to anything.

Cue a hurricane that uprooted trees, caused significant other damage and resulted in some deaths.

Things were no more settled in Glasgow as derby weekend came around.

The crowd at Ibrox that day waiting for the teams to come out were slightly surprised when they came out separately. The normal protocol even then was for the teams to come out together.

Of course, after the fact lots of different stories sprang up. One of the more colourful, which even made it into the pages of NTV, was that one of the Celtic team had attempted to clear his nose in the tunnel, only to cover one of his opponents in the contents of his nostril. Result: chaos.

It was later claimed that Rangers had always intended to run out on their own for some reason, but whatever the truth, the players seemed very on edge. Even the toss of the coin threw up a twist as we chose to defend the Copeland Road in the first half.

The opening few minutes of the game saw lots of hustle and bustle, quite a few fouls, but precious little football. In particular Falco had made a terrible challenge on McStay very early on. But on balance Celtic seemed to have the territorial advantage.

About ten minutes in Tommy Burns looped a high ball into the box. It wasn’t the best cross – too close to the goal to give the forwards a chance to do anything – but McAvennie, having been told not to get involved in anything, put in a hard challenge on the Rangers goalkeeper Chris Woods as he tipped the ball over the bar, forcing the Ibrox man into the net.

The keeper looked unhappy with the challenge and the home crowd made their feelings well known, but the ref seemed content to give the corner and move on.

Shortly after that the real fun started. McStay played in Morris who crossed a low ball in, although it wasn’t going anywhere close to any of the Celtic players. Gough cut the ball out and sent it back to Woods.

All simple enough. Except at this point McAvennie arrived and for reasons known only to him decided to give Woods a clip round the ear. Woods pushed back and before anyone could move both had a hand on each other’s throats. Butcher appeared from the side and shoved McAvennie, then Roberts appeared and also started in on him as Woods came in for seconds. McAvennie hit the ground.

More chaos.

The actions of Roberts would later be described by Police Inspector James Moir thus: “I then saw him (Roberts) quite deliberately punch the Celtic player McAvennie on the side of the head”.

The referee, Jim Duncan – not a noted Celtic sympathiser, had some hard choices to make; cards were inevitable, but the colour and the number was the tricky bit. Boiled down to the core four players were involved.

First up was Woods – straight red.

The Broomloan Road stand went mad, Losing their keeper was a massive boost for us.

Then the ref turned to McAvennie – straight red. The celebrations became slightly more muted.

Next up Butcher – yellow. Same for Roberts, who was busy putting on the keeper’s jersey.

Given that they had lost their goalie Celtic seemed to have the advantage, especially since the player we had lost was a forward and slightly less crucial to the essential setup of the team, certainly compared to a keeper or the central defender who replaced him.

The game calmed slightly after that. Everyone seemed shell shocked. Celtic almost took the lead when Roberts attempted to throw the ball out over-arm and misjudged it, nearly throwing it clean into his own net.

Then, after 33 minutes, Walker latched on to a McCarthy clearance and ran clear of Butcher before sliding the ball under Roberts. Excellent – a valuable lead and something to hold on to.

88 walker

It got better two minutes later as Stark played the ball to Walker, who chipped a first time lobbed pass towards the onrushing Grant. Butcher attempted to intercept but only succeeded in sending the ball in a beautiful loop over the stand-in ‘keeper to double our lead.

Grant was so happy he raced towards the Celtic fans as if he had judged the shot, sank to his knees and blessed himself. The Broomloan stand was in raptures. The history buffs knew that we were 2 days short of the 30th anniversary of the 7-1 game and soon the chant “We want seven” was ringing round Ibrox.

Celtic's Peter G

The home crowd was not happy at half-time.

All we had to do was keep it together in the second half and it would be a valuable victory and the planets seemed to be aligning after 62 minutes when a Rangers attack fizzled out and Butcher seemed to lash out at the Celtic goalie Alan McKnight. That was certainly the ref’s view as he sent off Butcher with a second yellow card.

So we’re now a man up and two goals up. All we had to do was keep our concentration levels and not do anything stupid.

They had a goal back within two minutes as McCarthy decided not to bother marking McCoist, who then scored off the post giving them a lifeline and planting a seed of doubt in our minds.

Celtic had chances, but the luck seemed to have turned, especially when a Billy Stark header came back off the underside of the bar rather than go in.

The finale seemed almost inevitable; a ball into the box, a few miskicks and a goalkeeper throwing himself in entirely the wrong direction for no good reason leaving Gough with an almost empty net.

They went berserk. From kick off they played the ball back to their stand-in ‘keeper, who decided to take this opportunity to conduct the crowd as they sang about being up to their knees in blood.

From the Broomloan stand it felt like a significant defeat as the final whistle blew.

Meanwhile, outside the ground the crowd leaving stadium weren’t in the mood to simply head off thinking it was honours even. The roundabout next to Ibrox was a battleground and walking back to the buses next to St Anthony’s was a challenge as an assortment of missiles came raining in. Not a pleasant experience.

The immediate analysis of the game was not much better from our point of view as yet again we had let a two goal lead slip, but this time against a seriously weakened opponent. This was our chance to effectively remove them from the title race and we had blown it badly.

But in the cold light of day there was one undeniable truth: if we had been offered a 2-2 draw before the game we would have taken it.

A point at Ibrox was not a bad outcome. It kept us four points ahead of Rangers and, better yet, Aberdeen and Dundee United had played out a 0-0 draw while Hearts were losing to Hibs for the first time in years so we had actually closed the gap on them to one point.

But the fall out from this game would last for months and not just in pious words from newspapers that did their damnedest to hype things up in the build-up to these fixtures.

For a start we had to replace McAvennie for the next fixture against Dundee United. Easier said than done with McGhee still injured. Also doubtful was Tommy Burns who had aggravated a leg injury at Ibrox. Into the squad came 17 year olds Steve Fulton and Dugald McCarrison.

Fulton wasn’t selected, but McCarrison played the full game. In the end we lost 2-1, but that didn’t really reflect the way the match went as McStay nearly uprooted the posts with a superb shot in the first half and we generally had the better of the play. Two goals in the final 10 minutes for United finished us for the day. Celtic’s goal was a deflected looped effort from the increasingly marginalised Tony Shepherd.

The damage from this defeat wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Although Hearts beat the now doomed Morton to go three points clear at the top of the table neither Aberdeen or Rangers had played because they were meeting in the League Cup final the following day. That turned into quite a match. Both sides led at various points and eventually the cup was decided on penalties, Paul Nicholas the Welsh midfielder blasting his kick high over the bar to send the cup to Ibrox. Due to their not so great league position there was no talk of trebles.

The Monday after the cup final a story emerged which really cemented Graeme Roberts in his role as the bell end’s bell end.

At that time Celtic and Rangers had a joint sponsorship deal with the Glasgow fashion shops Wrygges Man, which operated out of the department store Goldbergs. Players posed for the shop catalogue, turned up on the catwalk and so on.

All quite harmless. Except Roberts decided he didn’t want to do it because Celtic players were involved and after the events of the previous week he tried to get the entire Rangers squad to refuse any further co-operation. Another Rangers player was also rumoured to be trying to get out of the deal – Ally McCoist – but his angle was that Top Man would pay him more. Always looking for the bottom line was Ally.

This quickly passed, but the attitude of Roberts was having the desired effect as the Ibrox hordes couldn’t get enough of him. He was one of them, something I think we can all agree on.

The following Wednesday we got back to winning ways, but only just and not in a way that pleased the manager.

With 85 minutes gone we were leading 3-0, although given our performance that scoreline was somewhat flattering.

The goals had arrived thanks to a superb free kick from Archdeacon and two from Billy Stark.

So far so normal, but in 85 minutes we lost as bad a goal as you ever will see as Bonner and McCarthy contrived to present Manley with an empty net.

We compounded that by conceding again three minutes later.

Big Billy was fuming in the press conference. For the third game in a row his team had conceded late goals. It seemed as though the Hoops just couldn’t see games out and it didn’t help that McAvennie still seemed to be finding his feet and Mick McCarthy was no one’s idea of a stable centre half.

We remained in second spot for the time being, but both Aberdeen and Rangers had a game in hand and our next fixture was a bit of a cracker – Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

This was not the time for shaky defending and uncertain attacking.


With much thanks to the scrapbook of Manus Gallagher. Pics from the wonderful Celtic Wiki.


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