Celtic in Europe – The MON Years

72 page PDF on Martin O’neill’s first season in Europe as Celtic manager. Free to a good home if you promise a donation to a foodbank.

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These days a Scottish team hoping to qualify for the Champions League – or even the Europa – has to negotiate six or eight games in the space of a little over eight weeks. For those who survived the 90s, there was a time when 8 games in European competition would have been regarded as a spectacularly good run.

It’s an interesting, if somewhat depressing argument to have down the pub as to what period constitutes Celtic’s worst in Europe. However, there is no doubt that the 90s was especially miserable. It was a decade that was fittingly bookmarked by two of our more notable European horror shows.

In 1991 Liam Brady was making confident noises in the View about progress in the UEFA Cup when, having knocked out Ekeren, we were drawn to play a Swiss side that few of us had heard of. Xamax subsequently became for years a byword for calamity after Brady’s side turned in a performance of legendary ineptitude and came away from Switzerland on the end of a 5:1 stonking. Scorer of four goals on the night, the name Hossam Hassan haunted us for a long time.

By 1998 just about everything at the club was improving and the league championship win gave Celtic a chance to compete for the first time in the rebranded UEFA Champions League. But by the time the qualifiers came around Wim Jansen had departed in acrimonious circumstances to be replaced by Jo Venglos and the play-off against Croatia Zagreb took place against the backdrop of an unseemly public  row between the players and the club management over bonus payments.

Celtic won the first leg 1:0 at Parkhead but this was a Zagreb side comprising several players who had helped Croatia to third place at the 1998 World Cup and there was little reason to believe that a single goal was ever going to be enough of a lead. Robert Prosinečki was rumoured to be on at least 20 fags a day at the time and he inspired his team to a 3:0 win which, in truth, should have been much worse but for a string of saves by Jonathan Gould in goal.

Even being parachuted into that season’s UEFA Cup held little consolation as we failed to get past the second round in that as well, losing 5–3 on aggregate to a distinctly average FC Zurich team as a public row between captain Paul Lambert and managing director Jock Brown raged on behind the scenes.

In between those years the Hoops played in six European competitions and failed to get any further than the second round in any of them.

To round the 90s off, the season immediately prior to Martin O’Neill’s arrival, John Barnes’s side successfully negotiated a first round match in the UEFA Cup against Cwmbran Town and then a trickier tie against Hapoel Tel Aviv to set up what most of us expected to be a third round exit to Olympique Lyon.

Surprisingly, the Hoops put in a remarkably competent European away performance and came away with a draw, which might have been even better but for the controversial non-award of a penalty when Burchill was felled in the box.

It came at a cost, though, as the team returned with Henrik Larsson rendered hors de combat for the rest of the season after his horror leg break.

The home leg was a much more familiar affair as a passionate Celtic Park crowd was muted by a technically and tactically superior visiting European side who were given a free gift thanks to a defensive mistake.

Enter Martin O’Neill…

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