Taking the rough with the smooth
This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of my most painful days as a Celtic fan. 1994-95 Season had been a difficult one for Celtic and playing our home games at Hampden hadn’t helped. It had been over 5 years since Joe Miller’s goal had beaten Rangers in the Scottish cup final to bring some success to the club. We had watched Rangers spend huge sums on players as Celtic floundered in their wake. We had watched the old board lead us to the edge of a financial abyss before Fergus McCann arrived to steady the ship. As Celtic Park was redeveloped we trooped off to Hampden for a year and it was a year full of frustrations and patchy form. The cups offered some hope to the forlorn Hoops supporters that another poor season could have a silver lining. The team battled through to the League Cup Final beating the likes of Aberdeen and Dundee United on the way. All that stood between them and a long overdue trophy was Raith Rovers. The team looked nervous but led 2-1 with less than five minutes to go at a packed and frantic Ibrox. Then a routine shot on the Celtic goal was parried by keeper Marshall to the onrushing Gordon Dalziel who headed it home. It was a stunning blow and the team looked as shocked as the fans. Extra-time came and went without major incident and we then faced the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Fate decreed that Paul McStay, Celtic best player in a difficult era, would miss the vital kick and Celtic tumbled to a hurtful and humiliating defeat. Of course the team did assuage the fans’ pain that year by winning the Scottish cup and ending six barren years in the wilderness but that defeat to Raith still hurts some of the supporters.
Taking the rough with the smooth has always been a part of being a football fan and Celtic supporters have been remarkably faithful in the hard times. I discussed our most painful moments as Celtic fans with some friends recently and had my memory jogged on a few half-forgotten embarrassments. The 5-1 defeat to Neuchatel Xamax of Switzerland in the early 1990s was raised as was 5-1 drubbing at Dens Park in the 1980s. For the younger generation Scott McDonald’s late winner for Motherwell which cost Celtic the 2005 league title still rankled as did the 6-1 thrashing at the Nou Camp in more recent times. It has to be said though, that far superior teams to Celtic have been well beaten by Barcelona, who are on their day one of the great modern teams.
We all understand that it is in the nature of football to throw up shocks, surprises and occasional embarrassments. In some games an inspired opposition goal keeper or misfiring forwards can contribute to defeats and supporters can accept that if the team give 100%. On many occasions in Celtic’s history it was they who inflicted surprise defeats on more fancied teams. The English press were, with a few honourable exceptions, dismissive of Stein’s Celtic when they were paired with ‘invincible’ Leeds United in the 1970 European Cup Semi-Final. Celtic not only beat Leeds in both ties, but completely outplayed and out-fought them. Similarly, when Celtic beat Barcelona in November 2012 it was a triumph for guts, fighting spirit and belief. This was the magnificent Barcelona side which had destroyed Manchester United at Wembley the year before to win the Champions League and they were beaten at Celtic Park on that memorable night by a goal scored by a teenager signed from Airdrie.
Football wouldn’t be football without that essential unpredictability. It has been argued that the Scottish League lacks unpredictability because of its utter domination by Celtic and Rangers since its inception in 1890. If you consider that the two Glasgow Clubs have won 99 of the 118 Scottish championships contested (around 80%) then it is hard to argue with that assertion. Indeed this season marks 30 years since a team out-with the Glasgow duo won the title when Fergie’s Aberdeen triumphed in 1985. Monopoly is never good for any sport and the great current dilemma of Scottish football is how to create a more competitive league which sees other teams rise to the standard of Celtic rather than Celtic sink to their level. In long league campaigns the better sides usually rise to the top and in the Scottish context that is why the cups offer scope for shocks and surprises lacking in the league race. Who could have predicted results like Partick Thistle beating Stein’s Celtic 4-1 in the 1971 League cup final or Berwick Rangers knocking Glasgow Rangers out of the Scottish cup in 1967? In a one off match anything can happen on the day as we learned to our cost on that painful day 20 years ago when Raith Rovers had their day in the sun.
Such disappointments may hurt at the time but if they have one positive effect then that is that they make us cherish and enjoy the good days more. Consider the euphoria Celtic fans felt when the club finally won the title in 1998 after a decade of pain? The joy when Van Hooijdonk’s won the cup for Celtic in 1995 was certainly also magnified by the six years of frustration and pain. We all want the best for our Celtic and many an argument revolves around how we achieve this. We argue about players, managers, the board, the formation and a hundred other things but all of it is a sign of our commitment to the club and the fact that we care. This is our club, created and sustained by our community and our job as fans is to drive the team on and remind those in control of the club and indeed those who wear our colours that we won’t accept less than 100% commitment. If we get that then we’ll continue to take the rough with the smooth. As Fergus McCann once said…
‘Being a Celtic fan is never easy but it’s always worthwhile.’
So what were your highs and lows as a Celt?