The Mars Bar game
On a dreary January day in 1994 Celtic met Rangers in a league match which in many ways was a catalyst for real change at the club. The installation of seats in the old Jungle couldn’t disguise the fact that the stadium was in dire need of upgrading. Lou Macari’s team were battling away in the league without ever looking as if they could overhaul a stuttering Rangers and the support was growing increasingly rebellious. I stood in the Celtic end that day in relentless rain and watched Rangers go into a 2-0 lead in just 3 minutes. By half time it was 3-0 and some of the Celtic support was turning its ire on the board they held responsible for the decline in Celtic’s fortunes since the high point of the centenary season. It is said one fan threw a Mars Bar at a board member which apparently struck him on the head and led to some remembering the match as the ‘Mars Bar game.’ Celtic restored a little pride in the second half but still finished 4-2 losers. The writing was on the wall. Change was in the air and it would be led by a no nonsense little Scots-Canadian sporting glasses and a bunnet.
That game was 23 years ago and the relative fortunes of Celtic and Rangers have changed dramatically since then. Rangers sunk into a mire of administration and liquidation after years of overspending and the cheers of their glory years now seem hollow and worthless as the extent of their financial chicanery became clear. Celtic rebuilt, restructured and will this season, baring a miracle, clinch their 12th league title of the 21st century. The club is in rude health with strong financial figures, a squad containing valuable assets such as Dembele, Tierney, Rogic and Sinclair. The supporters are buying into the Rodgers Revolution and backing the side in big numbers. The Champions League Group stages was reached and most accepted the side were drawn in the toughest group a Celtic side had ever faced. Despite this the young Celtic side performed reasonably well and learned as the group progressed what it takes to compete at that level.
There has long been a cyclic effect in Scottish football where the two big clubs have periods of dominance before the other takes over for a while but we are in uncharted waters at the moment. Seldom in the history of Scottish football has Celtic looked to be in such a dominant position. They have a manager who wants to play the game in a modern, high paced, quintessentially Celtic way. They have a board prepared to back him and they have a support united behind the team. Our traditional rivals are currently in a shambolic state following the bizarre departure of their manager and it transpires that 60% of the promised £30m investment in the side has already been spent despite little sign of it. Celtic look set to continue their dominance in Scotland for some time yet.
Nothing lasts forever, not sporting success and certainly not sporting failure. The success of Hibs in last season’s Scottish Cup after 114 years of failure teaches us that much. Celtic’s rise from the mess of the early 1990s was a painful one and we had to wait four more years after the ‘Mars Bar Game’ to finally see the team become champions again. The foundations of that success and our current dominance were laid by Fergus McCann who stressed above all that a sound business model was essential. The club had to live within its means and when one looks at the financial disaster which overtook Rangers the wisdom of his approach was clear.
Celtic’s Achilles’ heel when in positions of dominance has historically been the selling of the club’s best players. We saw this in the latter Stein years when players of the calibre of Hay, Macari and Dalglish were allowed to leave and inadequate replacements recruited. We saw it when the team which defeated Barcelona in 2012 was asset stripped by the wealthier clubs of the EPL. Most fans understand the realities of operating in the low income world of Scottish football but nonetheless are seldom pleased to see our better players leave. Reaching the group stages of the Champions League is vital in this respect as it brings in the sort of money which gives Celtic a better chance of retaining their best players and building the squad further. It really isn’t exaggerating to say that Celtic’s most important games of the season come in the dog days of summer in such footballing outposts of Azerbaijan, Israel and Slovenia.
These are great days to be a Celtic fan and should be enjoyed by all of us who follow the club. The team looks set to dominate in Scotland for some time to come. We have a top manager in place who manages the squad well and understands the club and supporters. Domestic honours look sure to continue and the prospect of more European adventures is exciting as this young team develops further. Rodgers is a very capable Boss and clearly setting high standards for the team in every game they play.
Of course, nothing lasts forever but Celtic is in a very good place at the moment and the building blocks are in place for the club to develop further. Anything is possible domestically and you have the feeling many long standing records will tumble in the next few years.
We have come a long way since the Mars Bars flew in 1994.