Scottish Cup 3rd round, 1991, and there we were in Forfar, up to our armpits in bridies muttering, “Haven’t we been here before??” It wasn’t the only similarity we would encounter on this cup run.
Happily Forfar didn’t cause any problems this time round and an easy 2:0 victory was recorded. The main talking point after the game was the Forfar fans’ (or should that be “fan’s”?) constant chanting of Terry Hurlock’s name. Rather than admitting to being Huns without the bus fares the locals would doubtless claim that they were just winding us up. Aye right!
St. Mirren were the opponents in the fourth round (a young Paul Lambert featured on the bench). The tie was moved to a midweek slot to accommodate TV – a rare event in Scotland at the time – and first half goals from Coyne, Miller and an o.g. from McWhirter were enough to see Celtic through safely to the last eight.
So, the quarter final draw, and more deja vu as the audible gasps together with the thud of SFA officials hitting the deck in fainting fits could only mean one thing; the big Glasgow teams had to play each other in an early round for the second season in a row.
Rangers, at Celtic Park, with the tie due to be played on St. Patrick’s Day no less.
The build up to this one was naturally very subdued with no one being too bothered about who was going to win… Oh all right. Everyone was going mental!
Not only was our season on the line again, but Rangers were going for the treble. Celtic were due to play them twice in two weeks and recent form suggested that the Hoops were in for a hefty beating – in some cases quite literally.
The more superstitious among us were dismayed to find out that Celtic’s lucky mascot in the Scottish Cup, Chris Morris, was injured. He’d never lost a game in this competition in regulation play. The more football minded among us were dismayed because this meant that Mark McNally might be involved. In the event the more experienced Grant was picked in defence.
If there was any hope to cling on to it was the fact that Rangers hadn’t won a cup tie against the Hoops at Celtic Park since 1905. They also had Scott Nisbet playing in defence.
The game itself started in an unusually quiet manner, both teams dispensing with the traditional early practice of blootering the ball – or the nearest opponent – as far as possible in the direction one happened to be facing at the time. But it wasn’t long before the shrill tone of the referee’s whistle was announcing the first episode of that afternoon’s foulfest as Walters got to show off his silky skills by dextrously clattering Joe Miller into the stand.
Andrew Waddell was that day’s man in black. A pathologist by profession, he was officiating his first Glasgow derby and was about to witness some pretty pathological behaviour from Souness’s stiffs.
Six minutes in, Celtic took the lead when Wdowczyck lofted a free kick to the far side of the Rangers penalty area. Gough was odds-on favourite to get it but his former Dundee United team mate Coyne got the vital nod. The ball broke to Gerry Creaney who managed to blast a shot past Woods and into the corner of the net. It was one of the best goals he ever scored for Celtic and truly typical of the player. Give him an impossible angle and an awkward bouncing ball and he’d fire it in almost every time; give him a one-on-one with the ‘keeper and he’d fall on his arse.
Rangers were not impressed by this unexpected turn of events and came roaring back. Bonner had to come for several dangerous crosses and Trevor Steven saw a header float just wide.
Things took a turn for the worse for the silenced blue hordes shortly after that. Steven, the man Rangers looked to in midfield, caught his studs in the turf while attempting to foul Joe Miller, who was having a rare afternoon of good form on the right wing.
Steven was carried off to a sympathetic chorus of “Dig a hole and bury him” from the Jungle. On the way up the tunnel he passed assistant manager Walter Smith who was sporting a ghastly blue shell suit and white trainers ensemble that made him look like a pensioner who had been adopted by the Aberdeen casuals as a lucky mascot. His loss took the creative thrust from Rangers and Celtic, with McStay in top form, took control of this crucial area.
The answer from Souness was to trundle Big Bertha out and begin the aerial bombardment. The contrast in forward lines took on a familiar look. Predating Blackburn’s SAS (Sutton and Shearer) Celtic were fielding the MCC (Miller, Coyne and Creaney. Rangers were relying on the HUB (Hateley’s an Ugly Bastard).
In truth the game was one for the Doug Baillie raw meat enthusiasts rather than admirers of the Dutch national team, due largely to the interminable stoppages for fouls and injuries, but just before half-time Celtic got another break. With the clock ticking down to the interval Celtic were awarded a foul after Hurlock – the kind of player that often had opponents reaching for the garlic and crucifix – had grounded Creaney for the umpteenth time.
The kick was dead centre of the pitch but a good 35 yards from the goal. It seemed obvious that Wdowczyck would float it into the box just as he had earlier in the game. Not a bit of it.
The distance he took for his run up would have done justice to a fully laden Jumbo jet on the runway at Glasgow Airport. Starting from just outside the centre circle he raced up a leathered the ball with everything he could muster. Instinctively, Hurlock put out a leg which succeeded in sending it in a majestic arc over Woods and into the net.
Celtic Park went into full-on berserk mode. Poetic justice had been meted out to a player who should never have been allowed out onto the same pitch as the likes of McStay and Collins.
Hostilities paused briefly when Maurice Johnston, who until this point had given us very few chances to hurl abuse in his direction, slithered his own way into Waddell’s notebook for dissent, which matched his descent the year before.
As the half-time whistle blew we could scarcely believe what was happening.
The second half started with Rangers playing in predictably determined fashion (wouldn’t you be determined if you had to pick bits of tea cup out of your head following a Souness rant?) and after a torrid eight minutes Johnston was put through on goal only to be hauled back by Grant. Referee Andrew Waddel, not a renowned Celtic sympathiser, duly awarded the free kick but let Grant off with a yellow card, judging that Elliott was the last man rather than Pointy Pete.
It looked like being a vital break until Grant lined up in the defensive wall for the resultant set piece before charging at the ball like someone rehearsing for Pamplona. It was another bookable offence and he was promptly dismissed.
Rangers squandered a number of chances in the following ten minutes, most notably a sclaff by Huistra from ten yards out, before Celtic steadied. Paul Elliott typified Celtic’s attitude on the day when he stopped a Ferguson shot with his face and slumped to the deck spitting out teeth, blood and the remains of his half-time pie and bovril. A rub down with Brian Scott’s magic sponge and he was back on the pitch a few minutes later looking for Soapy with an ominous glint in his eye.
Then the real fun started. Tommy Coyne, dropping back to help his beleaguered team mates, clipped Hurlock, who clearly didn’t subscribe to the old adage that if you dish it out you should be prepared to take it. He lashed out at Coyne with his elbow – he was approximately three feet away from the referee at this point – and got a straight red for violent conduct. Incredibly, he hadn’t even been booked until then.
At which point the roof fell in on Rangers and their players seemed to lose whatever sense of self-discipline they had.
If Hurlock had been contemplating a quiet fifteen minutes in the bath playing with his rubber duck he was in for a surprise. Coyne was involved in the next incident as well. He tackled Walters and won the ball. The Rangers winger, who had been well shackled by an unusually sure-footed Anton Rogan, had two good attempts at removing der Bomber’s kneecaps before finally settling for a well placed elbow in the teeth. Walters had been booked for yet another foul on Coyne in the first half, but there was to be no second yellow. Once again it was a straight red.
Next to go was Hateley, at that time almost as much of a hate figure among the Rangers supporters as he was with us. He got himself involved in a handbags sketch with Rogan. Both were shown yellow cards but as it was Hateley’s second he too took the long walk towards what was becoming a busy Rangers early bath tub.
With their opponents reduced to eight players Celtic threatened to run riot but unfortunately Creaney was unable to convert two great chances; a header from six yards or a one-on-one with Woods. It would have been a memorable hat-trick.
However, spirits weren’t dampened in the slightest. A famous victory had been achieved, one that we imagined would surely give Celtic the heart to march on and claim the Scottish Cup for the third time in four years. (1)
As if to emphasise the turning of the corner the Hoops won against Rangers again a week later, this time by the even more convincing margin of 3:0 in a match that was also shown live on TV.
In anticipation of Rangers being unable to drastically alter their style of play NTV gave out 6,000 red cards to be waved at offenders.
Nesbit duly obliged.
It was the last time Celtic faced a Rangers team managed by Graeme Souness, or as one of his players affectionately called him, The Beast (copyright Jan Bartram 1988). He walked out on them shortly afterwards to take charge of Liverpool after Kenny Dalglish decided he’d had enough.
(1) How wrong we were!