Another stroll down amnesia lane from part 15 of our look back at the Centenary season.
After the dramatic victory at Hampden the focus switched on the Monday to Glasgow Sheriff Court where Frank McAvennie would appear alongside Woods, Butcher and Roberts, all charged with conducting themselves in a disorderly manner and committing breach of the peace during the match on October 17th.
Which was interesting because the original charge had been ‘Behaviour likely to provoke a breach of the peace amongst spectators’. Presumably the Procurator Fiscal felt the likelihood of conviction for such a vague charge was slim and backing down now was not an option given the publicity that had accompanied the charges, hence the amendment.
All four players were to be represented by Glasgow lawyer Len Murray, although each player also had a QC. The prosecution would be led by Assistant Fiscal Sam Cathcart and the Sheriff would be Archie McKay.
Glasgow being Glasgow, the background of these individuals was regarded as significant; once it was known that Murray was representing the players the Rangers chairman received a number of phone calls (from within the Glasgow legal community) ‘warning’ him that Murray was Catholic. Would this mean that he wouldn’t defend the Rangers players as vigorously? How would that work?
Meanwhile it was also revealed that Cathcart, the Fiscal, was a well known Rangers fan. Would this mean that he would go after McAvennie more than the others?
Oh and the Sheriff had been born in Dublin and was Catholic. Did this mean Mass would be said before proceedings began?
The idea that these people were trained professionals carrying out a job wasn’t considered relevant.
The case opened with the Fiscal focusing on the on-field challenges and the influence that would have had on the crowd. The defence countered with the argument that football had its own rules and regulations for on-field behaviour. This point seemed not to land with the prosecution who maintained that the on field behaviour would have a direct impact on the spectators. Did the crown not know that these games happened a minimum of four times a season?
In the dock sat the players, chatting away to each other seemingly unconcerned and certainly not giving the impression of any lingering resentment.
On the second day, the match commander took to the stand with gruesome stories of hate-filled chants and attempted pitch invasions. Oddly he claimed that a pitch invasion from the Celtic support was thwarted after the sendings off. Why we would try to invade the pitch and disrupt the game when the red cards seemed to favour us was never fully examined.
The remainder of his testimony was straight out of an Enid Blyton book with hideous tales of fans flicking V signs at each other. He does also mention that there was a “great predilection” for single finger gestures as well, with the highlight being his recounting of the arrest of eight “rowdies” about 45 minutes before kick off. How this would have helped the prosecution case was a bit suspect given that these arrests would be around an hour before the incident and behaviour under charge.
Other police testimony highlights included the observation that if the incident involving Woods and McAvennie had happened in the street both would have been arrested. He didn’t testify as to the police reaction to a shoulder charge in the street, which is of course perfectly legal in the rules of football. This truly was a little trip through the looking glass for all of us.
Next up in the witness stand was the referee, Jim Duncan.His performance that day had come under scrutiny because it was felt that he had been too lenient in the early stages, specifically the Falco tackle on McStay and the first McAvennie challenge on Woods (it must be pointed out that McAvennie himself was surprised that the result of his challenge was a corner for us and not a free kick against him).
At one point he remarked that if police involvement was to become a regular occurance in football, specifically in red card situations, then he would retire as a referee.
Oh well, every cloud and all that.
As you might have gathered with every passing day the trial became more and more farcical and when the verdict came in it became a full blown comedy: McAvennie was found innocent, the Sheriff deciding that the Celtic player had only raised his arms to prevent him from running into Woods – a generous take on events to say the least.
Roberts was found Not Proven, that curious Scottish legal term that means we know you did it we just don’t have you red handed, ahem.
Meanwhile Woods and Butcher were both found guilty – Butcher of “violence for which there is no excuse” and Woods was found to have “jabbed McAvennie sharply on the chin with your forearm”.
Both were fined: Butcher £250, Woods £500. Both appealed but these were dismissed a year later.
Apparently Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taking an interest in the case and wanted informed of the outcome. That itself tells you a lot about where the pressure to persue this case came from. There had been far worse games in recent memory that had passed without police intervention (check out the YouTube footage of Rangers v Aberdeen 1985 featuring two red cards and an actual pitch invasion from the Ibrox east enclosure). This was intended as a warning shot for football but all it did was make the courts look foolish.
On the upside it did give us a good laugh when the verdict came in and provide the Jungle with a new chant; “McAvennie he is innocent, all the huns are guilty!”
Which wasn’t technically true, but you try getting ‘not proven’ in a terracing chant.
While all this had been going on we had almost won the league. Hearts had played Dunfermline and anything short of a win for them would mean Celtic were champions. With two minutes to go they got the goal that won the game. Oh well, it was surely just delaying the inevitable.
That had been on Tuesday. The Wednesday had seen the replay of the other Scottish cup semi between Aberdeen and United and again it finished in a draw. No penalties in those days, a second replay was booked for the following week.
The verdict came in on the Friday. The following day we travelled to Tynecastle to face Hearts again. If we won it would seal the league. We would be the first team to win their domestic championship in their centenary season.
It was time for us to get back to football.