The 90s Part 1: Chapter 1 – The Writing on The Wall

As an antidote to the feelgood factor, this month we’ll be featuring Part One of Andy’s chronicle of the 90s. If you have some strong drink handy and the number of a good therapist to cope with the flashbacks then read on…

The decade kicked off with a Glasgow derby at Celtic Park which unfortunately gave us a fair impression of how things were about to go for the next few years, this being our last meaningful cough and splutter in the league campaign.

Celtic’s farewell to the 80s had been a 2:0 defeat at home to Dunfermline. Tommy Burns had just been allowed to leave for Kilmarnock and the number of knives out for Roy Aitken would have made a gang of Yardies blush.

In fact, the entire season up to that point had been a complete disaster; Johnston had taken his 30 pieces of silver the previous summer, we’d gone out of Europe in an exceptionally suicidal way – even by our standards – against Partizan Belgrade and we’d crashed out of the League Cup in truly disastrous fashion at Hampden against Rangers, with Aitken being sent off and Joe Miller first coming on as a sub then being taken off again.

Above: The 5-4 game against Partizan; a swashbuckling performance as it was described by Kevin McCarra – the attack swashed while the defence buckled.

Safe to say the omens were not good for the first game of the 90s.

The roof was set to truly fall in when Big Billy unveiled the latest chapter in his Book of Mysterious Tactical Decisions which had become such a feature at Celtic Park.

1990 was the year which saw Glasgow assume the mantle of European City of Culture. Big Billy seemed to take this to heart in a kind of Pol Pot way as he returned his football tactics to Year Zero. He dropped the regular forward line of Walker and Dziekanowski in favour of Tommy Coyne (in his pre – goal scoring hero days) and Mike Galloway, who had up to that point played a grand total of no games up front for Celtic.

Hell of a time for an experiment, but a big shock for Rangers you might think. Except that after the game a rumour swept Glasgow that a blue-nosed employee of the hotel in which Celtic were staying overheard the master plan and promptly phoned Rangers at their hotel. Of course, this was just a rumour.

The game itself was a predictable disaster. Celtic allowed somebody called Nigel to score his one and only goal for them and seldom deviated from the complex tactic of lobbing the ball towards either Galloway, Elliott or Joe Miller, that giant among forwards.

The next game was at Love Street and – hurrah! – our first win of the 90s. This was Roy Aitken’s last game in the Hoops (well, not exactly the Hoops, it was that bloody awful Space Invaders effort of an away strip) after 15 years of honest and often inspirational play. His performances that season hadn’t been up to his usual standard, but the amount of flak he’d been catching was an outrage and, truth be told, few fans shed a tear when he eventually departed the Parkhead scene, possibly without realising what his departure really meant.

In the space of a month we’d lost both our captain and vice-captain (TB) and McStay was now the most experienced player at the club. He was 25 at the time.

These departures added up to more than just the loss of two players. The enthusiasm they brought to the team was lost, as was their never say die attitude. To make matters worse, absolutely no attempt was made to replace them.

The next league game was a 1:0 defeat at home to Motherwell. After the match there was a demonstration outside the Walfrid Bunker. It wasn’t planned or organised, but it was the first of its kind for a generation. Even as early as January 1990 the fans could see the writing on the wall. Sadly, the writing would have to be 10 feet high, written in blood and signed by the manager of the Bank of Scotland before anyone in the boardroom would take any notice.

Above: The Herald reports the demonstration outside the main stand after the defeat against Motherwell: ‘“Chants of McGinn must go,” “Sack the board” and “Where’s the money?” rang round the famous old ground.’ As early as January 1990 the writing was on the wall.

Things were so bad that even the Parkhead pie came bottom of a survey carried out by the Sunday Mason.

But the Celtic View didn’t take that lying down, no siree! Striking back like an angry cobra the View ran a front page feature with the banner headline PIE MEN HIT BACK and which revealed that the noble pies in question “contained 21.58% meat”. As we stood on the dear old slopes of Paradise we could only ask each other, “What the hell is the other 78.42% made up of?”

To describe the remainder of Celtic’s league performances that season as pish would be to pay the players an obscenely over generous compliment.

We thought our fortunes had hit rock bottom with a 3:0 hammering at Castle Greyskull (Anton Rogan’s infamous handball) but the following week our fortunes began digging as we again went down 3:0, this time to St. Mirren at home.

Celtic eventually finished 5th in the league, thus failing to qualify for Europe. But, incredibly, we still managed to make it to the Cup Final, although we did plot a typically tortuous route to Hampden.

Celtic’s road to Hampden started in the Bridie capital of the world – Forfar.

The 3rd round saw the Celts visit the bridie capital of the world, Forfar. 

We were 1:0 down after four minutes. Chris Morris levelled from the penalty spot three minutes later and it was a nerve-shredding 77 minutes after that before Dziekanowski scored a wonder goal to send us into the next round bloated on mince in one form or another.

The draw for the 4th round was a legendary TV experience. It was carried out live on STV and things were going fairly smoothly as Celtic came out of the glass vase. Excellent, a home draw, we all thought, but who will we be

playing? Into the wee vase went the man’s hand and out came the wee plastic ball, which he unwrapped before blinking and stammering out “Rangers”. I swear the camera wobbled for a moment as an audible gasp went round the studio.

For the first time in 20 years Celtic and Rangers were to meet before the final. STV was in clover. They had secured the rights to show one of the 4th round ties. Guess which one they chose?

The studio guest for the day was Jack Charlton. No sooner had the broadcast begun than he caused a small hiatus in the studio by telling Jim White that he’d walked to the stadium from the city centre.

“How did you get on Jack?” asked Jim.

“Fine. I’m alright with the Celtic fans ‘cause I’m the manager of Ireland and I’m alright with the Rangers boys ‘cause I’m Protestant.”

Oh the look of sheer terror on Jim’s face as he desperately tried to change the subject.

The game itself was a real football free zone. Both managers decided to crowd the midfield and defend high up the pitch thereby squashing the play into an area ten yards either side of the halfway line.

With nothing of note having happened for 40 minutes John Brown misjudged a Woods bye kick and Galloway went forward with the ball. He played to Dziekanowski who carried it on before playing in Joe Miller. He hit a cross-cum-shot which Tommy Coyne bundled into the net. Looked at through neutral eyes it was a scrappy goal, but it was absolute manna from heaven for Celtic.

Tommy Coyne is sent sprawling into the back of the net after scoring against Rangers in the Scottish Cup tie at Celtic Park.

We had to bite our fingernails back to the elbow in the second half, but Paul Elliott was a rock in defence and the Hoops held out to give us a rare moment of success to savour. 

The TV highlights didn’t end there. After the match Big Billy was being interviewed. As the players trooped towards the door at the end of the tunnel, two or three Rangers players wearily made their way past before the door nearly flew off its hinges courtesy of a hefty boot from the aptly named captain Terry Butcher. We can only wonder what Cesar would have done had the cameras not been there.

And so to the 5th round and another away game, this time at Dunfermline. Not good. The Pars had beaten us 2:0 in each of the previous two meetings. Tickets were at a premium and tension was high as our season hung by the proverbial thread. In the end Celtic played with a rare defensive competence to earn themselves a replay which, incredibly, was won by 3:0 thanks basically to McStay and the risible efforts of Dunfermline ‘keeper Westwater.

The semi was played at the National Midden in the pissing rain. Younger readers might not know what a rain soaked trip to Hampden meant in those days but let’s put it this way; you know that stuff they make roads out of called Tarmac? Well the area surrounding Hampden didn’t have any of this stuff so if it rained you wound up looking like you’d just done ten rounds with the National Lesbian Mud Wrestling Champion (you should be so lucky!).

This time we faced the mighty Clydebank with the venerable and revered goalie Jim Gallagher between the sticks, 98 years old and still going strong.

 Packy Bonner saves against Clydebank in the semi-final at Hampden.

Having gone a goal up thanks to Walker shooting in after the ball had struck the crossbar, Celtic proceeded to give the Bankies the freedom of Hampden while spending the next hour indulging in navel contemplation and self-congratulation. After Clydebank missed an open goal from two yards Walker shook off the lethargy with his second goal and there we were, in the final for the third year in a row.

Celtic had never won the cup three years in a row and this wasn’t the team to start such a thing.

Opponents in the final were Aberdeen who had come to Parkhead on the last day of the league season with a team of weans and gone a goal down before administering a sound 3:1 thrashing.

This game was notable in that it was the first Celtic match rescheduled for satellite TV. It was played on a Friday night thus allowing our whole weekend to be gubbed before it had even started.

The final itself was the dictionary definition of defences on top, which didn’t exactly bode well for us. But once again Elliott held it all together.

120 minutes came and went without a goal, or even the threat of one, so for the first time in its history the Scottish Cup final would be decided on penalties.

First up for Celtic was Wdowczyck. Thanks to him some wee boy in Mount Florida won a shiny new ball as his effort comfortably cleared the crossbar at the Aberdeen end by some distance.

Grant and McStay scored but Bett, Connor and Gillhaus had done likewise. Coyne followed suit but Aberdeen’s Grant copied Wdowczyck and we were level.

On it went with every player hitting the target until up stepped Anton, possibly the unluckiest player in the world at this time. He hit his penalty well, it was heading for the corner of the net, but the ‘keeper guessed correctly and got down to make a brilliant save. It could only happen to Anton.

Irvine sent Bonner the wrong way to give Aberdeen the cup.

Cruel luck, but somehow a fitting end to a truly awful season. It couldn’t get any worse… could it?

(Spoiler alert: Yes – Ed)

If you can’t wait for part 2 or want to collect the set, click on the image below to go to the link on the site.

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