The 90s Part 1: Chapter 2 – Heading for the 21st Century?

Come with us down the darkest of memory lanes…

The summer of 1990 was the setting for yet another Scottish World Cup debacle. Having been drawn in a relatively easy group Scotland proceeded to lose to Costa Rica before gubbing Sweden. All we needed was a draw against a poor Brazil team… so of course Scotland conceded a goal with the second last kick of the game.

The very last kick of the game saw Judas Johnston sky the ball over the bar from a yard out. For Celtic fans who took an interest in the national team this was misery piled upon an already miserable year.

Truth be told the Italy World Cup was a pretty turgid affair, memorable only for diving, spitting and fat wife-beaters crying their selfish wee eyes out instead of trying to help their team mates into a World Cup final.

Closer to home, Chief Jammed Fart Wallace Mercer tried to merge Hearts and Hibs. Bad idea. 

Not popular with anyone outside the Mercer household, the move saw the beginning of the end for Wallace.

Back at Paradise the old board had performed their last great altruistic gesture. Celtic Park became the venue for the Special Olympics.

Meantime, the new signings were lining up with big plastic grins plastered all over their faces. There were three of them: John Collins finally put pen to paper (he had apparently been approached in 1988 but chose to stay with Hibs); Charlie Nicholas signed again (officially the worst kept secret ever) with his last kick as an Aberdeen player having been a successful penalty in the shoot-out against Celtic in the previous season’s Cup Final; and the last signing was the now legendary Martin Hayes. 

He arrived for a reported fee of £650,000 from Arsenal, who had reputedly been on the verge of accepting an offer for the player from a lower division English side. The amount they were going to accept? £65,000. Only one zero of a difference but I’m sure you’ll agree that “saw us coming” was never better applied than in this case. Hayes would be transfer listed by the following March.

Brian Dempsey and Michael Kelly ham it up for the cameras.

It wasn’t just players who arrived that summer. Two new directors came aboard as well. They were Dr. Michael Kelly, the former Lord Provost of Glasgow who had overseen the “Glasgow’s Miles Better” campaign, and Brian Dempsey, a property developer. 

Having witnessed demonstrations against them the previous season the board were seemingly anxious to show that they were making moves in trying to take the club forward. These two men were the proof of that – so we were told.

(As an interesting footnote on the new appointments front, the board brought in Michael Ryan from Crystal Palace to take over from jack McGinn as commercial manager and a new financial controller by the name of Peter Lawwell – whatever became of him?)

The pre-season had gone well. Celtic had cheerfully stuffed a huge number of Dutch pub teams, but things started to go downhill rapidly once the ball was being kicked in anger.

We opened at Motherwell. It wasn’t enough that Wdowczyck was sent off for two fairly innocuous challenges while O’Neill of Motherwell elbowed Grant full in the chops. Nor even that we lost 2:0. No. On top of all this Fir Park was engulfed in a swarm of wasps, which just wrapped the day up nicely in a delightful package of abject misery.

The next game was at home to an Aberdeen team destined to throw away the league on the final day of the season at Ibrox. This was possibly the last really effective Aberdeen team and they duly gubbed Celtic 3:0.

We finally got a victory the following week against Hibs. Joe Miller scored probably the best goal of his Celtic career, a fine scooped volley which rattled off the top of the goal frame. Not to be outdone, Dziekanowski sealed the points with a spot of keepy uppy followed by a scissors kick into the net.

By the time this win had come along the only one of the club’s three new signings still featuring in the first team was John Collins – and to be truthful, even he was fairly anonymous during his first season. Both Hayes and Nicholas were injured. 

Add to that the fact that Tommy Coyne was transfer listed and Anton Rogan had actually had his wages stopped for refusing to sign a new deal and you can see that harmony wasn’t one of the buzz words around the dressing room at Celtic Park.

Harmony wasn’t much in evidence in the boardroom either. 

One of the most pressing issues of the time was what to do about the stadium in the wake of the Taylor Report; redevelop Celtic Park or move to a green or brown field site. 

Brian Dempsey wanted to relocate to Robroyston, the other board members didn’t. 

But Dempsey had plans for a stadium there. No permission to do it, no funding, but a firm idea nonetheless. The rest of the board wanted to sit tight.

It’s fairly safe to conjecture that this issue appears to have cropped up almost as soon as Dempsey was elected on to the board. The Celtic View of August 29th 1990 carried an article which explained “exactly where the club stands with regard to plans for a new stadium, either at Celtic Park or another site.” 

Accompanying the article were some very rough drawings of how the stadium would look. Oddly enough, it’s not a million miles away from our present stadium, except of course one needs little reminding that this board in question didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together.

Even if there was a huge section of the plan marked “Commercial Area”. They simply couldn’t pay for any of it.

‘Heading for the 21st century’… or not, as the case may be.

Chairman Jack McGinn revealed in the Celtic View in August 1990 that the directors all favoured remaining in our present location and that the possible redevelopment of the stadium as depicted in the club’s official newspaper was the result of eighteen months work. Not 18 minutes as you might have guessed from the fag-packet sketch above.

And here’s one from inside. Note the lack of spectators and the man in the foreground on the right wearing a bunnet and taking a keen interest. Hmmm…

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