There have been other games however, either the matches themselves, the context in which they were played, or the subsequent fall out, which were, for the want of another term, disastrous. In my own experience of supporting Celtic a number come to mind, that I will explore and offer my opinion as to why I consider them to be calamitous.
Celtic v St. Mirren (Scottish Cup Semi-final March 1962): Following a 5-0 victory at Love St. on the Monday prior to the semi-final, Celtic went to Ibrox with high hopes of victory and of reaching a second successive Scottish Cup Final. On a bright afternoon Saints led 3-0 at half time.
In those days it was possible to walk round the ground at the interval so that you could stand behind the goal that Celtic were attacking in each half, and many Celtic fans did just this at the break. With 18 minutes left, bottles began to rain down from the back of the Rangers end, which initially led to youngsters and fans near the front going on to the track to escape injury. This break in soon escalated to a full scale invasion of the pitch, with a real awareness that the actions of the mob could bring about an abandonment of the game, with the hopes of a replay. Although the teams were forced to leave the field, order was eventually restored, and Celtic, despite a late counter from Alex Byrne, lost 3-1. It transpired that Celtic had conceded the tie whilst the teams were in the dressing rooms during the riot, but the whole affair did our reputation no good. The frustration felt by all Celtic fans at the team’s inability to produce the desired result on the big occasions was understandable, but it was still no excuse for what took place that afternoon, the irony of course being that the people whose lives were endangered by the fusillade of empty bottles were themselves Celtic supporters.
Racing Club v Celtic (World Championship Play off Nov. 1967): The tragedy of this match was that it was played at all. After the first 2 games against the out and out thugs who masqueraded as South America’s best, it would have been better for everyone connected with Celtic if they had just come home and forfeited the World Championship. No neutral observer could have faulted them if they had taken the decision not to play, and indeed it was discussed amongst the Celtic Party themselves with Jock Stein, if we are to believe the accounts, wanting to play and Bob Kelly for withdrawal. No doubt the Big Man’s belief, that Celtic could still be world champions, was based on the premise that his team would be allowed to play football, at which activity they were clearly superior. That this was never going to be a possibility makes his judgement on this issue questionable.
Had they come home without playing their reputation for tough, but fair and honest play would have been intact, but the understandable reaction of the players to a third night of provocation, left their good name in tatters. The Board’s reaction to the whole affair made a nonsense of what actually happened – fining players, whose on the field behaviour to this point, had been a model for professionals at the highest level of their sport – while the real culprits celebrated in Argentina, receiving a £2000 bonus and a new car! It was a sorry but unforgettable episode, and time does little to alleviate the feeling of injustice that we did not ever, as crowned champions, rule the world.
Celtic v Rapid Vienna (European Cup Winners Cup Second Rd. ‘Replay’ Dec. 1984): This match was one of only 2 occasions in my professional career when I played truant to watch the Celts. Perhaps the fact that the earlier instance was the European Cup Final in Milan should have forewarned me that no good would come of it.
There is no need to rehash the background to this game in detail, suffice to say that once again Celtic were shafted by the powers that be in Europe, where the principle of natural, let alone legal justice, appears to have no meaning. Whatever the political machinations that allowed the obvious villains of the Parkhead game to prosper in the courts, the interference of a so-called Celtic supporter in a match of vital importance was to cost Celtic dear.
Travelling to Old Trafford, more in hope than expectation, I was in the company of a group of student priests from Drygrange, with Fr. Willie Boyd, now parish Priest in Irvine also in attendance. We got tickets from a priest in Manchester who managed to get them through contacts at Old Trafford (what a network the Vatican has!) Before the match I felt a sense of unease that I had never felt at any previous game, and an awareness that the support were still seething at the injustice of having to play there at all. Some misguided numpty at Old Trafford had engaged a flute band, Coatbridge Shamrock I believe, to provide the pr-match entertainment and they paraded up and down playing a variety of Irish tunes, which if memory serves me correct included a number of pro-republican selections. That they were a parody of an Orange band in their eccentric movements, appeared to have been lost on them, but they certainly helped wind the fans up, and the absolute hostility which greeted Rapid Vienna was palpable. I remember turning to Fr. Boyd just before the start and saying to him: ’this has all the makings of a classic Celtic disaster’. It was no comfort to be proved right.
Defeat was probably inevitable. Celtic had played with such intensity and brilliance in the game at Celtic Park that it would have been hard to repeat that performance against what was a very useful Austrian side. Our cause was further hampered by UEFA’s ruling that the match be played as if the second game had not taken place and Celtic were 1-3 down before the start. The reaction of a section of the crowd however, with a few clowns invading the field intending to attack the Rapid players, brought the curtain down on a most unsavoury night, and the long cold journey back over the border was one I hoped never to repeat.
Celtic v Rangers (Scottish Premier League March. 1998): Another bad day at the office for a Celtic team who had, for a few weeks, held out the hope that they might just claw back Ranger’s advantage at the top of the table and retain the title that had been so hard won under Wim the Tim. As is not unusual with Celtic, off the field melodramas had dominated the headlines for much of the season, but Dr. Jo, that most civilised and respectful of men, had the team playing an exciting brand of football, inspired by the Dud Czech, The Dreadlocked Demi-God and the Wizard of Oz, seemingly recovered from the mental problems which had delayed his appearance in the Hoops. Lubo’s injury at Motherwell, in an otherwise brilliant performance, had taken him out of the equation, but hopes were high as we moved towards an Old Firm showdown in the last match of the campaign against the FOD. A careless defeat at St. Johnstone put added pressure on the Celts, but no one could have predicted the eventual happenings that not saw Celtic lose their title, but gave our enemies in the media every opportunity to stick the knife in to the hilt.
The villain of the piece in their eyes was Stephane Mahe – the hero Hugh Dallas. Rarely have I seen player ordered off for being the victim of 2 assaults by opponents, but somehow that is how it panned out in the eyes of the referee. Despite his contribution, Celtic showed every promise of cancelling out Ranger’s early goal, until the intervention of the loonies in the Celtic end who decided to pelt Dallas with coins. At the end of his treatment, Hugh was able to demonstrate his courage to the full by awarding Rangers a penalty, thus putting and end to any doubt about the final result. A third goal for the evil empire and another opportunity for Dallas to show refereeing impartiality by sending off Riseth brought a sorry day to a close. (To be fair, Vidar did attempt to decapitate Captain America.)
As these events unfolded before our disbelieving eyes, the taunts of the hellish legion rung out around Paradise for the second time in 3 seasons as they managed to visit and win the key match of the championship race. It was made worse by the actions of some of the Celtic support, which were indefensible. The fact that the grounds man reportedly lifted in excess of £30.00 from the pitch tells its own story. The attempted assault on Dallas was clearly not the work of a single person.
When I played amateur football there was a guy in our team, who, whenever it became obvious that we might lose, would assault a member of the opposition and get himself ordered off. Afterwards in the dressing room he would then accept no liability for the defeat as he had ‘done his bit’ as he saw it. That his contribution was not only illegal in terms of the laws of the game, but also left his team in shtook, appeared to go right over his head.
Over the years I have realised that some followers of the Green and White Brigade appear to have the same mentality. When things are going badly wrong, make them worse by fighting, invading the pitch, throwing bottles, or in the modern scenario, coins, thus showing your allegiance to the cause. The fact that the rest of have to deal with not only the pain of defeat, but also shame by association, is lost on these morons. I have often wondered if their after the match reflections even take this aboard. Somehow I doubt it, in order to reflect, you first need a brain.
To conclude, I suppose, for me what constitutes a disaster is when the club’s good name is dragged through the mud, adding another ingredient to the bitter taste of defeat. It would be interesting to find out what others think.